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Now everyone is an insider!

In order to provide an open forum for ALL of the museum’s collection and activities, the Paper + People blog is being renamed SCMA Insider. With its expanded focus, SCMA Insider will act as a go-to place for sharing information on the diverse collections and many voices and visions that shape SCMA.

If you want to contribute to the blog, please contact the Brown Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow, Shanice Bailey, at sbailey@smith.edu.

  • Tuesday, May 14, 2019

    Honoring Kurt Lang (January 25, 1924 — May 1, 2019)

    All of us at SCMA were very saddened by the passing of donor and scholar Kurt Lang on May 1, 2019. In 2014, Kurt and his late wife, Gladys Engel Lang, donated their extensive collection of over 1400 prints, drawings, and paintings to the museum. This collection was developed during the research for their co-authored book Etched in Memory: The Building and Survival of Artist Reputation (1990). Examples from this important gift have been featured in exhibitions in the Museum over the past five years, most recently in No Man’s Land: Prints from the Front Lines of WWI.

    In addition to being a highly-respected scholar, Kurt was a remarkable person with an intriguing history. Born in 1924, he lived in Berlin, Germany, for his first twelve years before immigrating to the U.S. with his family. Kurt grew up in the shadow of the Great War. His father served as a medical officer in the German army and as a child Kurt heard harrowing tales of the war and read many accounts of these momentous events. 

    Both he and Gladys played important roles in the American war effort during the Second World War. Gladys worked at the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C., while Kurt served in the U.S. Army and shared his expertise to counter-intelligence operations, including the de-Nazification programs following the war. The fascinating story of Kurt’s experiences during the war and their impact upon his career were highlighted in an Atlantic article in 2017.

    His perspective on the war spurred him to study the military and political propaganda and the effects of Television on politics in 1947. These interests ultimately resulted in a PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago. It was during his studies that he met Gladys.

    Kurt Lang in the 1940s while he was home on leave from U.S. Army basic training during World II

    In the early 1950s, the Lang’s began their prodigious careers as collaborators. Together they authored the ground-breaking study “The Unique Perspective of Television and Its Effect: A Pilot Study,” in which they documented how television coverage shapes and effects how viewers understand and react to current events. Their collaboration would continue for decades to follow and led to Etched in Memory: The Building and Survival of Artistic Reputation. This study focused on the painter-etcher movement from the 1860s through World War II, as they sought to understand why some artists are remembered while others languish in obscurity.

    Kurt in conversation with photographer Shellburne Thurber during the opening of No Man’s Land: Prints from the Front Lines of WWI

    Kurt was generous with his expertise and his time. As curator of the No Man’s Land Exhibition I personally got to work with him during the preparations of the show, and it was his deep knowledge of the collection that helped me formulate its thesis. I will remember fondly the unique experience of his participation in the study session on the Lang Collection with Smith faculty. It was equally auspicious that he was able and willing to formally introduce the opening of the No Man’s Land exhibition and offer his perspective on the prints in the gallery.

    Kurt during the Lang collection study session with Smith faculty, 4/18/2017.

    The unique selection of prints Kurt and Gladys collected over the years bear witness to their life’s vision. Prints created during the 1930s from the Lang Collection will be included in an exhibition on the American Depression which will open at SCMA in November 2019. Kurt provided helpful insights for this show as well. These two exhibitions demonstrate the breadth of the resource represented by the Lang Collection. I am sad that this time neither of Kurt nor Gladys will be with us to see the show come to fruition, but gratified to see that their legacy will continue to be preserved at SCMA.

    Gladys and Kurt in the Cunningham Center, 2015.

  • Friday, May 3, 2019

    Taj Diffenbaugh Worley ’69 and the Hopi prophecies

    Guest blogger Sandy Lillydahl '69 was Taj Diffenbaugh Worley's senior year roommate and fellow religion major at Smith. She retired from curating the Map Collection in the library of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2016.

    Several of Taj Diffenbaugh Worley’s prints currently on view at SCMA (through June 23, 2019) connect art, religion, and concern for the state of the world through visual interpretation of the Hopi prophecies. The Hopi Tribe is a sovereign nation located in northeastern Arizona. As a religion major, Taj Diffenbaugh Worley studied the Hopi prophecies, and attempted to represent some of their imagery in her artwork. The Hopi elders have repeatedly attempted to present the prophecies to the United Nations beginning in 1948, and their efforts were especially highlighted in the 1970s in numerous magazine articles and books.

    Taj Diffenbaugh Worley, class of 1969. Monmouth, Illinois, 1947 – Seattle, Washington, 1987. Augury. 1975. Soft ground etching printed in color on medium thick, slightly textured, cream-colored paper, 3/9. Gift of the Estate of Virginia Smith Harvey Dawson, class of 1972. SC 2017.59

    Taj’s print Augury reveals a turbulent landscape with boiling seas and mountains reddened with burning heat. The source of this vision is a Hopi elder whose head appears in the sky and whose gaze is focused on the ashen black heart floating in a white cloud.

    The passage below, which describes this part of the prophecy is excerpted from a message from Hopi elder Chief Dan Evehema (Hotevilla, Arizona, 1893-1999):

    "Hopi, the younger brother, was instructed to cover all land and mark it well with footprints and sacred markings to claim this land for the Creator and peace on earth. We established our ceremonials and sacred shrines to hold this world in balance in accordance with our first promise to the Creator. This is how our migration story goes, until we met the Creator at Old Oraibi (place that solidifies) over 1000 years ago. It was at that meeting when he gave to us these prophecies to give to you now at this closing of the Fourth World of destruction and the beginning of the Fifth World of peace.

