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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, November 19, 2014

    Guerrilla Girls and the Art of Sarcasm

    Guest blogger Anya Gruber is a Smith College student, class of 2016, majoring in Art History. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    Smith College students are no strangers to wit and well-timed sarcastic comments. Nor are we strangers to feminism and fighting for equality of all kinds. The Guerilla Girls, a group of women who remain anonymous by taking on the name of dead female artists, seem like they would fit right in at Smith. They create posters with sharply satirical messages and images, cutting straight to the heart of the deeply ingrained sexism and racism that is all too characteristic of the art world. They focus primarily on the underrepresentation of women and people of color in galleries and museums, but also comment on Hollywood, playwriting and art publications. They criticize the imbalance of politics, and defend women’s rights. The Guerrilla Girls themselves seem like a very interesting, dedicated group of people – to maintain anonymity, they wear gorilla masks to every public appearance. 

    Guerrilla Girls, American 20th century. Hormone Imbalance, Melanin Deficiency, 1993. Offset lithograph printed in black on medium thick, smooth, white paper. Purchased with the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:31-32

    For the past week or so, I’ve been helping to catalogue 68 Guerrilla Girls prints that the Cunningham Center recently purchased. I was familiar with the Guerilla Girls before I started this project, but the only one of their posters I could readily recognize was the most famous one, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” with the image of the nude woman with the ubiquitous, delightfully monstrous gorilla head.

    Guerrilla Girls, American 20th century. Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985 – 2006, 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

    Now, looking at all the prints as I’m cataloguing them, I feel like I’ve learned so much. They make use of a lot of statistics and other factual information to make their point which, alongside incredibly pointed remarks and bold headlines that capture your attention, makes quite a memorable combination. 

    Guerrilla Girls, American 20th century. Bus Companies are More Enlightened Than NYC Art Galleries, from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985 – 2006, 1986. Lithograph printed in black on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2006:44-4

    The Guerrilla Girls are bringing attention to very serious issues in concise, daring posters. The posters make their point quickly, and their sharp sarcasm makes the facts all the more shocking, knowing that what they’re saying is absolutely true. 


  • Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    Silverpoint: Metal on Paper

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

    Dieric Bouts, early Netherlandish, ca. 1415 - 1475, active Leuven (modern-day Louvain) by 1457. Portrait of a Young Man, late 1460's-1470's. Silverpoint on ivory prepared paper mounted on paper with several later touches in graphite laid down on stiff paperboard. Purchased with the Drayton Hillyer Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1939:3

    The history of the graphite pencil stretches back to the mid-16th century in Europe.  Before the wide availability of pencils, silverpoint was a very popular medium for creating reasonably permanent sketches and drawings (charcoal and chalk were both available, but not very stable over time). Silverpoint was used as early as the 12th century for both record keeping and the creation of art. In this medium, a line is produced by pressing a metal stylus (most often silver, but also gold, copper, and lead) to a specially prepared surface. In the early 15th century, the artist Cennino Cennini wrote Il Libro dell'arte, a how-to guide for Renaissance art creation. He recommended using a paste that included burned and ground fowl bones applied to paper, although many other methods were used.

    Detail of Dieric Bouts' Portrait of a Young Man

    In the Renaissance, silverpoint drawings were not considered completed works of art, and the medium was typically used in preparatory sketches for a painting.  It was also used as a common starting point in the education of young artists. It taught them how to draw with precision and patience before they moved on to more advanced media.  Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer were both taught in and taught their students via silver point.

    Silver point was a difficult medium to master because you could only produce one shade, no matter how much force was applied to the stylus.  Also, it could only be used on specially prepared ground and was impossible to erase. In comparison to the chalks and inks that were gaining popularity at the time, silver point had the advantage in terms of precision.  Chalk had an added disadvantage in that it was easy to smudge.


    Alan James Robinson, American, b.1950. Self-Portrait. Metal point on treated paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1983:44-30

    The creation of the graphite pencil changed everything.  The markings were relatively permanent, yet could be erased.  A fine, even line could be created with little effort.  By the 1600s graphite pencils had completely replaced silver point in just about all applications.  Silverpoint was rarely used and works in silverpoint were largely ignored.  However, a few artists educated in silver point, such as Rembrandt, still used the medium occasionally.  Thanks to the inherent permanence of silverpoint, many works from the Renaissance are still in fairly good condition. 

    There were several minor revivals of the artistic use of silverpoint in the succeeding centuries.

    The first occurred in England in the 1800s with several of the Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Frederic Leighton. There was another revival in the early 20th century associated with Joseph Stella. He was an American modernist artist and draftsman. He once described silverpoint as “the clearest graphic eloquence.”

    In the modern era, one of the challenges for creating silverpoint has eased as commercially prepared papers and styluses are available (of course, you can still prepare your own paper using one of the many recipes that can be found on the internet).


  • Tuesday, November 4, 2014

    Student Picks: BREAKING WAVES - Exploring Water in Black-and-White Photographs

    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 Kyle Boyd '15 discusses her show “BREAKING WAVES - Exploring Water in Black-and-White Photographs” which will be on view FRIDAY, November 7 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!

    Edward Weston, American (1886 - 1958). Oregon Coast, 1939. Gift of Mrs. Edwin H. Land. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1996:22-7

    Water has been a reoccurring theme throughout my life. I was born near Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the United States. My parents gave me the middle name of Acadia, after the national park, which sits next to the Gulf of Maine.  I grew up in the Connecticut River Valley. Summers were always filled with water activities at the ocean, lakes, ponds, and rivers. I was comfortable in the water and joined a swimming team when I was eight years old, and I’ve been swimming ever since. Water has been a constant throughout my life.

    Edward Weston, American (1886 - 1958). Rain over Modoc Lava Beds, California, 1940. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1941:12-5

    At Smith I have continued to learn more about the water world as I have pursued a degree in biology with a minor in marine science and policy. My courses have focused on marine animals including invertebrate diversity, invertebrate paleontology, and marine ecology. I spent my junior year away from Smith and immersed myself in marine studies. In the fall I spent a semester studying the ocean from an interdisciplinary perspective in Mystic, Connecticut. In the spring I travelled to Far North Queensland Australia to study the plants and animals of the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. 

    Harold Edgerton, American (1903 - 1990). Water From a Faucet, 1932. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lynn Hecht Schafran, class of 1962. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2003:43-1c

    Water has always fascinated artists but the invention of photography expanded the ways in which water could be portrayed. Photographs allow you to play with perspective by allowing you to see things in a way which the human eye cannot. There are photographs in this show that are taken incredibly close-up; one, Water from a Faucet by Harold Edgerton (above), is focused on water coming out of a faucet. Another, Point Reyes, CA by Marilyn Bridges (below), was taken from a helicopter looking down on the seashore, and people on the sand are tiny and barely visible. Photography allows you to capture fast moving scenes such as waves, and waterfalls and pause them in a moment while still maintaining incredible detail. When most people think about water they think about the color blue. These photographs are all in black-and-white but there is still an unmistakable water quality about each image.

    Marilyn Bridges, American (1948 - ). Point Reyes, CA, 1981. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2009:49-9

    I hope you all enjoy looking at water from a new perspective. I would like to thank the Cunningham Center and Maggie Kurkoski ’12 for all of their help in putting this show together.


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