Marling, Karal Ann 1943-

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Marling, Karal Ann 1943-


Born November 5, 1943, in Rochester, NY; daughter of Raymond J. and Marjorie Marling. Education: University of Toronto, A.B. (with honors), 1967; Bryn Mawr College, M.A., 1968, Ph.D., 1971.


Office—1920 S. 1st St., Ste. 1301, Minneapolis, MN 55454.


Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, assistant professor, 1971-74; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, assistant professor, 1974-77; University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, Minneapolis, professor of art history and American studies, 1977—. Visiting faculty at Carleton College, Buffalo Bill Center, Cornell University, University of Wyoming, Harvard University, University of Kansas, and Catholic University of Lublin.


Minnesota Humanities Commission grant, 1986; Minnesota Book Award for history, 1994; Robert C. Smith Award, Decorative Arts Society, 1994; award from International Association of Art Critics, 1998; named Phi Beta Kappa Professor, 2001.


Federal Art in Cleveland, 1933-1943: An Exhibition, Cleveland Public Library (Cleveland, OH), 1974.

Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1982.

The Colossus of Roads: Myth and Symbol along the American Highway, photographs by Liz Harrison and Bruce White, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1984.

Tom Benton and His Drawings: A Biographical Essay and a Collection of His Sketches, Studies, and Mural Cartoons, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1985.

George Washington Slept Here: Colonial Revivals and American Culture, 1876-1986, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1988.

Blue Ribbon: A Social and Pictorial History of the Minnesota State Fair, Minnesota Historical Society Press (St. Paul, MN), 1990.

(With John Wetenhall) Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1991.

(Editor, with Jessica H. Foy) The Arts and the American Home, 1890-1930, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1994.

As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1994.

In Search of the Corn Queen, National Museum of American Art (Washington, DC), 1994.

Going Home with Elvis, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.

The Architecture of Reassurance: Building the Disney Theme Parks, Flamarion (Paris, France), 1997.

Norman Rockwell, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1997.

L'architecture du Récomfort, Center Canadien d'Architecture (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1997.

Merry Christmas! Celebrating America's Greatest Holiday, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

Looking North: Royal Canadian Mounted Police Illustrations; The Potlach Collection, Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota Duluth, Afton Historical Society Press (Afton, MN), 2003.

Old Glory: Unfurling History, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 2004.

Debutante: Rites and Regalia of American Debdom, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 2004.

Behind the Magic: 50 Years of Disneyland, [Dearborn, MI], 2005.

Norman Rockwell, J.P. Tarcher (Germany), 2005.

(With Corine Wegener) Money in the Bank: The Katherine Kierland Herberger Collection, Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.

Designs on the Heart: The Homemade Art of Grandma Moses, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.

(With Corine Wegener and Christopher Monkhouse) Wind & Whimsy: Weathervanes and Whirlygigs from Twin Cities Collections, Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Minneapolis, MN), 2007.

Minnesota, Hail to Thee! A Sesquicentennial History, Afton Historical Society Press (Afton, MN), 2008.

Also author of essays for many exhibition catalogs and other shorter works, including "Frederic C. Knight (1898-1979)," Everhart Museum, 1987; "Joe Jones and J.B. Turnbull: Visions of the Midwest in the 1930s," Patrick and Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art, 1987; "Looking Back: A Perspective on the 1913 Inaugural Exhibition," Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 1988; "Niles Spencer," Whitney Museum of American Art at Equitable Center, 1990; "Edward Hopper," Rizzoli, 1992; "A Year from the Collection, circa 1952," Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994; "Civil Rights in Oz: Images of Kansas in American Popular Art," Spencer Museum of Art, 1997; "Double Trouble: The Patchett Collection," Museum of Contemporary Art (San Diego), 1998; "Dateline Kenya: The Media Paintings of Joseph Bertiers," Smart Art Press, 1998; "Frames of Reference: Looking at American Art, 1900-1950," Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999; "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People," High Museum of Art, 1999; and "Illusions of Eden: Vision of the American Heartland," Columbia Museum of Art, 2000. Contributor to books, including Between Home and Heaven: Contemporary American LandscapePhotography from the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Collection of the National Museum of American Art, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1992; Baseball as America, 2002; and Frederick Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape, Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, 2006.


