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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 11, 2015

    Death Intoxicates

    This piece discusses works from the The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection, a collection of prints recently donated to the Museum.

    From the earth, from the air, sustaining forces pour into us--mostly from the earth. To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and often forever.

    -- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remaque

    Percy John Delf Smith. English, 1882-1948. Death Awed from the series Dance of Death, 1914 - 1918. Etching printed in black on medium weight, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Promised gift. SC TR 7604.772

    Percy John Delf Smith (1882-1948), an English artist, printmaker, and expert in typography, was an early WWI volunteer. Eager to join, he was accepted after three tries in October of 1916 as a gunner with a fifteen-inch howitzer crew. As an artist he immediately felt the urge to capture his surroundings. Like many soldiers who would keep a diary or write poetry to help make sense of the utter madness and atrocities of war, Smith wanted to record his experiences on the battlefield.  While it may be hard to imagine, some of his drawings were carved into copper plates right on the battlefield, to be later turned into prints; other works started out as paper drawings and were only later etched.

    Like many other unofficial war artists he had to work discretely lest he be suspected of espionage for his depictions of battle movements or suffer censure for his critical perspective on the war. His great Nephew Peter Delf, founder of the Percy Smith foundation, reports that although he did ask for permission from his superiors, who for the most part turned a blind eye, he was nonetheless arrested twice for trying to smuggle out his works between the pages of the Patriotic King and Country magazines he carried.

    Percy John Delf Smith. English, 1882-1948. Death Waits from the series Dance of Death, 1914 - 1918. Etching printed in black on medium weight, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Promised gift. SC TR 7604.773

    In 1917 he fought in Thiepval in Northern France, a place that was completely destroyed during the war: “It was a massacre.” It was this battle that inspired his most notable print series. 

    Seven intriguing works titled The Dance of Death were the result. We were very excited when they recently entered the Smith Collection as part of the Gladys Engel and Kurt Lang gift. Beautifully etched and carefully printed this remarkably poignant series was created between battles, when Smith’s military service brought him to an English coastal town where he managed to gain access to a printing press.  

    These prints are directly inspired by the Medieval themed “Dance Macabre” which became popular in Northern Europe in the 15th century during the era of the plague as death and disease despoiled the landscape. The Medieval works functioned as allegorical reminders of the fragility of life and the democracy of death. 

    The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel [Source]

    Percy John Delf Smith. English, 1882-1948. Death Intoxicates from the series Dance of Death, 1914 - 1918. Drypoint and etching printed in black on thick, moderately textured, white paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Promised gift. SC TR 7604.778

    Detail of Death Intoxicates

    The choice and execution of this theme is quite unusual for an English printmaker. Death, as personified in Smith’s work, reigns over the battlefield, first as a shrouded solemn and terrifying figure, representing the omnipresence of death and destruction of war.

    Percy John Delf Smith. English, 1882-1948. Death Refuses from the series Dance of Death, 1914 - 1918. Etching printed in black on medium weight, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Promised gift. SC TR 7604.776

    Detail from Death Refuses

    Smith’s Grim Reaper also plays with his victims, almost taunting them in their last moments. Refusing a willing soldier by turning his back to him (pictured above) or taking a soldiers hand, one who reaches up asking help from his fellow soldiers just out of sight, but instead finds death eager to comply (pictured below).

    Percy John Delf Smith. English, 1882-1948. Death Forbids from the series Dance of Death, 1914 - 1918. Etching printed in black on medium weight, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Promised gift. SC TR 7604.777

    In the end he revels in deathly ecstasy, “intoxicated”, his white bones bare for everyone to see. Death reigned supreme in WWI; over nine million soldiers were sacrificed on the battlefields of northern Europe. Art works such as Smith’s offer us a far more powerful testimony than anything that could be conveyed in photographs.  Sometimes mere documentary representations of reality are incapable of telling the full story.


