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, April 29, 2015
Guest blogger Saraphina Masters is a Smith College student, class of 2017, majoring in Classical Studies and Art History. She is the 2013-2015 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. Her exhibition Figure and Image, featuring art donated by collector Selma Erving, will be on view through Sunday May 3rd, 2015.
As a child, I thoroughly enjoyed all the museums my family visited and that enjoyment developed a keen academic interest in institutions of art. In turn, that played a large role in why I chose to attend Smith College. Considering the Smith College Museum of Art as well as the Museums Concentration, it only seemed right to go to a college with interests that matched my own. As the STRIDE Scholar to the Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, I am fortunate enough to have begun working in the museum my first semester on campus. Though I wouldn’t apply to the Museums Concentration until the fall of my sophomore year, I was already gaining experience working in the field I hoped to make a career in. My work as a research assistant to Aprile Gallant has taught me a great deal about the realities and practicalities of museums. I’ve been able to observe the museum’s reinstallation process and learn about all that goes into the words and the art that visitors see on the walls.
As part of the Nixon Gallery’s first round of reinstallation in 2014, I selected master drawings from the era of previous director Robert O. Parks as well as works in the collection from the early faculty of Smith College. This fall, I was given the opportunity to plan an exhibition for the corridor outside the Cunningham Center. The collection of Selma Erving is comprised of 540 drawings, 74 prints, and 100 illustrated books, the majority of which come from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Needless to say, picking less than twenty objects to hang was a Herculean task, especially for someone as interested in the time period and style that Ms. Erving seemed to favor as I am.
Odilon Redon, French (1840 – 1916). Printed by Auguste Clot, Fench (1858 – 1936). Beatrice, 1897. lithograph printed in color on chine appliqué paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:1-40
I began attempting to familiarize myself with the both the collection and the collector by perusingNineteenth and Twentieth Century Prints: The Selma Erving Collection, a catalogue prepared and published by the SCMA. The highlights of the collection were preface by two essays written by Charles Chetham, the director at the time, and Elizabeth Mongan, the curator at the time, from which I learned a great deal about the fascinating Ms. Erving (class of 1927). Though the book only featured select prints and not the whole collection, I was able to glean a great deal about the sort of collecting Ms. Erving did and what themes I might chose to focus on. With some exceptions, Post-Impressionist France was the main setting of the collection. Additionally, I noticed a great number of pieces that featured the human body, either as seen in portraits, figure studies, or parts of portfolios. These two aspects came together in the first piece that truly stood out to me and would remain the touchstone during the whole process:Miss Loie Fuller, an 1893 lithograph by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French (1864 - 1901). Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893. Brush and spatter lithograph with keystone in olive green, color stone in various colors and gold powder on beige wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:1-45
From there, I was able to use the museum’s database of compile a constantly fluctuating list of pieces to be displayed in the corridor come spring semester. As I planned, I noticed two separate fields making themselves apparent within the collection. One was dynamic portraits, such as Marie Laurencin’s self-portrait or Edgar Degas’ print of his good friend and contemporary Mary Cassatt as she explores the Louvre.
Edgar Degas, French (1834 - 1917). Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery, 1879-1880. Soft ground etching, etching, aquatint and drypoint printed in black on thin Japan paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-17
The second was more domestic or bathing scenes, exemplified by Camille Pissarro, Pierre Bonnard, and most notably in Suzanne Valadon’s etching featuring two women of separate generations engaged in the ubiquitous practice of cleansing.
Suzanne Valadon, French (1865 - 1938). The Bath, c. 1910. Soft ground etching printed in black on Rives wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-136
Difficult as it was, I finally pared down my list to seventeen pieces, sixteen of which are prints, that I feel embody both Ms. Erving’s keen collecting practices and the unique genre of depictions of the human form. As a recently declared Museums Concentrator with an interest in curating, this experience has been invaluable in my exploration of the field. I’m still trying to determine precisely what I want to do and what I want to work within a museum setting but what I’ve learned during my time at the Cunningham Center and with the Concentration has certainly affirmed that museums are the place in which I want to stay.
Works donated by Selma Erving are now on view on the second floor of the Museum in the Cunningham Center corridor as part of the exhibition Figure and Image: The Selma Erving Collection through May 3rd, 2015.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Dr. Kurt Lang and Dr. Gladys Engel Lang, distinguished scholars in the fields of communication, media, and public opinion, and emeriti professors of sociology at the University of Washington, Seattle, have promised their collection of prints, watercolors, and drawings to SCMA. The core of the Lang Collection—more than 1,400 objects in all—is related to issues discussed in the Lang’s book Etched in Memory: The Building and Survival of Artistic Reputation, and is primarily focused on the painter-etcher movement between the 1860s and World War II. The book seeks to understand the process whereby some artists but not others come to be considered worth remembering, and the Lang Collection is rich in exemplary works by talented, but little-known artists.
Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang with some works from their collection
in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs,
September 18, 2014. Photograph by Lynne Graves.
