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.
Monday, December 5, 2011
December 11, 2010 was declared “David Becker Day” by the outgoing Governor of Maine John Baldacci. Personally, I think David Becker Day should be an annual observance, and I, for one, plan to celebrate it every year.
For those of you not familiar with David, he was the Pamela and Peter Voss Curator in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a notable independent print scholar. The national print community lost a valued member with David’s premature death in November 2010. He was devoted to the study of prints and illustrated books; his alma mater, Bowdoin College; issues of social equality; and his adopted home, the state of Maine.
David was also a mentor for young curators. At the beginning of my career at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, he was a role model for me; someone who loved prints as much as I did and who never tired of sharing both his considerable knowledge and loans from his exceptional collection. He was an active participant in virtually all of my professional firsts: first exhibition (as an advisor and lender); first catalogue (as a contributor), as well as my sponsor for membership in the professional print curator’s organization the Print Council of America. But even more than this, he was the kind of curator (and person) I wanted to be: knowledgeable, exacting, curious, generous, and kind.
In 2002 David donated several works to SCMA in honor of his mother, Helen Pillsbury Becker, a member of the class of 1928, including this lovely Bléry.
The Large Burdock is one of a series of four large plant studies that Bléry created based on his observation of plants in the forest of Fontainebleau, France. This particular impression of the print features significant additions in black and brown ink, which indicates that it was a trial proof pulled in between states (most probably between the second and third of five states). Working this way allowed the artist to re-think areas of the composition by drawing directly upon a printed impression. One of the major alterations in the final state of the print was the change of the tree in the background from an oak to a beech.
This print will always remind me of David. Its formal beauty, quirky rarity (although a fine printmaker, Bléry is hardly a household name), and subject matter capture some of the things he loved: the study of graphic processes, 19th century French prints, and nature.
So, how should you celebrate David Becker Day? Visit a museum (one excellent option is to visit the MFA Boston to see Two Masters of Fantasy: Bresdin and Redon, on view until January 16). Or, visit your local print room, such as the Cunningham Center, choose an object you love and spend time looking at it closely. Learn something new. Share it with others. Read a book. Spend time outdoors. Donate to a cause you feel passionate about. Have dinner with friends. Enjoy yourself to the fullest.
I don’t think that David would approve of my suggestion that we create a modern-day “saints day,” in his honor (he was too modest for that), but I’m positive that he would support the idea that everyone take the time for these activities.
I hope you all have a wonderful David Becker Day.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Guest blogger Karysa Norris (Dartmouth College '12) was a participant in the 2011 Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (www.smith.edu/siams). She also served as the 2011 Brown SIAMS Fellow, a four-week internship in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints Drawings and Photographs.
One day during the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies, our Teaching Assistants Betsy and Jason brought us to the Cunningham Center to discuss issues of sexism and racism in art museums.To aid in our discussion, several prints and posters by the Guerrilla Girls were on display. I knew that a lot of the work had been produced in the 1980s and 90s, so I assumed that much of it would be outdated or irrelevant. As we perused the collection, however, one print in particular immediately caught my eye: Top Ten Ways to Tell if You’re an Art World Token from the Most Wanted collection. The first two examples made me smile: “Your busiest months are February (Black History Month), March (Women’s History), April (Asian-American Awareness), June (Stonewall Anniversary) and September (Latino Heritage)” and “At openings and parties, the only other people of color are serving drinks.” I immediately wanted to grab the nearest person, point, and say, “That’s me!”
Guerrilla Girls. American, 20th century. Top Ten Ways to Tell if You’re an Art World Token, from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985-2006, 1995. Lithograph printed in black and grey on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. SC 2006:44
Far from being irrelevant, this 1995 print made me feel that my disappointment in the lack of diversity in museums was validated. I have only been a part of the museum world for a few short months but I have never been as aware of my minority status as I was while touring the museums of New England with SIAMS. Not one of the professionals we met with had an ethnic background similar to my own, and I was suddenly hyper-aware of how overwhelmingly white the art historical field is. Even at my home institution, the only faculty member of color is, not surprisingly, the professor of Asian art. Although I was happy to know that other people are aware of the issue of diversity, I was simultaneously saddened that it didn’t seem like much had changed in the past 16 years. Museums and art history departments are still largely dominated by upper-class white women, and it is still far too easy to see an individual of a different ethnicity or background such as myself as a “token” staff member.
I wasn’t the only one in the class who had a strong reaction to these protest posters. The Guerrilla Girls jumpstarted a conversation on diversity that continued long after our session with Betsy and Jason was over. I’m not exactly shy about bringing up topics of sexism and race with my peers, but having voices from women speaking about them for over twenty years supporting me certainly made my points more compelling!
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Alfred H. Barr (founding director of The Museum of Modern Art) and Jere Abbott (founding associate director of MoMA and director of the Smith College Museum of Art from 1932-1946) met as graduate students at Harvard University.
During the winter of 1927, Barr and Abbott traveled through Europe. Their primary destination was the Bauhaus, the modernist art and architecture school located in Dessau, Germany, but on a whim they decided to also visit the Soviet Union, easily obtaining visas in Berlin. Both Barr and Abbott kept diaries during their time in the Soviet Union, which lasted from January through March 1928.
Barr’s diary was published (with a preface by Abbott) in October(Winter 1987). SCMA owns both Jere Abbott’s diary from the trip as well as his guidebook.
Abbott’s text recalls mostly theater and musical performances (often with detailed notes on the sets and staging), although they also visited museums and purchased some art. On January 6, Abbott recalled: “Went in the afternoon with Roz[insky] to an exhibit of paintings by peasants and untutored workers in the First University. Arranged to buy possibly four later. One by a young Russian peasant boy of 16. Met him.” Exhibitions such as this were part of the Soviet attempt to support the development of a native proletarian-based art that eschewed dependence on formal training.
This drawing, donated to SCMA by Abbott in 1979, is presumed to be by the boy mentioned in his diary.