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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 14, 2015

    Now You See Me

    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. Guest blogger Janna Singer-Baefsky, class of 2015, curated the current installation of the second floor Works on Paper cabinet, titled Now You See Me: The Relationship between the Printed and Painted Portrait. It will be on view through June 2015.

    Janna Singer-Baefsky ‘15 sets out her labels for her Works on Paper cabinet

    In two sentences, French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire captures the inherent paradox of portraiture: “Nothing in a portrait is a matter of indifference. Gesture, grimace, clothing, decor even – all must combine to realize a character.” Portraiture, a seemingly biographical and documentary genre, is often more farce than fact. Every aspect of monarchical portraiture, for example, was constructed by the sitters to display not only their opulence and grandeur but also their power and control, both believed to have been given by God.

    Portraiture did not die out as the age of monarchs came to a close. Instead it reinvented itself to cater to the needs of the colonists. Coming from a European tradition, the tenets of portraiture remained; it was still the primary method of documenting success. Only now, in the democratic colonies, portraiture illustrated social mobility. It was the genre of the upper-middle working class and so merchants, tradesmen, and lawyers all utilized portraiture to show they were well-traveled, literate, and cultured gentlemen. Serving somewhat as a pictorial “take that, King George!,” portraiture became less about divine authority and more about displaying social advancements.

    John Singleton Copley, American (1737-1815). The Honorable John Erving (1693-1796), ca. 1772. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Anne Rutherford Erving, class of 1929. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1975:52-1

    Johann Jacobé, Austrian (1733-1797). After George Romney, British (1734-1802). Lord George Germain, 1790. Mezzotint on ivory laid paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-380

    The stories and subtle nuances contained within a seemingly simple image have made portraiture one of my favorite artistic genres. Thus, when I was given the opportunity to propose and curate an exhibition for my museum studies capstone I decided to delve into portraiture. I have spent two years working in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs so it was only fitting to propose something that allowed me to work with a collection with which I had spent so much time fostering a personal relationship. Having had the privilege to conduct extensive research on mezzotints at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History, this exhibition would also function as a testament to my scholarship.

    James Ward, British (1769-1859). After Joseph Wright of Derby, British (1734-1797). Joseph Wright, Esquire, 1807. Mezzotint on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1953:17

    Joseph Wright of Derby. Self Portrait. 1780. Oil on canvas. Yale Center for British Art (image source)

    The mezzotint, a tonal form of printmaking, gained fame and popularity in the 18th century due to its ability to render the three-dimensionality and qualities of oil paintings. Situated in the second floor portrait gallery, the mobile cabinet contains six mezzotint portraits made after oil paintings. It is a media comparison through one genre. It is an exhibition about portraiture that is itself a portrait of my four years at Smith.

    Janna Singer-Baefsky ‘15 places a print on the top of her Works on Paper cabinet

    Find Now You See Me: The Relationship between the Printed and Painted Portrait on the second floor
    of the Museum through June 2015.


  • Wednesday, April 8, 2015

    A Discerning Eye

    Guest blogger Saraphina Masters is a Smith College student, class of 2017, majoring in Classical Studies and Art History. She is the 2013-2015 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    As is often the case when I am conducting research on works of art or individuals, I came across far too much fascinating information on Selma Erving to relegate to a label with a limited word count. My main source of information about Ms. Erving and her relationship was the book Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Prints: The Selma Erving Collection, prepared and published by the Smith College Museum of Art in 1985. The two introductory essays were written by then-director Charles Chetham as well as Elizabeth Mongan, curator emeritus and former art history professor at Smith. Both of these essays revealed a great deal of material about Selma’s life and her character.

