Arts and Culture

Professor R. Tripp Evans: a profile

Mary Heuser Professor of Art and Art History R. Tripp Evans, who teaches courses at Wheaton in modern architecture as well as United States and pre-Columbian art, has a myriad of career achievements. In addition to having written two books, Professor Evans has also recently developed several specialized courses in African-American art, the development of the skyscraper, and feminist art history.

In his 2004 book, Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination 1820-1915, Professor Evans “explores the ways in which 19th century explorers and writers – mostly but not all American – attempted to re-contextualize the ancient Maya past, presenting it as an alternative ‘classical’ tradition and cultural pedigree for the United States.” Through the book, he examines what constitutes “American” identity.

Professor Evans’ more recent 2010 work, Grant Wood: A Life, is a biography of the American painter Grant Wood, was a project that “started out as an article about his most famous painting, American Gothic (1930), and evolved into a study of his paintings as a reflection of his own identity and personal relationships.” Like his previous book, the biography explores the discovery and understanding of identity, albeit from the point of view of a different time in history.

Of his book-writing experience, Professor Evans says that the process is different for each book. However, as an art historian, he says that he dedicates a lot of time to researching the meanings of a particular image or set of images, which can include “archival work, site visits to buildings and museums, and (for my work) a lot of social history research,” he says.

“My writing is a continuous process of editing and re-editing,” says Professor Evans. “I wrote numerous drafts of each book even before the formal stage of working with an editor.” Evidently, writing a book takes many pre-writing and writing steps, from preliminary research to drafting to, finally, editing and publishing as well as everything in between.

Professor Evans is currently working on two book projects, looking to add to his ever-growing list of achievements. The first work is about six acres of land in Providence, R.I., and its history spanning from the time of continental drift to present-day. “I’m hoping that by looking at such a small area over such an enormous span of time,…I can tell a larger story about the ways cities have developed in the U.S. (e.g., geologically, industrially, economically),” he says.

The second work-in-progress is a case study of three historic Massachusetts homes which are now house museums, “created entirely, or in their final incarnation, by bachelors.” Professor Evans says that “the book will look at the advent of interior decoration in the twentieth century, and at the ways closeted gay men fit into that story.”

Aside from book-writing, Professor Evans is looking forward to teaching this semester. He says that he is particularly enjoying his first year seminar called “No Place Like Home: The American House as Biography.” The course “reflects my interest in houses and identity,” said Professor Evans.