Nicole Block

Nicole Block researches 19th and 20th-century art of the United States, with interests in race, socio-political issues, and critically assessing the canon. Her thesis is about three women artists from Washington who participated in New Deal projects and how they contributed to national and regional conversations about abstraction, modernism, politics, and race during the 1930s. Nicole earned her Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Literary Journalism from the University of California, Irvine. Before coming to the University of Washington, she was a curatorial assistant at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles where she developed interests in provenance and archival research.

Thesis

Beyond Propaganda and Realism in the New Deal Era: Modernist Negotiations of Artistic Style and Social Engagement in the Work of Northwest Women Artists Rapp, Helder, and Morgan

Abstract

New Deal work relief programs empowered women, like Seattle-based artists and friends Ebba Rapp, Z. Vanessa Helder, and Blanche Morgan, to pursue art careers. These artists occupied unique subject positions that have been marginalized from the art world (as women, as queer, as Seattleites), but their work overtly supported a limited idea of liberalism and racial equality that protected whiteness. Yet, their work also reveals how artists across the United States were affected by circulating conversations about modernism, art’s role in society, and an “American” cultural identity, as well as controversies with New Deal politics and projects. Though histories of modernism often focus on abstraction, their figurative works demonstrate formal experimentation corresponding to the aesthetic debates of their time while also depicting relevant subject matter. This study reorients our perspective to examine how these women artists contributed to their region’s artistic legacy and engaged in conversations that cut across geographic boundaries and, ultimately, offers a more nuanced understanding of modernism across the nation, beyond a singular male-oriented definition of Northwest art. By paying attention to previously overlooked artists like Rapp, Helder, and Morgan, we can better understand the compromises between New Deal politics and aesthetics, and the identity factors and categories that have limited and shaped the canon of American art.

Committee

Juliet Sperling

Estelle Lingo

Theresa Papanikolas

Links
Welcome Note

For this particular graduate class, the years at the UW have been marked by oh so many unforeseen challenges. So much of the all-encompassing and precious experience that graduate school affords was disrupted by forces brought upon all of us during these particular times. I am especially grateful and proud to have watched this cohort rise to meet these extraordinary challenges with creativity, grace and pro-active determination. The successful completion of their degrees has been fulfilled with passion and the thoughtful consideration of the issues, ideas, and experiences that permeate the world we live in.

A sense of completion, achievement, and reflection is palpable in the works brought together in this Graduate Showcase. More so than ever, this journey has not been a solitary endeavor, but rather is made possible by an essential and supportive community that includes fellow students, family, friends, distinguished visitors, staff, and faculty. I especially want to acknowledge the support and mentorship offered by our faculty and staff who are so committed to creating an educational environment where our graduate students are able to thrive.

I want to recognize and thank Shin Yu Pai, Rock Hushka, Stefan Gonzales, Sadaf Sadri, and Heidi Biggs, for their efforts and insights gleaned during their interviews with the Art and Design grads.

Thanks so much for the collective and enthusiastic support of the entire Henry Art Gallery team, with special thanks to Sylvia Wolf, director, along with exhibition designers and preparators Rachel Ann Kessler and Eric Zimmerman. The opportunity for our graduate students to exhibit their thesis work in such a special space is a fitting capstone to their graduate careers.

I hope you enjoy exploring this online showcase where you will discover how each graduate student transformed their ideas, passions, and skills into a body of research that reflects and addresses the opportunities, challenges, wonder, confusion, and joy of the world we all inhabit.

On behalf of the School of Art + Art History + Design, congratulations to the Graduate Class of 2023!

Jamie Walker
Director, School of Art + Art History + Design
Wyckoff Milliman Endowed Chair in Art