Pohl, Frances K. 1952-

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POHL, Frances K. 1952-


Born April 6, 1952, in Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada; daughter of Frank and Caterina Regina Pohl. Education: University of British Columbia, B.A., 1977, M.A., 1980; University of CaliforniaLos Angeles, Ph.D, 1985.


Office—Pomona College, Room 212, Lebus Court, 333 North College Way, Claremont, CA 91711-4429. E-mail—[email protected].


Pomona College, Claremont, CA, professor, 1985—; author. Social and Public Art Resource Center, member of board of directors, 1997—; Jahrbuch der Guernica-Gesellschaft (Osnabruck, Germany, member of advisory board, 1999—.


College Art Association, National Women's Studies Association, American Studies Association.


Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada fellowship, 1980-84; University of California, Los Angeles doctoral fellow; Smithsonian Institution postdoctoral fellow, 1988-89; National Endowment for the Humanities summer fellow, 1992; numerous research grants from Pomona College.


Ben Shahn: New Deal Artist in a Cold War Climate, 1947-1954, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1989.

(With Ben Shahn) Ben Shahn, Pomegranate ArtBooks (San Francisco, CA), 1993.

In the Eye of the Storm: An Art of Conscience, 1930-1970, Pomegranate ArtBooks (San Francisco, CA), 1995.

Framing America: A Social History of American Art, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to Nineteenth-Century Art, A Critical History, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 1993.


Frances K. Pohl strongly believes that art cannot be studied in isolation. Art is affected by the culture that surrounds the artist. Art is also not static as it is always evolving with the times. She studies, teaches, and writes about art with an interdisciplinary approach. In order to fully appreciate a work of art, Pohl believes, one must understand first how that creative piece functions within the particular era and in the particular place that the artist completed it, and to appreciate how the meaning of it has changed over time. She points out that what a specific artist might have wanted to express with his or her art is often used by others to convey different meanings, especially in the political arena.

Pohl is a Canadian living in the United States, close to the Mexican border. In her studies, she incorporates the works of artists in all three countries as well as works of different genres, such as paintings, furniture, sculpture, posters, needlework, and ceramics. Her works include two focused studies of artist Ben Shahn's pieces and the political messages of his work. Two other books offer comprehensive studies of art in North America.

Shahn, a social realist artist and photographer, is the subject of Pohl's first two books. The earlier one, Ben Shahn: New Deal Artist in a Cold War Climate, 1947-1954, narrows its topic to his work of the anti-Communism years in the United States following World War II. Shahn was a man who believed that art should be socially relevant and politically active. His own Jewish ethnicity often marked him as a target during the McCarthy years, and his works were blacklisted from time to time. He was able to find a political balance, however, and was equally supported by labor unions and big business. Pohl also points out how Shahn was able to create materials for the government, such as pro-war posters, as well as to produce works that depicted the deplorable working conditions that existed in the United States, particularly in the South. In demonstrating the nature and purpose of Shahn's dedication, as Paul Frosch reported in the Library Journal, Pohl shows how the artist can be "social critic" and his art, "social action." Although Pohl focuses on Shahn in this book, J. Barter, a reviewer for Choice, wrote that the real subject of her study "is the careful weaving of Cold War Politics, New Deal liberals, labor unions, and the changing art world of the 1950s."

Pohl's second book on Shahn, simply called Ben Shahn, is a collaboration of sorts, as Pohl works not only with Shahn's art and an historical perspective of his collective works but also with Shahn's own writings. With this book, Pohl outlines his history and demonstrates how his work changed over time. Patrick J. B. Flyn, writing for Progressive called Pohl's work, a "big, beautiful book" that "proves Ben Shahn was a master artist."

Shahn and his work have not been studied for many years. After the height of his career in the late fifties, most art historians ignored him. For this reason, Christopher Andreae, in the Christian Science Monitor, found Pohl's book "a welcome representation of Shahn, both of his art and his highly intelligent writing about art." Some of Shahn's most memorable works include one that represents his emotions about the famed trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian anarchists, whom many people believe were framed for murder—they were subsequently tried and sentenced to death. "Here was something to paint!" Shahn wrote, exposing how emotional he was about the trial. Shahn also worked with Mexican muralist Diego Rivera on the famous Rockefeller Center piece, "Man at the Crossroads," which was ultimately torn down almost immediately after it was finished because it contained a depiction of Vladimir Lenin, then-leader of the Soviet Union.

In 2002 Pohl published Framing America: A Social History of American Art, a book that is often referred to as the model for art-history text books. In this work, Pohl, according to Savannah Schroll for the Library Journal, "reaches further into history than previous surveys." She does this, for example, by pondering the influences of Native Americans on European explorers and their arts. She also covers objects that other art historians have neglected, such as articles usually defined as craft rather than art, and utilitarian implements. She includes works by Japanese-American internment camp inmates who tell the stories of their imprisonment through their art. Pohl's detailed observations of these often-overlooked pieces made a Publishers Weekly reviewer claim that Pohl's book "is determinedly and liberatingly inclusive." For instance, Pohl includes sketches made by survivors of the battle at Little Big Horn; art by spectators of the Haymarket riot; as well as diagrams of the construction of the Statue of Liberty. Also collected in the 560-page textbook is the art of everyday life of Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and women, and other often underrepresented groups. In an online article for Calendarlive, Suzanne Muchnie quoted Pohl as stating that she wrote this book to examine "how the meaning of a work is a function not only of its content but also of where it is produced, where it is displayed, the identity of the artist and how this identity is affected by race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality." Schroll ended her review by calling Framing America the "most up-to-date American art textbook available."



American Historical Review, February, 1991, Maren Stange, review of Ben Shahn: New Deal Artist in a Cold War Climate, 1947-1954, p. 279.

Choice, December, 1989, J. Barter, review of Ben Shahn: New Deal Artist in a Cold War Climate, 1947-1954, p. 623.

Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1994, Christopher Andreae, review of Ben Shahn, p. 21.

Library Journal, August, 1989, Paula Frosch, review of Ben Shahn: New Deal Artist in a Cold War Climate, 1947-1954, p. 132; October 1, 2002, Savannah Schroll, review of Framing America, p. 92.

Progressive, February, 1994, Patrick J. B. Flynn, review of Ben Shahn, pp. 38-41.

Publishers Weekly, August 26, 2002, review of Framing America, pp. 52-63.


Calendarlive, (February 23, 2003), Suzanne Muchnie, review of Framing American.*