RSS Feed

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.

  • Thursday, June 5, 2014

    St. Jerome in his Study

    Take a moment to examine these two prints.

    Albrecht Dürer, German (1471 - 1528). St. Jerome in His Study, 1514. Engraving printed in black on antique laid paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-48

    Johan Wierix, Flemish (ca. 1549 - after 1618), after Albrecht Dürer. Saint Jerome in His Study. Engraving on paper. Gift of Mrs. Charles Lincoln Taylor (Margaret Rand Goldthwait, class of 1921). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 1992:25-31

    The first piece is an engraving titled St. Jerome in his Study, by the German master, Albrecht Dürer. The second looks almost exactly the same – but it’s not. In fact, it’s an exact copy of Dürer’s work by Johan Wierix.

    Despite his print’s remarkable similarity to Dürer’s own print, however, Johan Wierix was not attempting to trick anyone into mistaking his prints for Dürer’s actual work. Instead, his goal was much more innocuous – along with his brother Hieronymous, he was an apprentice learning how to engrave by copying a master’s work.  Like other young apprentices in the large Antwerp Print houses during the mid-16th century, the Wierix brothers learned from an early age how to engrave and to use the burin to create technical masterpieces.

    At the early ages of 12 and 16, respectively, Hieronymous and Johan could create technically perfect copies of the works of Dürer, and in the following centuries some unscrupulous dealers have even tried to pass off their work as originals. Careful examination reveals differences between the two, as you can see when you examine the window reflection below.

    Comparison detail of window reflection, both Durer (left) and Wierix (right)

    Although Wierix did his best to capture every detail, here his circles are not quite the same shape as those in the original. Art historians use records about these differences to identify prints and their makers accurately.

    As Wierix had no intention of passing off his own work as one by Dürer, he did not hesitate in signing his own piece, making the work of the curator that much easier.

    Detail of the signature of Johan Wierix

    Comments

  • Wednesday, May 28, 2014

    Tolman Collection: Reika Iwami

    Reika Iwami. Japanese, born 1927. Eclipse of the Moon over the Sea, 1982. Woodblock and collagraph printed in black, red, and metallic ink with embossing on medium thick, slightly textured cream-colored paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-18

    Gifts are the lifeblood of any Museum collection. It is exceptionally gratifying when donors make a commitment to regular gifts of works by specific artists. Not only do such gifts bolster a particular area of study within the collection, they also allow visitors a deeper look into an artist’s work and process.

    This spring, SCMA was pleased to receive a gift of 50 prints by 5 different Japanese artists from The Tolman Collection, the largest publisher of contemporary editions in Japan. These gifts were made in honor of the 50th birthday of Hilary Tolman, Smith College class of 1987, and join 30 other prints made in Ms. Tolman’s honor within the past 7 years.

    The five artists included in this recent gift—Shinoda Toko, Iwami Reika, Shuji Wako, Hiramitsu Takahashi, and Hasegawa Yuichi—each exemplify graphic excellence in a particular printmaking medium. As a group, these prints form a vital and useful teaching collection.

    The first artist in this gift to be featured in paper + people is the woodblock artist Reika Iwami.

    Reika Iwami. Japanese, born 1927. Dream of Water, 1997. Woodblock and collagraph printed in black, red, and metallic ink with embossing on medium thick, slightly textured cream-colored paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-12

    Iwami uses simple materials—ink, wood, and metal leaf—to create abstract compositions that capture the subtle qualities of nature. Using woodblocks with distinct textures as her matrices, the artist creates exquisitely crafted prints combining sensitively printed areas of black, white, and grey with blind embossing, metal leaf, mica, and handmade paper. According to collectors Mary and Norman Tolman, “Iwami’s subject is water and its flow, and her genius lies in the almost mystical ability to transmute the grain and texture of pieces of wood she has found into visual images of patterns of water.”

     

    Reika Iwami. Japanese, born 1927. Autumn Waves, 1981. Woodblock and collagraph printed in black, red, and metallic ink with embossing on medium thick, slightly textured cream-colored paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-16

     

    Detail from Autumn Waves

    Initially trained in doll-making at Bunka Gakuen University in Tokyo, the artist refocused her creative energies on printmaking during the mid-1950s, studying with three of the most important modern printmakers in Japan: Onchi Koshiro, Sekino Jun’ichiro, and Shinagawa Takumi. In addition to making woodblock prints, Iwami is also a poet, and sees a distinct relationship between her two art forms: “Haiku is a disciplined study. It forces one to eliminate what is not necessary, and that’s why I use it as a spiritual exercise for my prints.”

