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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.

  • 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


  • Thursday, February 16, 2012

    Janet Fish

    Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Winsom’s Shells, 1985. Offset lithograph and screenprint printed in eleven colors on Arches Cover paper. Printed by John Hutcheson and Dwight Pogue at the Smith College Print Workshop. Gift of Janet Fish, class of 1960, through the Smith College Print Workshop. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    When I began volunteering at the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs in August, 2011, I was totally unaware of the amazing opportunities I would be given in the coming months. As a 2011 participant in the Summer Institute in Art Museum Studies (SIAMS) at Smith College, I had been exposed to the Cunningham Center during class time and as part of the curatorial team, which conceptualized, organized, and researched the SCMA exhibition Surface Tension: Reconsidering Water as Subject, which was the culmination of the program. Given my brief exposure to the Cunningham Center, I was excited at the possibility of becoming a volunteer here after the program ended. As a person with artistic and scholarly interests, I found the prospect of being able to handle and research artworks on a daily basis incredibly invigorating. What I did not know then was that I would be given the rare and wonderful chance to act as a guest curator of an exhibition, including picking artworks and writing wall labels. I would be able to apply all that I had learned at SIAMS to my own curatorial project. While SIAMS gave me a whirlwind introduction to curatorial work, this is my first singular venture into the process.

    The exhibition I have been working on is in honor of Janet Fish, one of Smith College’s most successful artist-alumnae. Fish is to be awarded a prestigious 2012 Smith College Medal, which is awarded annually to alumnae whose lives and work exemplify a devotion to a liberal arts education. Selecting the works to be displayed was the easiest part; the Museum owns three finished prints by Fish from three distinct points in her printmaking career: the 1970s, 1980s, and 2000s. The first, Cherries in Brandy (1973), is actually Fish’s first print of her professional career. The other two were both produced as part of the Smith College Print Workshop, separated by almost twenty years.

    Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Cherries in Brandy, 1973. Lithograph printed with black and gray ink with hand-colored white crayon on gray Canson wove paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    One of these works from the Print Workshop, Winsom’s Shells (1985), was particularly fascinating to me because it is accompanied by almost twenty working proofs which were produced during the printing process. As part of the Print Workshop, Fish made the print in just a few days on the Smith College campus and students were able to drop into the studio at any time to observe and ask questions. The Museum displayed these working proofs as they were produced. They serve to dissect and illuminate Fish’s use of lithography and screenprinting, as they explicitly show the order in which she printed the 11-color work, as well as insight behind purposeful and accidental changes made along the way. To me, the existence of these working proofs is incredibly instructive and exciting. I mean, how often do you get to see the working progression of a print in a museum? Seeing these proofs as evidence of Fish’s process really helped me better understand and greatly appreciate the finished print. I hope that other viewers, artists or not, will have a similar experience.

    Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Proof for Winsom’s Shells, 1985. Offset lithograph and screenprint printed in four colors on Arches Cover paper. Printed by John Hutcheson and Dwight Pogue at the Smith College Print Workshop. Lent by the Smith College Department of Art. Photography by Julie Warchol.

    Janet Fish. American, born 1938. Proof for Winsom’s Shells, 1985. Offset lithograph and screenprint printed in eleven colors on Arches Cover paper. Printed by John Hutcheson and Dwight Pogue at the Smith College Print Workshop. Lent by the Smith College Department of Art. Photography by Julie Warchol.

    Janet Fish will be on view at the Museum from February 10 through June 3, 2012. Janet Fish will be awarded the Smith College Medal at the celebration of Rally Day on February 23.  

    Read the Boston Globe review of the exhibition here.


  • Monday, February 6, 2012

    Melancholia I

    Guest blogger Michele Wick is a research associate in the Psychology Department at Smith College.

    Albrecht Dürer’s Melancholia I, on display in the exhibition Albrecht Dürer: Genius and Fame, intrigues me.  As a psychologist researching the complex relationship between creativity and emotional wellbeing, I know some worry that equating mood and artistry could distract attention from an artist’s work.  However, if we retreat to 1514, the year Dürer created his iconic engraving, people who suffered the pains of depression had more pressing image problems. 

    At the time, health was considered to be a balance between four vital fluids or humors - blood, yellow and black bile, and phlegm.  The humors affected both body and mind and were the basis for individual health and personality.  Melancholia was the result of excess black bile.  According to art historian Erwin Panofsky, the afflicted were:  “Thin and swarthy…‘awkward, miserly, spiteful, greedy, malicious, cowardly, faithless, irreverent, and drowsy.’”  Add ‘surly, sad, forgetful, lazy, and sluggish,’ and it becomes clear that melancholics did not offer much for society to respect.  Worst of all, physicians believed that insanity was caused by extreme excess of black bile.  If you were melancholic, you were partway there.

    Melancholia I excites, in part, because Dürer presented a new perspective on melancholia that challenged the prevailing stereotype.  Typical images of the day included a farmer asleep by his plow or a housewife dozing at her distaff, but Durer gives us a woman with wings, signifying her superiority.  She represents the intellectual power of applied geometry with the capacity to brood.  Her energy, says Panofsky, “is paralyzed not by sleep but by thought.”  Her struggle, and Dürer’s too, is the painful dialectic between theory and practice.  Life seems futile when you have ideas you cannot actualize or problems you do not have the skills to solve.

    Dürer’s Melancholia I was renowned across the European continent for more than three centuries.  I wonder how its popularity might have influenced, even in subtle ways, people’s opinions about those who suffer from the symptoms of mood disorder.  How an image on paper affects an image in flesh.  


    Albrecht Dürer.  German, 1471–1528. Melancolia I, 1514. Engraving on paper. Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Lent by Priscilla Joyce Engle. Photograph by Laura Weston. 1974.L1.4