By Maggie Lind, Associate Educator for Academic Programs, Smith College Museum of Art
When I discuss this artwork with Smith students, first we look silently together. I usually push this silence just past the point of comfort and then ask the students to look even closer.
As the conversation begins, one student comments on the feminine confidence of the woman’s pose. Another wonders about the four frames—are they windows she is gazing through or mirrors reflecting key details back to us? The contrast between her refinement and the rustic wood also draws our attention to the worn and battered chair, which feels like one remaining remnant from an elegant household.
The discussion always comes around to the mysterious piece of metal hardware jutting out from the wood beside her face. One student sees a menacing hook about to snatch at the woman’s neck, while another is reminded of the flick of a whip frozen in mid-air.
All of these possibilities linger, and so do the words of Professor Kevin Quashie, who suggests that we take a step back from the weight of history and imagine a different story. Could this artwork simply provide a glimpse into this woman’s inner life—a life in which she faced some of the same personal triumphs and tragedies that we all encounter?