Travel Award Recipient Spotlight: Leslie Todd

Release Date: February 01 2017


Every semester, a handful of UF graduate students in the humanities, arts, and social sciences are awarded one of only a few Graduate School Doctoral Research Travel Awards. These awards are given to students to conduct doctoral dissertation research away from UF when faced with insufficient funding.

Using the funds to travel to Quito, Ecuador, Art History Ph.D. candidate Leslie Todd studied the relationship between Quitenian art and society during the country’s Bourbon Reform period for her dissertation, titled “Eighteenth-Century Sculpture in Colonial Quito: Responding to Social and Political Change in the Domestic Sphere.”

“The Graduate School Doctoral Research Travel Award allowed me to pursue my main research questions by visiting archive and museum collections, and having meetings with local scholars to discuss my project,” Leslie wrote.

Leslie wrote that she was interested in art and Hispanic culture from a young age, which led to her to double major in Spanish and Art History at Southern Methodist University. A year teaching English in Ecuador exposed her to the country’s rich artistic heritage, which she focused on once she returned to the United States to pursue her Master’s degree at UF. Moving into her Ph.D, Leslie felt there were many questions left unanswered, so she expanded her project as she developed her dissertation.

Leslie’s archival search produced hundreds of notarial documents pertaining to art of the era. That search, along with visits to eight museums and churches that have collections of art, including the Museo de Arte Colonial and the collections associated with the famous Monasteries of Santo Domino and San Francisco, helped shape her understanding of the expectations placed on owners of sculpture by tradition and community in regards to ownership and display. Fluid ownership and loaning created connections between two people and donations connected owners to communities. Sculpture itself, adorned with jewels, was regularly maintained and placed prominently upon furniture in order to be ‘useful’ as a purchase.

“I learned that sculpture was expected to be ‘useful’ for its owners by way of spiritual enhancement, adorning a room so that the room might be ‘decent,’ doing work for the owner’s soul in the form of a donation to a religious institution after his/her death, and being materially of high quality and value so that the sculpture would be ‘worth’ declaring,” she wrote.

Leslie also searched boxes of tax records on imported and exported goods, as well as documents that catalogued goods confiscated by the Crown from the Jesuits after their expulsion from Ecuador. Her study of the impact the Jesuits had on Quitenian culture and art has also led her to believe that a common style of art called Rococo came to Quito from both France and Bavaria (the country that scholars typically trace it back to), which produced a unique hybrid style emphasizing both the spiritual and the profane.

“Ultimately, my findings allow me to conclude that sculpture was active in society in physical, spiritual, social, and economic activities,” she wrote. During her return trip in the spring, Leslie plans to build on the foundation she’s laid through interviews with antique shop owners, more deeply exploring notarial customs and Jesuit influences, and pursuing her idea about the Rococo style by examining spiritual materials in the Archive of the Ministry of Culture.