John Wallace Nunley

John Wallace Nunley

Fellow: Awarded 2008

Field of Study: African Studies

Competition: US & Canada

John Wallace Nunley is the inaugural Morton D. May Curator of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Saint Louis Art Museum, and an adjunct professor at the University of Washington at St. Louis. He received his B.A. (1967), M.A. (1972), and Ph.D. (1976) from the University of Washington at St. Louis.

While a graduate student, Mr. Nunley’s interest in Africa took firm root when, supported by a National Defense Education Act (NDEA) grant, he spent two summers in Indiana University’s intensive program in the West African language Bamana-Dyula, while simultaneously pursuing his Ph.D. degree in anthropology and art history as a Kress Foundation Fellow. Under the auspices of a second NDEA grant, in 1972-73 he went to northern Ghana to further his Ph.D. research among the Sisala.

Returning to the United States, Mr. Nunley then joined the art history department at the University of Chicago. During his tenure there, he received his first Fulbright-Hays Postdoctoral Fellowship, which allowed him to conduct research for his first book, Moving with the Face of the Devil: Art and Politics in Urban West Africa (University of Illinois Press, 1987), which was nominated for the African Studies Association’s Melville Herskovits Book of the Year award.

He took up his present position as curator at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1982, and supported by a NEH implementation grant he assembled a team of scholars that, led by him, produced the exhibition and accompanying book Caribbean Festival Arts: Each and Every Bit of Difference (1988), written with Judith Bettelheim. He continued his exploration of Caribbean cultural in 1990, again as a Fulbright-Hays Postdoctoral Fellow, studying the area’s various festivals in the context of global trade, slavery, and migration. One result was the exhibition and accompanying book Masks: Faces of Culture (Abrams, 1999), of which he was a senior author and major contributor. That exhibition travelled in 2000 from the Field Museum in Chicago to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Not limited to studying the African and Caribbean regions, in 1999, thanks to the support of a Henry Luce Foundation grant, Mr. Nunley began working with Osage artist and historian Sean Standing Bear and the Osage Indian Tribal Council in Oklahoma, which resulted in him curating Art of the Osage, and coauthoring the accompanying book of the same title (University of Washington Press, 2004).

Since 2005, he has been researching African art and slavery, studies he will continue to pursue during his Guggenheim Fellowship term.