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Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.

Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.

  • Friday, January 6, 2017

    Barry Moser’s Watercolor Illustrations

    Guest blogger Renee Klann is a Smith College student, class of 2019. She is the 2015-2017 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. This post discusses the art of Barry Moser, an printmaker and professor at Smith College. A recent gift of 91 of his works was made to the museum by Jeff Dwyer and Elizabeth O'Grady.

    Although Barry Moser primarily works in wood engraving, he has also illustrated numerous books in watercolor. What drew him to such different media? In an interview he said that he enjoys watercolor and wood engraving because “My personality is kind of pig-headed and tenacious, so I like working with materials that are difficult.” Moser was certainly tenacious when learning to paint with watercolor, since he taught himself solely by studying the work of other artists.

    Moser often uses watercolor to illustrate books for children. When he accepts an illustration commission, it’s usually expected to be in a particular medium. However, sometimes he debates with a publisher about what medium would be best. The technique of watercolor, which requires painting an image on a blank white sheet, is nearly the opposite of wood engraving, in which every area of white has to be cut from the black background of the inked wood block. Moser has adapted to the difference by taking an unconventional approach to watercolor. He says, “I often start off with the darkest rather than the lighter areas, which is pretty much backwards from what most watercolorists do.” This unique method makes sense in the context of Moser’s experience with wood engraving.

    Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Archy, 1988. Watercolor on thick, rough, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-69 

    One of Moser’s watercolor illustrations is Archy, a depiction of a character created in 1916 by Don Marquis, a columnist for The Evening Sun newspaper. Archy was a cockroach who had been a free verse poet in a previous life, and he wrote poems and stories on a typewriter at the newspaper office after all the humans had left. His best friend was an alley cat named Mehitabel, and their published adventures included satirical commentaries on everyday life in New York City. Moser painted Archy for an edition of the book archy and mehitabel that was never published.

    In this humorous image, Archy stands on two legs, wearing a shirt and tie and holding a pipe in his mouth. His anatomy makes him recognizable as a cockroach, while his outfit and pose are human-like. Despite his somewhat irritable expression (and his species’ bad reputation) this portrayal of him is endearing. The medium of watercolor is an ideal match for Archy’s whimsical nature, which Moser captures here.

    Barry Moser, American, 1940-. In the Park from Kashtanka, 1991. Watercolor on thick, rough, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-19 

    In the Park is a watercolor illustration from Kashtanka, Anton Chekhov’s tale about a lost dog and becomes part of a circus before being reunited with her owner at the end. The image of a sleigh traveling through a snowy forest balances the coolness of the blue-gray trees and sky with the warm glow of the lamp in the background. The trees in the foreground distance viewers from the action of the horse and sleigh, but creates the feeling of being in the forest as well, drawing viewers into the world of the story.

    Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Three Kings of the Desert from The Holy Bible, 1990. Watercolor on thick, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-64 

    Moser painted Three Kings of the Desert for an edition of the Bible published in 1990. It preceded his own 1999 Pennyroyal Caxton Bible, which he designed and illustrated with over 200 wood engraving prints. The three kings riding camels in this image are shown in silhouette, casting shadows on the ground. In addition, the background depicts the night sky in a swirling, textured shade of blue-green, with the Star of Bethlehem standing out clearly against it. The dramatic composition and style of the illustration conveys the sense of awe that the three kings felt on their journey.

    Barry Moser’s watercolors range from biblical figures to poetry-writing insects, but they all have styles appropriate to their subjects. Seeing Moser’s watercolors in addition to his wood engravings offers a new perspective on his work as an illustrator, since each medium has different challenges and possibilities.

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  • Friday, December 9, 2016

    The Mystery of Paul Cordes

    The Smith College Museum of Art is dedicated to bringing out works on paper into the main galleries, where all visitors can see them. Since works on paper are more sensitive to light than other mediums, SCMA has installed special Works on Paper cabinets throughout the galleries for the display of prints, drawings and photographs. Today’s post is part of a series about the current installations of the Works on Paper cabinets, which will remain on view through April 2017.

