When I was living in Roswell, I became interested in drawing iris. I’ve long appreciated these flowers for their dramatic, ruffled petals and rich colors, but southeast New Mexico, as it turns out, is replete with them. I could find them growing all around Roswell in the spring, and the Roswell Museum collection itself boasted several lovely paintings of them, most notably the hauntingly lovely Iris from Henriette Wyeth.
There was also the Hondo Iris Farm up the road in San Patricio, a small village about 50 miles west of Roswell (and home to artists Henriette Wyeth and Peter Hurd).
In short, there was no shortage of flowers to draw, and each spring I made large sketches of blooming iris. Every year I thought about making a large print with them, only to put it off for another spring.
Once I found out I was heading back to graduate school, however, I decided it was time to make good on my intentions. I knew once I moved I was unlikely to revisit my New Mexico drawings, so it was now or never.
After weeks of planning, copying, and pasting, my new website is live and ready for viewing.
Yet why bother with a new website at all? After all, wasn’t the site I built over the summer serviceable? The answer is yes and no, so today I’d like to explain why I made a new site.
When I created my previous site, I wasn’t enrolled in any classes yet, let alone digital humanities. My primary focus was documenting my previous work, museum and otherwise, so working with a single platform like Wix was fine. With the digital humanities class, however, I needed a hosting site where I could work with multiple web-building apps like Scalar or WordPress. So I went to Reclaim Hosting, a host geared toward academics, and bought myself a domain. The website you’re looking at here was made with WordPress, but the DH project I’m working on now will be a Scalar piece, which allows you to publish interactive online books. In the long term, I’m looking into building an archive for the Roswell Museum’s historical documents using Omeka, a platform that specialized in archives and online exhibitions.
Speaking of domains, that’s another reason why I wanted to build a new site. When it comes to searching, you want a domain that’s easy to remember but still reflects your work. I was planning on changing my less than memorable domain on my previous site, but since I was already building a new one, I focused my attention on Reclaim Hosting.
But why call my website Sara Woodbury in Transit? Isn’t it enough to have my name? As it turns out, there’s another writer out there named Sarah Woodbury with her own website, so I didn’t want to get the two sites confused. I added the tagline “in transit” because it playfully references my interest in travel infrastructures and their role in the production and reception of art, not to mention my own habit of moving around the country in search of new opportunities.
That’s the story behind my new site. The other one was fine, but rather than simply document my old work, this one will allow me to share what I’m working on now. After all, I’m here to move forward, not rest on my laurels, so I’m excited to continue building my web presence.
So now that you know why I’m in graduate school, what does my actual schedule look like? This semester I’m taking three seminars: Intro to American Studies, American Capitalisms, and Digital Humanities.
Intro to American Studies is well, just that: an introduction to American Studies as a discipline. You learn about the history of the field, what the dominant methodological approaches tend to be, and where it’s heading in the near future. I took similar courses for art history, but the biggest difference I’ve noticed so far is the openness. There isn’t really a singular, canonical American Studies; rather it’s more about your own interests, and the interdisciplinary approaches you can take to turn your interests into research. Some folks might be more focused on history, others gender or queer theory, still others postcolonialism. It can be exciting or frightening depending on how much structure you prefer to have. Personally I like the open-endedness of it, otherwise I’d be in a more traditional field like history, or art history.
American Capitalisms looks at the historical and theoretical frameworks behind our capitalist society. Each week we read a book, a couple of articles, and discuss them. So far the main thing I’ve gotten is that capitalism is a lot more than an economic system. It’s a cultural framework that influences just about every aspect of our society, from gender relations to racialization. I’ve also learned that capitalism isn’t really the monolith we imagine it to be, but a variety of systems that reflect different social needs and cultural values. Given my research interests in transportation, infrasturcture, and art accessbility, I thought this would be an appropriate course for getting a better sense of the broader trends in American economic and cultural history.
Digital Humanities is a foundational course for what’s still a relatively new field. Digital Humanities essentially applies digital tools and techniques to history, anthropology, the Internet itself, and more. It’s most commonly associated with archive or exhibition-driven websites (an outstanding one is the Colored Conventions from the University of Delaware), but it also encompasses data organization techniques and other less visible forms. I don’t have a background in Digital Humanities myself, but I’ve been an observer on the periphery for a while, and as a scholar in the 21st century I believe I should at least be familiar with it. I also thought it would be a useful way to help me organize the data I’ve collected from the Roswell Museum, and possibly future data from other archives.
