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 22, 2014
This post is part of a series about the early years of the print, drawing and photograph collection. Early acquisitions of photography are on view in the Works on Paper gallery (2nd floor) until December.
Luke Swank. American, 1890–1944. Grains in the Sunshine, Early 1930s. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1933:4-1
“Fotografie ist Lichtgestaltung.” [Photography is manipulation of light]
—László Moholy‑Nagy, 1895–1946
The Smith College Museum of Art began to acquire photographs in the 1930s under the directorship of Jere Abbott. Abbott was the founding Associate Director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York prior to his tenure at Smith, where he served as the Museum’s second director from 1932 to 1946.
MoMA was one of the first American museums to establish a photography collection, a program Abbott brought with him to SCMA. The current installation (on view on the Works on Paper gallery, 2nd floor) includes early purchases made for the collection as well as gifts from Abbott and others. They show the range of subjects, styles, and approaches typical of early twentieth-century modernist photography, including portraits, abstraction, nudes, still lifes, and film stills.
Paul Cordes. American, b. 1893. Portrait of Gene Loring of the Ballet Caravan, c. 1936. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Gift of Paul Cordes. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1938:8-10
Paul Cordes used dramatic lighting and sharp focus to highlight his subjects. Above is a portrait of the dancer Eugene Loring as the title character from his first choreographed ballet, Harlequin for President.
Many early twentieth-century portrait photographers were as concerned with the visual properties of their images as they were with presenting a likeness of the sitter. The light from the left highlights Loring’s face and hands, while his body is enveloped in darkness. His sidelong gaze, accentuated by the black grease paint covering his face, adds to the brooding and melancholy feeling of the image.
Grigorij Aleksandrov. Russian, 1903–1983. Untitled film still from Old and New, begun as The General Line, c. 1929. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Jere Abbott. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1937:1-1
This image (above) is from a Russian propaganda film written and directed by Grigorij Aleksandrov and Sergei Eisenstein, which concerned the modernization of collective farming in the Soviet Union. Originally filmed as The General Line while Leon Trotsky was still an influential force in the government, the film was released in an edited version, under the title Old and New, after Trotsky was officially purged by Joseph Stalin.
This still captures an important moment in the film in which the heroine offers the fabric from her skirt to help the hero repair the new mechanized tractor.
László Moholy Nagy. American (born Hungary), 1895–1946. Shadows on Sand (or Play), c. 1929. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1933:4-6
Moholy-Nagy was an influential teacher at the Bauhaus, becoming a professor at this school of the fine and applied arts in 1923. His photographs display what he saw as a “new vision.” Above, the artist has used a high perspective, a strong contrast between shadows and light, and an emphasis on the surface textures of sand and cloth to transform a scene of children playing on the beach into an abstract image that transcends narrative.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
This post is part of a series about the early years of the print, drawing and photograph collection. Art donated by the Smith College Studio Club is on view in the Works on Paper gallery (2nd floor) until December.
Studio Club, 1937. Photograph by Warren Kay Valentine Studios. Smith College Archives, Smith College
While I was learning about the early years of the art collection, I happened to notice that several early additions to the prints collection came from Smith students, more specifically members of the Studio Club.
Georges Rouault. French (1871 – 1958). Two Self Satisfied Women, from Reincarnation du Pere Ubu, 1928. Etching on paper. Gift of the Studio Club of Smith College. SC 1940:3
The Smith College Studio Club began in 1907. Some members were artists; others were more interested in the study of art. They kept busy bringing art to campus: they organized lectures by notable art historians, spoke about jobs opportunities in the field, and put on exhibitions of works by students and faculty.
At the time, Alfred Vance Churchill was the head of the Art Department. To him, art reproductions and plaster casts of statues were “mere shadows and substitutes for reality,” and during his tenure he brought in many original works for students to study. One such loan exhibition occurred in 1911, with several etchings by Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn.
One etching, titled Three Crosses, caught the eye of the Studio Club. The Art Department had already earmarked a large amount of its budget for a new lecture hall and couldn’t pay for the print outright, so the Studio Club members resolved to raise $200, the extra funds necessary to buy it themselves. In their words, “everyone knows the value of any original work of Rembrandt’s and we feel that this is an opportunity to procure a masterpiece for our collection at a remarkably low price.”
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Dutch (1606 - 1669). The Three Crosses, 1660. Drypoint and burin in black on cream laid paper. Gift of The Studio Club and Friends. SC 1911:2-1
The fundraising became a campus-wide effort, with contributions from individual students and other organizations such as the Glee Club, which donated $40 from the proceeds of the Spring Concert. By the end of the year, the Studio Club was able to make their donation, a gift that marked the start of a serious print collection at Smith College.
Detail of The Three Crosses
Anthony van Dyck, Flemish (1599 - 1641). Adam Van Noort, ca. 1630. Etching and engraving on paper. Gift of the Senior Members of the Studio Club. SC 1922:5-1
The next donation from the Studio Club occurred ten years later, in 1922; they gave an etching by Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck. While we don’t have much information about the Studio Club in this period, perhaps this gift was made in honor of the ten-year anniversary of the first. At this point in history, the Museum of Art had only been established three years prior.
Detail of Adam Van Noort
In fact, the next gift from the Studio Club was also made ten years later, in 1933, maybe for the same reason: Picasso’s La Toilette de la mère (Mother's Morning Ritual). It was the second Picasso piece added to the collection.
Pablo Picasso, Spanish (1881 - 1973); printed by Louis Fort, Louis. La Toilette de la mère (Mother's Morning Ritual); from the series Saltimbanques, 1905; printed 1913. Etching on Van Gelder wove paper mounted on heavy white matboard. Gift of the Studio Club. SC 1933:2-1
André Derain. French (1880 – 1954). Head of a Girl. Lithograph on off white wove paper laid down on board. Gift of the Studio Club. SC 1934:9-1
By the end of the 1940s, the Studio Club seems to have petered out. Other clubs rose up to fill its role on campus: in 1979, for example, Ars Artis likewise sought “to foster an interest in and appreciation of the visual arts, their origin in the studio and place in history” and “to increase student awareness of fellow students’ and faculty works and studies.” [source]
Today, there are a number of student organizations that engage with art on campus, and contribute to the Museum’s rapidly growing collection. SMAC (the Student Museum Advisory Council) is the voice of the student body in the Museum, while the Art Resources Committee organizes art events on campus. While the Smith College Studio Club no longer exists, Smithies today are passionate creators and promoters of in the arts, much like their foremothers in 1907.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.