Film Professor Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

Author: Aaron Smith

Donald Crafton

Donald Crafton, who holds the University of Notre Dame’s first endowed chair for film studies, has been awarded a 2014 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

From a group of almost 3,000 applicants, the foundation awarded 177 Fellowships this year to a diverse group of scholars, artists, and scientists “on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.”

Crafton, the Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor of Film, Television, and Theatre, will use his Guggenheim Fellowship to research and write about a group of Los Angeles artists who influenced the visual style of the Disney animation studio in the 1930s.

“They were a group of painters who revived the lost art of watercolor painting and rejected European avant-gardism, which was catching on in L.A. at the time,” Crafton said. “They thought watercolors were most appropriate for capturing the luminosity and transparency of the distinctive California atmosphere. The palettes are typically bright, vibrant colors.”

Known as the California Watercolor Association, the artists were enlisted to teach Disney’s animators and then hired as employees when Walt Disney opened his own art studio. Along the way, their philosophy and techniques became highly visible in Disney productions.

“It was a happy accident,” Crafton said. “The European storybook style of animation disappeared very quickly and the new white palette and geometrical shapes started to predominate.”

Crafton uncovered the influence of the group while working on his book, Shadow of a Mouse: Performance, Belief, and World-Making in Animation (2013), which won the Society for Media and Cinema Studies’ Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award. The prize recognizes “the best new scholarly work that exemplifies rigorous, interdisciplinary, and theoretical inquiry into issues of vision and visuality.”

When he returns from his one-year sabbatical, Crafton plans to bring his research into the classroom, where he explores the ways that animation interacts with modern art. He said the project could turn into a book, a gallery exhibition, or an online archive.

In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named Crafton an inaugural Academy Film Scholar. He has received several major fellowships, including two from the National Endowment for the Humanities. And in 2007, he received the University of Notre Dame’s Presidential Award.

Crafton was one of two professors in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters to receive a Guggenheim in 2014. Scott Monroe, the William K. Warren Foundation Professor of Psychology, won a fellowship for his work on depressive disorders.

“The Guggenheim is one of the nation’s most prestigious fellowships,” said John McGreevy, I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “We’re delighted that Don Crafton and Scott Monroe are continuing our strong tradition of excellence with these awards.”

In the past 14 years, Arts and Letters faculty members have won a total of 15 Guggenheim fellowships. 

Originally published by Aaron Smith at on May 10, 2014.