I’m also playing the flute in the William and Mary Wind Ensemble. It’s technically a class, but I’m in it for recreational purposes. Being in a group ensures that I practice regularly, and it’s an important outlet from my coursework.
So that’s what I’m up to right now. I won’t be starting my actual dissertation for a couple of years, but these classes and others are definitely helping me think about how to approach it as that time gets nearer, all while having the opportunity to learn about new things.
It occurred to me earlier today that I haven’t explained why I’m in graduate school at William and Mary. After all, I had a pretty comfortable job working as a curator at the Roswell Museum. Why would I drop all of that to return to the life of a student? Today I’d like to answer that question.
I’m here because I’m interested in the dynamic between travel infrastructures and art, and the ways in which railroads, highways, and other forms of transportation shape what kind of art gets shown (or not), and by whom (or not). More specifically, I’m interested in the travel infrastructure underpinning the Community Art Center program, a WPA initiative supervised by the Federal Art Project during the 1930s and early 1940s.
I became interested in this project during my time at the Roswell Museum, which was originally a federal community art center. Marvelously enough, the museum still has its WPA archive, and I started perusing it a couple of years ago while working on another project. Reading about the museum’s history was interesting, but what really intrigued was the network supporting it, the vast infrastructure that was hinted at through letters, receipts, and other documents.
I started thinking about art and travel back in 2014 when I read Transporting Visions by Jennifer Roberts. Focusing on the 18th and 19th centuries, Roberts discusses how the physical movement of art across space can influence its structure and content. Whether it’s a painting packed in a crate across the Atlantic Ocean, or a sketch drawn hundreds of miles from home in unfamiliar country, this book explores the ways in which the physical qualities of art as a transported object can shape it. While I wasn’t working on anything at the time that correlated to the questions this book asked, I liked its focus on the physical qualities of art (and what a pain it can be to move).
What really got me reinvigorated in the dialogue between art and travel was my own experiences as a curator. I hadn’t been at the museum very long when I’d read Roberts’ book, but over the next several years I would get a lot of practical experience that would shape my scholarly interests. As part of my work with exhibition planning, I was involved in the transportation of artwork to and from the museum, and I did a lot of it myself. I’ve driven U-Haul trucks full of art, and I once transported nearly all of the works for one exhibition, The Art of the Book, in the back of my car. Even when I wasn’t the one driving, my Registrar and I dealt with shipping companies, oversaw the packaging of art, and became familiar with all the paperwork that accompanies any art work when it travels.
Since these logistics were always on my mind in one for or another, I couldn’t help but think about them when I began to go through the museum’s archive. I soon realized, however, that as much as I would have loved to explore these logistics further, I’d never be able to do as I long as I was working in Roswell. Receipts and checklists don’t really lend themselves to an art exhibition the way paintings do, and more importantly, there was simply too much to do in my daily work to focus on it. There would always be exhibitions to plan, installations to oversee, and other tasks. The only way to give this project the attention it deserved was to go back to school. I had actually been debating going back for a PhD for several years, but I didn’t have a particular project or focus in mind. The Roswell Museum’s archive not only offered a lauching point, but also provided a way for my to combine my academic and museum experiences into one endeavor. My years of working in museums, and of dealing with these daily logististics, have given me a perspective that will help me immensely as I work on this project.
So that’s how I ended up here. In future posts I’ll tell you about which classes I’m actually taking, and how they’ll help me in my research.
Greetings! Thank you for checking my website, and for reading my blog. This online journal is all abut my ongoing adventures as a graduate student at the College of William and Mary. For readers who are already familiar with my work, this is a continuation of my old blog, The Fanciful Lobster. For new readers, welcome!
For newcomers, let me tell you a little about myself. I’m a PhD student in the College’s American Studies Program. I have a Master’s in art history from Williams College, and did my undergraduate work at Lake Forest College. I moved to Williamsburg from New Mexico about a week ago, so I’m still settling in here.
So what will I talk about on this blog? I imagine a lot of it will be about my academic work, since that’s what I’ll be spending most of my time doing. I’ll also talk about any interesting sketches I do, or trips I happen to take. Basically I’ll talk about what’s happening in my life.
There are also a few other cast members in this adventure I’ll introduce you to. The first is my partner Brandon. We met while we were both working at the Roswell Museum. A student of history, he’s currently involved with Colonial Williamsburg.
Then there are our two cats, Gustave and Iris. They really are the ones who run the household, Brandon and I just pay the bills and feed them.
Thank you for joining me on this adventure, and I look forward to sharing this new chapter of my life with you.