Karal Ann Marling is a scholar of American popular culture and art. Her writings include exhibition catalogs, studies of individual artists as well as art movements, and historical surveys of American cultural icons and events. Marling's histories in particular have attracted notice for the clarity of her writing and the thoroughness of her research.

In Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression, Marling examines the controversial result of an art contest sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts in 1939. This contest, which was intended to supply one mural for a small-town post office in each state in the country, pitted government officials, citizens, and artists against each other in bitter disagreements about taste and propriety. Wall-to-Wall America includes illustrations of the murals under discussion along with sketches of proposed murals and quotes from letters, petitions, contracts, and government reports on works-in-progress from the voluminous official archives. Commenting on Marling's use of "an anecdotal, case-study approach" to her vast amount of research material, Le Anne Schreiber wrote in the New York Times: "The result is a book that is less rigorously analytical but more entertaining than might be expected."

Marling also focuses on long-standing, powerful American icons in her work. In George Washington Slept Here: Colonial Revivals and American Culture, 1876-1986, she examines the emergence of myths surrounding the first president of the United States, how these myths have changed over the centuries, and what these changes reveal about the society as a whole. "Because the book is richly descriptive," observed Michael Kammen in the New York Times Book Review, "readers will encounter many unfamiliar and enchanting tales" about the real people who surrounded Washington as well as those whose claim to fame rests in their obsession with a person some critics describe as our national patron saint. Although Marling was cited for failing to cull her prodigious research materials to a more manageable size—"the author seems compelled to use all her notes," observed Washington Post critic Michael Kernan—George Washington Slept Here was also singled out for its entertaining depiction of the trivialization and mythification of the first president. Kammen dubbed the book "a lively expose whose persuasiveness owes much to the banality, snobbery and ubiquity of the treasures turned up by Ms. Marling."

Like George Washington Slept Here, Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero, written with John Wetenhall, exposes the myths that have grown up around a powerful American icon—in this case, a famous photograph and national monument of the raising of the American flag during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Marling and Wetenhall discuss the actual flag-raising event, which was an attempt to raise the spirits of the still-fighting American troops. A subsequent flag-raising, just hours later, yielded the famous photograph and, aided by a popular film, The Sands of Iwo Jima, helped sustain American support for the U.S. Marine Corps during the postwar years. However, the second flag-raising was also the source of some controversy and a subsequent government cover-up of its staging. John Bodnar commented in the American Historical Review: "Marling and Wetenhall focus more on telling their story than analyzing its theoretical implications, but they clearly explain the role that the Marine Corps played in attempting to extract as much favorable public opinion from the episode as possible." Charles K. Piehl commented in Library Journal: "This is popular culture at its best, thoroughly enjoyable to read."

Novelist John Updike termed Marling's book, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s, "an intellectual romp, a dizzying free fall through the exuberant ‘visual culture’ of that first post-World War II decade," in his review in the New York Times Book Review. In this work, Marling examines the influence of television on such signature aspects of the 1950s as the creation of Disneyland and huge, chrome-encrusted automobiles, Elvis Presley, Betty Crocker, vice president Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Although the author was again cited for providing less analysis than raw data, a Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded: "This archaeology of our recent visual past is as important as any recent political history of the period, and far fresher in approach."

