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, September 12, 2011
Guest blogger Judith Keyler-Mayer is a Senior Lecturer in the German Department at Smith College.
Käthe Kollwitz. German, 1867 - 1945. Weberzug (March of the Weavers);Plate IV from the series Ein Weberaufstand (A Weavers' Rebellion),1897. Etching on thick cream wove paper. Purchased. SC 1958:45. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.
My classes and I have been fortunate to benefit from the Cunningham Center for many years and in many ways. I usually bring students of advanced German language and culture (300-level) to “private showings” at the CC towards the end of each semester. These classes are geared towards special topics in German society and history and culture like “War and Peace in German culture,” “Growing up in German Speaking Europe,” or “Made in Germany.”
In the last five years, I worked mostly with Henriette Kets de Vries, who selected and assembled the relevant artifacts and meticulously prepared a custom tailored exhibition of prints for my groups weeks before the actual showing.
It is in the nature of advanced language classes that the students mostly work with a lot of ready-produced texts in written form (i.e. articles, fiction etc). They also might acquire special vocabulary by listening to songs or by watching movies.
There is, however, a great challenge for the students to deal with non-verbal media like pictures, since these require the students to produce their own formulations, without reproducing ready-made building blocks. The confrontation with a selection of prints relevant to the class’s topic gives them the opportunity to perceive their topic in a new way - visually and without words.
For me as the teacher, a lesson in this custom tailored art environment offers an abundance of teaching opportunities in regards to language and culture, or ideally “language through culture.”
After a short introduction given by Henriette the students have the opportunity to closely inspect the 10 to 16 presented artifacts. During the lesson, the students are encouraged to describe and compare the prints, verbalize their own impressions, interpretations, and emotions. Typically, class discussions develop by themselves when students speculate about the artist’s intentions, the cultural relevance of the work and/or its connections to the class’s topic. Sometimes students with knowledge of art history can contribute background information, and Henriette is around to answer specific questions (yes, in German!).
For me as the teacher, these lessons are normally very rewarding, because I can observe how much knowledge and means of language the students have acquired throughout the course, and whether they are able to bring cultural information together and find the connection to the class’s topic.
Beyond direct benefits to the classroom, a visit to the Cunningham Center can have some other desirable side effects, like a welcome break from the class routine. For many students, this is their first visit to the Smith Art Museum, and for some even the first encounter to an art exhibition at all. My hope is that they feel encouraged to have a closer look, get an “eye-opener” or at least an introduction to the language of art and maybe come back again.
Monday, August 29, 2011
“The look of a wall or a window is a look into time and space. Windows are symbols. They are openings in. The wall carries its history. What we seek is not the moment alone.” –Robert Henri
Edward Hopper. American, 1887–1967. Evening Wind, 1921. Etching on white wove paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm G. Chace Jr. (Beatrice Ross Oenslager, class of 1928). SC 1975:66-2. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.
The image above is Evening Windby Edward Hopper. Best known for his paintings, Hopper began his career as a printmaker, and it is for the extraordinary etchings he produced between 1915 and 1923 that he first gained critical acclaim. His prints, like his paintings, are subtle vignettes of urban experience, rendered with psychological acuity and an eye to formal abstraction. We see solitary nocturnal figures prowling the shadows of empty parks and cafés, and nudes with mask-like faces at the windows of tenement apartments. His etchings are part social record of a time and place, and part portraits of a timeless interiority, a project perhaps best expressed by Hopper’s most frequent and seemingly contradictory claims about his work: that all he is trying to do is “paint sunlight on the side of a house” and that he chooses subjects he believes will be “the best mediums for a synthesis of my inner experience.” In Evening Wind, as in so many of Hopper’s prints and paintings, the way light suffuses a house isa study of inner experience.
Hopper was part of the same generation of printmakers as George Bellows and John Sloan—all three studied at the Art Students League in New York City with Robert Henri, who encouraged them to go out into the city and make quick sketches from memory of what they saw there. Popularly known as the Ashcan School, they were notorious for their crude urban realism.
Consider this etching Turning Out the Lightfrom Sloan’s series “New York City Life”:
John Sloan. American, 1871-1951. Turning Out the Light, 1905. Etching. Courtesy of Connecticut Valley’s Wetmore Print Collection.
This print is is likely a source for Hopper’s Evening Wind. They share a subject – a woman getting into bed at the end of the day – and they are compositionally similar, both illuminated by a single dramatic light source that cuts, like the line of the women’s bodies, diagonally across the print. Sloan’s work, which was rejected from the American Water Color Society in 1906 for its “vulgarity,” shows a woman in the playful euphemistic act of turning out the light; she glances over her shoulder at her lover, and begins to peel down the strap of her nightgown.
Evening Windis similarly sexually charged, but where Sloan’s print is narrative - and thereby perhaps even more scandalous for the time, asking us to imagine what comes next—Hopper’s is more ambiguous. What has this woman stopped to see? What is she thinking about? The light from the window (mysteriously, since it is evening) seems to symbolize something, but it’s not clear what—it is suggestive, but it can’t be pinned down. And Hopper’s subject, instead of sharing a knowing look with another person, is fixated on the window. She might be watching a lover leave her apartment, or she might just be surprised by the wind that floods the room and engulfs her body. The uncertainty here is important: we can’t see what she sees. The window is blank to us. It illuminates the print, but obscures its meaning; it casts light on the subject, but conceals the object of her perception. The frame of the window suggests the frame of a painting or print—an image-within-an-image, like the painting hanging on the wall behind the curtain, barely perceptible in the shadows – but it’s a private vision, an image only this woman can see.
Sloan’s subject, as his title indicates, is “New York City Life.” The label applies nicely to Hopper’s work as well, but, then again, in Evening Wind, isn’t New York City life precisely what Hopper doesn’t show? It’s what’s happening out in the street - the cars and buses, pedestrians and sidewalks, the urban drama the young woman gazes out at, the area of the print that remains unetched and wiped clean of ink. You might say that Hopper’s vignette of New York City life is a woman looking at a vignette of New York City life. He turns the Sloanian social record, like the light, into an interior experience.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Student Picks is SCMA’s student exhibition program. Each year, seven students are selected by lottery to organize individual monthly exhibitions using the collection of prints, drawings and photographs. Exhibitions are held in the Cunningham Center from 12 - 4 on the first Friday of the month during the academic year.
Student Picks allows students to engage with works of art from a perspective that isn’t necessarily art historical—they simply follow their enthusiasm through the collection, and what they come up with is always exciting and often extraordinary. Our students help us see the collection fresh, through new eyes; they light on objects we rarely use or pair works we never would have thought of pairing.
Stay tuned for posts from our Student Picks curators on creating their own art exhibition! For now, you can read more about Student Picks on the website, on the Grécourt Gate, and in the Sophian. And take a look at these pictures from last year's Student Picks exhibitions. This should get you geared up to enter the lottery yourself this academic year!!! Ballot boxes will start appearing around campus on September 5. (Ready, get set, GO!)
Guests mingle at Yollian DaSilva ‘13’s October exhibition “Perspectives in Theater, Perspectives on Theater” - the first of the academic year!
Kendyll Gage-Ripa ‘12’s December exhibition “Who Is She Really?: Interrogating Representations of the Female Body”
Nellie Knox ’11 and her family at her February exhibition “Advertising in Art”