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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.

  • Friday, March 8, 2013

    “The Art of Healing is a Sacred Art”: The Prints of Dr. Eric Avery

    Guest blogger Jennifer Guerin is a Smith College student, class of 2014, majoring in American Studies and History with focuses in Public History and Social Movements. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    Eric Avery. American, born 1948. Paradise Lost,2011. Three linoleum blocks printed on Okawara paper with lithography ink in yellow ochre, green ocher, and black. An additional polymer plate text block was printed with lithography ink in brown. Purchased through the efforts of students in the class “Collecting 101,” January 2012. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:14.

    While Eric Avery was working towards his Bachelor’s Degree in Art at the University of Arizona, one of his professors encouraged him to apply for medical school, explaining that “since [he] would always be making art and since art comes from life, [he] should make [his] life interesting.” Avery chose to pursue an M.D. in Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which he completed in 1974, and from then on his work as an artist has been intimately connected to his experiences in the medical profession.

    In 1991, he turned his attention to medical education, particularly in connection with the AIDS pandemic, which he did through his professorship at UTMB and through his art. In the medical field, Avery currently specializes in HIV/AIDS patient mental health care, correctional mental health care, and transgender health. As an artist, he is primarily a printmaker, producing prints about human rights abuses, disease, death, sexuality, and the body, though he has also completed a series of what he calls “art/medicine actions” – public performances of medical knowledge in unconventional spaces.

    Albrecht Dürer. German, 1471-1528. Adam and Eve,1504. Engraving printed in black on antique laid paper. Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Murray Seasongood (Agnes Senior, class of 1911). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1983:20-4

    One of Eric Avery’s more recent pieces, Paradise Lost(2011), appropriates the image of Adam and Eve from a famous print by Albrecht Dürer (above), both of which are in the SCMA collection. While Dürer portrays the couple in the Garden of Eden immediately before the fall, reaching out to take the apple from the snake, Avery instead places them in a modern landscape, afflicted with the worst diseases historically faced by humanity. Instead of facing a single evil in the form of the snake, Avery’s Adam and Eve are completely surrounded by danger. The industrial background hints at the rapid spread of diseases facilitated by urban spaces.

    The animals in Dürer’s garden are also transposed into Avery’s image, in a way that seems to replace an old system of medical knowledge with a new, modern one. The bull, the rabbit, the elk, and the cat in the original image represent the four humors: phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholic, choleric. The humors were believed to influence people’s personalities, and an imbalance of the humors was thought to be the cause of both changes in behavior and physical illness. Paradise Losteplaces these symbolic animals with a multitude of other animals, such as rats, mosquitoes, and pigs, which are now recognized as reservoirs or vectors for infectious diseases.

                                                                     Detail of Avery’s Paradise Lost.

    Ultimately, Avery’s Paradise Losttransforms the traditional image of Adam and Eve in to a modern source of basic medical knowledge. The print itself represents some of the major ways to contract diseases in our modern world: urban environments, animals, travel (the plane), improperly prepared food (the restaurant, Pho 8), and areas of conflict (the physical divide between the figures of Adam and Eve). Surrounding the image, Avery gives a paragraph description of each of the 14 worst infections faced by mankind, describing the causes and symptoms as well as available preventative methods and treatment options. Some descriptions give recent, relatable examples, such as the description of typhoid, which cites an incident in 2005, when “after eating in a North Carolina restaurant, 300 people became ill from eating undercooked turkey.” At the bottom of the print, a broad overview of infectious diseases focuses on the importance of spreading this information like this: “understanding how infectious diseases immerge and survive in populations is important for disease prevention and control.” Perhaps to facilitate this education process, as well as to provide additional credibility, Avery also cites his medical sources within the piece.

    This desire to provide information to the public and to enact positive change in the world is central to Avery’s view of his purpose as an artist. In his explanation of why he chose to work within both the medical and art worlds, he states that “If you believe that information can lead to chance, then bearing witness is the narrative function of art and serves a social purpose. If one person, after seeing one of my art actions, were motivated to change an HIV risk behavior and did not get HIV, then this would be my evidence that art can save lives.”


    Eric Avery - 12/03/2013

    The art of a healing is a sacred art

    Thanks Jennifer for your close reading of my print. I am honored that it is in your Museum's collection. Your text reminds me of the importance of working to make the world a better place. Understanding how our relationship to animals has contributed to emerging infectious diseases was a revelation to me. Durer represents this in his print. Death entered his print when Adam's lifted foot released the mouse to the waiting cat.
    Your text also reminded me of the importance of words. There is a typo in text on my website which I will correct. "... If information can lead to chance" should read ... If information can lead to change, then bearing witness is the narrative function of art and serves a social purpose.

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  • Monday, February 25, 2013

    Student Picks: Details - Finding Patterns in Nature

    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 Sharon Pamela Santana ‘14 discusses her show “Details: Finding Patterns in Nature” which will be on view this Friday March 1 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here! 


    Edward Weston. American, 1886-1958. Cabbage Leaffrom Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio 1902-1952,1931; printed 1951. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Mrs. Edwin H. Land. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1996:22-2a.


    Have you ever stopped to absorb and contemplate your surroundings? Have you ever paid attention to the elements that make up your existence?


