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Two UTSA art history faculty members win coveted NEH awards

Two UTSA art history faculty members win coveted NEH awards

COLFA's Johnson and Wiersema will each receive $60,000 to support their research.

APRIL 27, 2020 — Two UTSA faculty will be recipients of National Endowment for the Humanities awards, part of $30.9 million in grants to support 188 humanities projects in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Julie Johnson, associate professor of art history, was awarded $60,000 for her project “Hiding in Plain Sight: Maria van Oosterwyck in the Habsburg Collections,” research and writing that will lead to a book about Dutch Golden Age painter Maria van Oosterwyck (1630–1693).

Juliet Wiersema, associate professor of art history, was awarded a $60,000 fellowship to pursue her research project “Spanish Colonial Cartography from Colombia’s Pacific Lowlands, 1710–1810,” which will lead to a book of unpublished maps depicting the economic life of free and enslaved Africans in Nueva Granada (modern-day Colombia) during the 18th century.

“These two faculty members are breaking new ground through their research and telling the stories of people that might otherwise be lost,” said Rhonda M. Gonzales, interim dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts. “We’re so proud of all of their achievements, but an NEH grant really signifies what a high level of scholarship these two women have achieved. They bring a lot to their students and the College of Liberal and Fine Arts.”

“Congratulations to Drs. Johnson and Wiersema!” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “The NEH awards are among the most competitive in the U.S. Having our UTSA faculty competing with the best—and winning these awards—is a great marker of excellence for the university and benchmark goal for the National Research University Fund.”


“These two faculty members are breaking new ground through their research and telling the stories of people that might otherwise be lost.”



Johnson’s grant was one of 15 totaling $790,000 that was given in support of advanced research in humanities by those working at historically black colleges, Hispanic serving institutions and tribal colleges and universities. Her teaching addresses the history of art and architecture in Vienna 1900, women artists and modern and contemporary art. She is the author of The Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900 (Purdue University Press, 2012).

Johnson said her research into Van Oosterwyck, who was once more famous than her contemporary Jan Vermeer, is meant to address the lingering problem of women artists and cultural memory.

Her work focuses on the lives and afterlives of Van Oosterwyck’s signature painting of 1668, in which the artist represents herself at work in a reflection in a bottle of red liquid.

“My project addresses topics related to memory, framing and display in museum studies and media theory,” Johnson said. “It focuses very tightly on the dramatic narrative story of Van Oosterwyck and her key work, the 1668 Vanitas Still Life, now hanging adjacent to Jan Vermeer’s The Art of Painting in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.”

Wiersema’s fellowship grant was one of 81 totaling $4.4 million given by the NEH to support advanced research by college and university teachers and independent scholars, according to a press release from the endowment. Her expertise is in the visual and material culture of the pre-Hispanic and late Spanish Colonial Andes, specifically Peru and Colombia. Her first book, Architectural Vessels of the Moche: Ceramic Diagrams of Sacred Space in Ancient Peru (University of Texas Press, 2015) investigates questions of scale, modes of visuality and monumental architectural remains attributed to the Moche, one of the most powerful groups living in South America before the formation of the Inca empire.

Wiersema’s research examines the critical economic and social role that Africans played in the early modern history of the Pacific lowlands. However, their stories are largely obscured in colonial documents from Nueva Granada.

“My project, which works from manuscript maps and archival repositories, brings these buried stories to light and argues that Africans skillfully adapted to local conditions and carved out opportunities for themselves,” she said. “A critical examination of these maps highlights the pivotal place that Africa—as miners, overland porters and canoe polers—held in the local, regional and global economy. Furthermore, these cartographic works—studied in conjunction with 18th century archival documents, 19th century explorers’ accounts and surviving historical maps—enable us to reconstruct the history of this isolated and marginalized colonial frontier during the final century of Spanish rule.”

NEH chairman Jon Parrish Peede told recipients that in more than 50 years the federal agency has underwritten hundreds of the nation’s most significant humanities projects through its fellowship programs. Applications were selected for support after completing a rigorous three-step review process.

“These new NEH grants will expand access to the country’s wealth of historical, literary and artistic resources by helping archivists and curators care for important heritage collections and using new media to inspire examination of significant texts and ideas,” Peede said. “In keeping with NEH’s A More Perfect Union initiative, these projects will open pathways for students to engage meaningfully with the humanities and focus public attention on the history, culture and political thought of the United States’ first 250 years as a nation.”

Tricia Schwennesen



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