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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.

  • Thursday, February 2, 2017

    STUDENT PICKS: The Candid Effect

    Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Laura Grant '17 discusses her show "The Candid Effect: Street Photography of Women" which will be on view FRIDAY, February 3 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you there!

    How are women photographed in public spaces? This show examines the ways in which women are portrayed in street photography—a type of photography in which subjects are captured candidly participating in everyday activities. However, it is often difficult to determine the extent to which the photographs are actually candid. The photographs in this show demonstrate this ambiguity. 


    Lisette Model. American, born Austria (1901 - 1983). Woman with Veil, San Francisco, 1949. Gelatin silver print. Purchased with the gift of past and present members of the Visiting Committee in memory of Charles Chetham.

    In Lisette Model’s Woman with a Veil, a nicely dressed older woman sits on a bench. The close-up shot suggests that the woman was aware she was being photographed, but her turn of the head and disregard for the camera give the sense that it is a candid shot.


    Garry Winogrand. American (1928 - 1984). Two women with a child at the entrance to Central Park from Women are Beautiful, ca. 1975 negative; 1981 print. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall.

    Other photographs also blur the line between chance encounter and posed scene. Garry Winogrand’s Two women with a child at the entrance to Central Park from his series Women are Beautiful is a much wider shot than Lisette Model’s photograph; it is possible the subjects were not aware Winogrand was taking a photograph focused on them.

    Danny Lyon. American, born 1942. Port-au-Prince (woman carrying wood structure on shoulders, holding hand of another woman), 1983-1986 negative; 2007 print. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar.

    The candid effect of street photography is even more apparent in Danny Lyon’s photograph Port-au-Prince where the subjects are seen from behind. It appears that Lyon captured this encounter without the subjects’ realization, and they do not seem posed.

    Yet, the unposed quality of the photographs is not merely an innocent aesthetic choice. These photographs cause us to question whether the subjects knew their photograph was being taken and whether they wanted it to be taken and displayed.


    Mikiko Hara. Japanese, born 1976. Still from the series These Are Days, 2009.  C-print. Purchased with the Carroll and Nolen Asian Art Acquisition Fund.

    Mikiko Hara’s still from the series These Are Days is the only photograph in which the subject looks directly at the camera. Her expression is difficult to read. Is she unnerved, annoyed, or surprised? Nevertheless, she is the only subject to look back and show any ambivalence towards her role as a subject of a street photograph. 


  • Friday, January 6, 2017

    Barry Moser’s Watercolor Illustrations

    Guest blogger Renee Klann is a Smith College student, class of 2019. She is the 2015-2017 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. This post discusses the art of Barry Moser, an printmaker and professor at Smith College. A recent gift of 91 of his works was made to the museum by Jeff Dwyer and Elizabeth O'Grady.

    Although Barry Moser primarily works in wood engraving, he has also illustrated numerous books in watercolor. What drew him to such different media? In an interview he said that he enjoys watercolor and wood engraving because “My personality is kind of pig-headed and tenacious, so I like working with materials that are difficult.” Moser was certainly tenacious when learning to paint with watercolor, since he taught himself solely by studying the work of other artists.

    Moser often uses watercolor to illustrate books for children. When he accepts an illustration commission, it’s usually expected to be in a particular medium. However, sometimes he debates with a publisher about what medium would be best. The technique of watercolor, which requires painting an image on a blank white sheet, is nearly the opposite of wood engraving, in which every area of white has to be cut from the black background of the inked wood block. Moser has adapted to the difference by taking an unconventional approach to watercolor. He says, “I often start off with the darkest rather than the lighter areas, which is pretty much backwards from what most watercolorists do.” This unique method makes sense in the context of Moser’s experience with wood engraving.

    Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Archy, 1988. Watercolor on thick, rough, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-69 

    One of Moser’s watercolor illustrations is Archy, a depiction of a character created in 1916 by Don Marquis, a columnist for The Evening Sun newspaper. Archy was a cockroach who had been a free verse poet in a previous life, and he wrote poems and stories on a typewriter at the newspaper office after all the humans had left. His best friend was an alley cat named Mehitabel, and their published adventures included satirical commentaries on everyday life in New York City. Moser painted Archy for an edition of the book archy and mehitabel that was never published.

