Kristin Schwain

Signs of Grace
Signs of Grace:
Religion and American Art
in the Gilded Age


Kristin Schwain

Associate Professor of American Art
Ph.D., Stanford University

phone: 573-882-6711
fax: 573-884-5269

mailing address:
Department of Art History and Archaeology
102 Swallow Hall
507 South 9th St.
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211


The courses I teach examine American visual culture from the Spanish arrival in the New World to the present. I explore conflicts and issues generated by cultural encounters, mass consumption, the politics of representation, and the visual culture of American religions (among others) through close analysis of fine art, material artifacts, and popular culture.

  • 1120: Renaissance to Modern Art 
  • 2830: Introduction to American Art and Architecture (Writing Intensive) 
  • 2850: Introduction to Visual Culture (Writing Intensive) 
  • 3830: American Art and Culture, 1500-1820
  • 3840: American Art and Culture, 1820-1913 
  • 3850: American Art and Culture, 1913-Present
  • 4005 / 7005: Topics in Art History and Archaeology (Topics: American Art and Culture Around 1900; American Photography)
  • 4820 / 7820: American Material Culture (Topics: Visual Culture of American Religions; Vernacular Cultures; Mid-Century Modernism and the “Missouri-Heart of the Nation” Collection; 20th Century American Photography: The Glen Serbin Collection of Photographs at the University of Missouri 
  • 7130: Museum Studies  
  • 8110: Introduction to Graduate Study
  • 8120: Theories and Methodologies in Art History and Archaeology 
  • 8800: Seminar in American Art (Topics: Material Culture of Religion; Visual Culture; African American Art; American Modernisms)
    Humanities 2114: The Modern Era


My research seeks to complicate the story of American modernism by showcasing that the roots of the twentieth-century art world are mired in the complexities of lived experience and visual culture. I do so by examining the roles played by religion, race, region, and consumption in art’s production, display, and reception. I show that religious belief and practices helped formed our conception of modern aesthetic experience; that artists of the African diaspora turned to religious expressions of all kinds to create a self-consciously Modern art and identity; that myriad modernisms developed in different regions of the country in response to local cultures, politics, and traditions; and that department stores, as much as museums and world’s fairs, were central to educating audiences and providing space for modern art’s appreciation, display, and dissemination.

Selected publications

  • Signs of Grace: Religion and American Art in the Gilded Age, Cornell University Press, 2008.
  • “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, forthcoming.
  • “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), pages 277-293.
  • “Abbott Handerson Thayer, An Angel (1893)” in Layton’s Legacy: A Historic American Art Collection, 1888-2013 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013).
  • Ediciones Vigía’s Barquitos del San Juan: La Revista de los Niños (Año 13, no. 23, 2007), Object Narrative, Initiative for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion at Yale University, 2013.
  • “The Scorpio Trail: A Racial Storyscape of Columbia, Missouri” for Robert Ladislas Derr’s multi-media exhibition, Discovering Columbus (2012). Can be downloaded and read here.
  • "Visual Culture and American Religions,” Religion Compass (Special Issue on The Sensorium of American Religions, eds. Jason Bivins and Sean McCloud) Volume 4 Issue 3 (May 2010): 190-201.
  • “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 (C.Q. Press, 2010), 2278-2286.
  • “Carl Gutherz’s Esoteric Art” in Carl Gutherz: Poetic Vision and Academic Ideals, ed. Marilyn Masler and Marina Pancini (Memphis: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, 2009).
  • “Anointing Modernism,” Re-Enchantment (The Art Seminar), eds. James Elkins and David Morgan (New York: Routledge, 2009): 273-5.
  • “F. Holland Day’s The Seven Last Words of Christ and the Religious Roots of American Modernism,” American Art 19, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 32-59.

Museum Exhibitions

  • Guest Curator, Mendive, Chaco, and the Havana Renaissance, Museum of Art and Archaeology, anticipated Fall 2016
  • Guest Curator, Sites of Experience: Keith Crown and the New Mexican Landscape, Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri-Columbia, Winter 2013
  • Guest Curator, Exploration, Interpretation, and the Works of George Caleb Bingham, Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri-Columbia, June 9-August 19, 2007