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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.

  • Thursday, April 19, 2018

    COLLECTING 101 | Head of a Man

    Alexandra Davis ‘18 (Environmental Science and Policy), Moira Anderson ‘19 (Chemistry), Rose Hatem ‘20 (Greek) participated in the J-Term class Collecting 101, which allowed students to directly participate in researching and purchasing a work on paper for the SCMA collection. Their group’s winning proposal resulted in the purchase of Emma Cartwright Bourne’s 1940 lithograph Head of a Man. In the following post Rose shares the proposal and reflects on her experience in the course.

    Emma Cartwright Bourne. American (1906 - 1986).  Head of a Man, ca. 1940. Lithograph printed in black on medium thick, slightly textured, cream-colored paper. Purchased through the efforts of students in the class "Collecting 101," January 2018. SC 2018:10-3.

    I took this class because I had just joined the museums concentration, and I wanted to learn more about museum careers. Right now I am in the process of applying to summer internships at different museums, and having learned a little bit about how museums work and what different positions might entail has been super helpful for me. We had some assigned readings and short writing assignments about how collecting works, and specifically the Lang collection at the SCMA, which is a collection of prints by overlooked women printmakers. The class was a tiny overview of museums combined with a more in-depth look at the specific nature of print collecting. I really wanted my group to choose Head of a Man--I just loved the personality of the piece right away.

    Historical Context:

    It is very difficult to find any biographical information about Emma Cartwright Bourne. We know that she was an African American artist, and we do know something about the context in which she worked. The 1930s and early 1940s were a bleak time for most Americans, but even more so for Black Americans. Yet, even at a time when employment was hard to come by and Black artists had little precedent, new opportunities came with Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) hired artists for the Federal Art Project, or FAP, as one branch of their efforts to combat unemployment.The group of artists who were part of the FAP worked on research, education, and production of art in many different media such as painting, sculpture, photography and the graphic arts. Through WPA funding, artists gained access to expensive materials, which made printmaking (generally an equipment-heavy and community-based medium) a possibility even for the underprivileged. The WPA also established community art centers, as well as a graphics workshop in Philadelphia. This meant that, while many African Americans were at a moment of deep cultural discouragement, they had access to artistic means of expression that they had not had in the past. Another Black artist and lithographer of the time, John Woodrow Wilson, said in a 1992 interview, “When I look back on it, I guess what I was trying to do was make the invisible man visible, to build into these images such power and impact that you couldn't ignore them.” Head of a Man does exactly this, rendering an anonymous African American with captivating sympathy and dignity.

    The Art Students League

    Although we do not know a lot about Bourne’s background, Susan Teller tells us that she is fairly certain that this piece was produced at The Arts Students League. The Arts Students League of New York was founded in 1870 by a group of students training to be artists at the National Academy of Design in New York. These students, many of whom were women, wanted to break free from the conservative ideals of the Academy, which they saw as unsympathetic to the new ideas and techniques of art. Once established, the League drew more and more female artists and students, many of whom took over leading roles in the administration of the League, maintaining the program and its curriculum. Over the years, the League has remained focused on the founding principles of the first class: emphasizing the importance of artistic creativity, maintaining the greatest respect for artists who devote their lives to art, and educating students in the process of making art in an environment in which anyone who wishes to pursue an art education can realize his or her full potential.  Even to this day, the League still has no set curriculum, degree, or diplomas; instead it has created a community where artists can gain hands-on experience in the studio and explore their identities as artists. 

    The WPA and its Prints

    The Works Project Administration was created as part of the New Deal after the Great Depression in order to create jobs for the millions of unemployed Americans struggling to provide for their families. One branch of the WPA created a group for arts-related projects called the Federal Art Project (FAP), creating funds for artists, musicians, writers and actors in various art projects across the country. This project was a part of the New Deal because much of the administration responsible for its creation believed that art should be a part of everyone’s life, not just for the elite class in order to enrich and embolden people. While the main objective was to combat unemployment, the group of artists who were part of the FAP did research and educated school children as well as produced art in many different media such as painting, sculpture, photography and the graphic arts. There were several popular graphic arts workshops in large cities such as Philadelphia and New York, where Black families would send their children to receive art instruction.

    Context in the Collection and Course Offerings

    The collection currently includes no works by Bourne. Head of a Man would complement the existing collection as it falls at the tail end of the time period covered in the Lang collection and showcases a thus far unrepresented artist. The Prints section of the Collecting Plan (2011-2016) recommends that the museum “seek works that explore encounters and intersections between cultures, as well as those that document...socio-political causes, socio-economic issues or those that concern institutional critique.”Head of a Man uses an individual portrait to exemplify a moment of great socio-political and socio-economic trouble, for Americans at large and more particularly for the African-American community. As well as its subject, the story behind the work’s creation also represents a particular time, place and social narrative: the Great Depression was a short period in history in which African American women had a window of opportunity in which to produce art.

