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Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.

Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.

  • Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    At the Museum with Mary Cassatt

    Edgar Degas. French, 1834 - 1917. Mary Cassat at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery,1879-1880. Soft ground etching, etching, aquatint and drypoint printed in black on thin Japan paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    The artists Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt shared a forty-year friendship, both emotionally turbulent and deeply sympathetic, that ended with Degas’ death in 1917.  Struck by Cassatt’s paintings, Degas was moved to invite her to exhibit with the Impressionists in 1877, making her the first American artist to become an established member of their group. 

    Degas’ dynamic portraits of Mary Cassatt at the Louvre express the admiration he felt for her.  In Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery, Cassatt is caught in a moment of contemplation.  Degas shows us the vitality of her attention as she looks as the art: she appears forthright and mesmerized, demanding and elegant.  Unlike the woman to her left, who sits sideways on a bench and peers tentatively up at the sculpture from behind her book, Cassatt’s whole body is open to the art.  And, since the perspective of the print hides her face from us, it is her body that expresses her experience in this moment—the way, say, she leans against her umbrella but also seems to float just above the ground.

    This print also reminds me of the experience of going to a museum and getting side-tracked by the other visitors in a crowded gallery.  Looking at people looking at art becomes part of the museum experience.  In Degas’ print, the viewer is the voyeur, watching Cassatt watching; we can’t know what she’s thinking while she looks at the sculpture, but her engagement becomes a model for our own. 

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  • Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    Behind the Scenes with Debussy's Paris, Part II: Conservation

    David Dempsey, Associate Director for Museum Services, describes the process of conserving several of our nineteenth century French posters for the exhibition Debussy's Paris: Art, Music and Sounds of the City.

    The Debussy's Paris exhibition was a great opportunity to have several nineteenth century posters conserved. The posters were never meant to last very long, so they were printed on poor quality paper that is full of impurities and turned acidic and weakened over time. In the past they had been glued onto a thin linen cloth to give them some strength and to protect them. They had never been framed and were generally stored rolled up and then unfurled for classes and exhibition. This had caused a lot of wear and tear over the years.

    We asked Leslie Paisley of the Willliamstown Art Conservation Center to work on conserving them and mounting them in a more formal manner. Leslie and her team began by checking to see if the inks were water soluble, which they were to some extent, so that limited our options. But by working from the back of the linen they were able to soften the glue enough to gently pull the linen off the back. Once it was completely removed they used wheat starch paste as a “poultice” (a thick gel that wet the remaining glue without causing the inks to run) to soften the remaining glue so that it could be carefully removed from the back of the posters.

    The linen was replaced with Japanese tissue paper, which is very light and strong. Paste was applied to the back of the poster and the tissues placed on the back and pressed to make sure they adhered. Then the posters were mounted on larger temporary panels by stretching the Japanese tissue around the edges of the panels. They were then left to dry for two months to make sure the posters had a chance to relax and adjust to their new mounts. After drying they were transferred to custom built panels that are acid-free and very resistant to warping. New metal frames were ordered and the completed pieces are now a focal point of the exhibition.

    REBECCA JOHNSTON, JENNIFER McGLINCHEY Removing the old mounting linen from the back of the poster.

    LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON applying wheat starch paste in preparation for relining

    LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON Applying wheat starch paste in preparation for relining

    LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON Smoothing wheat starch paste in preparation for relining

    REBECCA JOHNSTON, JENNIFER McGLINCHEY Aligning new Japanese paper lining

    LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON Checking the alignment of the edges of tears

    LESLIE PAISLEY, REBECCA JOHNSTON Replacing loose and separated edge pieces

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    Emily - 23/04/2012

    conservation

    This is very very cool to see!

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  • Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    Behind the Scenes with Debussy's Paris

    In this post, guest blogger Kelly Holbert, SCMA Exhibition Coordinator explains the process of mounting our new exhibition, Debussy's Paris.

    Debussy’s Paris: Art, Music, and Sounds of the City (February 3 – June 10, 2012) is an exhibition that celebrates the life and culture of Paris around 1900, the era of the composer Claude Debussy.  Of the 60 works on view, 35 are works on paper from SCMA’s own collection.

    The planning process began with the curator selecting the works of art and placing them within the thematic sections of the show (Dance; Correspondences: Art and Music; and Noise and Popular Music), both conceptually in the catalogue and physically in the design of the gallery’s layout.  Guest essayists and curatorial consultants also contributed to the catalogue.

    The installation itself took about 3 weeks, starting with moving the gallery’s partitions and painting the color bands on the walls.  Loans arrived and were unpacked by the registrar, Louise Laplante.  Bill Myers and Stephanie Sullivan installed the art and worked on the lighting.  David Dempsey fabricated the housings for the ambient music and listening stations, which were installed by RBH Multimedia.  Last to go up were the title, wall texts, and labels.

    It takes several years to plan and mount an exhibition, involving staff from Education, Membership and Marketing, and other Museum departments, so be sure to come by and enjoy a little piece of Paris in Northampton!

    Bill Myers hangs an aquatint and etching by Jacques Villon

    David Dempsey installs the support for the touchscreen station while Claude Debussy looks on

    Adam Guerrin, from Visionsignworks, adheres the vinyl title to the wall

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