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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, August 19, 2014

    I Hope You Learned Your Lesson

    William T. Wiley, American, b. 1937. I Hope You Learned Your Lesson, 1974. Intaglio on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1975:29-4

    In 1972, Jack Lemon invited artist William T. Wiley to Landfall Press in Chicago, where he was master printer, to collaborate on prints at the workshop. While Wiley was hesitant at first, he accepted the offer, and began to push what he knew about printing. Under the guidance of a master printer, he experimented with new methods, as seen in his work I Hope You Learned Your Lesson.

    Close-up of I Hope You Learned Your Lesson

    With the help of Lemon, Wiley used aquatint, a type of etching in which a powdered acid etches a wide area on a copper plate. After the plate has been run through the printing press, the result is an even tone of ink on the paper. For I Hope You Learned Your Lesson, Wiley used aquatint to create a smooth, black area. He created the appearance of chalk on the board by smoothing parts of the plate. The result, with strong white chalk lines over “erased” writing, creates a trompe l'oeil effect that tricks the eye into believing it is looking at a real chalkboard, not just an image of one.

    Detail of Wiley’s monogram and “erased” version

    The spirited, self-referential elements throughout the piece reveal Wiley’s sense of humor. He makes the frame appear worn, scratched, and covered with graffiti, presumably to mimic the hard use a student’s chalkboard would undergo. He includes the year he printed the piece, 1974, but when the viewer looks closer, the ghostly remnants of an earlier date, 1937, are present: the year he was born. The closer you look, the more there is to see.

    Detail of frame graffiti

    Detail of date and “erased” date

    Although many details are playful, there’s still an edge to this work. The phrase “I Hope You Learned Your Lesson” not only conjures up a boring, uncreative classroom, but also implies the aftermath of punishment. Its ambiguity is troubling, and invites closer contemplation.

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  • Tuesday, August 5, 2014

    Standing Turk

    Jean-Léon Gérôme. French, 1824 - 1904. Standing Turk. Black chalk on light stained off white wove paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-9

    Over the course of his career, Jean-Léon Gérôme travelled extensively, with trips to Spain, the Arabian Peninsula, Palestine, Turkey, Russia, Italy, Algeria, Morocco and Spain. The journalist Frédéric Masson, who accompanied the artist on a months-long journey through Egypt and Turkey in 1868, considered Gérôme an energetic companion, writing: “The first to rise in the morning, [Gérôme] superintends the departure; then erect in his saddle, he keeps going through the long hours, smoking, hunting, tracing with a rapid stroke in his sketchbook a monument or a silhouette.”

    Standing Turk is one such travel drawing, presumably from Asia Minor. In it, a Turkish man stands away from the viewer, seemingly unaware of the artist. His jacket hangs rakishly from his shoulders. The work is not a quick sketch, but a full fleshed-out drawing, with careful cross-hatching throughout.

    It was on the basis of such sketches that his contemporaries saw Gérôme as an accurate illustrator of the Middle East, even an “ethnographer” of the region. After all, each revealed a tremendous precision and eye for detail. Likewise, Gérôme admitted to taking photographs and working from those prints, underscoring his reputation for cultural accuracy.

    Detail of Standing Turk

    Such precision seems apparent in Standing Turk—in it, Gérôme focuses on the man’s ethnic costume, from his turban to the saber hanging from the man’s waist.

    Detail of Standing Turk

    Still, Gérôme still played around with what he saw in his travels to create idealized, and even fantastic, scenes from abroad. During the late nineteenth century, artists and writers embraced their own vision of the Middle East, a fantasy of hashish and proud sultans and harems. This attitude, later called Orientalism, deeply affected the art of the period, including the paintings of Gérôme. There is an element of fantasy in all his works.

    At the time Gérôme drew his Standing Turk, the Ottoman Empire was in flux. In particular, Constantinople (now Istanbul) had welcomed many Western fashions and styles. The photographs of Pascal Sebah, for example, show men in suits and traditional garments alike wandering the streets, much to the chagrin of Orientalist artists, who preferred the unaltered Eastern landscape of their imaginations.

    Detail of Standing Turk

    Would Gérôme have met the model for Standing Turk on the street? By this point in Ottoman history, the fez had nearly replaced the turban as the headgear of choice. While Gérôme may have found an individual in this particular get-up, it would not have been a reflection of what most Turkish men were wearing at the time. Perhaps he even paid a model to pose for him.

    Through such vivid imagery, Gérôme added fodder to his peer’s Orientalist visions. To them, a sketch such as Standing Turk became an irrefutable rendering of what all Turkish men wore. The reality is much more complex.

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  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014

    Cartomania

    College Hall, Smith College

    A.J. Schillare, American, 1856 - 1917. Smith College, College Hall, from West Street. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Gift of Martin Stein. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:4-40

    Cartes-de-visite were a revolutionary form of photography – while earlier methods were expensive or clunky, cartes were small and mounted on card paper, which made them easy to handle. Available for pennies, cartes-de-visite are sometimes called “album photographs,” as many collected the prints in specially-designated albums. By the 1860s, “cartomania” had set in, and between 1861 and 1867 over 300 million cartes were sold every year in England. Pictures of celebrities, soaring vistas, and family portraits were all hugely popular. Cartes-de-visite offered most people their first opportunity to own photographs at all.

    Early photography was an involved process that went beyond shooting the picture - the profession demanded a familiarity with the chemicals and techniques needed to sensitize the glass negatives and paper, develop images and tone the final prints. A. J. Schillare was a local artist who owned a studio on Main Street, Northampton, during the 1870s. Advertisements in local yearbooks reveal that he took studio shots of local college students, likely a major source of business, but he also produced many photographs of the landscape and scenery around him. In the Cunningham Center, we own many of his cartes devoted to Smith College, and the surrounding Northampton. Can you recognize any of these places today?

    Interior of the Art Building

    A.J. Schillare, American, 1856 - 1917. Smith College, Art Building, Interior. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Gift of Martin Stein. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:4-33

    Dewey House

    A.J. Schillare, American, 1856 - 1917. Dewey House, with lawn, Smith College. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Gift of Martin Stein. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:4-37

    Paradise Pond

    A.J. Schillare, American, 1856 - 1917. Paradise, Northampton. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Gift of Martin Stein. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:4-7

    The Parlor of Hubbard House

    A.J. Schillare, American, 1856 - 1917. Hubbard House, Smith College, Parlor toward Main Hall. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Gift of Martin Stein. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:4-18

    Greenhouse at Capen House

    A.J. Schillare, American, 1856 - 1917. Capen House, Greenhouse, Interior. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Gift of Martin Stein. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:4-21

    The Northampton Courthouse

    A.J. Schillare, American, 1856 - 1917. Northampton, Court House and First Church. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Gift of Martin Stein. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:4-43

    Snow bank on Elm Street

    A.J. Schillare, American, 1856 - 1917. Snow bank front of Mansion House, Northampton. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Gift of Martin Stein. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:4-11

    Main Street in Northampton, looking towards Elm Street

    A.J. Schillare, American, 1856 - 1917. Northampton, Main Street looking toward Elm Street. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Gift of Martin Stein. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:4-13

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