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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.

  • Tuesday, April 3, 2012

    Shared Inspiration: About the Collectors

    This blog post was written in conjunction with the exhibition Shared Inspiration: The David R. and Muriel Kohn Pokross Collection, on view at the Smith College Museum of Art through July 29.

    David R. Pokross (1906 – 2003)

    David Ralph Pokross was a lawyer, mentor, community leader, art collector, avid tennis player, and family man. He was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, and was the first graduate of his high school to enter Harvard College, from which he graduated magna cum laude, majoring in French literature, in 1927. He went on to earn a degree from the Harvard Law School in 1930, having financed his entire education on his own.

    In 1939, David was named a partner at the prominent Boston firm, Peabody, Brown, Rowley & Storey (now Nixon Peabody), where he practiced law for 70 years, including chairing the firm's Executive Committee. He was regarded by many as a “lawyer's lawyer,” whose colleagues sought out for advice. Although he practiced labor law, securities, corporate law, estate planning, and litigation, he was particularly known for his public utility work, also serving as a trustee and member of the Executive Committee of Northeast Utilities, and for his role as lawyer to the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Beloved as a mentor to younger lawyers, he served as counsel to the firm until six months before his death.

    David’s lifelong philanthropic work revealed his deeply-rooted commitment to social justice. A community leader of unbounded energy, he devoted countless hours to numerous non-profit and charitable organizations in Boston. He held leadership positions in many organizations including serving as president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, director of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, board member of The Boston Foundation (where he established a special fund for children in need), overseer of The Boston Symphony Orchestra, president of the American Jewish Historical Society, and trustee of the Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School. David also served as the chairman of the Board of Overseers of the Florence Heller Graduate School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare at Brandeis University where a chair in law and social policy was endowed in his name. Among numerous honors that he received, David was the first recipient of The Alexis de Tocqueville Society Award of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay.

    Self-taught in his artistic interests, David carefully studied works of art and artists before making a purchase, and sought the advice of professionals in the art world. He and Muriel were avid travelers, and they connected with the art world wherever they went. In his memoir, David described how they discovered new artists:

    "We walk around a museum, and then I will ask if a director or an assistant director is available. I would say, ‘I don’t own any art of local painters. If you will name five (and I always said five) young painters who have been recognized in your museum but who have not become top artists, I would like to look at their art and perhaps buy some of it.’

    I never had a negative response from a director, and so we would receive recommendations."

    Over years of traveling and collecting, David and Muriel developed friendships with museum directors and curators, such as Carl Belz, formerly director of Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum, and the artists they patronized, among them William T. Wiley, Gregory Gillespie, William Beckman, Joseph Floch and Barnet Rubenstein. According to their daughter, Joan, “My parents would have been delighted that the heart of their collection now resides in the Smith College Museum of Art as The Pokross Collection.”

    Muriel Kohn Pokross (1913 – 2011)

    Muriel Kohn Pokross, social worker, community leader and art collector, who was also devoted to her family, was born in Boston. She was educated at the Girl’s Latin School and Smith College, where she graduated in 1934 with a degree in French Literature. Reflecting on her years at Smith, Muriel cited her junior year in France as her most valuable college experience. “A whole world opened up,” she recalled.

    After raising three children—Joan P. Curhan, William R. Pokross, and David R. Pokross, Jr.—Muriel returned to her academic pursuits. She received a master’s degree in Education at Boston University, with a major in rehabilitation counseling. Muriel went on to spend the next 25 years as a social worker with the Boston Guild for the Hard of Hearing, aiding hearing-impaired children and adults, and teaching nurses, teachers, parents and caregivers how to communicate with the hearing-impaired. She was instrumental in persuading Channel 2, Boston’s public TV station, to caption their programming for the hearing-impaired, an unprecedented practice for public television at the time.

    The Pokross home was always open to their many friends, whom Muriel entertained with her lively conversation and home-cooked meals. According to Muriel, “We particularly enjoyed and helped many European doctors (especially psychoanalysts), lawyers and teachers, whom David helped bring to the U.S., to settle in and begin new lives after immigrating to Boston in the late 1930's and early 1940s.” In the late 1930’s, David had prepared affidavits to help Jews from Vienna to escape the Nazis. Among the people he helped to immigrate to the United States was the artist Joseph Floch, from whom David and Muriel purchased a number of works, including a portrait painted of Muriel.

    Muriel was an active community leader, serving as a volunteer, committee member and trustee for charitable organizations and non-profit agencies in the Boston area. These included the Board of Overseers of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, and the Dean's Leadership Council and Nutrition Round Table at the Harvard School of Public Health.