    In this humorous image, Archy stands on two legs, wearing a shirt and tie and holding a pipe in his mouth. His anatomy makes him recognizable as a cockroach, while his outfit and pose are human-like. Despite his somewhat irritable expression (and his species’ bad reputation) this portrayal of him is endearing. The medium of watercolor is an ideal match for Archy’s whimsical nature, which Moser captures here.

    Barry Moser, American, 1940-. In the Park from Kashtanka, 1991. Watercolor on thick, rough, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-19 

    In the Park is a watercolor illustration from Kashtanka, Anton Chekhov’s tale about a lost dog and becomes part of a circus before being reunited with her owner at the end. The image of a sleigh traveling through a snowy forest balances the coolness of the blue-gray trees and sky with the warm glow of the lamp in the background. The trees in the foreground distance viewers from the action of the horse and sleigh, but creates the feeling of being in the forest as well, drawing viewers into the world of the story.

    Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Three Kings of the Desert from The Holy Bible, 1990. Watercolor on thick, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-64 

    Moser painted Three Kings of the Desert for an edition of the Bible published in 1990. It preceded his own 1999 Pennyroyal Caxton Bible, which he designed and illustrated with over 200 wood engraving prints. The three kings riding camels in this image are shown in silhouette, casting shadows on the ground. In addition, the background depicts the night sky in a swirling, textured shade of blue-green, with the Star of Bethlehem standing out clearly against it. The dramatic composition and style of the illustration conveys the sense of awe that the three kings felt on their journey.

    Barry Moser’s watercolors range from biblical figures to poetry-writing insects, but they all have styles appropriate to their subjects. Seeing Moser’s watercolors in addition to his wood engravings offers a new perspective on his work as an illustrator, since each medium has different challenges and possibilities.


  • Friday, December 9, 2016

    The Mystery of Paul Cordes

    The Smith College Museum of Art is dedicated to bringing out works on paper into the main galleries, where all visitors can see them. Since works on paper are more sensitive to light than other mediums, SCMA has installed special Works on Paper cabinets throughout the galleries for the display of prints, drawings and photographs. Today’s post is part of a series about the current installations of the Works on Paper cabinets, which will remain on view through April 2017.

    Portrait of Master Francesco Cantarella, ca. 1937. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Gift of Paul Cordes. SC 1938:8-8

    Born in Germany, Paul Cordes (1893–1979) immigrated to the United States in 1912 and lived in New York for the rest of his life. He was a professional photographer who specialized in portraiture, and his work was displayed at a number of institutions in the northeast United States, including the Museum of Modern Art. Cordes donated about 30 of his own photographs to the Smith College Museum of Art in 1938, around the time that the museum featured an exhibition of his photography. Given that the museum had only started collecting photography about five years prior, this was a major acquisition. The moody, dramatically lit portraits featured here bring out the emotional complexity in their subjects.

    Portrait of John Williams of the American Negro Ballet, ca 1937. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Gift of Paul Cordes. SC 1938:8-10

    The portrait above is of John Williams of the American Negro Ballet—one of the first professional dance groups to feature an entirely African-American company. Though it folded after just a year, the group set an important precedent, and other integrated dance groups flourished in the following years. Though the lighting is gauzy and ethereal, Cordes portrays Williams as an arresting, powerful figure.

    Portrait of Gene Loring of the Ballet Caravan, ca. 1936. Gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard. Gift of Paul Cordes. SC 1938:8-10

    The second photograph is of dancer and choreographer Eugene Loring. He was a company member of the Ballet Caravan, a traveling group dedicated to producing stories about American life and history. At the time of this portrait, he was on the cusp of choreographing Billy the Kid, now recognized as the first American ballet classic. Loring’s portrait is capricious and eerie; the black greasepaint around his eyes resembles a mask, blending in with the darkness of the background.

    Taken during a pivotal time in the history of dance, the visual and historical contrast between the pictures is striking. Cordes captures two very different movements attempting to expand the possibilities of what “American” dance could truly be. Despite our significant collection of his work, we have very little information about his personal life. He never married or had children, and there are no records of his correspondence—it seems that the only thing that survives of him is his work.

    Ruth Elisabeth Young, n.d. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. SC 1983:44-11