Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art Announces Winner of 2018 Graduate Research Essay Prize

By Emily D Shapiro

October 17, 2018

Michaela Rife, a doctoral candidate in art history at the University of Toronto, has been awarded the 2018 Archives of American Art Graduate Research Essay Prize. This prize recognizes emerging scholars who advance the understanding of American art history through the innovative use of primary sources at the Archives of American Art.

The author’s award-winning essay probes the Archives’ Alexandre Hogue Papers and environmental histories of oil to explore the artist’s understanding of the oil industry’s place in his local Texas landscape, a discussion that opens onto larger questions concerning the role of art in promoting and naturalizing resource extraction. The prize jury, which consisted of art historians Suzanne Hudson (University of Southern California), John Ott (James Madison University), and Emily D. Shapiro (Archives of American Art), lauded Rife’s text as “a strong example of ecocritical analysis that reveals something about the role of representation, and how picturing as such does not merely illustrate, but rather contributes to, social, political, and economic realities.” Utilizing extant letters and sketches in the Hogue Papers, the author “uncovers a remarkable process of collaboration between the painter and a Gulf Oil petroleum geologist in the making of Hogue’s interwar depictions of oil extraction.”

Rife will receive a $1,000 cash award and a one-year subscription to the Archives of American Art Journal, a scholarly publication that showcases new approaches to and out-of-the-box thinking about primary sources. Her essay has been forwarded to the executive editor of the journal for peer review and possible publication.