Date of Award

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Sarah Schaefer

Committee Members

Kay Wells


American art, illustration, pastel, Pastelists, Society of Painters in Pastel, watercolor


This thesis examines the production, exhibition, and reception of American pastels as both a process and product in conjunction with artist groups, societies, and institutions. The growing field of illustration influenced pastelists to produce work for print reproductions through commercial publications and advertisements. Despite this, a shift back to the fine arts developed later in the twentieth century with the rise of television and digital media, reducing the need for hand-illustrated ads. While pastel has been historically marginalized as a secondary medium reserved for preliminary work or sketching, recent scholarship by technical art historians like Thea Burns and Marjorie Shelly bring more attention to this medium. Differing from aqueous painting media like watercolor which was also associated with preparatory study, pastel straddled the practices of both drawing and painting as a dry medium. Despite its origins as a European-based practice, the formation of pastel societies in America predates that of any comparable organization in Europe. The Society of Painters in Pastel (1882-1890) and the Pastelists (1910-1915) were short-lived groups which predated the Pastel Society of America in 1972 (the oldest pastel society in the United States and still operating today).