    Selma Erving, from a photograph by Mrs. John C. White

    Selma Erving was born in 1906 to a family closely connected to art. For over sixty years, her grandfather Henry Wood Erving had been one of the first collectors of American furniture, and had a collection recognized by many in the field. As a young woman, her mother, Emma Lootz Erving, had been a roommate and friend of Gertrude Stein and subsequently acquired a great appreciation of art. Her father and elder brother also collected various kinds of art. However, both her parents made their living as medical doctors and Selma herself had intended to follow in their footsteps. After graduating from Smith College in 1927, where she was a member of both the Colloquium Club and the Granddaughter’s Club, she went to Johns Hopkins Medical School.

    Senior yearbook from Class of 1927, Selma Erving at top right. Courtesy of Smith College Archives

    However, after her first year, she developed tuberculosis, an illness that would keep her from completing her degree and starting a practice. Not one to languish or be idle, she turned her discerning mind and active disposition to the collection of art. With the help of her friend and advisor Jon Wyss, a Swiss dealer and framer, Selma bought from auctions and dealers alike. Her collection, which contained over 700 items, came to the attention of the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) when Miss Erving contacted Charles Chetham, the director at the time, in search of a paper conservator. He recommended the well-known Christa Gaehde, who upon seeing the Erving collection, was “overwhelmed” and made note to Chetham of its “unusual quality”.

    Mary Cassatt. American, 1844 – 1926. Under the Horse Chestnut Tree, ca. 1895. Drypoint and aquatint printed in blue, green, yellow, brown, and flesh on off white laid paper. Gift of Selma Erving, Class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-8

    Once Chetham was finally able to visit Selma in her home in West Hartford and see her collection, he was utterly taken with the quality of the pieces and with the quiet yet courageous character of Selma herself. He described her as “capable of the keenest perceptions about quality in art and quality in people”, an attribute that is made obvious in her collection. Her home in Hartford, which was to be visited often by staff members from the SCMA, contained a living room that Chetham describes as “covered with prints and drawings of a splendor that came as a considerable shock”. Much of her collection was assembled with intent, but one notable piece has a rather serendipitous and anecdotal story. Above her mantel hung a painting by Edvard Munch that her grandfather, a Norwegian Vice-Consul, had won by chance in a raffle at a time when the artist was still unknown (image below).

    Edvard Munch. Norwegian, 1863 – 1944. The Lion Tamer, 1916. Lithograph printed in black on wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, Class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:1-17

    Through a continued relationship with the SCMA, Selma provided guidance for the growing collection of works on paper. Described by Chetham as a “gentle perfectionist”, she was attentive to the Museum’s plans for developing a more focused dedication to works on paper. In fact, it was the promise of her excellent, expansive collection to Smith that influenced and supported Chetham’s argument for a large and accessible Print Room. Selma, keenly and with great interest, advised Chetham and the Museum’s first prints specialist, Elizabeth Mongan, in the ensuing creation and flourishing of the Prints Room as it was funded by Priscilla Cunningham (Class of 1958), in memory of Eleanor Lamont Cunningham (Class of 1932). In 1975, President Jill Ker Conway dedicated a print exhibition gallery in honor of Miss Erving. True to her humble character, Selma only consented to attend the dedication of the eponymous gallery on the condition that no attention would be called to her presence.

    Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. French, 1864-1901. La Passagère du 54 - Promenade en Yacht; Expostion Int'l d'offiches. ca. 1896. Crayon, brush and splatter lithograph in olive green, beige, red, yellow, blue, black, and dark gray-blue on beige wove paper. Bequest of Selma Erving, Class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1984:10-76

    The file pertaining to Miss Erving in the Museum’s records is overflowing with staff members singing her praises. Elizabeth Mongan, upon receiving a gift of works from Selma declared that the Museum was “basking in a wonderful euphoria”. This testimony and others about her material and intellectual generosity paint a fascinating picture of a fascinating woman. Pieces donated by Selma have been featured in five exhibition thus far at the SCMA and in 1975 a Smith seminar coordinated an exhibition from her collection. . In addition, the Selma Erving collection is known outside of Smith and New England, with acclaim coming from the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art and more. This follows the wishes of Miss Erving; that her art and her resources would be used to educate and enlighten. As perhaps her greatest admirer, Charles Chetham articulately summed up the impact Selma and her collection had and continues to have.

