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, May 30, 2013
Guest blogger Maggie Kean is a Smith College student, class of 2014, majoring in Art History with a concentration in Museum Studies. She is the Student Assistant to Maggie Lind, the Associate Educator for Academic Programs.
French Impressionist Edgar Degas is regarded as one of the greatest painters of the nineteenth-century, producing an inspiring body of work thematically divergent from that of his predecessors, which earned him a posthumous reputation as the darling of the movement. A prolific draughtsman as well as painter, Degas’s vast output of drawings dynamically rendering his iconic dancers, bathing nudes, and jockeys are as distinctive as his paintings. Yet while many conceive Degas as the master of tulle and soft, luminescent flesh—daubed onto canvas in rich jewel-tones or lustily marked out with pastels—few realize that Degas was also a closet printmaker of great mastery.
Though his printmaking record indicates that his pursuit of the medium was patchy, extant works span Degas’s career from his nascent aspirations to history painting in the 1850s through to his late and most expressive works of the 1890s. His prints ranged in medium from etchings and lithographs pulled by professional printers to monotypes that he executed himself. A largely underappreciated and thus neglected form of printmaking, Degas is recognized for pioneering the monotype medium, which conflates painting with printmaking through the painterly application of ink directly onto a plate that is then pressed onto paper. While his printed subject matter did not vary much from his standard repertoire of women and horses, the works themselves reveal Degas’s virtuosity in a breadth of mastery unknown even at the time—only a handful of such prints were ever displayed during his lifetime.
The SCMA has two such prints in the works on paper collection at the Cunningham Center—a set of lithographs from 1884 entitled Program for the Soirée Artistique des Anciens Élèves du Lycée de Nantes(Program for the Evening for Former Art Students of Nantes Secondary School). One of the former students of the Lycée was a friend of Degas and asked him to create the program – a process that yielded four black chalk drawings, four etchings, and the final lithographs. Two of the drawings, which are a clear precedent to our lithographs, are among the works stolen in the famous heist of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With the recent efforts of the FBI to again publicize the crime and recover the works, we thought we’d highlight the parallel works in our collection in solidarity with the Gardner (To view the Gardner drawings and more information on the theft, please visit the FBI website: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/march/reward-offered-for-return-of-stolen-gardner-museum-artwork/image/hi-res).
The Programwas directed toward a broad audience, and as such, the visual language Degas utilizes is straightforward in its reference to the entertainment promised for the Soirée, with some marginal imagery symbolic of the town of Nantes. The print was clearly thrown together quickly, a somewhat compositionally ambiguous and sketchy image; in 1891, when the École des Beaux-Arts displayed one of the lithographs in an exhibition surveying contemporary lithography without Degas’s permission, he was outraged that his body of printed work should be represented by such a poor example.
Nevertheless, the Programand his opinion of it offer a glimpse into the ways in which Degas’s work reached the general public. His major works were typically displayed at the Salon for an audience comprised primarily of the bourgeoisie, artists, and academics. A colloquial document such as Programnot only enjoyed a wider viewership, but also illuminates how Degas consciously adjusted the quality of his work based on the audience he created it for.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Artist/poet Munio Makuuchi (born Howard Munio Takahashi) was a third-generation Japanese-American born in Seattle. From 1941 to 1945, he and his family were confined in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in southern Idaho. This pivotal childhood experience became the basis for a lifetime of visual and poetic works. After their release from the camp, the artist and his family settled permanently in Idaho. Makuuchi studied art education, printmaking, and painting, and taught both in the U.S. and Africa. He retired from teaching and returned to Seattle in the mid-1980s.
Like all of Makuuchi’s visual works, On Boy’s Dayrelates directly to his life history. The twin images of Mount Rainier and Mount Fuji are visible in the background of this print, alluding to his dual Japanese/American identity. The central image of the print is a school of leaping fish bisected by a bamboo pole bearing a flag. The pole and flag are part of the rituals celebrating the Japanese festival “Boy’s Day” (Tango-no-sekku),in which paper carp (one per male child) are flown in celebration of the healthy growth of sons. The carp, a symbol of resilience and determination, is seen as an embodiment of male virtues. Makuuchi replaces the traditional carp with an image of salmon, a fish native to the Northwest coast, which he felt had more resonance with his past.
In the poem referred to in the title of this print, Makuuchi mourns what he saw as the cultural assimilation of many Asian Americans during the post-War period.
On boy's day I I.D.
with slant/Sockeyes of
Steelheads/hearts of the
Rocky Mountains rather
than flying paper Carp...
They tagged and released us
after four years
in a USA reeducation camp.....
They tried to drum out the drums of the Afro/Americans.....
And the Latino still speak
and eat Spanish
500 years later.....
We went 1000 miles
up inland Rocky Mountains
with special long enduring
genes and chromosomes
only to be watered down
Only a few are reaching
When it comes to our kind soul vittles -
“No you can't take that away from me!"
This work is on view in Collecting Art of Asia until May 26, 2013.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Guest blogger Maurine Collins Miller is a Smith College student, class of 2013, majoring in Art History and minoring in Spanish. She is a Student Museum Educator at the Smith College Museum of Art.
Designing and giving a tour at the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) is both exciting and unpredictable. So when I was presented with a group of sixth graders who had been studying Mexican culture, I decided to focus the tour around the SCMA’s Diego Rivera works. Rivera is generally interesting to kids since he is such a famous artist with a very aesthetically approachable style. For this particular tour, the Museum’s collection spanned beyond the paintings typically associated with Rivera; the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs is home to an impressive collection of works on paper by the Mexican artist. With some advanced planning, we were able to view a selection of these prints and drawings depicting a variety of daily life scenes and portraits. With a reasonable amount of knowledge on Rivera, I felt confident that I could answer almost any question and build off of what the kids already knew. As a tour guide, however, you can never fully prepare for what the kids will ask about the pieces.
Much to my surprise, the students were more interested in the monetary value of Rivera’s work than what they looked like. Why and how art is valued is fascinating -- I don’t blame them for inquiring as to the value of the pieces. Unfortunately, I was prepared to talk about culture and why Rivera might have made some stylistic choices. I formulated an explanation “on the fly” to direct the discussion away from the monetary issue: when artworks are acquired by or donated to a museum, the purpose is not to put a price tag on them. Since museums build their collections based on what they’d like to show and conserve forever, accessioning works into a collection almost negates any monetary value. Their “worth” is not about money.
Sixth graders, however, are persistent. Thus, when they continued asking me about how much all of the Diego Rivera works on paper are collectively worth, “even if I was just guessing,” I explained that value is more than a monetary concept. Value also means how a work enhances a collection and, particularly in a teaching museum like SCMA, can be compared with other pieces for educational purposes. Value and price are not mutually exclusive.
I was eventually able to re-route the discussion back to Mexican culture, and the students finally settled into appreciating how amazing the SCMA and the Cunningham Center are. After all, how special is being in a room with only fifteen people and ten impressive works on paper—not behind glass or framed-- from such a phenomenal artist? Now that is a valuable experience.