    Percy John Delf Smith. English, 1882-1948. Death Ponders from the series Dance of Death, 1914 - 1918. Drypoint and etching printed in black on medium weight, moderately textured, cream colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Promised gift. SC TR 7604.775

    Selections from Dance of Death are currently on view in the Museum in a third floor Works on Paper cabinet. It will remain on view through mid-January 2016.

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  • Wednesday, November 4, 2015

    Student Picks: The Human Spectrum

    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 Amalia Leamon '18  discusses her show "The Human Spectrum" which will be on view FRIDAY, November 6 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!

    Kristin J. Capp (American, born 1964). Janet Walter on Evening Walk above Lamona Colony, 1995. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Shearman, class of 1987, and Nicholas Fluehr. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:24-5

    As a psychology major and neuroscience minor with an interest in education, I am interested in how we develop cognitively and emotionally through our vastly different backgrounds and perspectives. In this exhibit I hope to include images that reveal the complexity and fragility of the human condition. 

    Andreas Vesalius (Netherlandish, 1514-1564). Tabulae Selectae, from De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1543 block, ca. 1934 print. Woodcut printed in black on paper. Gift of Dr. Myra L. Johnson, class of 1931. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1966:15-30

    What motivates us, what taps into our varied emotional states and how our biology influences our experience are all questions I am interesting in exploring.

    Ken Heyman (American, born 1930). Hip Shots: Woman with curly hair holding sunglasses, New York, 1984. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:71-59

    From early anatomical depictions of the human body to contemporary self-portraits, these images shed light on the ability for art to inform science and vice versa in their attempts to illuminate what it is to be human.

    Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005). Stellar by Starlight, #1, 1985. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1987:10-2a

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  • Thursday, October 29, 2015

    Fighting Injustice on a Cultural Front

    Anna Weston is a Smith College student, class of 2017, and worked at the Cunningham Center this summer.

    This fall, the Smith College Museum of Art is showing an exhibition of second wave feminist artists, among them a group of artists known as Guerrilla Girls. Formed in the early 1980’s, the group consists of anonymous women who wear gorilla masks, a choice that manages to feel both clandestine and brash, to protect their identity (they are artists and do their own work outside of Guerrilla Girls) as well as a device to keep attention away from their personal lives and instead centered on their message and their work.  Each woman goes by a pseudonym, paying homage to earlier female artists such as Kathe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo, managing to weld the past to the present all while attempting to change the future. Such a disguise seems cohesive with their art which aims to criticize and hold accountable an art world rife with racism, sexism and tokenization.

     

    Guerrilla Girls, American 20th century. The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985 - 2006, 1988. Lithograph printed in black on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2006:44-5

    Much of Guerrilla Girls art was protest art in the form of poster campaigns in New York City, with particular focus on SoHo and the East Village, where many of the art galleries were located. This piece sarcastically exposes the complex struggle of just existing as a woman artist as well as the near impossibility of making a traditionally successful living.

    As I was pulling these works for the upcoming show, I was particularly struck by the seeming disconnect between the artwork’s message and its form.  The art itself manifests as ephemera (posters, flyers, handouts), much like the zines that would later be associated with second wave punk musician/ feminist Kathleen Hanna. Despite the form however, the Guerrilla Girls make sure their work is snarky and audacious, not hesitating to name names or hand out blame, speaking uncomfortable truths that ultimately lent the art a kind of cultural staying power. Thus perhaps what I had first perceived as disconnected is in fact entirely coherent.

    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

    The latest statistics update on the disproportionate amount of work displayed by female artists vs the amount of female bodies on display. The image is a parody of Grande Odalisque, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ famous depiction of a concubine. Paired with the gorilla mask the concubine/female body becomes less of a commodity, less complacent and more active in dictating how women are represented.  Several older versions of this poster exist documenting how little these numbers have changed.

    Perhaps finding such a rich history here, in ephemera, is not so strange. Perhaps it is only logical that these marginalized histories and their critiques exist in works that were first posted on the streets instead of preserved in a museum. Art that was entrusted to the masses instead of a gallery. Art that is audacious, even insolent in order to be heard. Guerilla Girls and their work reject an art world that had never bothered to include them in the first place.

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