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Double major Caroline Meyers makes art from art history

School of the Arts student Caroline Meyers is using her research on art historian Marilyn Stoksta...
School of the Arts student Caroline Meyers is using her research on art historian Marilyn Stokstad to create a multimedia exhibition. (Photo illustration by University Relations)

As a double major in sculpture and art history in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, junior Caroline Meyers has acquired a certain set of skills that informs a unique research project.

“The Biography of Marilyn Stokstad: Generating Radical Future Art Histories” chronicles the feminist contributions that Stokstad — an art historian and author of art history textbooks who died in 2016 — made to the survey of historic art inventory through a multimedia exhibition comprising art historical writing, sculpture and performance. Meyers is developing radical, feminist methods of conveying art histories to provide justice to groups historically marginalized in the creation of the dominant narrative of art history.

“From the get-go, I didn’t want the final product of this to be a paper,” Meyers, a VCU Honors College student, said of her Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program fellowship project. “I want to have it be an object or a performance or something that can exist in the real world. And that’s where exhibition-making came in because I thought that was a perfect place between a perfect meeting of art, historical research and object-making and that it is an awesome academic organization of objects.”

Objects from Caroline Meyers' “The Biography of Marilyn Stokstad: Generating Radical Future Art Histories,” a UROP project chronicling the prominent author’s feminist contributions to the art history survey through a multimedia biographical exhibition comprising art historical writing, sculpture and performance. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Meyers)
Objects from Caroline Meyers' “The Biography of Marilyn Stokstad: Generating Radical Future Art Histories,” a UROP project chronicling the prominent author’s feminist contributions to the art history survey through a multimedia biographical exhibition comprising art historical writing, sculpture and performance. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Meyers)

While the project is ongoing, Meyers has already created objects for her piece. Because Stokstad was a medievalist, Meyers wanted to study that kind of art. A separate grant last summer sent her to Italy, where she studied and worked on Byzantine mosaics. The trip gave her the idea to make art in that style, as a lens to look at Stokstad’s work.

“I made up this compilation, with her archival images, about a group of office workers who doubled as mosaic artisans where it was just part of their everyday life,” Meyers said. “It was one of their office jobs, [but] they would also be producing this craft. I work at the library, so a lot of it was based off of my own experience in that office space. The objects I made, I had a table that was completely covered in the mosaic craft based in cement. Like that was the material that these characters I created were laying the mosaic into.”

Stokstad, who wrote one of the most-read textbooks on art history, Meyers said, was a mainstay in her early art history survey classes at VCU. Meyers was interested in feminist pedagogy and publishing practices and wanted to bring art, historical practice and studio practice into conversation for her research project.

“And her name was familiar to me already,” Meyers said, “So I think I delved into her based on remembering her name from my art history book. And it turns out she is significant because her 1995 art history survey, which has been published in many editions ever since, was the first one to include a significant number of images by women artists and racial minority artists.”

A close-up of objects from Meyers' exhibition. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Meyers)
A close-up of objects from Meyers' exhibition. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Meyers)

“The Biography of Marilyn Stokstad” asks big questions regarding the inclusion of underrepresented stories in art history, the nature of biographical portraiture and contemporary forms of storytelling through art, said Matt King, chair of the VCU Department of Sculpture + Extended Media and Meyers’ UROP mentor. “She is doing this by using a 21st-century intersectional feminist lens to examine Marilyn Stokstad, a little-known 20th-century art historian whose work itself was pioneering in how it broke from traditional (Eurocentric and male-dominated) narratives.”

With the $1,500 UROP grant, Meyers spent a week last summer at the University of Kansas, where Stokstad had worked, interviewing friends and faculty who had worked with her and studying her art extensively. Meyers plans to return at the end of the spring semester to continue her research. 

As part of Research Weeks (April 5-26) we are highlighting the work of six undergraduates whose work was made possible by VCU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Department of BiologyDivision for Community Engagement and guidance from faculty members.

Research Weeks take place on both campuses and feature a wide variety of projects in multiple disciplines.

See more stories by clicking on links in the “Related stories” section or learn more about the lineup of events for this year’s Research Weeks.