Chasing Stokstad

In the entranceway of the Anderson stands a 50-pound table—a slab made from a blend of concrete and paper, erasers, pens and junk food. Scattered across its surface, you’ll see birthday candles, clementines, leaflets, paper plates and headphone wires embedded in small sculptures.  

This is Caroline Meyers’ vision of office life: a funny and eclectic hodgepodge of ideas. But Meyers reinterprets it as stage for dramatic change and collaboration, framed by the life of a titanic art historian.

A sculpture and art history major, Meyers is fascinated with the late scholar and prolific author Marilyn Stokstad. Stokstad published many survey textbooks and guides on medieval and Spanish art during her career. Anyone who has taken an art history class has likely read her work.

Stokstad’s reputation as a pioneer in her field spurred Meyers to investigate further. In the fall of 2017, Meyers applied for and received a VCU Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship Summer Fellowship, with the intent to conduct original research on the historian’s life. She also received a Dean’s International Study Grant to take a summer mosaic workshop in Ravenna, Italy, giving her further opportunity to explore Stokstad’s expertise in medieval mosaic art. The intersection of biographical research and artistic creation became central to her yearlong adventure.

“I’m really interested in art history in the expanded fields,” says Meyers, “and ways that you can practice art history beyond writing a paper. You can make history or examine history in real time or with objects, and then alternatively view more traditional research as part of a studio practice.”

With her fellowship, Meyers traveled to the University of Kansas, where Stokstad worked for 44 years. There, she reviewed the professor’s personal papers and interviewed colleagues.

She discovered a portrait of a woman who was both an accomplished historian and something of an academic activist. While Stokstad never considered herself a feminist, she lobbied for the university’s women throughout her career. Most famously, she and the February Sisters, a group of about 20 women, occupied an art history building in 1972 to protest gender inequality.

“She was really committed to fighting for concrete advances for women within the sphere of academia,” says Meyers.

Last fall, Meyers had yet another chance to continue her work after securing an Anderson Publishing Grant, which funded portions of her exhibition work at the gallery.

Now at VCUarts, her year of travel and research has coalesced into a tangible collection of objects. The mixed cement forms a foundation of office work, which in a university can become a battleground in a war of ideas. Etchings, headphones, torn paper, food and the shapes of blenders allude to the mechanisms and byproducts of planning and making. A framed mosaic lies on the table, miniature zines reproduce archival photos of Stokstad in her youth, and a large printout of an office memoir runs onto the floor, reflecting Meyers’ experience working in a library. Through her own words, the artist conflates her life with Stokstad’s.

“This is a way for all of this history to touch and be rooted in one place,” she says, “in a more intermixed and more public way than it would be in the actual archives.”

Submissions for The Anderson’s spring publishing grant will be accepted February 14–26. For more information and to apply, visit arts.vcu.edu/theanderson.

 

Date:

January 9, 2019