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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.

  • Wednesday, July 29, 2015

    Collecting the Past: Kannibalen Bioethicists

    Guest blogger Amenda Cho is a Hampshire College student, class of 2015. Her academic concentrations at Hampshire were Anthropology, Journalism, and Photography.  The original version of this work was written for Collecting the Past: Art and Artifacts of the Ancient Americas. This course was offered Spring 2015 by Dana Leibsohn, Priscilla Paine Van der Poel Professor of Art.

    Enrique Chagoya. American born Mexico, 1953. Abenteuer der Kannibalen Bioethicists , 2001. Lithograph and woodcut with black, ochre, blue, yellow, and green ink, chine colle and collage on paper Purchased with the Arch W. Shaw Foundation, through the courtesy of Nancy Simonds Shaw, class of 1972, administrator. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2002:9

    One of the things that is interesting about the Abenteuer der Kannibalen Bioethicists codex is how many different critiques can be read within the piece of work.  There are many different ways of reading the cannibalism theme, the appropriation of different cultures, and how the art industry has played a role in that within the piece, but one thing that stood out to me was the “blood stains” present throughout. 

    Page from Abenteuer der Kannibalen Bioethicists

    They are obviously not real blood stains, but they are a reference to how the Mayans have become associated with violent religious rituals that include cannibalism, and it also refers to how the Western world has appropriated the images and text of the Mayan culture and consumed them.  Though this is a strong theme throughout the piece, what caught my attention with the blood stains is how it is a reminder that this ritual of cannibalism continues through the work and through people who are viewing it.  As a part of the audience, we “consume” this piece as a work of art which critiques the consumption and appropriation of other cultures in art, and yet by viewing it, we are participating in exactly what the piece is critiquing.  This causes one to think about the audience’s own influence in how art is understood, and the different filters and packaging the piece goes through before actually reaching the audience. 

    So who is this codex geared towards?  Historically, codices made in the Mayan culture were used to keep records of religious and spiritual rituals, as well as to keep a written record of the people’s history.  However a majority of the codices were burned by the Christian church, as they were seen as pagan and unholy texts.  Those that have survived until now somehow made it to Europe before the burning of the codices, and are still located in different parts of Europe today. 

    Page from Abenteuer der Kannibalen Bioethicists

    Detail of burning filing cabinet

    When considering this, there are several pages of the codex that make more sense, specifically page ten (above) which has the image of a burning filing cabinet.  This also means that these same codices that were used to teach history to younger generations of Mayan people are now in display for mostly the Western world to decipher, consume and teach the rest of the world about.  This is something that Enrique Chagoya is very critical of and what he tries to call attention to with this codex. 

    Page from Abenteuer der Kannibalen Bioethicists

    Page from Abenteuer der Kannibalen Bioethicists

    Enrique Chagoya is currently a professor of Art and Art History at Stanford University, but was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico.  It was here that he became more aware of ancient indigenous beliefs, imagination, and history.  It is also here, through his Nahuan nurse, that he became empathetic towards the Indian side of Mexican culture.  This gives some information as to which side of the narrative Chagoya relates more readily to and to whom he might be directing the codex and its critique toward. 

    Page from Abenteuer der Kannibalen Bioethicists

    When talking about the codex, Chagoya uses the terms “reverse anthropology” and “cannibalism” as metaphors of the process of how dominant cultures are able to rewrite and redefine traditions and cultures of other groups of people, and this is something he tries to illuminate through the cannibalism theme throughout this piece.  This seems to suggest that the piece was made for the dominant culture, currently the Western world, to attempt to understand, as these terms are critiques of things the dominant culture participates in. 

    It is also obvious that the codex was made for Western consumption because of the main languages used throughout the codex.  The codex begins with a title that comes from the German language, and continues to use both English and German throughout, even until the end.  This is interesting because of the original purpose of the codex in the Mayan context.  However, it almost builds more on the cannibalism theme, as it is a reflection of a group of people’s history that is now made specifically for the consumption of the Western powers. 

    Page from Abenteuer der Kannibalen Bioethicists

    Another group of people that the codex is geared toward is the art industry and those who participate in it.  This is made most obvious from pages sixteen to eighteen where the popular images of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans are appropriated, and instead of having the traditional “Tomato Soup” written on it, it now uses the body parts of the art industry such as “Artist’s Brains Soup” and “Critic’s Tongue Soup” (above).  This plays off the audience’s role in the consumption of art and the packaging that they take art in because many times, people come to art with an understanding that is founded from specific perspectives, such as through a curator or a critic.  This is parallel to Chagoya’s critique of who is able to write history, because similar to the histories of certain cultures, there is a filter, or a re-packaging, of people’s understanding of art, as there is a re-translation of cultures and traditions. 

