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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.

  • Wednesday, October 8, 2014

    Mary Rogers Williams

    Guest blogger Saraphina Masters is a Smith College student and the 2013-2015 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. This post is part of a series about the early years of the print, drawing and photograph collection. Art by Mary Rogers Williams and other early art faculty of Smith College is on view in the Works on Paper gallery (2nd floor) until December.

    Mary Rogers Williams, American (1857 - 1907). San Domenico and Duomo, 1907. Pastel on brown paper laid down on paperboard. Gift of the sisters of Mary Rogers Williams. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1911:5-1

    While doing research on the early art faculty of Smith College for the Cunningham Center’s reinstallation of the works on paper collection, I came across Ms. Mary Rogers Williams. She wasn’t mentioned at length in any of the sources I was using, and I was given the email address of Eve Kahn, who has been researching and archiving Mary's letters. Provided with a massive amount of information about this fascinating woman, who was an integral part of the development of Smith’s art department, I felt compelled to share her story and her work.

    Mary Rogers Williams was born on September 30th, 1857 to a successful baker in Hartford, Connecticut. Orphaned by the age of 14, Mary nonetheless went on to study art at the Art Students League and Hartford's Art Society. Her early mentor was James Wells Champney, the first professor of art at Smith College. In 1888, she came to work at the same institution. At Smith, Mary taught studio classes as well as worked in the college’s burgeoning gallery alongside Dwight William Tryon, the first director.

    Mary Rogers Williams, American (1857 - 1907). Green Landscape - Hills in the Distance,1903. Pastel and watercolor on white paper laid down on paperboard. Gift of the sisters of Mary Rogers Williams. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1911:3-2

    Despite her strong connections to New England, Mary traveled to Europe nearly every summer. From Norway to Italy and many places in between, she would sketch whatever struck her, which was often local people and natural scenes as she encountered them in her travels. She would attend Catholic masses several times a day, despite her Episcopalian beliefs, and write back home to her sisters about the elaborate music and costumes she observed. Mary brought her Hartford-made bicycle with her for rides into the countryside and seemed to thoroughly experience and enjoy her time abroad. She also spent entire years in Paris where she studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, an influential French art school, and with James Abbott McNeill Whistler, a well-known American artist whose work she admired but personality could not stand. Her time in France was spent in studios and flats along the rue Boissonade and in the company of other artists such as Julia Strong Lyman Dwight, her friend, studio-mate, and Smith alumna.  

    Mary Rogers Williams, American (1857 - 1907). In Siena Cathedral,1907. Pastel on blue paper laid down on paperboard. Gift of the sisters of Mary Rogers Williams. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1911:6-1

    In 1907, while living in Paris, Mary was looked up and visited by the Tyler sisters, Emma and Marian. Emma, another young alumna of Smith, called upon Mary after hearing of her from an artist friend who had admired Mary’s pastels at the American Girls’ Club. Charmed by the young girls and entertained by the hilarious stories of the very comedic Emma, Mary ended up making a pastel sketch of Marian. She considered the end product to be particularly attractive and successful, and hoped to sell it to the mother of the Tyler girls, as she was essentially broke at the time. Ironically, Mrs. Tyler came to Mary’s studio to accept the pastel and the frame it was in as a gift, and quite an awkward encounter ensued. Eventually, Mary made a small copy of Marian’s head to give to the family, and kept the full piece (which made its way to Smith’s collection after her death).

    Mary Rogers Williams, American (1857 - 1907). Marion Tyler,1907. Pastel on brown paper laid down on paperboard. Gift of the sisters of Mary Rogers Williams. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1911:7-1

    Mary Rogers Williams died of a sudden illness in 1907 while traveling in Florence, Italy. She left behind a closet full of paintings and drawings in Paris and quite the legacy in the art world. She was lauded in publications such as the Springfield Republicanand theHartford Courantas well as theNew York Timesand numerous art magazines. She was a member of the New York Woman’s Art Club and had exhibited her work in galleries and venues across the nation. Praised by novelist Elizabeth Williams Champney in theQuarterly Illustratoras "an artist with rare poetic instinct and feeling," Mary was clearly a well-known and respected creative individual.

    Mary also left behind two sisters to whom she had written a massive daily correspondence while abroad. Upon her death her family and friends inventoried her collection of works. A few made their way to the Smith College Museum of Art as gifts from her sisters. The Cunningham Center houses six pastel drawings by Mary Rogers Williams, one of which is the aforementioned portrait of Marian Tyler. Many of the others are landscapes with vague outlines and forms, which attest to her Impressionist influences. High horizons characterize much of her work, either over towns or over meadows. Much of her work also fits in the American trend of tonalism, and is characterized by a misty, colored atmosphere.

    Mary Rogers Williams, American (1857 - 1907). Noon Siena. Pastel on gray wove paper laid down on paperboard. Gift of the sisters of Mary Rogers Williams. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1911:4-1

    However, most remain in private New England collections, such as the 1895 posthumous portrait of Mrs. Mary Smith Tenney, who bequeathed her home, where the Alumna House is now, and considerable funds to Smith College after her death. It used to reside in Tenney House on campus but, at some unknown time, was removed and sold at auction. The auction buyer thought it resembled Whistler's mother, not realizing that the artist had in fact trained with Whistler. He has since sold it to a benefactress who is donating it back to Smith.

    Much of the above information came for the extensive research of Eve Kahn, the Antiques columnist at the New York Times, who has been transcribing Mary’s vast correspondence, which is a promised archival gift to Smith College’s Archives. She can be reached at

    The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut is having a retrospective of Mary Rogers Williams, her first since 1908, which opens in October 2014.



  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014

    Student Picks: VISUAL PROTEST - A Walk in the Wonderland of Sarcasm

    Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Lingxuan Li '17 discusses her show “VISUAL PROTEST - A Walk in the Wonderland of Sarcasm” which will be on view FRIDAY, October 3 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!

    Zhang Dali, Chinese (b. 1963). Untitled (Mao Diptych #2), 2009. Digital pigment print on moderately thick moderately textured white wove paper. Gift of Pace Editions Incorporated and Ethan Cohen Fine Arts courtesy of Ann and Richard Solomon (Ann Weinbaum, class of 1959) and Ethan Cohen. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2010:10-7a

    Art has always been one of the most effective mediums for protest. Caricature, or drawing with exaggeration of its elements, is high on the agenda of activist artists. Just like roses with thorns, the art of sarcasm attracts people because of its brilliant ideas, but provokes them with its deep-seated expression of social ills. My personal interest in satire art pieces stems from my own preferred way of expression, using dry humor, and from my ambition to have a career in government and economics related fields.

    John Emerson, American (b. 1973). Occupied Since 1625, from Occuprint Portfolio, 2012. Screenprint in two colors on moderately thick cyan colored smooth paper. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  Purchased with the Katherine S. Pearce, class of 1915, Fund. SC 2012:30-15

    This show exhibits sarcastic artworks created across time and countries. Their targets vary hugely from politics to art museums. By applying techniques such as color variation, collage and miniature painting, these pieces take diligent notes of the time periods they were created, and directly “speak” to modern viewers.

    Guerrilla Girls, American 20th century. Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted, 1989. Photolithograph printed in color on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2006:44-7

    I hope you can begin your journey in the wonderland of sarcasm as soon as you walk in the exhibition room, and enjoy the walk surrounded by stories that are always silent, no matter how strong they are.


  • Friday, September 26, 2014


    Jean-Michel le Jeune Moreau. French, 1741 — 1814. La dame du palais de la reine, from Monument du Costume Physique et Moral de la fin du dix-huitieme siecle ou Tableaux de la vie, 1789. Engraving on paper. Purchased with the gift of Mrs. Charles Lincoln Taylor (Margaret Rand Goldthwait, class of 1921). SC 1964:24-12

    For the past few months I have been working on my corridor show, BOW DOWN: Queens in Art, now on view in the second floor of the Museum. Curating this exhibition was a completely new experience for me. I’ve never worked on a show of prints, drawings and photographs before, nor have I drawn from such a large collection of works. The Cunningham Center has over 18,000 pieces of art, and at first it was overwhelming: how could I possibly know where to start?

    Salvador Dali. Spanish, 1904 — 1989.Queen of Spades, Part of Playing Card Suite, 1970. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley. SC 1991:49-2c

    Inspiration came in the form of a donation from the Andy Warhol Foundation, two prints from the artist’s Reigning Queens series. Entranced by the image of Queen Elizabeth II, reproduced and manipulated by Warhol, I began to think about the issue of representation: who controls the visual legacy of a royal woman? The seed of the exhibition had been planted.

    With the help of my colleagues, I sought out other queens in our collection, and compiled a selection of art that spanned centuries of Western monarchies.

    Queen Victoria - Her Latest Portrait, 1900. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. Half tone on paper mounted on paperboard. SC 4643-566

    There are fewer queens in the world than a century ago, but our fascination with royal women has continued. Teenagers still swoon over the fashions of Queen Marie Antoinette of France, while paparazzi take endless shots of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, never quite satiating our desire to see the newest pictures of this fashionable member of the British royal family.

    Although queens have been prominent figures in Western monarchies for the past five hundred years, their authority was often limited. Kings ruled as heads of state, while queens were responsible for continuing the royal family line. When women such as the long-reigning British Queen Victoria and Queen Marie de Medici of France did gain power, they were careful to represent themselves as both royal and maternal, in keeping with the gender norms of their time. Likewise, the ideal queen was beautiful. Artists emphasized the attractiveness of Her Majesty, often improving on her actual appearance.

    Rene Portocarrero. Cuban, b. 1912. Queen #2, 1949. Crayon and ink on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Cantor. SC 1955:57

    For some queens, control of their image was the greatest influence they had on their courts and their kingdoms. No portrait was just a likeness, but a record of court culture and a piece of propaganda that still reveals the mindset of artist and patron alike.

    Before the age of photography, prints spread these visual messages about the appearance and life of royals. Often, a painted portrait of a royal was only visible to the court and visiting dignitaries. By translating the painting into a print, artists made these visions of sovereignty available to a wider audience. Many of the works in this show are prints made after large paintings, such as L'Accouchement de la Reine, an engraving on loan from the Mead Museum, Amherst College (shown below).

    Jean-Marc Nattier. French, 1685–1766. Printed by Benoît Audran. French, 1661–1721. After Peter Paul Rubens. Flemish, 1577–1640. L’Accouchement de la Reine. c. 1707–10. Engraving. Mead Art Museum, Amherst College. Gift of the Wise Arts Council. AC 1976.90.11

    The painting on which this print was based was part of a group of works commissioned from Peter Paul Rubens by Marie de Medici, queen of France, in 1621. It was later reproduced by Jean-Marc  Nattier; This cycle highlights the major events and accomplishments of Marie’s life through a mythological lens.  This engraving celebrates the birth of her son, the future Louis XIII.

    Detail of L'Accouchement de la Reine

    Marie de Medici, lounging on her throne, is flanked by gods and goddesses from Roman mythology. Her new role as mother to the heir is clear as she looks at her infant. Next to her, a goddess offers her a cornucopia bursting with flowers and baby heads, a gift of future fecundity. The queen has crafted an image of herself as devoted mother and powerful regent.

    L'Accouchement de la Reine and the other works in this exhibition reveal the power of art to define our perceptions of public figures. I hope you have the chance to see them yourself!

    BOW DOWN is open from September 12 through January 4. 


    Robin Whitham Acker - 22/11/2014

    "Bow Down"

    Robin Whitham Acker - 22/11/2014

    "Bow Down"

    Really brilliant work, Maggie - and well done - never saw the Dali, Portocarrero, and others before. One could spend years searching in the Cunningham Center and never tire of it! Hope to see you all again, soon!

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