Chris Dingwall is a historian of American and African American design from the age of slavery to now. Currently he is completing two book-length research projects. “Selling Slavery: Race and the Industry of American Culture” is a study of commercial plantation iconography in a variety of forms — theatrical spectacles, decorated books, postcards, mechanical toys. By analyzing how images of slavery were manufactured, exchanged, and used in everyday life, Dingwall narrates how cultural workers and entrepreneurs built racial ideology into American mass culture during the long wake of slave emancipation.
“Black Designers in Chicago” is a catalogue and chronicle of African American craftspeople, commercial artists, and art educators who redefined the place of African Americans in the design profession and of design in African American life. While showcasing and celebrating the stunning design work developed in Black Chicago in the twentieth century, the book also advances an argument about the relationship between race and design in the U.S. on the levels of visual and material culture as well as the design profession itself. The book is supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
Dingwall’s work examines the history of racial capitalism in the U.S. through the lens of design history and material culture for scholarly and public audiences. “Black Designers in Chicago: began as a co-curated exhibition, “African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce, and the Politics of Race,” held at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2018 with support from the Terra Foundation. Previously, he curated “Race and the Design of American Life,” held at the University of Chicago Special Collections Library in 2013, which examined the history of commercial racial iconography in the making of American consumer culture. He has written about material culture, contemporary art, and African American design in AIGA Eye on Design, American Art, Archives of American Art, C Magazine, The Gagosian Quarterly, and in numerous book reviews.
As a teacher, Dingwall introduces students to histories of race and racism through everyday objects and material archives. Before joining the faculty at the Sam Fox School, he taught courses in design history, material culture, mass culture, and race at the University of Chicago, the University of Toronto, and Oakland University near Detroit. Recently, he co-organized Chicago Designs: New Approaches for Teaching Politics, Commerce, and Culture, a workshop for university teachers hosted at the Newberry Library with support from the Terra Foundation.