    Muriel also held leadership roles at Smith College, serving as the Chair of Planned Giving and Alumnae Representative for the class of 1934 for almost twenty years. She remained active in the Belmont Smith Club throughout the years, serving as President in 1950. On the occasion of her 80th birthday, her family established the Muriel Kohn Pokross 1934 Kew Garden Travel/Internship Fund at the Botanic Garden of Smith College in her honor. This fund sends two students each year for ten weeks of botanical research with scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.

    Muriel and David’s marriage, lasting 67 years until David’s death in 2003, was a truly loving partnership. In addition to three children, they had four grandchildren: Jenifer Curhan Panner, Jared Curhan, and Benjamin and Samuel Pokross; as well as seven great grandchildren: Samuel, Elizabeth, Harry, David, and William Panner, and Hannah and Joshua Curhan.

    Muriel Kohn Pokross at her 75th Smith College reunion.


  • Tuesday, March 27, 2012

    Shared Inspiration

    This month saw the opening of Shared Inspiration: The David R. and Muriel Pokross CollectionShared Inspiration celebrates a generous gift from the family of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934, and David R. Pokross.  Comprised of paintings, drawings and prints by major artists of the post-World War II period, The Pokross Collection is a marvelous and exciting addition to SCMA’s collection. 

    After receiving the gift this winter, my colleagues and I spent months studying, researching and enthusing about these new objects, and looking for the correspondences between them.  Several works in the collection—a drawing and a painting by William T. Wiley, drawings by David Park and Richard Diebenkorn—were by California artists.  This concentration allowed me to learn about the contemporary art that came out of California in the 1960s and 1970s: the Bay Area Figurative Movement, of which Diebenkorn and Park were founding members (our new David Park drawing is a beautiful example of the work that came out of this movement), and the California Funk Art Movement, of which William T. Wiley was a member. 

    In this installation shot, you can see our Richard Diebenkorn (Untitled #25, 1981) on the far left paired with an Elizabeth Murray drawing. 

    The gift also includes four works by the Pioneer Valley artist Gregory Gillespie.  Gillespie is known as a Pioneer Valley Realist, but it was a designation he rejected, and when you look at the works in the Pokross Collection, you can see why: they run the gamut from the real to the strange to the absurd.  Here are two paintings from the collection:

    Gregory Joseph Gillespie. American, 1936 – 2000. Greg and Peg, 1991. Oil on wood. Gift of The Pokross Art Collection, donated in accordance with the wishes of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 by her children, Joan Pokross Curhan, class of 1959, William R. Pokross and David R. Pokross Jr. in loving memory of their parents, Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 and David R. Pokross. SC 2012:1-8. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    Gregory Joseph Gillespie. American, 1936 – 2000. Trees and Figures (Surviving the Flood), 1980/81. Oil and collage on board. Gift of The Pokross Art Collection, donated in accordance with the wishes of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 by her children, Joan Pokross Curhan, class of 1959, William R. Pokross and David R. Pokross Jr. in loving memory of their parents, Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 and David R. Pokross. SC 2012:1-9. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    Tune in next week to read more about the collectors, David R. and Muriel Pokross. 


  • Monday, March 19, 2012

    The Open Door

    William Henry Fox Talbot. English, 1800 - 1877. The Open Door,Plate VI from The Pencil of Nature,1843.Salt print from a calotype negative on paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Perry W. Nadig in honor of their daughter, Claudia Nadig, class of 1985.

    This photograph, The Open Door,is the oldest in our collection.  William Henry Fox Talbot was the inventor of the negative-positive photograph, and one of the earliest practitioners (some say the inventor) of photography as we know it today.  This is a plate from Talbot’s series The Pencil of Nature,the first publication to explain and illustrate the scientific and practical applications of photography.

    The Open Dooris among the most celebrated images from The Pencil of NatureMaybe this is because it seems less “scientific and practical” than pictorial or aesthetic.  The photograph is a subtle play on interior and exterior.  The open door gives us a glimpse into an old barn that then gives us a glimpse back outside through two shuttered windows.  The outside of the barn is suffused with light, the interior opaque with shadow.  The broom leaning in the doorway in the foreground offsets the windows in the background.  The calculated asymmetry of the image is perfectly picturesque.

    To explain the picture, Talbot invoked the seventeenth century Dutch painters who were popularly hailed as masters of realism in Talbot’s time.  “A painter’s eye will often be arrested where ordinary people see nothing remarkable,” he wrote. 

    The Open Doorwas hailed by the British press for its “microscopic execution that sets at naught the work of human hands.”  As far as praise goes, I’m partial myself to Talbot’s mother’s description of the photograph: she called it the “soliloquy of the broom.”  What would the broom be saying?  Why does this picture seem so eloquent, so expressive, when all of its subjects (a broom, a barn, a hanging lantern) are mute?