Kristin Schwain

Kristin Schwain
206 Swallow Hall

PhD in Art History and Humanities, Stanford University

BA in Art History and Humanities, Valparaiso University


Focus Areas

American Material and Visual Culture; Art and Religion; Arts of the African Diaspora; Public Humanities


My pluralistic understanding of the American past and interdisciplinary approach to material and visual culture drive my research in American art. I address objects, beliefs, and practices that have been overlooked or marginalized in American art history despite their considerable influence on American life. This includes recognizing religion’s significant role in art production and interpretation, despite prevailing assumptions that modernization extinguished religious belief.  It regards fine art, traditional craft, and mass-produced objects as meaningful lenses into habits of mind and social praxis, not as categories of value. Finally, it focuses on art’s public presence and reception, including its display in department stores, dissemination in popular magazines, and integration in public education. By examining a variety of art and artifacts and situating them within the messiness of lived experience, I take seriously the cultural work of material and visual culture.


Drawing on historian early American historian Colin Calloway’s assertion that America is a “a world of mixed and mixing peoples” that emerged from the countless and constant encounters between and among Native Americans, European colonists, enslaved Africans, and free people of color, I use the lived experience of cultural contact – as embedded in the things people produce, purchase, and publish—as a model for analyzing visual media of all kinds. By examining the variety of art and artifacts produced at a certain historical moment, I underscore that material and visual culture does not transcend everyday life but is mired in its beliefs and values.

Introductory, Writing Intensive Courses
Introduction to Visual Studies
Introduction to Visual Culture 

Undergraduate Survey Courses in American Art 
American Art and Culture, 1500-1820
American Art and Culture, 1820-1913
American Art and Culture, 1913-Present 

Undergraduate/Graduate Seminars 
American Popular Culture
American Photography
Visual Culture of American Religions                        
Around 1900 
            Mid-Century Modernism and the “Missouri: Heart of the Nation” Collection
            20th Century Documentary Photography: The Glen Serbin Collection

Graduate Courses in Museum Studies
One Look: Columbia Interprets Cuba’s Ediciones Vigía
            Designing Exhibitions: Contemporary American Basketry
            Digital Publishing in Art History: The iCatalog

Object-Centered Teaching and Learning in Multi-Media

Graduate Seminars
Material Culture of Religion  
Visual Culture  
African American Ar
American Modernisms
Object-Based Learning in Theory and Practice: The Visual and Material Culture Survey Course

Selected Publications


“To Struggle with the Unseen:” Keith Crown and Modern American Landscape Painting (work in progress)

Signs of Grace: Religion and American Art in the Gilded Age (Cornell University Press, 2008).

Co-Edited Volumes

Handmade in Cuba: Rolando Estévez and the Beautiful Books of Ediciones Vigía, co-edited with Ruth Behar and Juanamaría Cordones-Cook (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2020). (link:

Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America, co-edited with Jo Stealey (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2017). (link: )

*Winner of the First Biennial National Basketry Association Book Award

Articles and Book Chapters

“Establishing an African American Eden: Samuel Albert Countee’s World War II Mural for Fort Leonard Wood’s Black Officers’ Club” (work in progress).

”’Vigía es Elegguá:’ Crossing and Dwelling in Barquitos del San Juan (2007)” in Handmade in Cuba: Rolando Estévez and the Beautiful Books of Ediciones Vigía, co-edited by Ruth Behar, Juanamaría Cordones-Cook, and Kristin Schwain (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, May 2020), 77-95.

Co-authored with Jo Stealey, “Introduction: The Story of Contemporary American Basketry” in Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America, co-edited by Kristin Schwain and Jo Stealey (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2017), 8-30, 167-172.

"The Bible in Art" in The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America, ed. Paul Gutjahr (Oxford University Press, December 2017).

“Creating History, Establishing a Canon: Jacob Lawrence's The First Book of Moses, Called Genesis” in Behold! Representations of Christ and Christianity in African-American Art, eds. James Romaine and Phoebe Wolfskill (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2017), 166-177.

“Consuming Christ: Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Biblical Paintings and Nineteenth-Century American Commerce” in ReVisioning: Critical Methods of Seeing Christianity in the History of Art, eds. James Romaine and Linda Stratford (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013), 277-293.

“The Scorpio Trail: A Racial Storyscape of Columbia, Missouri,” in Robert Ladislas Derr, Discovering Columbus (2012), 9-11. Located at:

“Visual Culture: Painting, Sculpture, and Graphic Arts from the Civil War to World War II” in Encyclopedia of Religion in America, eds. Charles H. Libby and Peter W. Williams (SAGE CQ Press, 2010), 2278-2286.

“Visual Culture and American Religions,” Religion Compass 4:3 (May 2010): 190-201.

“Carl Gutherz’s Esoteric Art,” Carl Gutherz: Poetic Vision and Academic Ideals, ed. Marilyn Masler and Marina Pancini (Memphis: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, 2009), 57-83.

“F. Holland Day’s The Seven Last Words of Christ and the Religious Roots of American Modernism,” American Art 19: 1 (Spring 2005): 32-59.

Selected Exhibitions

Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America, co-curated with Jo Stealey, January 2017-December 2019 (

University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology, Columbia, MO (January-May 2017)

108 Contemporary, Tulsa, OK (June-July 2017)

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, Mississippi (August–November 2017)

Whatcom Museum, Bellingham, WA (February-May 2018)

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (June-September 2018)

South Dakota Art Museum, Brookings, SD (October 2018-January 2019)

Fuller Craft Museum (May-August 2019)

The Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts at Florida Institute of Technology (September-December 2019)

Afro-Cuban Artists: A Renaissance, Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri-Columbia, February-May 2016 (

Sites of Experience: Keith Crown and the New Mexican Landscape, Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri-Columbia, January-May 2013

Public Lectures 

Canastromania: or How Basket Fever Transformed American Basketry from 1890 to 1940,” Whatcom Museum, Bellingham, Washington, April 2018. Filmed and posted by the National Basketry Association: