Thursday, February 16, 2012

Janet Fish

Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Winsom’s Shells, 1985. Offset lithograph and screenprint printed in eleven colors on Arches Cover paper. Printed by John Hutcheson and Dwight Pogue at the Smith College Print Workshop. Gift of Janet Fish, class of 1960, through the Smith College Print Workshop. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

When I began volunteering at the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs in August, 2011, I was totally unaware of the amazing opportunities I would be given in the coming months. As a 2011 participant in the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (SIAMS) at Smith College, I had been exposed to the Cunningham Center during class time and as part of the curatorial team, which conceptualized, organized, and researched the SCMA exhibition Surface Tension: Reconsidering Water as Subject, which was the culmination of the program. Given my brief exposure to the Cunningham Center, I was excited at the possibility of becoming a volunteer here after the program ended. As a person with artistic and scholarly interests, I found the prospect of being able to handle and research artworks on a daily basis incredibly invigorating. What I did not know then was that I would be given the rare and wonderful chance to act as a guest curator of an exhibition, including picking artworks and writing wall labels. I would be able to apply all that I had learned at SIAMS to my own curatorial project. While SIAMS gave me a whirlwind introduction to curatorial work, this is my first singular venture into the process.

The exhibition I have been working on is in honor of Janet Fish, one of Smith College’s most successful artist-alumnae. Fish is to be awarded a prestigious 2012 Smith College Medal, which is awarded annually to alumnae whose lives and work exemplify a devotion to a liberal arts education. Selecting the works to be displayed was the easiest part; the Museum owns three finished prints by Fish from three distinct points in her printmaking career: the 1970s, 1980s, and 2000s. The first, Cherries in Brandy (1973), is actually Fish’s first print of her professional career. The other two were both produced as part of the Smith College Print Workshop, separated by almost twenty years.

Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Cherries in Brandy, 1973. Lithograph printed with black and gray ink with hand-colored white crayon on gray Canson wove paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

One of these works from the Print Workshop, Winsom’s Shells (1985), was particularly fascinating to me because it is accompanied by almost twenty working proofs which were produced during the printing process. As part of the Print Workshop, Fish made the print in just a few days on the Smith College campus and students were able to drop into the studio at any time to observe and ask questions. The Museum displayed these working proofs as they were produced. They serve to dissect and illuminate Fish’s use of lithography and screenprinting, as they explicitly show the order in which she printed the 11-color work, as well as insight behind purposeful and accidental changes made along the way. To me, the existence of these working proofs is incredibly instructive and exciting. I mean, how often do you get to see the working progression of a print in a museum? Seeing these proofs as evidence of Fish’s process really helped me better understand and greatly appreciate the finished print. I hope that other viewers, artists or not, will have a similar experience.

Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Proof for Winsom’s Shells, 1985. Offset lithograph and screenprint printed in four colors on Arches Cover paper. Printed by John Hutcheson and Dwight Pogue at the Smith College Print Workshop. Lent by the Smith College Department of Art. Photography by Julie Warchol.

Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Proof for Winsom’s Shells, 1985. Offset lithograph and screenprint printed in eleven colors on Arches Cover paper. Printed by John Hutcheson and Dwight Pogue at the Smith College Print Workshop. Lent by the Smith College Department of Art. Photography by Julie Warchol.

Janet Fish will be on view at the Museum from February 10 through June 3, 2012. Janet Fish will be awarded the Smith College Medal at the celebration of Rally Day on February 23.  

Read the Boston Globe review of the exhibition here.

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