    Furthermore, it would be valuable to compare the techniques and subject matter of Bourne’s work with that of the handful of 20th century African American female printmakers whose work still exists today. As Smith College Professor of Africana Studies Kevin Quashie notes, “I didn't know Emma Cartwright Bourne's work before [our correspondence], though I am glad to take in this striking piece. It actually reminds me of Elizabeth Catlett's The Negro Woman series (linoleum cuts), in a way, in the starkness of the graphic lines/style...which is from that era.” The collection has one print by Elizabeth Catlett already, and there are two more within the Five Colleges’ collections.Head of a Man is a piece that highlights the meticulous and affectionate work of a forgotten African American woman who was shattering the racial and gender barriers of the historically white and, despite its progressiveness, still male-dominated Art Students League.

    There are also connections to be drawn between Head of a Man and other, more contemporary works in the collection as a whole. One artist who explores similar themes is Whitfield Lovell, a living artist known for his portraits of African Americans from between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights era. SCMA has three of Lovell’s pieces: a sculpture, a lithograph, and a drawing. The drawing,Kin XXXII (Run Like the Wind), made in 2008,is particularly similar to Head of a Man. It depicts an unknown African American woman, with a somber, teary-eyed expression, juxtaposed with a crown of barbed wire. While her face is drawn in warm detail, the collar of her shirt is just faintly sketched out. Professor Kevin Quashie writes that the anonymous subjects of Lovell’s Kin series are “people who look like people...They look familiar to us even if it is rare to see black faces represented in such a studied, elegant way.”

    From a teaching perspective this piece could be utilized across departments, including History, Africana Studies, and Art History, in courses which center the lived experiences of both enslaved and free African Americans and especially African American women. Relevant courses from upcoming and past semesters include Race, Feminism and Resistance Movements for Social Change which “explores the historical and theoretical perspectives of African American women from the time of slavery to the post-civil rights era… and examines how black women shaped and were shaped by the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality in American culture;”History of Afro-American People to 1960which examines the “history of the Afro-American people in the United States... and how Africans influenced virtually every aspect of U.S. society;” and Race, Gender and United States Citizenship, 1776–1861, which analyzes “the historical realities, social movements, cultural expression and political debates that shaped U.S. citizenship, from the hope of liberty and equality to the exclusion of marginalized groups that made whiteness, maleness and native birth synonymous with Americanness.” Furthermore, the history department offers a seminar course on Problems in 19th Century United States History: A Gendered Reading of the WPA Slave Interviews,in which students write a research paper using the interviews commissioned by the WPA as a central source. We suggest that in addition to written work, the art pieces of WPA artists like Bourne could enrich this course.

    Sources

     Collections Database, museums.fivecolleges.edu/info.php?s=whitfield.

     “Course Search.” Smith College, www.smith.edu/academics/academic-program/curriculum/course-search?term=Fall%2B2017.

    Ehrmann, Thierry. “Auction Results for Emma Cartwright BOURNE in Print-Multiple.”Auctionsfor Print-Multiple by Emma Cartwright BOURNE: Sold Lots by Emma Cartwright BOURNEArtprice.com,www.artprice.com/artist/204478/emma-cartwright-bourne/lots/pasts/2/print-multiple.

     Grimes, William. “The Art of Black Printmakers: Making Life Real.”The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Dec. 1992, www.nytimes.com/1992/12/21/news/the-art-of-black-printmakers-making-life-real.html.

     “The History of the Art Students League of New York – The Art Students League.” The Art Students League, www.theartstudentsleague.org/history-art-students-league-new-york/.

     Lovell, Whitfield, et al.Whitfield Lovell - Kin. Skira Rizzoli, 2016.

     Library of Congress Database: WPA: Posters http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/wpapos/background.html

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  • Thursday, April 12, 2018

    The Grecian Bend | 体 Modern Images of the Body from East Asia

    Maia Erslev is an anthropology major, museums concentrator, and member of the class of 2018.  In this post, she shares her experience working with Yao Wu, the inaugural Jane Chace Carroll Curator of Asian Art on the current exhibition “体: Modern Images of the Body from East Asia,” on view through August 26.

    I am a senior here at Smith and for the past 2 years, I have helped with the new exhibition, “体 Modern Images of the Body from East Asia.” Since the fall of 2016, I have worked closely with Yao Wu, the inaugural Jane Chace Carroll Curator of Asian Art. I am an anthropology major with a geographic focus on Asia and I am part of the museums concentration. Given my academic interests, working with Yao was a great fit!

    When I first started my work at the museum, Yao wanted me to familiarize myself with the museum’s permanent collection of Asian art. After some initial research, I was drawn to the general theme of Western male depictions of Eastern women’s bodies. This uneasy relationship was clearly shown through the museum’s significant collection of early Japanese photography, specifically that of the Italian photographer, Felice Beato.

    Felice A. Beato. British born Italy (ca. 1825 - ca. 1904). The Grecian Bend, ca. 1868.  Albumen print with hand coloring mounted on cream colored paperboard.  Purchased with the Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1982:38-2 (7).