    “For the years to come student who use Miss Erving’s collection will make contact through it a rare and unusual spirit, and, perhaps without knowing it, will be guided to the perception of great quality”

    Works donated by Selma Erving are now on view on the second floor of the Museum in the Cunningham Center corridor as part of the exhibition Figure and Image: The Selma Erving Collection until May 3rd, 2015.


  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    Student Picks: CAMERA EXOTICA

    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 Niyati Dave '15 discusses her show “Camera Exotica: Clichés, Counter-Narratives and Cultural Clashes” which will be on view FRIDAY, April 3 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!

    Kara Elizabeth Walker, American (1969 - ). Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), Buzzard’s Roost Pass, 2005. Offset lithography and screenprint on Somerset Textured paper. Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1925, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:64-3

    “Exotica”: The Unknown. The Other. The Dark. The Feared. The Fetishized. The Pagan. The Strange. The Foil Against Which The Familiar is Formed.

    Most of the images in this exhibition play with ideas of the “exotic” and question the ways in which it is very much a constructed category. Within the ethnographic images on display, we see how colonial photography in the British Empire was not simply an apolitical act of recording an objective history, but rather an exercise of dominance over native populations. By having the power to “see” the local populations and fix that image as well as dictate its meaning, the colonial camera also used its dominance over local populations to reinforce orientalist tropes about debauchery, primitiveness, inherent inferiority and, in doing so, consolidates the ideology driving colonization.

    What is particularly interesting about the works of the contemporary artists represented in this exhibition is how they appropriate and play with these orientalist tropes and re-contextualize them to challenge the dominant narratives that the Western world largely takes for granted.

    Smith College Museum of Art, Print, Willie Cole, American, Fig. 3. & 4. Sunbeam Male, Ceremonial, 2004, Digital print Epson 9600, Ultra Chrome Archival Inks, Janice Carlson Oresman

    Willie Cole, American (1955 - ). Fig. 3. & 4. Sunbeam Male, Ceremonial, 2004. Digital print Epson 9600 using Ultra Chrome Archival Inks on paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:15

    Works such as Willie Cole’s Sunbeam Male, Ceremonial (above) and Nusra Latif Qureshi’s Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds (below) use formal qualities associated with colonial or ethnographic photography such as the frontal position and an emphasis on costume and accoutrement as a marker of “ethnic” or “tribal” authenticity. In doing so, they make a point about how knowledge is subjective and constructed within a system of hierarchies.

    Nusra Latif Qureshi, Pakistani (1973 - ). Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds, 2004. Gouache on paperboard. Purchased with the Richard and Rebecca Evans (Rebecca Morris, class of 1932) Foundation Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:6

    Detail of Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds

    Either through revealing invisibilized marginal histories or reappropriating and satirizing dominant narratives, most of the work in the show tells a story of cyclical cultural clashes, starting with the colonial moment, moving onto political and social decolonization and culminating with an exploration of what it means to belong to an “authentic” culture in a neoliberal, globalized and interconnected world.

    Saira Wasim, Pakistani (1975 - ). Buzkashi, from the series Musharaff, 2003-2004. Graphite, gouache and gold on wasli paper. Purchased with the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:25

    Further complicating the West vs East binary, I also aim to focus on marginalized voices within both of those geopolitical constructs—even post-independence. After all, can such a thing even exist, given how ideas of nationhood, belonging and authenticity are in a state of constant flux?

    This show attempts to reveal the clichés around which the colonial apparatus is ideologically centered, to explore the counter-narratives proposed by the Black, South-Asian and Mexican contemporary artists whose works you see here and to consider how the idea of cultural clashes might itself be a misnomer given how the discursive ideas of the East and the West are (faux)thentic.