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U.Va. Professor Wins Smithsonian Book Prize for Tracing Slave Trade Through Abolitionist Art

April 24, 2012 — University of Virginia art history professor Maurie McInnis has been awarded the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art for her book "Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade," published in 2011 by the University of Chicago Press.

Her book, which traces the American slave trade through the visual and written records of Eyre Crowe, a British artist who visited a slave auction in Richmond in 1853, was recognized for its integration of art and cultural studies, according to the Smithsonian's announcement.

"It is particularly important that the jurors are honoring Maurie McInnis's persuasive book about abolitionist art just as the nation is examining the legacy of the American Civil War 150 years later," said Elizabeth Broun, the Margret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The jurors wrote: "McInnis brilliantly reconstructs the world of slave traders, auctioneers, jails and holding cells, indicating how slavery was both woven into and hidden in the architectural and cultural fabric of Southern cities. Her study of the red flag's iconography – found in Crowe's painting, 'Slaves Waiting for Sale' – is especially compelling and new. This book is a model of visual analysis of specific images and their meanings within a historical context, of research into primary and secondary sources, and clarity in thought and argument."

McInnis is professor of American art and material culture and associate dean for undergraduate academic programs in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The Eldredge Prize, named in honor of a former director of the museum, is sponsored by the American Art Forum, a patrons' support organization. The annual award, initiated in 1989, recognizes originality and thoroughness of research, excellence of writing and clarity of method.

In addition to a $3,000 award, McInnis will present the annual Eldredge Prize lecture, a free and public event, in the museum's McEvoy Auditorium on Oct. 18 at 4 p.m.

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