Putting Art History on the Map

Joanna Gardner-Huggett, associate professor and chair of the Department of the History of Art and Architecture (HAA), has taken the plunge into the digital environment, setting her compass on mapping and spatial analysis to guide her current art historical research.

ARCHer subject is two Chicago feminist arts collectives that began in 1973: Artemisia, which lasted until 2003, and the still-operating ARC.  Her goal is to
tell the collective history of the two galleries by measuring their impact on the careers of the individual artists they touched as well as on the practice of art in and beyond Chicago at a significant point in the history of feminism and of separatist organizations.

Using ArcGIS data visualization software, she has been creating geographical maps based on the social, educational and professional demographics of the 129 member and guest artists who had solo shows at the two galleries from 1980–1985, “just to see if there were any patterns,” Joanna said.

What she’s discovered is that it’s “really a local story.  The mapping helped distill that beautifully,” she added.  To her surprise, she found that it “mostly had little to do w/ feminism,” she added.  “That was eye-opening, but really useful.”  She considers the role of the two collectives as essential in the development of a whole new generation of women artists.  “That’s the challenge,” Joanna said.  “There are so many people.  How do you write about a big group?”

The ARC and Artemisia archives held at the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries are her primary research source.  Through mapping and an analysis of spatial evidence she hopes to discover when the two groups were at their highest and lowest points of influence and what intersections were occurring at those points in time.

“I think art historians can make broad generalizations when discussing archival data, and the mapping makes us more accountable for our conclusions,” she explained.  “For me, the mapping is just a really wonderful tool.”

Joanna credits her HAA colleague Professor Paul Jaskot for igniting her digital exploration.  At his suggestion, she applied for and was selected as one of 15 Fellows to take part in the first-ever Summer Institute on Digital Mapping and Art History held in August 2014 at Middlebury College.  Paul and Middlebury Associate Professor of Geography Anne Kelley Knowles organized and co-direct the annual, hands-on, two-week symposium funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.  Joanna thanks DPU Department of Geography Chair Euan Hague for referring her to the SSRC where Nandhini Gulasingam is guiding her use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and data visualization tools and techniques.  Joanna in turn has referred fellow HAA Associate Professor Delia Cosentino to the SSRC for help creating maps locating metal replicas of Mayan calendar stones for a project in Pilsen.

“It’s so great having that as a resource,” Joanna said of the SSRC.  “A lot of my colleagues don’t have that kind of support at other institutions.”  The students in Nandhini’s WQ Community GIS II class in the Department of Geography will incorporate Joanna’s database into their community-based group projects.  Joanna’s next steps will be to increase her own GIS proficiency and to develop more narrative-driven maps, possibly using Tableau or other visual analytics applications, with the help of the SSRC.

Some of Joanna’s maps may become available to future researchers on a website database that former members of Artemisia are building.  She’s also grateful to the Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University Chicago which is collecting and preserving the papers of ARC and Artemisia members.

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