In Debutante: Rites and Regalia of American Debdom, Marling explores an event that has all but disappeared from the society pages of the twenty-first century: the introduction into society of America's richest, whitest, and most eligible young ladies of marriageable age. She covers the evolution of the event from the 1700s, when debutante balls and cotillions increasingly came to represent a well-heeled family's social standing and indulgent parents spared no expense on ball gowns and accessories. In typical fashion, "her historical analysis is rich and detailed," observed Lauren F. Winner in Books and Culture, but Winner also noted that Marling offers little analysis of the decline of this haute-couture reflection of social status, nor does she spend much time on alternate coming-of-age celebrations among ethnic minorities. She touches only lightly upon modern-day manifestations of "American debdom" such as the high-school prom or the red-carpet ritual preceding the annual Academy Awards. Though Winner found the author's tone somewhat condescending, a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that "her style matches her subject matter."

Marling turned her attention away from high society to focus on old-fashioned, down-home American values when she wrote Designs on the Heart: The Homemade Art of Grandma Moses. Her book explores not only the life and work of the longtime craftswoman who became a world-famous painter in old age, but also the industry created around her homely, comfortable creations. Moses came to fame as a painter in her seventies, at a turbulent time of U.S. history. She reproduced vignettes of farm life and domestic activities that reminded people of simpler times. Homespun nostalgia was important to soldiers in World War II and their families at home, and its popularity did not wane in the postwar years of technological innovation and mass production. In fact, these very processes spawned a huge industry in objects decorated with the artist's checkered farmhouses, rural landscapes, and women producing candles and soap by hand. Marling's book was commissioned to accompany a museum exhibition but far exceeded the scope of the typical exhibition catalog. Books and Culture reviewer Winner called Marling "a stunningly astute observer of American visual culture" and compared Designs on the Heart to "the best works of historical scholarship."

Marling is also the author of "Edward Hopper," a brief, poster-size paperback that reproduces the American painter's most famous works, accompanied by an essay that describes and analyzes Hopper's contribution to American art.

Marling's popular culture treatises have earned positive reviews for their entertaining reflections on American society. While several critics expressed the desire for further analytical discussion of the topics her research has unearthed, many seemed fascinated by her accounts of such varied phenomena as the use of George Washington's image to sell consumer goods, the acrimony generated when people try to agree on matters of taste, and the influence of television on nearly every aspect of American society. According to Kammen in the New York Times Book Review, these works have justly contributed to Marling's "reputation as an energetic and observant practitioner of American studies."

Marling once told CA: "I remain an art historian. That is, the object is more important to me than any theoretical construct into which it might be crammed. Things have stories to tell in a language of form, shape, and color: I try to tell these stories in the most accessible manner possible."



American Historical Review, October, 1992, John Bodnar, review of Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero, pp. 1305-1306.

Books and Culture, March-April, 2005, Lauren F. Winner, review of Debutante: Rites and Regalia of American Debdom, p. 37; November-December, 2006, Lauren F. Winner, review of Designs on the Heart: The Homemade Art of Grandma Moses, p. 22.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1994, review of As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s, p. 964.

Library Journal, June 15, 1991, Charles K. Piehl, review of Iwo Jima, p. 89; July, 1992, Margarete Gross, review of Edward Hopper, p. 80.

New York Times, November 12, 1982, Le Anne Schreiber, review of Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression; October 1, 1991, Richard Severo, review of Iwo Jima, p. C16.

New York Times Book Review, November 6, 1988, Michael Kammen, review of George Washington Slept Here: Colonial Revivals and American Culture, 1876-1986, p. 26; August 25, 1991, Ronald Spector, review of Iwo Jima, p. 10; October 30, 1994, John Updike, review of As Seen on TV, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, June 21, 1991, review of Iwo Jima, pp. 46-47; September 5, 1994, review of As Seen on TV, p. 104; February 23, 2004, review of Debutante, p. 65.

Reference and Research Book News, August, 2006, review of Money in the Bank: The Katherine Kierland Herberger Collection.

School Library Journal, August, 1992, Shirley Wilton, review of Edward Hopper, p. 182.

Washington Post, October 28, 1988, Michael Kernan, review of George Washington Slept Here.

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Marling, Karal Ann 1943-

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