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Tracing Smith and Bloomsbury and All the Paths That Crossed

It may come as a surprise to some that Virginia Woolf and her famous friends the Bloomsbury Group had close associations with members of the Smith College community that lasted for decades.

A new exhibition, drawing from a bounty of unique items, illustrates how the lives of these famous, and not-so-famous, individuals intersected in unexpected ways. "Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group: A Pen and Press of Their Own" is assembled from Smith's own rich collections and on view in the Book Arts Gallery through July.

Karen Kukil, associate curator of special collections, designed the show as a companion to the museum exhibition "A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections," which closed June 15.

Vanessa Bell. British, 1879-1961. Virginia Woolf, ca. 1912. Oil on paperboard. Smith College Museum of Art. Gift of Ann Safford Mandel, class of 1953. © Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. Click image to enlarge.

While moving from case to case, one can follow the paths of a multitude of characters, from Bloomsbury individuals to members of the Smith community in the 1920s and 1930s until decades later, from letters and manuscripts to photograph albums and the first-edition books of Woolf's Hogarth Press. Among the books on display are Woolf's A Room of One's Own, 1929; Orlando: A Biography, 1928; and Vita Sackville West's Seducers in Ecuador, 1924.

Faculty papers of Paul Roche, who taught English at Smith from 1956 to 1958, are also on view. Roche was a close friend of art historian Priscilla Cunningham, who graduated from Smith in 1958. Another close friend was Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant, whom Roche met in 1946; they remained close until Grant's death in 1978.

Several Smith women are represented in the show as well, including Mina Kirstein Curtiss '18, who joined the Smith faculty and taught English composition from 1920 to 1934. While studying at London University, Curtiss crossed paths with Duncan Grant, who eventually painted her portrait. A preliminary drawing of Curtiss is in the exhibit, as is her photograph album from 1920 to 1929.

Henrietta Bingham, whose photograph appears in Curtiss' album, completed three semesters at Smith but dropped out in June 1922. The same year, she met up with Mina Curtiss in London and, according to Kukil, "became the toast of Bloomsbury after she sang spirituals and played the mandolin at their parties."

Exhibition Information

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