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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, June 10, 2016

    Drawing Dance

    Guest blogger Maggie Hoot was a Smith College student, class of 2016, with a major in Art History and a Museums Concentration. She was a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  There are variations on this quote, but the concept stands: one artistic method cannot be used to interpret another.  But is that true?  Can the auditory be shared visually? Can an expression of motion be rendered in static form?  The idea of conveying messages across expressive media has challenged generations of artists.  One of the most prevalent manifestations is the connection between art and dance.  Edgar Degas frequently depicted dancers in his art, but his art often focused on the quiet moments before the action. 

    Edgar Degas. French, 1834-1917. Dancer Putting on Her Shoe, ca. 1888. Etching printed in black on wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. SC 1972:50-18

    However, when trying to draw motion, artists approach the task differently, depending on their style and the elements they wish to capture.  Artists have attempted to strike a balance between their representation of the dancer and the concept of dance itself.

    Abraham Walkowitz. American, 1880-1965. Isadora Duncan, n.d. Pen, ink and pencil on off white wove paper. Gift of Abraham Walkowitz. SC 1953:49-6

    Abraham Walkowitz embraced a quick and light feeling in his use of loose pen strokes, evocative of the new modern dance developed by Isadora Duncan.  Walkowitz was especially intrigued by Duncan: “Isadora is movement. I watched her dances, and I never had her pose, I just watched the movement, that's what makes the dance the feeling, the movement, the grace.”[1]

    Jere Abbott. American, 1897-1982. Geometric Dancing Figure, n.d. Pen and ink on paper. Gift of Jere Abbott. SC 1979:1-33

    Contrasting the looseness of Walkowitz’s drawings, Jere Abbott refined the lines of the dancer into discrete geometric arcs and angles.  While the viewer’s eye is drawn through the circles, the figure itself is more representative of form than motion.

    Joan Junyer Pascual-Fibla. Spanish, 1904-1989. Dancers, 1938. Lithograph on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr Jr. in memory of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1969:19

    Joan Junyer Pascual-Fibla played with the concept of positive and negative space, giving the background as much agency as the dancers themselves.  Also, because the figures seem suspended in midair, they hold a great deal of potential energy-- the possibility of motion.

    Mino Maccari. Italian, 1898-1989. Dancing Figures, n.d. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. SC 1977:32-177

    In Mino Maccari’s print, the dancers appear to be stepping out of the dark background, adding color and motion to the composition.  Only isolated parts of their bodies are visible, but their forms dominate the image.

    These four works are only the tip of the iceberg; Walkowitz alone drew Isadora Duncan approximately five thousand times.  The challenge of making a static drawing feel dynamic and active has engaged artists for centuries.



    [1]Oral history interview with Abraham Walkowitz, 1958 December 8-22,Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


  • Friday, May 27, 2016

    The Viewer as Voyeur

    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 August 2016. Henriette's previous post on this cabinet can be seen here.

    Bénigne Gagneraux (1756-1795) French, Jupiter and Antiope, 1787.

    Ironically, the strictures that limited the way in which the female body could be shown also offered voyeuristic, titillating opportunities for the (presumably) male artist to exploit for the (presumably) male viewer. The “accidental” slip or placement of a garment or drapery could expose or accentuate bare flesh. The often-used trope of the back view of the female nude gave the illusion that the model had just turned away, making her “unaware” she was being viewed, and giving permission for the art lover/voyeur to stare.


    Pierre Auguste Renoir. French, 1841–1919. Untitled. n.d.. Red, white and black chalk on cream laid paper. Bequest of Rebecca W. Petrikin, class of 1925. SC 1981:18


    Artists could observe academic boundaries in representing the female nude but skirt them at the same time. For example, Ingres invoked the trope of the odalisque figure, used by Titian and many other artists, as an opportunity to display the female figure fully unclothed. In his Odalisque of 1842, the woman is placed in an exoticized harem setting, languidly lounging, with her gaze directed away from the viewer toward the slave serenading her.   