    Portrait of Master Francesco Cantarella, ca. 1937. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Gift of Paul Cordes. SC 1938:8-8

    Born in Germany, Paul Cordes (1893–1979) immigrated to the United States in 1912 and lived in New York for the rest of his life. He was a professional photographer who specialized in portraiture, and his work was displayed at a number of institutions in the northeast United States, including the Museum of Modern Art. Cordes donated about 30 of his own photographs to the Smith College Museum of Art in 1938, around the time that the museum featured an exhibition of his photography. Given that the museum had only started collecting photography about five years prior, this was a major acquisition. The moody, dramatically lit portraits featured here bring out the emotional complexity in their subjects.

    Portrait of John Williams of the American Negro Ballet, ca 1937. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Gift of Paul Cordes. SC 1938:8-10

    The portrait above is of John Williams of the American Negro Ballet—one of the first professional dance groups to feature an entirely African-American company. Though it folded after just a year, the group set an important precedent, and other integrated dance groups flourished in the following years. Though the lighting is gauzy and ethereal, Cordes portrays Williams as an arresting, powerful figure.

    Portrait of Gene Loring of the Ballet Caravan, ca. 1936. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Gift of Paul Cordes. SC 1938:8-10

    The second photograph is of dancer and choreographer Eugene Loring. He was a company member of the Ballet Caravan, a traveling group dedicated to producing stories about American life and history. At the time of this portrait, he was on the cusp of choreographing Billy the Kid, now recognized as the first American ballet classic. Loring’s portrait is capricious and eerie; the black greasepaint around his eyes resembles a mask, blending in with the darkness of the background.

    Taken during a pivotal time in the history of dance, the visual and historical contrast between the pictures is striking. Cordes captures two very different movements attempting to expand the possibilities of what “American” dance could truly be. Despite our significant collection of his work, we have very little information about his personal life. He never married or had children, and there are no records of his correspondence—it seems that the only thing that survives of him is his work.

    Ruth Elisabeth Young, n.d. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. SC 1983:44-11

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  • Friday, December 2, 2016

    STUDENT PICKS: Projection of Myth

    Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Sophie Lei '20 discusses her show "Projection of Myth: Fantastic Creatures and Where to Find Them" which will be on view FRIDAY, December 2 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you there!

    Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Japanese (1798 - 1861). Kuwana, Station 43, from the series Fifty-three Pairs of the Tokaido, n.d. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Purchased with the Winthrop Hillyer Fund. SC 1915:10-25

    Fantasy breeds our imagination, and imagination encircles the world. Since I was a child, I’ve dreamed about falling into a rabbit hole, hearing mermaids singing under moonlight, falling in love with vampires and attending Hogwarts. Illustrations of fairy tales were the keys to other worlds for me. That’s how the young me viewed art: a medium projecting the endless possibilities of the world.

    William Wegman. American (1943 - ). Adult Embryo, 1989. Polaroid Polacolor II print. Purchased with the gift of  the National Endowment for the Arts and Joan Lebold Cohen, class of 1954, in honor of Jerome A. Cohen. SC 1990:8

    As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to explore the many possible narratives and presentations of art. I’m always surprised at the different perspectives that artists choose to capture the story, like Joe McHugh’s White Rabbit, Keep Your Head and Barry Moser’s Alice, Her Sister and White Rabbit.

    Joe McHugh. American, 20th century. White Rabbit, Keep Your Head, 1967. Screenprint in color on paper. Purchased. SC 2011:38-82

    Art that comes directly from imagination and enchants the viewer by merging fantasy and reality is fascinating as well, like Sandy Skoglund’s Revenge of the Goldfish. In summary, this exhibition includes works on myth and fantasy from different cultures over a time span of 200 years, all telling their own stories.

    Barry Moser. American (1940-). Alice, Her Sister, and the White Rabbit, 1983. Monoprint two-color wood engraving on medium weight, slightly textured, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O'Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-90

    Many thanks to Colleen McDermott and the Cunningham Center for making this show possible.

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