In 1870, Louis Comfort Tiffany spent a few short months in North Africa and returned to New York to hold a grand and exotic reception showcasing his work for high society. Then it was the elite who embraced the paintings and spectacular furnishing and artifacts from Islamic cultures.  By the 1920s, Rudolf Valentino was the dashing star of The Sheik with breathless fans nationwide. Suddenly, the world of North Africa and the Middle East was the purview of the masses. What had transpired in between?

On Wednesday, April 17,  Holly Edwards—senior lecturer at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts —will conclude the Museum’s 2013 lecture series with “Orientalism, American Style.”  She will discuss how a fascination with the “Orient” eventually permeated society at all levels—from art and advertisements to fashion and film. Edwards will show the unique character of American-style Orientalism during the era when the United States came of age in the global arena. The lecture will be held at 2:30 p.m. in the Hugh F. and Jeannette G. McKean Pavilion, just behind the Museum, and will be followed by a reception.  Admission is free.

Edward’s talk has been planned to further explore the context for The Wreck, the 1880 Egyptian desert landscape by Lockwood de Forest that is the subject of a new Focus Exhibition at the Morse. Like many artists of the time de Forest—a painter, importer, and a longtime friend of Tiffany’s—found useful sources, images, and inspiration in what was then called the Orient.

Edwards, a lecturer with Williams College since 1991, was visiting curator for the exhibition Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures—American Orientalism 1870–1930, an exhibition organized by the Sterling and Francine Art Institute in Williamstown, and editor of the accompanying catalogue. Edwards holds her doctoral degree from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, her master’s degree in art history from the University of Michigan, and a bachelor’s degree in art history from Princeton University.