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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.

  • Monday, April 1, 2013

    Student Picks: Beauty by Design - The Art of Japanese Kimono

    Student Picksis 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 Suzu Sakai ‘16 discusses her show “Beauty by Design: The Art of Japanese Kimono” which will be on view this Friday, April 5 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. Suzu will also be presenting an original miniature kimono designed specifically for this exhibition, along with a brief and fascinating account of the history of Japanese kimono design. We hope to see you here!

    Despite being a Japanese, I have never been as interested in learning about my own traditional culture as much as foreign cultures. However, my way of thinking changed last semester, in taking Smith College’s Costume Design I class. While working on a project which involved researching feudal Japanese costume, I fell in love with the beautiful and exotic Japanese kimonos. This helped me realize how wonderful and serene Japanese culture was.

    In my Student Picks exhibition Beauty by Design: The Art of Japanese Kimono,I have selected certain woodblock prints focused on the design of kimonos, mainly during the 1800s. These woodblock prints feature women’s kimonos and kimonos worn as costumes by actors, who at the time were all men.

    The term kimono,the T-shaped traditional Japanese garment we know today, in Japanese means simply ‘a thing to wear.’ This term kimonowas actually invented in the Meiji era (1868-1911), when Westerners asked the Japanese to name their style of dress. The history of the kimono goes as far back as the eighth-century, when the Emperor proclaimed that all garments in the Imperial Court were to be worn strictly overlapped from right to left. This style reflected the style in the Tang dynasty (618-907) of China, and it was in the Heian period (794-1185) that the Japanese started developing their own distinctive culture and style.

    Looking at these artworks on Friday, I hope viewers will leave with some kind of interest in Japanese culture, and may be even be as mesmerized by the beauty and richness of these kimonos as I am.

    Chikanobu Toyohara. Japanese, 1838-1912. Tea Ceremony,1896. Woodcut printed in color on three sheets of medium weight cream-colored paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-455a,b,c.

    Toyota Hokkei. Japanese, 1780-1850. Surimono: The Hell Courtesan (Jigokudayu),from Three Prints of Courtesansseries, mid-1820s. Woodcut printed in color on embossed 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 1968:478.

    Utagawa Kunisada. Japanese, 1786-1865. Two Seated Geisha, One Playing the Biwa,ca. 1850. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Gift of Helen D. La Monte, class of 1895. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1970:14-2.

    Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi. Japanese, 1798-1861. Geisha by the Sumida River from Popular Customs of the Present Age (Tosei Fuzoku Konomi),1830s. 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 1968:499.


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  • Thursday, March 28, 2013

    Less is More: Josef Albers

    Josef Albers. American, born Germany, 1888 – 1976. Homage to the Square – MMA-2,1970. Screenprint in four colors on Mohawk Superfine Bristol paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1983:44-2

                                            “What counts here – first and last – is not so-called knowledge

                                              of so-called facts but vision – seeing.”

                                              – Josef Albers, Interaction of Color(1963)

    The grandfather of Minimalism, Josef Albers was a prolific painter, printmaker, designer, and teacher who illuminated the importance of astute perception and restrained expression. Formerly a teacher at the Bauhaus in Germany, Albers profoundly influenced twentieth-century American art as a teacher at Black Mountain College and Yale University. His famous color course took a radical approach to the application of color in art and design. Rejecting traditional theory, Albers stressed that color is inherently unstable and dependent on its relationship to adjacent colors. He taught his students, many of whom later became influential artists in their own right (Eva Hesse, Robert Mangold, Chuck Close, Richard Serra, and others), to trust their vision and use color in experimental ways.

    The culmination of Albers’s seminal color theory, which he developed along his thirty-six year teaching career, was the publication of his book Interaction of Colorin 1963. The book is a lengthy summary of his teachings in the form of poetic instruction and theory accompanied by a stack of 80 sheets which serve as the visual representation of Albers’s principles and exercises. Because Albers distrusted the inaccuracies of reproduction produced by conventional commercial printing processes, each color for his illustrations was instead individually mixed in ink and screenprinted. Consequently, each sheet is an original screenprint. This process was the gateway for Albers into the world of screenprinting as an important aspect of his own work, which he continued until his death in 1976. Originally the book with screenprinted illustrations was produced as a limited edition publication, but began being distributed as a paperback book with only 10 high-quality (but not screenprinted) color plates selected by Albers in 1971. While SCMA is fortunate enough to have one of the original 1963 editions of Interaction of Colorin its collection, the book is now widely available in its abridged form and serves as a fundamental text for artists, designers, and students today. 

    Josef Albers. American, born Germany, 1888 – 1976. Interaction of Color,1963. Book and paper-covered cardboard portfolio containing eighty screenprints on paper. Gift of Mrs. Albert L. Arenberg (Claire Strauss, class of 1922). Photography by Julie Warchol. SC 1975:3-2 (1-80). View of book (left), book case (center), and stack of screenprinted illustrations (right).

    Josef Albers. American, born Germany, 1888 – 1976. Interaction of Color,1963. Book and paper-covered cardboard portfolio containing eighty screenprints on paper. Gift of Mrs. Albert L. Arenberg (Claire Strauss, class of 1922). Photography by Julie Warchol. SC 1975:3-2 (1-80). View of several screenprinted illustrations inInteraction of Color.

    In 1961, inspired by his work developing Interaction of Color,Albers began making prints inspired by his famous Homage to the Squarepaintings. All of the Homage to the Squareimages use his standard square composition to display the visual effects of innumerable color variations. Working with master printers to execute his graphic works, the artist relished the meticulous and collaborative printmaking process. Since Albers’s prints required precise execution, printers were often driven to create new technical approaches to satisfy his needs. Master printer Kenneth Tyler, of Gemini G.E.L. and Tyler Graphics Ltd., worked with Albers on many of his prints and subsequently worked with many Minimalist artists. According to Tyler, “Albers’s geometry had to be whistle clean. And this placed a new demand on the medium.” This was extremely different from prints made by “the sloppy school of the Abstract Expressionists, where whatever shapes are found by accident are made images.”

