Kelvin Parnell

Penny S. and James G. Coulter Jefferson Fellow
B.A. Duquesne University (2016)
Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
Art History


Kelvin’s dissertation, “Casting Bronze, Recasting Race: Sculpture in Mid-to-Late Nineteenth-Century America,” explores race and sculptural theories to examine the intersections of race, bronze material, and statuary in constructing Native and African American identities in the nineteenth century. Kelvin is also a recipient of the 2020 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship.

Thesis Description:

“Casting Bronze, Recasting Race: Sculpture in Mid-to-Late Nineteenth-Century America”
This dissertation studies the role of bronze and naturalism in American sculpture during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. It considers the ways in which sculptor Henry Kirke Brown (1814-1886) and his first pupil, sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910), expressed a commitment to bronze and naturalism that entangled materiality and aesthetic style with national identity. The dissertation demonstrates that bronze became a significant point of interest for nineteenth-century audiences and my project will emphasize how both sculptor and viewer shared an understanding of a work’s relevancy and value through the specific material in which it was created. More pointedly, the project articulates how bronze and naturalism function as representational tools to fashion distinctively American subjects emblematic of the country’s history and values. By analyzing Brown’s and Ward’s use of bronze and their varied styles, I articulate how material and style were combined to articulate, construct, and differentiate racial identities in sculptural representations in mid-to-late nineteenth-century America. In so doing, my dissertation offers new avenues for understanding the ways in which sculptural representation, materiality, and aesthetics had an impact on racial formations within the United States between the 1840s and 1890s, a period art historian Wayne Craven has described as “America’s Bronze Age.” Thus, this study balances the social-political connections between racial imagery and sculpture produced in the U.S. during this period with materiality in order to determine how bronze and an amalgam of sculptural styles are critical vehicles in American sculpture for inscribing racial difference and hierarchy.

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