    He gave us many prophecies to pass on to you, and all have come to pass. This is how we know the timing is now to reveal the last warnings and instructions and to wait for Older Brother, who went east, to return to us. When he returns to this land he will place his stone tablets side by side to show all the world that they are our true brothers—when the road in the sky has been fulfilled and when the inventing of something, in Hopi means, gourd of ashes, a gourd that, when it drops upon the earth will boil everything within a large space and nothing will grow for a very long time."

    Taj Diffenbaugh Worley, class of 1969. Monmouth, Illinois, 1947 – Seattle, Washington, 1987. Garden of Illusion. 1979. Soft- and hard-ground etching printed in one color on medium thick, flocked, green paper, color trial proof. Gift of the Diffenbaugh Family, and Flora and Sam Worley. SC 2012.68.6

    Garden of Illusion, created a few years after Augury displays a close visual correspondence to this passage from the Hopi Message to the United Nations, delivered by Hopi elder Thomas Banyacya, Sr. (Kykotsmori, Arizona, 1909–1999) on December 10, 1992:

    This rock drawing shows part of the Hopi prophecy. There are two paths. The first with technology but separate from natural and spiritual law leads to these jagged lines representing chaos. The lower path is one that remains in harmony with natural law. Here we see a line that represents a choice like a bridge joining the paths. If we return to spiritual harmony and live from our hearts, we can experience a paradise in this world. If we continue only on this upper path, we will come to destruction. It's up to all of us, as children of Mother Earth, to clean up this mess before it's too late.

    The word "paradise" comes from the Persian word for garden, which further links Garden of Illusion to the prophecies. The upper section of the central rectangle in this work features a chaotic myriad of squiggly lines recalling the line "these jagged lines representing chaos."

    The lower section of the central rectangle features a balanced, orderly, and harmonious image of a classic labyrinth, the labyrinth being found on ancient art in a number of widespread cultures, from Minoan to Celtic to South Asia to Native American cultures relating to the quote "The lower path is one that remains in harmony with natural law." This labyrinth reminds me of Taj's courses in Anthropology and her summer vacation work on an archaeological site in Israel.

    Between these two sections there is a connecting section in which the dense chaotic lines have widened out to be more visually comprehensible: "Here we see a line that represents a choice like a bridge joining the paths."

    This Hopi rock drawing prophecy would have been known to anyone like Taj who was familiar with the larger Hopi prophecy. The lines and paths of harmony and chaos in the prophecy may provide an insight into Taj’s later works also featured in this exhibition.

  • Monday, April 1, 2019

    "When this you see remember me": Embroidered Samplers at SCMA

    This museum has art made by children in its collection. To be more specific, SCMA has a few 18th and 19th century colonial American embroidered samplers, and samplers were usually made by middle and upper class school-age girls. Girls worked on their first samplers when they were as young as six or seven. These first samplers were called marking samplers, and they often featured the alphabet and numbers along with demonstrations of basic embroidery techniques. If girls attended secondary school, they might also make another more decorative embroidery, called a pictorial sampler.

    There are two pictorial samplers in the SCMA collection by Isabella Lightfoot. Both were given to the museum by Caroline Wing Roberts in 1968. SC 1968.30.211 is an embroidery of Adam and Eve beside the Tree of Knowledge, with a snake wrapped around the trunk between them, and “Isabella Lightfoot remember” written below. SC 1968.30.212 has a picture of woman in white standing in a flat landscape with the word “Prudence” written below her. Both embroideries have a similar decorative vine border.

      

    Lightfoot, Isabella. American. Embroidered Picture; Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Linen embroidered with cotton thread in cross and satin stitch. Gift of Caroline Roberta Wing, class of 1896. SC 1968.30.211

    Lightfoot, Isabella. Embroidered Picture; Prudence. Linen embroidered with cotton thread in cross and satin stitch. Gift of Caroline Roberta Wing, class of 1896. SC 1968.30.212.

    Adam and Eve appear in many English and American samplers. This is maybe because their story in Genesis 2 and 3 touches on several subjects that girls in these contexts were supposed to be thinking about, like the power of God, the inevitability of death, and the importance of modesty. Isabella’s embroidery of the subject captures the moment before Adam and Eve make the hasty decision to consume the forbidden fruit – their hands are poised just below the branches of the tree. In the “Prudence” embroidery, the central figure is dressed in white and she holds a mirror up to her face. A snake winds along beside her left foot but she pays no attention to it, and in doing so she effectively avoids sin and remains virtuous. The mirror in this context seems to symbolize the importance of remembering oneself in the face of temptation. The virtuous woman in the “Prudence” embroidery acts as a foil to the sinful, selfish Eve. The content of samplers expressed and enforced class and gender expectations of the period, as exemplified by Isabella’s dichotomous treatment of feminine subjects in these embroideries. Samplers are often fetishized as “quaint” colonial kitsch in popular culture, but they are also very interesting objects for study. They are some of the only representations of art made by children that are preserved in many museum collections, and they often include symbolic imagery or deal with unexpectedly complex themes.

    I haven’t been able to find any additional information about who Isabella Lightfoot was - I only know that she made these two works of art. Often samplers are the only remaining testaments to the lives of the girls who made them. Some of these young artists seemed to have foresight of this, and they actually acknowledged their imminent deaths in their samplers and asked to be remembered by future viewers. One of my favorite examples of this type of morbid message is in a sampler by Phebe Hart in the collection of the MFA Boston: “Phebe Daughter of Asa and Rebeckah Hart who finish her work June the 7 18- when I am ded laid in my Grave and all my bones are rotten when this you see remember me least i should be forgotten. Phebe hart.” (https://www.mfa.org/collections/object/sampler-65833)

     

    References:

    https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/need/hd_need.htm

    https://www.cooperhewitt.org/2015/08/10/a-sampler-by-martha-butler/

    https://www.mfa.org/collections/object/sampler-65833