Travis Nygard presents paper at conference of Midwest Art History Society, publishes essay in book

Associate Professor of Art History Travis Nygard recently published an essay in a new book and presented a paper.

“Interpreting an Ancient Maya Masterpiece, Palenque’s Oval Palace Tablet: A Case Study Using UNESCO’s Intercultural Competences Tree” was presented March 30 at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Art History Society in Milwaukee. The coauthors are art historians Linnea Wren and Kaylee Spencer.

The presentation focused on a great work of art that remains in its original location in southern Mexico, at the UNESCO world-heritage site Palenque. “I have done research on the art and architecture of that site for years, along with my collaborators, and this presentation synthesized a lot of previous work that we and other scholars have done on the monument,” Nygard says. “It shows the Maya king Kʼinich Janaab Pakal I, popularly known as Pakal the Great, being crowned by his mother, Queen Sak Kʼuk.”

Nygard adds that the paper considers the idea of intercultural competences, something taught at Ripon as part of Catalyst 210. “Although we do not specifically use the UNESCO framework at Ripon, I think of this research as intertwined with my teaching in the Catalyst program.

“I think that it is satisfying when research and teaching have synergy. I probably would never have given this presentation if I was not already thinking deeply with our students and colleagues about teaching intercultural competence in Catalyst. It is one of the most important things that we teach at Ripon, as it helps us all to be better citizens of the world.”

Nygard also published the essay “George Washington Carver” in the book The Unforgettables: Expanding the History of American Art, published by the University of California Press. In the book, art historians have written about artists they believe should be more fully appreciated.

“I chose George Washington Carver, who is widely remembered as an innovative Black agricultural scientist, because most people are unaware that he was a successful artist,” Nygard says. “He also clearly had a fascinating set of intertwined identities. In addition to being a scientist and artist, he is remembered today as a gay man who had a same-sex partner, Austin Curtis.”

Nygard says Carver began his life wanting to be a painter and continued painting throughout his life. He even showed his work at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. His art focused on plants and nature. “While teaching people in Alabama about farming, he also showed them how to make art to enrich their homes, using natural materials,” Nygard says.

“I was thrilled to be part of this book, as it will be shaping how scholars think about American art for years to come. Often scholarship becomes repetitive, but this book is about sharing new and exciting examples of art that are not well-known. I think that people will enjoy it.”

(Photo: drawing of Palenque’s Oval Palace tablet)

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