     

    Reika Iwami. Japanese, born 1927. Autumn, 1978. Woodblock and collagraph printed in black, red, and metallic ink with embossing on medium thick, slightly textured cream-colored paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-11

    This new gift allows greater insight in to Iwami’s technique and imagery. Three prints as part of the recent gift, Autumn (shown above), Poem of the Sea (shown below), and Water and the Moon all feature a floating net-like form. This texture was taken directly from life: the artist used a piece of fishing net, attaching it directly to the plate where it was inked and printed as a collograph (a form of relief printing using collaged elements).

     

    Reika Iwami. Japanese, born 1927. Water and the Moon, 1972. Woodblock and collagraph printed in black and metallic ink with embossing on medium thick, slightly textured cream-colored paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-14

    Detail from Water and the Moon

    Reika Iwami. Japanese, born 1927. Poem of the Sea, 1982. Woodblock and collagraph printed in black and metallic ink with embossing on medium thick, slightly textured cream-colored paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-17 

    Comments

  • Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    The Clamorous Owl

    Leonard Baskin. American, 1922-2000. The Owl, 1962. Bronze. Anonymous gift. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1963:36

    Outside of Wright Hall stands an unsettling sculpture. As a student at Smith, I often passed by this bird of prey going from Neilson Library to the Campus Center.

    Leonard Baskin. American, 1922-2000. The Owl, 1962. Bronze. Anonymous gift. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1963:36

    Its wings are slightly outstretched, as if it’s about to take flight, and its huge talons emphasize its deadly power. The sculptor did not create a smooth surface, but left it mottled and textured. Its gaze is direct, even aggressive, and even now it leaves me slightly unsettled as I walk by.

    A plaque identifies this bird of prey with lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

              The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots,

              and wonders 

              at our quaint spirits (2.3.6-7)

    Named The Owl, this piece was the creation of Leonard Baskin, who taught at Smith College between the years of 1953 and 1974. Baskin was a prolific artist who not only produced sculpture, but also hundreds of drawings, prints and artist books, many through his printing studio Gehenna Press.

    Leonard Baskin. American, 1922-2000. Frightened Boy and His Dog, 1954. Woodcut printed in black and red on paper. Date and source of acquisition unknown. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1973:54

    Looking into the Cunningham Center collection, I realized that owls, and similar raptors, crop up again and again in Baskin’s art.  As the artist put it himself in 1963, "Owls obsess me. They're predators, always in control and always mysterious. Late one midsummer night I watched one for two hours. He was after the thousands of moths who were drawn to a light by my window. He grabbed at them with his claws, never missing a one, and their wings fell off all over his breast. He was beady-eyed and, in a horrible way, marvelous."

    Leonard Baskin. American, 1922-2000. The Tormented One, 1954. Woodcut printed in black and red on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1954:57

    Baskin’s obsession with these destructive, meticulous creatures began long before he cast the sculpture near Wright. We have an artist’s proof of one work from 1960, two years earlier than the sculpture The Owl, and going by the same name.

     

    Leonard Baskin. American, 1922-2000. The Owl, 1960. Woodcut printed in green on paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1963:83

    Printed in green, the work highlights the bird’s wings with large swaths of white, while most of its body is wrought in tight lines nearly lost in the background. In a way, these lines evoke in two dimensions the same textured surfaces Baskin later incorporates into his sculpture. Likewise, in both works, he emphasizes qualities that make this bird a predator: here, we see the talons and beak depicted as sharp points of white against the green. I can imagine those claws snatching at moth after moth outside Baskin’s window, a deadly hunter coolly ripping apart his prey. The Owl’s eyes are left dark, inscrutable and mysterious.

     

    Detail of The Owl

    In Baskin's own words, he was “foremost and fundamentally a sculptor.” Still, as his prints of owls show, many of the dynamic qualities that make Baskin’s sculpture powerful are also present in his woodcut prints. Both reveal a fascination with texture and form, and a deep appreciation for these powerful, mysterious predators.

    Leonard Baskin. American, 1922-2000. The Owl that Calls Upon the Night Speaks the Unbeliever's Fright, 1959. Wood engraving printed in black on paper. Gift of Mary Miller Schwartz, class of 1966, Cornelia Ann Miller and Winter N. Miller, class of 1995, in memory of their mother and grandmother Ruth Weinstein Miller, class of 1935. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1992:27-2

    From The Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake (1757–1827)

              Every wolf’s and lion’s howl   

              Raises from hell a human soul.                  20

              The wild deer, wand’ring here and there,      

              Keeps the human soul from care.     

              The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,          

              And yet forgives the butcher’s knife. 

              The bat that flits at close of eve                  25

              Has left the brain that won’t believe.  

              The owl that calls upon the night  

              Speaks the unbeliever’s fright.

    Comments