UA Art Faculty Bring Home Higher Ed Awards

In October, UA art and art history faculty brought home two of five Awards for Excellence from the annual conference meeting of SECAC, the second largest organization in the US that promotes the study and practice of the visual arts in higher education.

Dr. Rachel Stephens

Dr. Rachel Stephens, associate professor of art history, won the SECAC Award for Excellence in Scholarly Research and Publication for her new book Hidden in Plain Sight: Concealing Enslavement in American Visual Culture (University of Arkansas Press). Jonathan Cumberland, assistant professor of graphic design, won the SECAC Award for Excellence in Graphic Design. The awards recognize exemplary work by SECAC members, who were nominated by their peers. The awards were presented to Stephens and Cumberland on October 12, 2023, at the annual awards luncheon in Richmond, Virginia, during the 79th meeting of SECAC.

In praising Dr. Stephens’ recent publication, one of the SECAC peer reviewers noted: “This important publication provides an essential addition to post-Civil War histories of American art. It’s expertly researched, brilliantly written and passionately argued. This is a difficult history to narrate and Stephens does it with sensitivity, nuance and attention to detail.” The quality of Dr. Stephens’ research and the timeliness of her topic were praised by the colleagues who nominated her for the award, one of whom stated, “This meticulously researched book introduces readers to new materials and fresh ideas that will change the way scholars think about histories of U.S. art, southern art, and slavery.”

Jonathan Cumberland

In praising Cumberland’s work, the SECAC peer review committee noted that, within the last two years, he has participated in one national and six international exhibitions; he has produced illustrations for Oxford University Press, Sallie Mae, and The University of Alabama National Alumni Magazine; he had five posters awarded and included in the Graphis Protest Poster 2 Annual – one gold, one silver, and three honorable mentions; and he also served as co-PI on a $75,000 CDC Foundation grant project utilizing the arts to combat vaccine hesitancy in the US. SECAC peer reviewers were impressed with Cumberland’s sustained excellence and his ability to do socially conscious work with tremendous aesthetic merit. As one reviewer put it, his design projects “possess a unique ability to bring current issues to the fore with use of clever metaphors and this makes for thoughtful and memorable art pieces.”

In addition, Rachel Stephens and Jonathan Cumberland presented their research during the conference meeting. Cumberland presented “The University of Alabama Creative Voice: The Journey and Destination of Illustration” and Dr. Stephens presented “Slavery and the Tennessee State Capitol Building: Investigating Race and Architecture in the Athens of the South.” Stephens also chaired a session titled Convergences of Art & Architecture. Read more about UA art and art history faculty’s participation at SECAC in 2023.

SECAC is a national non-profit organization devoted to education and research in the visual arts. Founded in 1942, SECAC provides advocacy and support for arts professionals and engenders opportunities for the exchange of scholarship and creative activities through an annual conference and publications. Though founded initially as an organization of artists, scholars, and arts professionals from the southeastern states, SECAC has grown to include individual and institutional members from across the United States and around the world, becoming the second largest national organization of its kind.

For more information about The University of Alabama’s programs in art history and studio art, visit our Degree Programs page.