    In contrast, Edouard Manet’s Olympia of 1863 was based on the classical odalisque but breaks all the rules for the permissible visual presentation of the female nude. Manet contemporized the figure, making her a “real” rather than idealized woman who was recognized by the viewing public as a modern courtesan or prostitute gazing directly out at the viewer and waiting for her lover. This painting, when it was shown at the 1865 Paris Salon, shocked audiences and critics by its audacity.


    Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, French, Odalisque, 1842.


    Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863.

    Objectification of the Female Nude Body

    While avant-garde artists embraced modernity by showing actual rather than idealized female bodies in contemporary settings, women were still objectified in art as they were in society.

    Charles Despiau. French, 1874–1946. Seated Nude. n.d.. Red crayon on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr Jr. SC 1968:26

    However, the famously acerbic artist Edgar Degas, who often portrayed the female nude, depicted bathers who were awkward rather than enticing and prostitutes who were shown in frank engagements with their clients. While these portrayals may not have been entirely sympathetic to their subjects, they represent a change in the representation of the female body.


    Edgar Degas. French, 1834–1917. The Serious Client, 1876–77. Monotype

    Edgar Degas. The Tub, 1886. Pastel (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)


  • Friday, May 20, 2016

    Making Space to Talk Back

    Guest blogger Emma Cantrell is the Brown Post-Baccalaureate Fellow in Museum Education.

    The new “Talk Back: Art in Conversation” space – conceptualized and overseen by the museum’s Education department – was developed as an opportunity for focused engagement and interaction with art from SCMA’s extensive collection of works on paper. This newly defined area at the heart of the lower level features a rotating work of art accompanied by a question, inviting people of all ages to post a response on the adjacent wall. Through this short and simple prompt, “Talk Back” invites visitors into dialogue - with each other, with the art, and with the museum.The artworks that populate the space are selected from the Museum’s extensive collection of works on paper. With the help of Aprile Gallant (Curator, Prints, Drawings, and Photographs) the Education team has chosen 3 diverse artworks in the first year of rotations for the space.


    Chuck Close. American, 1940–. Lyle. 2003. 147 color silkscreen on paper. Gift of the artist and Pace Editions, Inc. SC 2003:10    

    For the Education team, it was important that the artwork selected and the accompanying questions in “Talk Back” generate open-ended inquiry into both the object itself and the visitor’s relationship with the content of the work. For example, the first artwork displayed was Chuck Close’s Lyle, a enormous portrait of the artist Lyle Ashton Harris. To explore this spectacular 147 color silkscreen, we asked visitors to imagine connecting with the subject with the prompt “If I could ask or tell Lyle anything, I would say…”

    Talk Back responses

    As you can see, participation in “Talk Back: Art in Conversation” has been bountiful and diverse. Responses include writing, as short as one word and as long as a paragraph. Visitors young and old have also responded with drawings, which are used alone or to emphasize a written point. Some participants answer the prompt directly, others respond to a neighbor’s answers, and other responses are seemingly unrelated to the conversation at hand - perhaps just the record of a visitor's time in the Museum. One thing is for certain; visitors are eager to talk back.

    Going forward, “Talk Back” will continue to be an open-ended, participatory space for visitors to engage with works on paper. Flexible and frequently changing, Talk Back can grow and adapt to meet the needs of our visitors, and to explore what it means to be in dialogue with a work of art and with a museum. This week, we posed a new question for Sandy Skoglund’s Squirrels at the Drive-In, in hopes of exploring the visitors’ relationship with the content of this unusual photograph. We hope that the next time you are on the lower level, you will stop by to see what is on view, notice the diverse visitor responses, and to join in the conversation by telling us your squirrel story!

    Sandy Skoglund. American, 1946–. Squirrels at the Drive-In. 1996. Photolithograph printed in color on Ragote paper. Gift of Rita Rich Fraad (Rita Rich), class of 1937. SC 1997:23