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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, September 12, 2013

    A Look at SCMA's Digitization Project

    Guest blogger Kate Kearns is the Collections Management Imaging Project Coordinator for the recently finished digitization project at the Smith College Museum of Art.

    Stephen Petegorsky (right) digitally photographs each work of art. The image is then sent to Jim Gipe (left) who checks the image for color accuracy, makes adjustments as necessary, and creates the final master tiff file and jpeg access file. On the easel: Sarah Charlesworth. American, 1947-2013 Guerrilla Piece, June 4, 5, 1979,1979 Photostat, 24 x 16 in. Photo by Lynne Graves

    The Smith College Museum of Art has just completed a two-year digitization project, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The ultimate goal of the project was to create a comprehensive and accessible digital image archive of the museum's collection. This entailed professionally photographing each work of art, color correcting each image, and creating an archival master file as well as access files. The images are made available for academic use to the Smith College community via the college's LUNA image database, and are also made available to scholars and the general public beyond Smith through ARTstor and the Five College Consortium's online collections portal.

    Every six weeks or throught the course of the project, photographers Stephen Petegorsky and Jim Gipe would set up shop in the Museum's collection storage area, where they photographed a few hundred works of art over the course of a five-day session. As Project Coordinator, my role was to compile a list of works to be photographed, gather the pieces in advance of each session, and keep everything running smoothly while the photographers were on site. When we needed to photograph works of art that are particularly fragile or unwieldy, or that had to be unframed, our installation team of Stephanie Sullivan and Bill Myers stepped in to help. 

    With digitization of painting and sculpture completed, we took over the Cunningham Center for our final photography session in June so that we could photograph drawings, prints, and photographs that are stored framed. Most of SCMA’s works on paper are stored unframed in archival boxes, and generally they are among the easiest objects to digitize. However nearly 200 pieces on our photography list were framed, and many of these are particularly fragile and/or oversized. This made them considerably more challenging to digitize. Wherever possible we try to unframe works of art for photography, so that we can get a clear, unobstructed view of the entire sheet or canvas. 

    Kate Kearns (left) and Stephanie Sullivan (right) un-frame works on paper for digitization. Photo by Lynne Graves.

    Unframing and then reframing works on paper is an incredibly time consuming process, and must be done with great care to avoid damaging the artwork. Stephanie and I spent many hours in the weeks leading up to the photography session reviewing our list, examining each piece, trying to anticipate where we might run into trouble. In some cases, with particularly large and fragile pieces, we decided that it was simply too risky to try to unframe them. This meant having to photograph the pieces through Plexiglas, which can be pretty tricky, but Stephen and Jim were up to the task.

    The usually quiet and peaceful Cunningham Center was upended for the better part of two weeks, as photography equipment was wheeled in and frames were laid out on every available surface. I have a feeling the Cunningham Center staff didn't quite realize what they were getting into when they agreed to let us take over their space. However they did enjoy the chance to see some of the pieces outside of their frames for the first time, and we managed to unearth a few things that they’d never seen before. With over 16,000 works on paper in the collection, only a tiny fraction can ever be on view at any given time. Making digital images of these pieces available will go a long way toward making the collection more accessible, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see some of these long-hidden treasures making an appearance in the galleries some time soon!

    For another peek into what past digitization efforts have revealed, read photographer Jim Gipe's blog post about the Salvador Dali playing cardsthat he found deep in storage.


  • Thursday, September 5, 2013

    Native American Tribe Culture in Psychedelic Art

    Guest blogger Emma Casey is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in Spanish. She is the 2011-2013 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    Alton Kelley; Stanley Mouse. American, Kelley, 1940 – 2008; Mouse, born 1940. Second Tribal Stomp Annual,1967. Screenprint printed in color on paper. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:38-17

    In my research for the current exhibition Summer of Love: Psychedelic Posters from the SCMA Collection,I came across an interesting undertone motivating counterculturists in 1960s America: tribe culture. The disaffection of these typically white, affluent youth was evident in hostility towards organization, industrial-era technology, and the monotonous suburban lives of their parents’ generation. They tended to embody their rebellion by means of an imagined traditional Native American tribe society. They started communes and adopted a tribal identity that was in a sense falsely honorary and misleading. The 1960s communes glorified Native American life and negated their long history of societal discrimination and racism.