In forming the collection, the Langs sought to acquire certain pieces in an effort to rescue some artists from total oblivion. Since many women were at risk of suffering this fate, they are consequently well-represented in the collection. Among these are the English artists Minna Bolingbroke, Greta Delleany, Hester Frood, Bertha Gorst, Sylvia Gosse, Catherine M. Nichols, Constance M. Pott, Marion Rhodes, Marjorie Sherlock, and Dorothy Woolard and Americans Mildred Brooks, Gabrielle de Vaux Clements, Blanche Dillaye, Edith Lori Getchell, Bertha Jacques, Katherine Merrill, and Mary Nimmo Moran, among many others.
In seeking a new home for their collection, the Langs were interested in placing it at an academic institution in order to make the resource open to scholars and students. In addition to the works of art, the Lang Collection includes books, research materials, and manuscript drafts related to Etched in Memory and other book projects. Although neither of the Langs has a direct tie to Smith or SCMA, the Museum’s impressive track-record in promoting interdisciplinary use of the collection, coupled with our strong and enthusiastic response to this opportunity, ultimately resulted in the collection coming to SCMA.
Two installations currently on view at SCMA highlight works from the Lang Collection. The works on paper gallery on the Museum’s 2nd floor features works by Constance Mary Pott, one of the most productive female etchers of her time. Pott is credited with over 125 works using a variety of different etching techniques. Brighton from the East aptly displays her mastery of the mezzotint process, which is used to great effect to capture the moody sky and still water of the shore. This image, several other prints by Pott, as well as examples of work by her mentor, the influential printmaker and teacher Sir Frank Short, will be on view at through April 26, 2015.
Constance Mary Pott, English (1862–1957). Brighton from the East, 1907. Mezzotint printed in black on medium weight, slightly textured, cream-colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:32-202.
Additionally, a mobile cabinet on the Museum’s third floor containing images of cities under construction includes etchings from the Lang Collection by Maxime Lalanne and Sir David Muirhead Bone until early June.
Works on Paper cabinet in the third floor galleries
SCMA is grateful to the Lang family for entrusting this precious resource to our care. Look for more installations of works from the Lang Collection in the SCMA galleries in the future. Cataloguing and digitization work is ongoing. Check our online database for more information.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
The Smith College Museum of Art is dedicated to bringing out works on paper into the main galleries, where all visitors can see them. Since works on paper are more sensitive to light than other mediums, SCMA has installed special Works on Paper cabinets throughout the galleries for the display of prints, drawings and photographs. Guest blogger Janna Singer-Baefsky, class of 2015, curated the current installation of the second floor Works on Paper cabinet, titled Now You See Me: The Relationship between the Printed and Painted Portrait. It will be on view through June 2015.
Janna Singer-Baefsky ‘15 sets out her labels for her Works on Paper cabinet
In two sentences, French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire captures the inherent paradox of portraiture: “Nothing in a portrait is a matter of indifference. Gesture, grimace, clothing, decor even – all must combine to realize a character.” Portraiture, a seemingly biographical and documentary genre, is often more farce than fact. Every aspect of monarchical portraiture, for example, was constructed by the sitters to display not only their opulence and grandeur but also their power and control, both believed to have been given by God.
Portraiture did not die out as the age of monarchs came to a close. Instead it reinvented itself to cater to the needs of the colonists. Coming from a European tradition, the tenets of portraiture remained; it was still the primary method of documenting success. Only now, in the democratic colonies, portraiture illustrated social mobility. It was the genre of the upper-middle working class and so merchants, tradesmen, and lawyers all utilized portraiture to show they were well-traveled, literate, and cultured gentlemen. Serving somewhat as a pictorial “take that, King George!,” portraiture became less about divine authority and more about displaying social advancements.
John Singleton Copley, American (1737-1815). The Honorable John Erving (1693-1796), ca. 1772. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Anne Rutherford Erving, class of 1929. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1975:52-1
Johann Jacobé, Austrian (1733-1797). After George Romney, British (1734-1802). Lord George Germain, 1790. Mezzotint on ivory laid paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-380
The stories and subtle nuances contained within a seemingly simple image have made portraiture one of my favorite artistic genres. Thus, when I was given the opportunity to propose and curate an exhibition for my museum studies capstone I decided to delve into portraiture. I have spent two years working in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs so it was only fitting to propose something that allowed me to work with a collection with which I had spent so much time fostering a personal relationship. Having had the privilege to conduct extensive research on mezzotints at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History, this exhibition would also function as a testament to my scholarship.
James Ward, British (1769-1859). After Joseph Wright of Derby, British (1734-1797). Joseph Wright, Esquire, 1807. Mezzotint on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1953:17
Joseph Wright of Derby. Self Portrait. 1780. Oil on canvas. Yale Center for British Art (image source)
The mezzotint, a tonal form of printmaking, gained fame and popularity in the 18th century due to its ability to render the three-dimensionality and qualities of oil paintings. Situated in the second floor portrait gallery, the mobile cabinet contains six mezzotint portraits made after oil paintings. It is a media comparison through one genre. It is an exhibition about portraiture that is itself a portrait of my four years at Smith.
Janna Singer-Baefsky ‘15 places a print on the top of her Works on Paper cabinet
Find Now You See Me: The Relationship between the Printed and Painted Portrait on the second floor
of the Museum through June 2015.