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.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
The Smith College Museum of Art is dedicated to bringing out works on paper into the main galleries, where all visitors can see them. Since works on paper are more sensitive to light than other mediums, SCMA has installed special Works on Paper cabinets throughout the galleries for the display of prints, drawings and photographs. Today’s post is part of a series about the current installations of the Works on Paper cabinets, which will remain on view through May 2016.
The Nuremberg Chronicle is a German book detailing the history of the world from the biblical account of creation to 1493, the date of its publication. Though its official title is the Liber Chronicarum (Book of Chronicles), it is usually referred to in English after Nuremberg, the city which it was printed in. It is best known for its vast number of woodcut images—over 1800 in total, depicting a variety of people, places, and historical events. The Works on Paper cabinet brings together pages of the chronicle at Smith with those from the Mead and the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. In addition, there is an original copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle on loan from the Mortimer Rare Book Room.
The breadth of material covered in the Chronicle is impressive. With the rediscovery of Greek and Roman literature and texts during the Renaissance, scholars began looking for connections between themselves and antiquity. They sought to fit these new narratives and histories into their own Christian understanding of the world. The Nuremberg Chronicle is an example of how scholars pieced together classical, biblical, and contemporary political history into a single unified timeline.
Nuremberg, Leaf from Nuremberg Chronicle (Latin Edition), 1493. Woodcut and colored ink on paper. Gift of Ellen P. Reese to the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, Massachusetts. MH 1986.37.2
This two-page spread of Nuremberg is the largest, most intricately detailed image in the book. While the printers did produce special colored editions of the Nuremberg Chronicle, these pages were likely hand-colored by the book’s owner, which was common practice at the time.
Though stylized, it is an accurate portrait of the city during the late fifteenth century, giving a sense of the crooked buildings and narrow streets that lead to the castle at the top of the hill. The city gate bears Nuremberg’s coat of arms, and there are two small notes identifying the churches of St. Lorenz and St. Sebald. Next to the river, the building in the lower right corner of the page is the mill where the paper for the Chronicle was made. Yet for all its modernity, the artists make sure to remind readers of the presence of Christ. In the lower center of the page, a pedestrian with sack in hand walks towards three crosses—a clear reminder of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the two thieves.
The cabinet is on view on the second floor of the galleries until May 2016. I encourage you to see it if you have the chance!
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Guest blogger Brittany Rubin graduated with an MA in Art History from the University of Massachusetts and was the 2014-2015 cataloguing intern for the Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection.
This piece discusses works from the The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection, a significant collection of prints donated to the Museum.
Minna Bolingbroke, English (1857-1939). Norfolk Marshes, 1916. Etching printed in black on medium weight, smooth, cream-colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:32-117
During my first day at the Cunningham Center, I was handed a lengthy spreadsheet documenting the Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection’s contents. I had been hired to catalogue and research the collection, a compilation of 1400 prints and drawings heavily focused on the 19th Century Etching Revival, and was eager to discover the myriad of artists and impressions that would be arriving in the next few weeks. I scanned the list immediately, picking out a few familiar names. The usual suspects of 19th Century printmaking were all represented; I could immediately find Pissarro, Whistler, and Goya in my game of artistic Where’s Waldo. Yet, the spreadsheet also listed many artists, primarily female, whose names I had never heard before. Who were Minna Bolingbroke and Bertha E. Jaques? Why was I unfamiliar with their artistic output?
Drs. Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang, professors emeriti of sociology at the University of Washington, drew upon their personal collection of works on paper to explore larger questions of artistic reputation and collective memory. Their book, Etched in Memory: the Building and Survival of Artistic Reputation, is a sociological study of why certain artists maintain critical acclaim and notoriety, while others fade into relative obscurity. Their study examines a myriad of hypothetical factors that contribute to an artist’s “reputation building,” including socioeconomic status, education, family background, and-most intriguing to me-gender. In fact, the Langs devote an entire chapter of their study to examining “The Disappearing Lady Etchers,” and the circumstances that led to their unfortunate relegation as a minor figure in the printmaking world.
Minna Bolingbroke, English (1857-1939). Marauders, 1894. Etching printed in black on medium weight, slightly textured, cream colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Promised Gift. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC TR 7604.509
Bolingbroke is a perfect encapsulation of the Langs’ “Disappearing Lady Etchers.” Bolingbroke’s works, like 1894’s Mauraders (above), render landscapes, street scenes, and animals with eerie foreboding. Although her etchings have been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum, the Langs hypothesize that her lack of self-promotion in later years coupled with her death on the eve of World War Two led to her present relative obscurity. When her work is studied, it is often deemed derivative of the etchings of Charles Watson, her teacher and, later, husband. To date, little scholarly attention has been given to Bolingbroke’s enigmatic oeuvres.
The SCMA is extremely excited to receive the Langs’ personal collection of works on paper. Indeed, the collection contains many works that have been tragically overlooked by scholars. We hope that the coming generations of Smith students and SCMA visitors can build on the Langs’ sociological theories with further studies of these “disappearing” artists. Our visitors can help to build and maintain the artistic reputations of Bolingbroke and her colleagues, and overturn the course of history by preserving their memories as significant members of the 19th Century Etching Revival.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Although it only lasted for a decade, Eddie Arning’s brief period of drawing is remarkably compelling. People have long held a fascination with the idea of “outsider” art—work seemingly untouched by the echo chamber of the modern art world, created by someone who presumed to be entirely unaware of his own unthinking brilliance. However, despite his isolation and unconventional environment, he did not create in a vacuum.
Arning led a relatively conventional life on his family’s farm until his mid-twenties, when he began to have violent, unpredictable outbusts. After he was arrested for an attack on his mother, he spent the next several decades in a Texas mental institution where he was diagnosed with demential praecox, which is now generally known as schizophrenia.
Eddie Arning, American (1898 - 1993). Figure with Umbrella, 1969. Craypas on pink wove paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alexander H. Sackton (Ivria Adlerblum, class of 1936). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1987:7-1
At the age of sixty-six that he began to show an interest in making art, after a hospital nurse gave him crayons and paper to work with. Eventually he switched to oil pastels, as they gave him better control and a wider variety of colors.
Eddie Arning, American (1898 - 1993). What's a Doctor Doing in the Soft Drink Business Anyway?, 1970. Craypas on green wove paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alexander H. Sackton (Ivria Adlerblum, class of 1936). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1987:7-2
Arning would often replicate newspaper and magazine advertisements in his own distinct style. What's a Doctor Doing in the Soft Drink Business Anyway? is based on a Dr. Pepper ad of the same name. While the basic elements of the two pieces are the same, Arning has flattened and brightened the colors, reducing the composition to geometric shapes and clean lines.
Eddie Arning, American (1898 - 1993). Master Dog of Villa Siesta, 1970. Craypas on green wove paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alexander H. Sackton (Ivria Adlerblum, class of 1936). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1987:7-3
Master Dog of Villa Siesta, however, seems to be a memorial to a deceased pet dog. The writing in the lower right corner reads:
He was a master dog of Villa Siesta. His name is Henry. He was born May 1964. He
die (sic) May 2 1970.
Arning tended to render all of his figures—both human and animal—in profile. Another curious aspect of Arning’s drawings is that he drew a picture frame around each piece, even if his source material did not include one.
In 1973, Arning’s symptoms of mental illness subsided, and he left the nursing home to live with his sister.This change in environment must have affected him, as he stopped drawing within a year.