Kenan Speaker Series brings UNC Chapel Hill Art History professor to Crisp-Ellert Art Museum

Landscape photo of Dr. Maggie Cao on mountainside
April 2, 2024
Flagler College is delighted to welcome Maggie Cao, a scholar of eighteenth and nineteenth-century American art, to Flagler College on Thursday, April 18 at 6 p.m. as a part of a Kenan Speaker Series: “Ways of Seeing Climate Change.”

“Today climate change endangers many native species while exacerbating the negative impact of invasives,” Cao, a David G. Frey Associate Professor of Art History at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill said. “My lecture will explore artists’ engagements with plants in the context of imperialism past and present.” 

Organized by Flagler’s Kenan Distinguished Professor of Art History in the Department of Visual Arts, Chris Balaschak, this series intends to foster critical and timely discussions about the power of art and media to inform our understanding of climate change, environmental justice, and our planet’s uncertain destiny. The series is funded in part by the Kenan Family Foundation- Past presenters include other scholars of higher education like a University of Missouri-Kansas City professor of Art History and Latin American studies, Joe Hartman.  

Cover of Cao's first book, "The End of Landscape in Nineteenth-Century America” 

Through her professorship at UNC Chapel Hill, Cao studies the history of globalization with a concentration on the intersections of art and the history of technology, natural science, and economics. Her first book, “The End of Landscape in Nineteenth-Century America” (University of California Press, 2018) examines the dissolution of landscape painting as a major cultural project in the late nineteenth-century United States.  

She is currently finishing a second book, “Painting US Empire: Nineteenth-Century Art and its Legacies,” the first comprehensive analysis or interpretation of nineteenth-century art that considers influences and impacts from around the world. Cao’s upcoming lecture, “Picturing Botanical Imperialism in the Americas,” draws upon this recent research. As the circulation of plants has long been tied to considerations of climate, her lecture will explore artists’ engagement with plants in the context of imperialism.  

She will dive into the work of renowned nineteenth-century American landscape painter, Frederic Edwin Church, exploring his paintings of Jamaican flora. Specifically, how Church’s paintings engaged scientific knowledge, cultural beliefs, and practical uses of that region’s plants with political and imperialistic contexts of that period.  

The legacy of Church’s nineteenth-century botanical imagery will be examined through contemporary artist Maria Thereza Alves’s ongoing “Seeds of Change” project. Her work unearthed seeds from historic ballast sites, locations where ships would dump heavy material like rocks which were used to stabilize the vessel during a voyage, often containing seeds from the ship’s place of origin. These seeds, once dumped, could grow and introduce non-native plant species to the new location.  


The Crisp-Ellert Art Museum is in an accessible building. If you are a person with a disability and need reasonable accommodation, please contact the museum at 904-826-8530. Sign Language Interpreters are available upon request with a minimum of three days’ notice.  

For more information about our programming and upcoming events, please visit the website at, follow us on Instagram (@crispellertart) or Facebook (Crisp-Ellert Art Museum), or contact Julie Dickover at 904-826-8530 or