    My Student Picks exhibition is inspired by patterns found in nature: simple, complicated, regular, and irregular. While images of very different elements such as vegetables and landscapes are included in the exhibition, they all speak to the splendor of the simple things in our environment. Viewers will find that in the end, nature comes together beautifully and even an artichoke on our plates can be an admirable work of art. I would like you to join me in the observation and appreciation of patterns in nature.


    Works by artists such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston are included in Details: Finding Patterns in Natureprimarily for their sharp and contrasted attention to detail and their overall beauty. I enjoyed viewing and choosing these exquisite photographs, and I hope that viewers too will enjoy looking at them. I would like to thank the Smith College Museum of Art for the wonderful and fun opportunity to curate this Student Picks exhibition.


    As viewers can take the time to view these photographs, they may reflect on the following: If you ever think your life has become uneventful, and your everyday activities lose their excitement, think again. Observe, identify, and appreciate the shapes and colors in your surroundings. You will find that there is actually so much more to your daily routines when you open your eyes and look at the world around you with intention.

    Ansel Easton Adams. American, 1902-1984. Death Valley from Zabriski Point,1942. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:189.

    Ansel Easton Adams. American, 1902-1984. Water and Foamfrom Portfolio Three: Yosemite Valley,1942. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1973:80-8.

    Edward Weston. American, 1886-1958. Artichoke Halved,1930. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Mrs. Edwin H. Land. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1996:22-6.

    Ansel Easton Adams. American, 1902-1984. Trees and Snowfrom Portfolio Three: Yosemite Valley,print 1960. Gelatin silver print. Date and source of acquisition unknown. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1973:80-4


  • Thursday, February 21, 2013

    Sol LeWitt: Lines Both Large and Small

    Sol LeWitt. American, 1928 – 2007. Circles,Plate 14 from the New York Collection for Stockholm,1973. Lithograph printed in black and gray on white moderately thick, slightly textured paper. Gift of Robert Rauschenberg. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:56-14

    This spring we have two wonderful examples of Sol LeWitt’s elegant geometric compositions on view at Smith College. At SCMA, the current Cunningham Corridor installation Less is More: The Minimal Print(on view until May 5, 2013) contains a small LeWitt print from titled Circles(1973), while Burton Hall, home of the Smith College Mathematics department, houses LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides)(1972). Each represents important and complementary characteristics of his work: simple and complex, small and large, printed and drawn.

    Sol LeWitt, who coined the term “Conceptual Art,” created many prints, drawings, and “structures” (his term for sculpture) which are more dependent on ideas and logic than visual qualities or expression. LeWitt envisioned his role in the creative process to be akin to that of a musical composer or an architect, as his work is often based on written plans that are physically executed by others. He built a seemingly infinite number of compositions using a basic vocabulary of lines, arcs, and grids. When these simple geometric components are combined, they transcend their rudimentary nature to become complex abstract patterns. Anonymous in character and detached from emotion or feeling, LeWitt’s work is nonetheless alluring and graceful.

    As LeWitt began making his famous wall drawings in 1968, his work became increasingly ephemeral and collaborative. Beginning in 1970, printmaking provided LeWitt with the means of producing more permanent and reproducible images, while allowing him to relinquish control of the final appearance of the work through his collaboration with master printers. Like many of his prints, Circles(1973) was produced by a master printer from an original LeWitt drawing. With its black and gray lines, which resemble pen ink and pencil marks, this lithograph retains the impression of the drawing. The concentric circles and converging lines are not as exact and precise as they first appear. Contrary to the mechanical processes available to printmaking, LeWitt embraced subtle hand-produced imperfections such as the wavering lines in Circles.

    Detail of Sol LeWitt’s Circles(1973) showing hand-drawn imperfections which translated into the print.

    In January 2013, Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides),an important early LeWitt wall drawing executed in black pencil, was installed on the third floor of Burton Hall. Integral to LeWitt’s artistic philosophy, his wall drawings are designed to be executed by anyone following his simple plans. Characteristic of LeWitt’s early work, its understated pencil-drawn style is similar to Circlesbut its grand scale and complex composition of overlapping lines and arcs makes its abstraction more apparent. As in its previous installation in the Museum in 2008, Wall Drawing #139was executed by Roland Lusk of LeWitt’s New York studio with the assistance of three Smith College students: Clara Bauman ’13, Mingjia Chen ’15, and Clara Rosebrock ’16. This impressive drawing was installed in just two weeks using simple tools such as pencils, rulers, compasses, levels, and plumb lines.

    Lusk and students draw the initial grid of Wall Drawing #139in Burton Hall, January 2013. Photography by Julie Warchol.

    Clara Rosebrock cleans the lines and smudges on Wall Drawing #139,January 2013. Photography by Julie Warchol.

    Mingjia Chen evens out the darkness of the lines in Wall Drawing #139using masking tape, January 2013. Photography by Julie Warchol.

    Detail of Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides).Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 200:27

    Click hereto view a video of the 2008 installation of Wall Drawing #139and hereto read more about the 2013 installation at Burton Hall.

    Join us on Thursday, February 28 at 4PM in Burton Hall in front of the LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #139 (Grid and arcs from the midpoints of four sides)to hear different perspectives on the current installation!