Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Kahn Chronicle Online
black line
Excavating the Image: Pennsylvania Excavation by George Bellows

"Part of this is finding things and documenting them. A lot of things are not going to be here five to ten years from now."  —George Bellows (1882-1925)

On January 10 & 11, 2012, a group of 13 faculty and staff members from Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts came together in a project jointly organized by the Kahn Institute and the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) to examine how American realist painter George Bellows documented the rapidly changing landscape of New York City in his 1907 painting Pennsylvania Excavation.

The painting, which helped launch Bellows's career, was donated to the SCMA in the spring of 2010 by Mary Gordon Roberts '60 in honor of the 50th reunion of her graduating class. The work is one of four paintings Bellows produced depicting the site preparation for the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company’s landmark Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, a turning point in New York’s urban and civic development.

The project brought together faculty and staff from a wide range of departments and disciplines to discuss the work, the techniques used in creating it, the personal history of the artist and the broader history of the country and the city, and the political and social forces that influenced the work's creation and content.


Excavating the Image

Pennsylvania Excavation

Excavating the Image

Pennsylvania Excavation

Excavating the Image

Pennsylvania Excavation

Excavating the Image

Pennsylvania Excavation

Excavating the Image

Pennsylvania Excavation

Excavating the Image

Pennsylvania Excavation

Excavating the Image

Pennsylvania Excavation

Excavating the Image

Pennsylvania Excavation


To begin the project, Fellows were given the opportunity to examine the painting closely. In a discussion led by Maggie Lind, Associate Educator for Academic Programs at the SCMA, they shared impressions based on their unique disciplinary viewpoints. Observations and theories about the work's content and the artist's intentions were explored, providing all with a new perspective on the work. Then Jessica Nicoll, Director and the Louise Ines Doyle '34 Chief Curator of the museum, who has done extensive research on Bellows and his work, shared additional details about the artist and painting, supporting some of the group's conjectures, providing a clearer picture of what is known about the work, and deepening the visual analysis discussion.

After this initial exploration, David Dempsey, Associate Director for Museum Services, and his staff removed the painting's frame, providing Fellows with a rare view of both the front and back of the canvas in a form much more as it appeared when Bellows painted it. Local artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson, who painted the portrait of Smith President Emerita Jill Ker Conway that hangs in College Hall, explained the palette and techniques used by the artist. Dempsey then described conservation efforts in the 1950s and 1990s and how they affected the work as we see it today.

In the afternoon, John Davis, Associate Provost and Dean for Academic Development and a noted art historian, presented a talk about New York City and the context in which George Bellows worked and lived. Davis's presentation was followed by an open discussion session that allowed Fellows to synthesize the ideas and information gathered throughout the day.

On the second day of the project, Fellows traveled to Amherst College to examine archival materials from the Bellows Papers, which are part of Amherst's Archives and Special Collections. They first met with Randall Griffey, Curator of American Art at the Mead Art Museum, who discussed the Mead's collection of prints by Bellows and their significance in relation to his other works. For the rest of the morning, participants worked in groups to analyze selected archival materials from the Bellows Papers, including correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other personal materials. Fellows were able to note new information and ideas based on the documentation and discussed how those items supported or complicated notions about Pennsylvania Excavation that had emerged the day before.

Project Fellows returned to Smith and to the original artwork for a concluding session to reassess their initial impressions and interpretations, to consider additional avenues of study, and to discuss ways the painting could be used to support both their research and their teaching. By the end of the project, it was clear that the conversations held over the two-day project represented just a beginning in the exploration of the work itself and how it might contribute to the scholarship and curriculum at Smith.

 

Spring 2012: In This Issue


A Note From the Director

News & Announcements

Faculty Fellowships for 2012-2013

Student Fellowship Opportunities

Events Calendar

February 15
Film Screening: Waxworks with Peter Krasinski

February 26
Concert: The Music of Erich Zann

April 9
Lecture: Rick Doblin, Director, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychodelic Studies

April 26
Lecture: Anna Munster: Network Aesthesias

2011-2012 Projects & Updates

Evil

Renaissances: A Multiplicity of Rebirths

Whose Community? Whose Academy?

2012-2013 Projects

2012 Semester-Long Project:
Altering Bodies & Minds

2012-2013 Yearlong Project:
Mothers & Others: Reproduction, Representation, and the Body Politic

2012 Short-Term Project:
Plague: Past, Present & Future

2013-2014 Projects

2013-2014 Yearlong Project:
Placing Space

2014 Semester-Long Project:
Regarding Images

   
DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z