    This piece is mainly geared towards these two specific groups of people.  However, as mentioned before, the audience, no matter their background, is still a participant in this.  So despite messages that are being sent through this piece, everyone who views it is participating in the consumption of different cultures and their art.  This almost seems to say that despite Chagoya’s critique of this practice, it is something that is a part of a cycle and that it is something that is inevitable since everyone is participating in it.  


  • Wednesday, July 22, 2015

    Collecting the Past: Marilyn Bridges

    Guest blogger Saraphina Masters is a Smith College student, class of 2017, majoring in Classical Studies and Art History. She was the 2013-2015 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. The original version of this work was written for Collecting the Past: Art and Artifacts of the Ancient Americas. This course was offered Spring 2015 by Dana Leibsohn, Priscilla Paine Van der Poel Professor of Art.


    Marilyn Bridges. American, born 1948. Machu Picchu, Peru, 1989. Gelatin Silver Print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2009:49-13

    In 1976, during a trip to Peru, Marilyn Bridges flew in a small plane for the first time over the Nazca lines. She had previously taken photographs for travel publications but had now discovered a type of photography that would define the rest of her career. Within a year of that formative flight, Bridges exhibited her first solo show at the Museum of Natural History in New York. From there, Bridges traveled around the world to capture images of ancient archeological sites from a plane. In doing so, she offers a new perspective on famous structures, such as the Greek Acropolis and the remains of pre-colonial South American cultures such as the Nazca and the Inca.

    Detail of Machu Picchu, Peru

    Though she is a licensed pilot, Bridges does not fly while photographing. Instead, she works closely with the pilot to reach the angle and position for her shots. Hers is a technically difficult process for both the pilot and the photographer. The plane must almost stall in order for Bridges to obtain clear shots, even when she uses extremely fast shutter speeds on her camera. To avoid her subjects being so distant they are perceived as abstraction, Bridges flies no higher than 1000 feet above the ground and as low as 200 feet.  A complicated and hazardous process, it provides results that elevate landscapes into the realm of fine art.

    Marilyn Bridges. American, born 1948. Chan Chan, 1989. Gelatin Silver Print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2009:49-14

    Marilyn Bridges’ style can be characterized by signal traits that appear repeatedly in her work. The dramatic shadows cast by her subjects reveal their identity, and in her own words, “shadows give away the secrets of what’s down there”. Bridges uses shadows to convey what is there: the subject, by highlighting what is not: light. Her attention to strong contrasts between light and dark creates pathos within her work. The obvious distance and isolation of her subjects, both from her camera in the plane and modern civilization on the ground, is made clear in her photographs. Bridges presents an inescapable awareness of the impressive age of the ruins that she captures.

    Detail of Chan Chan

    Marilyn Bridges will not be the last photographer to take to the sky for arresting visual images and she is certainly not the first. Aerial photography in the Americas began with a detour by renowned American aviator Charles Lindbergh. While flying over the northeastern Yucatán, he spotted mounds and masonry that were a part of a site of ruins with a diameter of eight miles. One of the first discoveries of the kind by plane in the Americas, this experience captivated Lindbergh who, with the help of his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh (Smith College Class of 1928), would go on to introduce aerial exploration, and eventually photography, to American archeologists. Unlike the relatively flat surfaces of sites in Europe and the Middle East, the dense and impenetrable forest of Central and South America made it difficult to gain a complete view of a site, making aerial vantage points invaluable.   

    With its obvious military roots, aerial photography was not immediately perceived as a medium for fine art. By its nature, the practice can be perceived as utilitarian in that it has been used to inform military intelligence, cartographic developments, and archeological discoveries. The pioneers in the field as it shifted towards art, such as Bradford Washburn and William Garnett, were in fact scientists who took aerial images of the wilderness to support their research. However, the realization that these useful, practical images are also aesthetically stunning in their scope and composition was inevitable. One of the first to make the link between the pragmatic practice and its artistic results, Garnett was featured in the first aerial photography exhibition at the International Museum of Photography.  What follows this breakthrough is a rich medium that unites science, technology, and art. 


  • Wednesday, July 15, 2015

    Collecting the Past: Sled and Seal

    Guest blogger Emma Casey was a Smith College student, class of 2015 who majored in Spanish. She was also the 2011-2013 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. The original version of this work was written for Collecting the Past: Art and Artifacts of the Ancient Americas. This course was offered Spring 2015 by Dana Leibsohn, Priscilla Paine Van der Poel Professor of Art.