    Rick Griffin. American, 1944 – 1991. PowWow: A Gathering of the Tribes,1967. Screenprint printed in color on paper. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:38-47

    Native imagery was also adopted into the art world, and is used in several posters in the collection, promoting human be-ins and rock concerts. These elements are explicitly represented in Rick Griffin’s 1967 poster PowWow: A Gathering of the Tribes(pictured above), advertising the ‘Human Be-In’ held in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco on January 14th, 1967, which attracted over 20,000 attendees. This event fused literary figures (Allen Ginsberg), advocates of consciousness-expanding drugs (Timothy Leary), and popular musicians with the general public to take a stand against recently implemented drug legislation and discontent with US involvement in the Vietnam War. The scale of organization required of this event showed a shared commitment to consciousness both at a personal and larger, political level. I’m not sure how well the Native American man riding the horse illustrates this goal of reclaiming America for the collective good, as it excludes the population it’s portraying.

    The graphic posters are eye-catching, and encourage an impressive level of spiritual collectivism, but I think that the images’ socio-historical implications should be kept in mind.

    Rick Griffin. American, 1944 – 1991. Untitled,1967. Screenprint printed in black on paper. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:38-46

    Want to learn more about Summer of Love before it closes on September 15th? Come to SCMA's Second Friday event tomorrow to hear a Gallery talk by Steve Waksman, Associate Professor of Music and American Studies at Smith College and dedicated scholar of rock and pop.


  • Thursday, August 29, 2013

    Mary Cassatt: The Fitting

    Mary Cassatt. American, 1844-1926. The Fitting,1891. Drypoint and aquatint printed in color on faded white textured wove paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1950:14

    In the spring of 1890, Impressionist colleagues and close friends Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt viewed an incredibly influential exhibition of Japanese prints together at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. About thirty-five years earlier, when Japan opened its borders after over 200 years of cultural isolation, European collectors and artists alike became fascinated by what they viewed as the novelty of Japanese art. This famous 1890 exhibition of 725 Japanese prints owned by prominent French collectors both confirmed and enhanced interest in Japanese prints among the public, including Degas and Cassatt.

    Mary Cassatt was so inspired by this exhibition that she not only purchased prints by Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Utamaro for her own collection, but she also produced a series of ten prints in 1891 which she claimed were “done with the intention of attempting an imitation of Japanese methods.” Although very different from Japanese woodblock printing, Cassatt attempted to obtain similar effects of line and color with intaglio (incised metal plate) techniques – drypoint, etching, and aquatint. While the drypoint accounts for the very fine lines in the faces and hair of her figures, Cassatt successfully uses aquatint to create large flat areas of color which are aesthetically similar to those of Japanese woodblock prints. A fellow Impressionist, Camille Pissarro, wrote of Cassatt’s 1891 prints: “the result is admirable, as beautiful as Japanese work.”

    Kitagawa Utamaro. Japanese, 1753-1806. Geisha as Lovers from Seirô Niwaka Geisha Ni No Kawari,ca. mid-1790s. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Barker (Margaret Clark Rankin, class of 1908) "The Margaret Rankin Barker - Isaac Ogden Rankin Collection of Oriental Art." Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1968:182.

    Much like the Japanese ukiyo-e(floating world) prints which depict women’s daily activities, Cassatt’s 1891 aquatints take intimate moments in modern French women’s lives as their subject. Cassatt’s women bathe themselves, arrange their hair at the mirror, care for their children, chat over a cup of tea, write letters, ride the tram, and try on new dresses. This last subject is depicted in The Fitting, the fifth print in the series of ten. A woman stands in a new, elegant white dress and gazes down upon a seamstress, who wears a simpler, dark brown dress. Here, the Japanese influence can be seen in the emphasis on flat forms, bold outlines, and patterns throughout the print — particularly in the carpet, wallpaper, and women’s dresses. The dynamic, asymmetrical composition of the figures in The Fittingcan also be seen in numerous prints by Utamaro (one example above). Utamaro often presents figures in both seated and standing postures to create a pleasing diagonal arrangement, which Cassatt successfully employs here. However, while women in Japanese ukiyo-eprints are depicted with generic facial features, Cassatt’s women in the 1891 aquatint series are individualized. They are not imagined scenes of the women’s private lives, but ones which Cassatt witnessed firsthand.

    Details of faces from Mary Cassatt’s The Fitting(left) and Kitagawa Utamaro’s Geisha as Lovers from Seirô Niwaka Geisha Ni No Kawari(right).

    Cassatt exhibited the ten aquatints alongside a few paintings later that same year at Durand-Ruel in Paris in her first solo exhibition. The exhibition gained much acclaim and secured her reputation as both a key player in the Impressionist group and a pioneer of color printmaking. Today, this 1891 series is thought to be the most impressive of her printmaking career, which included well over 200 prints.