    In his screenprints and lithographs, Albers found a technical means to negate the artist’s hand and create images which are arguably more inexpressive than their hand-painted cousins. Albers believed that removing all evidence of individual expression creates a more powerful visual impact. In Homage to the Square – MMA-2,Albers constructs a subjective experience for the viewer, who perceives each shade of saturated red ink in relation to its adjoining colors. It is an endless exercise of subtle comparison.

    Homage to the Square – MMA-2is currently on view in Less is More: The Minimal Print(Feb. 3 – May 5, 2013) on the second floor of the Smith College Museum of Art. The original 1963 edition of Interaction of Colorcan be viewed by appointment at the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.


  • Thursday, March 21, 2013

    Visual Occupation

    Guest blogger Petru Bester is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in Art History and minoring in Anthropology. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    On September 17, 2011 protesters famously started their occupation of New York City’s Zuccotti Park as a part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, born in the wake of the Arab Spring and the Spanish Indignants. This impulsive, spontaneous movement took the country by storm and by October 2011, 95 cities across 82 countries experienced “#Occupy” protesting. In the United States alone there were over 600 communities involved with the movement. By October 2012 every continent except Antarctica found itself in the thrashes of a now organized and united democratic occupation.

    Over the years the organization has transitioned from purely physical activism to activism through word and image. Understanding the growing power of prints and social media, Occupy participants across the world have adopted poster-making as their main networking strategy. Occupy print labs have pop up everywhere under a single name: #Occuprint. These labs produce prints that contest violence, display solidarity, and inform viewers. Many print lab posters are made specifically for and distributed to educational institutions like the Smith College Museum of Art, who has recently acquired an Occuprintportfolio.

    Marx Aviano. Occupy Earth, Big Mother is Watching,from Occuprintportfolio, 2012. Screenprint in two colors on thick, smooth, beige paper. Purchased with the Katherine S. Pearce, class of 1915 Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:30-14.

    The movement is involved in everything from Storm Sandy recovery to wage inequality and corporate personhood. Like the Occupy movement itself, the posters created are diverse in subject but similar in style. The prints often employ iconographic images to recall memories and the feelings associated with those memories in contemporary viewers. By doing so, these artists are able to create something more than a print. One such print by Marx Aviano is all-encompassing and advocates for all #Occupy causes. Occupy Earth, Big Mother is Watchingencourages any and every viewer to occupy the Earth. This idea is by no means revolutionary. The human occupation of Earth has been ongoing for thousands of years. The poster, however, asks the viewer to think what true occupation in modern contexts should look like.

    The phrase, “Big Mother is watching” personifies the Earth. As a mother would she be proud of the way we live, use, and treat her? Would she find how we treat each other acceptable? Or would we be put into a “time-out”? A life time of memories floods my mind from the occasional time-out as a child and my relationship with my own mother, to my various history and anthropology classes, to my rare moments of personal protesting and occupation.

    The print, no doubt, also is in reference to George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four,the satirical book portraying a tyrant called “Big Brother”. The people under his control are subject to constant surveillance. In this respect the phrase “Big Mother” emits an eerie sensation of observation and alludes to the oppression felt in both the book and by contemporary occupiers.

    Keith Lowe. Occupy BMORE,from Occuprintportfolio, 2012. Screenprint in color on thick, cream colored, smooth paper. Purchased with the Katherine S. Pearce, class of 1915, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:30-18.

    Some posters like Occupy BMOREact on a sense of community and pride of place. Keith Lowe’s print is commercial and brands the movement in Baltimore through a well-known local: the crab. The visual language is simple and easily understood.

    Many of these prints embody specific ideology behind #Occupy and #Occuprint. In Untitled [Monopoly figure dancing on American flag],Brad Kayal caters to the #Occupy’s specific aim to spread the resources of the so-called “1%.” Kayal makes the viewer aware of the inequality and overt capitalism by placing the globally recognizable Monopoly man, a symbol of the 1%, dancing on top of the American flag, a symbol of the “99%.” By representing the 99% with the flag, Kaval also implies that the 99% are who really represent, compose, and sustain America.

    Brad Kayal. Untitled [Monopoly figure dacing on American Flag],from Occuprintportfolio, 2012. Screenprint in color on thick, beige, smooth paper. Purchased with the Katherine S. Pearce, class of 1915, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:30-2.

    Artist Jeanne Verdoux presents the idea of social wealth through another iconic image: $ Occupy Wall Street. The tearing down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in al-Fardus Square is a scene many of us will never forget. Saddam’s statue is replaced here with America’s suppressor: money. It too is being pulled down, this time by the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The relaxed, plain composition and design of this print hides the complex and emotional message.

    Jeanne Verdoux. $ Occupy Wall Street,from Occuprintportfolio, 2012. Screenprint in color on thick, bright white, smooth paper. Purchased with the Katherine S. Pearce, class of 1915, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:30-19.

    No matter the message, the works by #Occuprint maintain an amalgamated aesthetic. By keeping the images relatable #Occupy is able to outwardly convey the messages of their internally unified organization. The carefully considered designs and cohesive output prevent prints from appearing too radical or obscure. This image-consciousness is an attempt to guarantee a popular display that won’t be off-putting to viewers. Within the Occuprintportfolio, a unique language has been spawned that encourages a visual occupation both in our minds and on the streets.