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, November 21, 2011
Guest blogger Karysa Norris (Dartmouth College '12) was a participant in the 2011 Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (www.smith.edu/siams). She also served as the 2011 Brown SIAMS Fellow, a four-week internship in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints Drawings and Photographs.
One day during the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies, our Teaching Assistants Betsy and Jason brought us to the Cunningham Center to discuss issues of sexism and racism in art museums.To aid in our discussion, several prints and posters by the Guerrilla Girls were on display. I knew that a lot of the work had been produced in the 1980s and 90s, so I assumed that much of it would be outdated or irrelevant. As we perused the collection, however, one print in particular immediately caught my eye: Top Ten Ways to Tell if You’re an Art World Token from the Most Wanted collection. The first two examples made me smile: “Your busiest months are February (Black History Month), March (Women’s History), April (Asian-American Awareness), June (Stonewall Anniversary) and September (Latino Heritage)” and “At openings and parties, the only other people of color are serving drinks.” I immediately wanted to grab the nearest person, point, and say, “That’s me!”
Guerrilla Girls. American, 20th century. Top Ten Ways to Tell if You’re an Art World Token, from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985-2006, 1995. Lithograph printed in black and grey on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. SC 2006:44
Far from being irrelevant, this 1995 print made me feel that my disappointment in the lack of diversity in museums was validated. I have only been a part of the museum world for a few short months but I have never been as aware of my minority status as I was while touring the museums of New England with SIAMS. Not one of the professionals we met with had an ethnic background similar to my own, and I was suddenly hyper-aware of how overwhelmingly white the art historical field is. Even at my home institution, the only faculty member of color is, not surprisingly, the professor of Asian art. Although I was happy to know that other people are aware of the issue of diversity, I was simultaneously saddened that it didn’t seem like much had changed in the past 16 years. Museums and art history departments are still largely dominated by upper-class white women, and it is still far too easy to see an individual of a different ethnicity or background such as myself as a “token” staff member.
I wasn’t the only one in the class who had a strong reaction to these protest posters. The Guerrilla Girls jumpstarted a conversation on diversity that continued long after our session with Betsy and Jason was over. I’m not exactly shy about bringing up topics of sexism and race with my peers, but having voices from women speaking about them for over twenty years supporting me certainly made my points more compelling!
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Alfred H. Barr (founding director of The Museum of Modern Art) and Jere Abbott (founding associate director of MoMA and director of the Smith College Museum of Art from 1932-1946) met as graduate students at Harvard University.
During the winter of 1927, Barr and Abbott traveled through Europe. Their primary destination was the Bauhaus, the modernist art and architecture school located in Dessau, Germany, but on a whim they decided to also visit the Soviet Union, easily obtaining visas in Berlin. Both Barr and Abbott kept diaries during their time in the Soviet Union, which lasted from January through March 1928.
Barr’s diary was published (with a preface by Abbott) in October(Winter 1987). SCMA owns both Jere Abbott’s diary from the trip as well as his guidebook.
Abbott’s text recalls mostly theater and musical performances (often with detailed notes on the sets and staging), although they also visited museums and purchased some art. On January 6, Abbott recalled: “Went in the afternoon with Roz[insky] to an exhibit of paintings by peasants and untutored workers in the First University. Arranged to buy possibly four later. One by a young Russian peasant boy of 16. Met him.” Exhibitions such as this were part of the Soviet attempt to support the development of a native proletarian-based art that eschewed dependence on formal training.
This drawing, donated to SCMA by Abbott in 1979, is presumed to be by the boy mentioned in his diary.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I began working at the Cunningham Center as a student assistant when I entered Smith College as an Ada Comstock Scholar in the autumn of 2009. I had recently researched the photographic artist Julia Margaret Cameron, who was the aunt of Julia Stephen and the great-aunt of her daughter, Virginia Woolf. As a non-traditional student, I was impressed by Cameron's life because she began her career during her middle-aged years. She produced an enormous body of photographic art that included significant portraits of Victorian authors, artists, and scientists such as Alfred Tennyson, William Holman Hunt, and Charles Darwin. She created studies of women depicted as biblical and classical literary figures, along with images for Tennyson’s Idylls of the King- often developing her own soft focus and dramatic lighting techniques that were advanced for the time. Her passion for gathering a community of creative intellectuals on the Isle of Wight, near London, was a precedent for the Bloomsbury Group in which her great-niece, Virginia Woolf would one day take part. When I decided to complete my college education at nearly 50 years of age, Julia Margaret Cameron became my inspiration.
The Cunningham Center houses over 16,000 works on paper that includes over 5,000 photographs by artists such as Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, Robert Doisneau and hundreds of others – including Julia Margaret Cameron. When students begin their assistant positions here, the first thing that they are taught to do is to handle the objects in the collection correctly in order to prepare them for viewing by individuals, students, professors, and classes from local schools and colleges. Curator Aprile Gallant and Manager Henriette Kets de Vries carefully emphasize that these objects are to be used – not merely stored – in the Cunningham Center. That means that when you visit here by appointment, we have placed up to 15 objects of your choice on the tables in the study room for your own private viewing – you may not touch, but your use of a magnifying glass is encouraged! You may take your time to browse the objects, research the files, ask the staff questions, and even choose to make another appointment to view more objects. It is an unusually rare and fortunate opportunity in a museum environment to work so closely with museum objects and many people are unaware of its availability.
My experience as a student assistant at the Cunningham Center has been extraordinary. I have been privileged to work with some of the most fascinating objects in the museum and to do so with an opportunity to research and study them, as well. In my first few days here, I tentatively asked – did the Cunningham Center own any of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs? Yes, they did, I was told. Could I see them, I wondered? Yes, I was assured, of course I could. This left me so overwhelmed with emotion that I went home that afternoon and telephoned my favorite family and friends (who had all been subjected to many conversations with me regarding all things Julia Margaret Cameron) and told them this news. I was going to actually see several of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs at the Cunningham Center! When I returned the next day, I reverently brought Mother Mary (Mary Hilliers)out from its storage location and set it on the table in the study room. I was so moved that I found my eyes quickly filling up with tears and I smiled in embarrassment when Aprile and Henriette found me there. I said I was sorry to be so silly. They smiled back and said that it was perfectly okay, as long as I didn’t get tears on the photograph. We laughed together and I composed myself. Aprile said that one of Julia Cameron’s photographs would be on view in our Nixon Gallery soon and Henriette asked me if I would like to write the label for it. I said yes, but by then I was undone. So, I resumed my crying with much happiness, making sure that I didn’t spill any tears on my beloved Julia’s photograph.