    Niviaksiak. Inuit, ca. 1918 – 1959. Sled and Seal Cached on Snow Blocks, 1960. Stencil printed in blue and black ink on ivory wove paper. Gift of Charlotte Heussy McAllister, class of 1930. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1961:46

    The sheer isolation of the Canadian Arctic allowed native Inuit populations to remain relatively uninfluenced by Anglos until the nineteen fifties, when a flurry of government service ventures pushed northward. The Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources tasked the Northern Service Officers with increasing the self-sufficiency of the Inuit. [2] One Toronto-born officer, James Houston, saw economic potential in the crafts, namely carvings, of the Cape Dorset community on Baffin Island, and introduced to them the Western medium of printmaking. The artists’ interest in printmaking links to the exacting process required of Inuit craft and tool production. The laborious precision of the print is not dissimilar to the making of kayaks, igloos, and sleds, which “involved certain aesthetic decisions. […] Everything had to be as perfect as possible, since mistakes in design could have fatal results in that harsh environment.” [6]

    Houston saw his work as philanthropic; helping the Inuit artist enliven “the sparseness of his life” (Houston, Beaver). Though at times his musings exoticize “the wildly free talents and desires of the Eskimos”, it is thanks to Houston’s, arguably colonizing, efforts that the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative was founded, and the prolific printmaking tradition of the Canadian Arctic took hold. [3]

    Detail of Sled and Seal Cached on Snow Blocks

    In addition to being one of the earliest examples of printmaking in Cape Dorset, Sled and Seal Cached on Snow Blocks forms part of the intriguing experimental technique of sealskin stencil, born of ingenuity and necessity. In the spring of 1958, Houston and his initial recruited artists, namely the celebrated carver Niviaksiak, experimented with the medium – what was to be a short-lived printmaking tradition. [3] The aesthetic of stenciling was already included in the Inuit repertory of decoration. The stencil prints drew from the longstanding art of skin appliqué, a practice of “cutting silhouette forms and designs from animal hides to be sewn onto clothing or other useful objects for decoration.” [3] Houston supervised as patterns were cut into sealskins stretched to a parchment-like stiffness, then, “Using bound brushes of polar bear hair, paint soaked wads covered with caribou skin, and many other successful and unsuccessful devices, the men printed the designs cut by the women.” [3]

    Detail of Sled and Seal Cached on Snow Blocks

    The prints have a unique three-dimensionality in their merging of Anglo medium, Inuit materials, and, most surprisingly, Japanese tradition. In 1958 Houston traveled to Japan for four months to study printmaking under Un’ichi Hiratsuka. The experience resulted in Houston’s contribution of the chop mark to Inuit prints – carved from linoleum fixed to a wooden base and stamped onto the sheet. [6] The chop allows for immediate recognition of the artist, printmaker, and location, in this case Cape Dorset: “a red igloo, although in the early years a black igloo was also used.” [2]

    The materials, particular to the ecosystem of the Canadian Arctic, as well as harsh climatic conditions influential in the artistic process, lend Sled and Seal Cached on Snow Blocks distinction. While Houston’s studio project was in its infancy, he was forced to make do with available supplies. Only one shipment of mail reached the island each August, requiring the artists to concoct their own ink from a mixture of seal oil and lamp black, and print on existing stock of onion skin stationery. [3] Applied with brushes of polar bear hair in a stippling technique, the ink, required by the climate to remain liquid in sub-zero temperatures, produced interesting variations of tone. [1] When each print series was completed, the stone block or skin stencil was destroyed, limiting the edition size to preserve uniqueness. [3]

    The West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative soon underwent intentional and unexpected changes. The sealskin stencil was abandoned for a much cheaper wax-impregnated cardboard [2], and Niviaksiak passed during a polar bear hunt, before many of the prints were published and Houston’s Co-op gained recognition. [5]


    [1] “1972: Cape Dorset prints/estampes”. West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, Cape Dorset, Northwest Territories. Printed in Canada, 1972.

    [2] Crandall, Richard C. “Expanding the Base: 1957-1961.” Inuit Art: A History. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2000. Print.

    [3] Houston, James. Eskimo Prints. Barre: Barre Publishers, 1971. Print.

    [4] --- and Bert Beaver. Canadian Eskimo Art. Ottawa, Ont.: Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources, 1954. Print.

    [5] Lane, Heather. “An Inuit Master Carver: Niviaksiak (1908-1959).” The Polar Museum News Blog. Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.

    [6] Ryan, Leslie Boyd. Cape Dorset Prints, A Retrospective: Fifty Years of Printmaking at the Kinngait Studios. San Francisco: Pomegranate, 2007. Print.