The Unforgettables: Expanding the History of American Art

Charles Eldredge

University of California Press, 2022

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

Eminent art historian Charles C. Eldredge brings together top scholars to celebrate forgotten artists and create a more inclusive history of American art.
Why do some artists become canonical, while others, equally respected in their time, fall into obscurity? This question is central to The Unforgettables, a vibrant collection of essays by leading experts on American art. Each contributor presents a brief for an artist deserving of new or renewed attention, including artists from the colonial era to recent years working in a wide variety of mediums.

Histories of American art have traditionally highlighted the work of a familiar roster of artists, largely white and male. The achievements of their peers, notably women and artists of color, have gone uncelebrated. The essays in this volume provide a new and richer understanding of American art, expanding the canon to include many worthy talents. A number of these artists were acclaimed in their day; others, having missed that acclaim, may achieve it now. With contributions from major scholars and museum professionals, The Unforgettables rescues and revises reputations as it enhances and enriches the history of American art.


"Smithsonian research associate Eldredge (Georgia O’Keeffe: American and Modern) broadens the canvas of American art history in this incisive study of 63 artists dating from the 18th century up to the modern era. Brief essays written by curators and scholars showcase some better-known artists (John Greenwood, Bill Traylor, Raymond Loewy), but most are unfamiliar, among them 18th-century Puerto Rican painter José Campeche y Jordán, who was born to an enslaved father and had painted the Spanish royal coat of arms on mail ships by the age of 13; and Japanese painter Miki Hayakawa, who immigrated to the United States at age nine and depicted her models to be as engaging as possible, but was an emotionally private person herself. There are some missteps: most of the featured artists are painters or sculptors (only seven designers are mentioned), and Native American artists are noticeably scarce (Harry Fonseca, who grew up in post–WWII California and was of Nisenan-Maidu descent, is one of the four). Even so, the book succeeds in bringing to light the lives and work of artists whose talents have long been neglected. Art buffs would do well to pick up this canon-expanding survey."  —Publishers Weekly