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Hauntings: Death and Desire in American Art 

October 6, 2022 @ 7:00 pm 8:00 pm

Join Dr. Robin Jaffee Frank for an investigation into art’s historic role in celebrating love and memorializing loss. We will explore childbirth, courtship, marriage, love affairs, sexual orientation, class, race, and especially grief and mourning. Our discussion will resurrect the lives of deceased sitters and lesser-known artists, many of them women and people of color working in diverse mediums. In early America, an era of high birth and death rates, a variety of keepsakes—mourning rings, miniature portraits worn as jewelry, hairwork, needlework, silhouettes, and paintings—expressed the desire to keep loved ones imaginatively within the circle of the living. Later, photography was quickly recognized for its ability to memorialize the likenesses of the deceased in an affordable way. 

Artists of all generations have made the absent present through haunting imagery, ranging from the seductive to spectral, from portraits to seemingly haunted domestic spaces immortalizing intimate and moving stories of love and loss. 

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An independent curator, Robin Jaffee Frank, PhD, has organized numerous exhibitions at museums throughout the US, and lectured and published widely on American visual culture from the colonial through contemporary periods. She formerly served as Chief Curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, and Senior Associate Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Conn. Robin holds a PhD in the history of art from Yale University. 

Pertinent to this lecture, Robin curated the exhibition and authored the accompanying book Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures (Yale University Press, 2000). The exhibition opened at the Yale University Art Gallery and traveled to the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC, and Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, in Andover, Mass. Robin further explored how American art frames memory in essays in Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence: Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana (vol. 1, 2006; vol. 2, 2011) and Becoming America: Highlights from the Jonathan and Karin Fielding Collection (2020). In 2017, she curated World War I Beyond the Trenches at the New-York Historical Society, exploring trauma, mourning, and the 1918 influenza pandemic. In 2020–21, she taught a university course titled “Love and Loss: Framing Memory in American Portraiture” at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in NYC. 

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