    Beato was one of the earliest Western photographers to travel to Asia. He traveled to Japan and opened a studio in Yokohama in 1863. In this studio he staged many of his famous photographs featuring Japanese people dressed in traditional attire and appearing to be engaging in traditional activities. Beato’s collections of Japanese photographs were sold to Western audiences across Europe – many of whom had never seen images of Asia. From the Western standpoint, his photographs were unfiltered, realistic depictions of “the Orient.” As an anthropology major, I am fascinated with how Beato’s photographs embody this cross cultural exchange and set a precedent for how the West viewed the East. 

    My favorite photograph from the Beato collection is the one that best expresses this cross cultural exchange. “The Grecian Bend” is a staged photograph of two woman wearing traditional Japanese kimonos and striking an awkward and uncomfortable looking pose. As the title implies, this stooped pose is called the Grecian Bend. The pose was loosely inspired by the graceful, smooth, sloping curves found on ancient Greek statues. The popularity of “the bend” swept through England in the mid 1800s and soon made its way to Victorian America, where it reached its peak in the 1860s. The pose these two Japanese women are in is decidedly Western. It almost goes without saying that Beato intentionally choreographed these sitters to imitate this Western pose to be more appealing to his Western customers.

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  • Friday, March 23, 2018

    Flickers and Blinks: Confronting the Weight of Movement

     

    Dread Scott, American (1964-). Boom BOOM! 2001. Screenprint in printed in color on Stonehenge white paper (13/14). Purchased through the efforts of students in the class “Collecting 101,” January 2011. SC 2011:3.

    Creating this collection was a form of empowerment. Not only because I was given the opportunity to create something and share it with others in a unique and truly special way, but because in hand with this came my new ability to explore the Museum. This was not new because I couldn't do it before, but because I didn't know that I could. Going into this process I was curious about everything - what the Museum had in its collections, what I could make of them, and what the final product would look like. And as I went through the Cunningham Center's collections with a goal of centering people of color and their experiences in the curation, I realized there was so much to offer. I just had to know to look for it.

    Enrique Chagoya, American born Mexico (1953 - ). La Bestia’s Guide to the Birth of the Cool. 2014. Ten color lithograph with chine colle and gold metallic powder on handmade Amate paper, accordion book format. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund. SC 2015:1.

    The full-circle moment of this collection was its presentation. Nothing is more empowering than sharing one's creative endeavors with others and receiving clarity in return. I had spent so much time with these pieces, with this collection, that I had forgotten the first impressions which drew me to them and led me to create this larger theme. Ausencias felt like a trans-national phantom; all the empty chairs left over after a big family reunion in the home country. La Bestia was an unsanitized lesson on a history that was never preoccupied with being clean until it decided who was dirty. The art took us through violence and fear, memory and fantasy, isolation and belonging, all tied through with a sense of contemplation.

    The central piece of this collection - This Could Be Us, You or Anybody Else by Arpita Singh - summarizes this journey. The white dots peppering the image mirror constellations or even regional or national boundaries, satellite-view. These dots create a sense of connection, of a larger pointillism-style picture just out of sight. They map through several frozen scenarios which, read clockwise, tell a story of migration of people and food. The work calls to mind the detailing, vibrancy, and panoramic narrative style common in Bengali folk paintings. In the bottom right we are reminded that even fear and cruelty can move, regardless of borders, and is unique to no one person. Though the cardinal directions are written, only North and South are made to mirror each other. East and West are alone, with West duplicated above itself.

    Arpita Singh. Indian, 1947-. This Could be Us, You, or Anybody Else. 2007. Etching and aquatint printed in color on heavyweight, slightly textured, white paper. Gift of Bridget Moore, Class of 1979. SC 2014:27-1. Click here for larger image.

    At first glance this piece may seem to lapse into a kind of romanticism: the bright blue and white in the background, and the rose-vine borders work alongside the universalizing language to accomplish this. Yet they are offset by these grim grey scenes, etched out in jagged lines, figures drawn hunched or stiffly positioned and with either desperate or stoic expressions. The art is not devoid of humor or commentary, either - at the top, figures literally ride on top of an airplane. Singh does not tell the viewer that “this could be you” in an attempt to compare experiences, but instead to relate them. The worlds that we live in, populated as they are by movement, food, community, and even tension, are neither so opposite or equal as we would like to think. Singh herself is a product of a kind of movement, as new borders developed between India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh during her lifetime. She has a more acute recognition of how quickly one can be marked “other” or “outside” because of the multiple identities she carries. As a result of this, her words take on a new kind of meaning. There is the request for empathy - “this could be you” - but also a kind of ambivalence - “may be your friends/may be our friends” - and even a staking of claim - “guests coming to my place/may be to your place too”. The attitudes expressed under each scene highlight the varied responses to movement and the identity work that it requires. Ultimately there is a sense that even while Singh invites the viewer to relate, she is also reminding them of her place and agency.Her history and humanity.

    Our movement merits contemplation. Begs it as a sign of warning or even impulse. Reading the viewers' responses I saw this again, and I saw it anew. Even while moving we are always in a position to heal, love, and acknowledge. Remembering this, especially as a product of the diaspora, carrier of colonial freight, as a person of color, is not only empowering - it is redemptive.

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