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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 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.


  • Wednesday, July 8, 2015

    Gabrielle de Vaux Clements: Artist, Teacher and World Traveler

    Guest blogger Nicole Viglini is the International Fine Print Dealer’s Association Intern at the Smith College Museum of Art.

    One intriguing aspect of The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection is that half of the artists represented in it are women, many of whose legacies have drifted out of popular consciousness due in large part to consequences of their gender. While many remain relatively obscure, others left traces of their legacy in the public sphere and are more widely renowned, such as Gabrielle de Vaux Clements, born in Philadelphia in 1858. Clements’s parents, Richard Clements and Gabrielle de Vaux, supported her inclination to create art, and as a teen, she attended the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, studying lithography and drawing. Subsequently, she attended Cornell University, and after graduating in 1880, she studied under the painter Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). PAFA was among the vanguard of institutions in the United States and in Europe providing educational opportunities for women artists. Clements operated among a significant cohort of women also educated at PAFA in the late nineteenth century, including Mary Cassatt, Cecilia Beaux and Violet Oakley. 

    Gabrielle de Vaux Clements, American (1858–1948). At the Seashore. 1883. Drypoint printed in black on medium thick, moderately textured, beige paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Promised gift. Photograqphy by Nicole Viglini. SC TR 7604.612

    In 1883, Clements learned etching under Stephen Parrish and began to produce and exhibit her work in a professional capacity. The following year she traveled to Paris and studied at the Académie Julian, an alternative school to the École des Beaux Arts that, unlike the École, admitted women. Rodolphe Julian established the academy in 1868, in order to provide training for artists wishing to enter the prestigious École. However, it soon became an esteemed institute in its own right, and was the best alternative option for women who wished to receive rigorous training in Paris. It was here that Clements met the artist Ellen Day Hale, her future life partner. The Hales were prominent in Boston’s politics, publishing, social reform and art worlds. The Hale family papers are represented in the Sophia Smith Collection, and include correspondence written by Clements.

    Upon returning to the United States from Paris, Clements continued to exhibit her art at institutions including Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design. She also began to teach other women artists out of her Philadelphia-based studio. In 1895, Baltimore’s Bryn Mawr School, a college preparatory academy for girls, hired Clements to teach art. She taught there for fifteen years. While she was living in Baltimore, the Bendann Galleries commissioned her to portray the city in nine etchings, which she completed between 1896 and 1931. The views she portrayed included the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Mt. Vernon Place, the Washington Monument, Baltimore Harbor, Battle Monument, Shot Tower, and the North Avenue Bridge.

    Gabrielle de Vaux Clements, American (1858–1948). North Avenue Bridge Baltimore (Where North Meets South). 1927. Hard-ground etching with drypoint, printed in black on medium weight, smooth, cream-colored paper. Photograqphy by Nicole Viglini. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. SC 2014:32-455

    In this 1927 etching, Clements portrays the city of Baltimore looming hazily above various forms of commerce and transportation, showing the inner gears of the city turning. Center to the piece is a remnant of rural transit in the form of a man in a horse-drawn cart, and another pushing a wheelbarrow. This inclusion could represent nostalgia for an agrarian past, or the continuing relationship between urban centers and their reliance on rural goods. Trains, automobiles, and pedestrians crisscross the various pathways and bridges above and surrounding this iconic scene, and the placid waterway simultaneously suggests nature in its unperturbed form and human manipulation of the surrounding environment. A comparison of this piece to her earlier work above, At the Seashore, underscores the environmental changes wrought by America’s Industrial Revolution.

    Some of Clements’s other commissioned projects included five murals for churches in Washington, D.C., and murals for the cities of Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago. Clements asserted that she “learned to do large decorations” while studying at the Académie Julian. According to an article in an 1898 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, in gaining a commission to paint the chancel at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, MD, “Miss Clements competed with half a dozen artists… and came off victorious,” a testament to her skill and renown.

    Throughout her life, Clements created art and instructed others. She and Hale spent their summers at a house Clement bought on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, in Folly Cove, a popular summer locale among artists. During World War I, they taught etching and color printing to young women artists in Charleston, South Carolina. They frequently traveled abroad during winter, often to Europe, and continued to produce art throughout their entire lives. Clements died in 1948 in Rockport, Massachusetts. Her work can be found in various East Coast repositories, including the Library of Congress, the National Museum of American Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Pennsylvania’s Bryn Mawr College.