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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

  • 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.” (



  • Friday, January 11, 2019

    Art I Touched Today


    Skoglund, Sandra Louise. American, born 1956. Cats in Paris. Photolithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Sandy Skoglund, class of 1968, and Janet Borden, class of 1973, in memory of Charles Chetham. SC 1995:32-2

    Today we're featuring an inside scoop on the Cunningham Center experience! Nicole Bearden AC '19 worked as a student assistant in the Cunningham Center, and her time spent handling works on paper inspired her to share her findings on her Instagram, titled Art I Touched Today. You may recognize Nicole's name from her April 2018 Student Picks exhibition, Abstractions in No Man’s Land: A Future Without Us. Though her time at the Cunningham Center has ended, her account has expanded to cover her other artistic adventures as well. Give it a look!


  • Tuesday, December 4, 2018

    Vanguards of Ukiyo-e: The Women of Modern Japanese Printmaking

    Guest blogger Nicole Bearden is a Smith College student and Ada Comstock Scholar with a major in Art History and a Museums Concentration. She was a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    When most people envision Japanese woodblock prints, images by Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Utamaro often come to mind. These great masters of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) were incredibly prolific, and educated generations of artists via their ateliers--workshops in which multiple artists and assistants worked and were trained. While these men were certainly experts, their images of Japan’s “Floating World”--beautiful women, Kabuki, landscapes, and illustrations of folktales--are not the sole interpretations of this popular art form.

    Katsushika Hokusai. Ejiri in Suruga Province, from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. ca. 1831. woodcut printed in color on paper. Gift of Mrs. Arthur B. Schaffner in memory of Louise Stevens Bryant, class of 1908. SC 1959:264

    During the early modern period (17th-early 19th centuries) there were very few female professional artists. Women were excluded from the guilds of professional painters who worked in the ateliers. Japanese society at the time had firm expectations that women conform to the role of mother, wife, and household manager. During the Tokugawa Shogunate (1602-1868) women did not even legally exist as individuals. They were considered subordinate to men, and could not own property. A woman living as an artist was seen not only as an anomaly, but as an affront to Japanese society.

    Other Japanese art forms such as scroll painting and calligraphy increasingly included women during the 19th century, but the popular ukiyo-e ateliers were not as conciliatory. In these woodblock print workshops, there were very few women to be found, and those present were often the daughters, nieces, or granddaughters of the artists themselves (such as Hokusai’s daughter Katsushika Ōi). The limitations placed upon Japanese women would only be overturned after WWII, when Confucian-centric ideals were displaced by the the Civil Code of 1947. Through this code, women were granted legal equality with men, which included the rights to own property, vote, inherit from their families, and marry and divorce at will.

    Iwami Reika. Morning Waves. 1978. Woodblock printed in black and metallic ink with embossing on medium thick, slightly textured, cream-colored paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-15

    Although pursuing a career in art was still a struggle, it became a possibility for many young Japanese women who came of age during WWII, such as Iwami Reika and Naoko Matsubara. Still alive and working, These women, are considered trailblazers in the world of Japanese art. Their interpretations of the woodblock print run the gamut from floral and picturesque--reminiscent of the work of earlier masters--to abstract and minimalist.

    Iwami Reika uses driftwood motifs and gold leaf to create a hybrid of earthbound and the celestial, often referencing water and the light of the moon or the sun. Her compositions evoke nature, rendered in various shades of black and white, then punctuated briefly with splashes of gold. Reika makes great use of negative space, balancing her final design as simultaneously resolute and delicate.

    Shinoda Toko. Spring. 1978. Lithograph and handcoloring on heavyweight, moderately textured, white paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of the Tolman Collection, Tokyo Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-33

    Working in a similarly spare fashion, Shinoda Toko’s prints center around conceptual shapes and calligraphic methods. Unlike Iwami’s work, which is devoid of words, Toko uses text--or the illusion of text--and calligraphic brushwork to form abstract landscapes. The work Spring (1978), for example, is composed of bold, black strokes; the wide marks left by the brush create a structured, very linear view of nature.

    An erratic diamond-shape creates the illusion of a winter field--white snow bordered by sterile hedges, their black color faded to reveal a gray-white underneath. In the bottom right-hand portion of the print, is a stiff tree, leafless in the dead of winter. These elements of the dormant life of winter are interrupted in the upper-left part of the composition by fine flourishes of deeper black and bright green, signifying the return of spring.

    Naoko Matsubara. Boston Museum of Fine Arts. n.d. Woodcut printed in black on medium thick, slightly textured, cream-colored Asian paper. Gift of Joan Lebold Cohen, class of 1954, in honor of MFA colleagues Martha Manchester Wright, class of 1960, Sarah Griswold Leahy, class of 1954, and Sue Welsh Reed, class of 1958. SC 2012:80.

    Naoko Matsubara’s work forcefully diverges from that of Shinoda and Iwami. Rejecting minimalism, her images crowd the page, resembling a haphazard, almost cartoonish rendition of modern life. In Matsubara’s woodblock print Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the viewer is presented with a cross-section of the museum, its contents, layout, and patrons, as if the side of the building had been neatly removed. The result, printed in bold black and white lines, draws attention to the multitude of cultures displayed and appropriated by BMFA--a serious issue playfully depicted by the levity of her style.

    These women, who have embraced the art of ukiyo-e in the 20th and 21st centuries differ widely in style from both the works of the famed forefathers of Japanese printmaking and one another. However, the influence of those who came before left a definite imprint, while the global exchange and rights gained for women after World War II allowed for development of the individual styles developed by these contemporary print makers.