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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.

  • 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


  • Friday, December 2, 2016

    STUDENT PICKS: Projection of Myth

    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 Sophie Lei '20 discusses her show "Projection of Myth: Fantastic Creatures and Where to Find Them" which will be on view FRIDAY, December 2 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you there!

    Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Japanese (1798 - 1861). Kuwana, Station 43, from the series Fifty-three Pairs of the Tokaido, n.d. Woodcut printed in color on paper. Purchased with the Winthrop Hillyer Fund. SC 1915:10-25

    Fantasy breeds our imagination, and imagination encircles the world. Since I was a child, I’ve dreamed about falling into a rabbit hole, hearing mermaids singing under moonlight, falling in love with vampires and attending Hogwarts. Illustrations of fairy tales were the keys to other worlds for me. That’s how the young me viewed art: a medium projecting the endless possibilities of the world.

    William Wegman. American (1943 - ). Adult Embryo, 1989. Polaroid Polacolor II print. Purchased with the gift of  the National Endowment for the Arts and Joan Lebold Cohen, class of 1954, in honor of Jerome A. Cohen. SC 1990:8

    As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to explore the many possible narratives and presentations of art. I’m always surprised at the different perspectives that artists choose to capture the story, like Joe McHugh’s White Rabbit, Keep Your Head and Barry Moser’s Alice, Her Sister and White Rabbit.

    Joe McHugh. American, 20th century. White Rabbit, Keep Your Head, 1967. Screenprint in color on paper. Purchased. SC 2011:38-82

    Art that comes directly from imagination and enchants the viewer by merging fantasy and reality is fascinating as well, like Sandy Skoglund’s Revenge of the Goldfish. In summary, this exhibition includes works on myth and fantasy from different cultures over a time span of 200 years, all telling their own stories.

    Barry Moser. American (1940-). Alice, Her Sister, and the White Rabbit, 1983. Monoprint two-color wood engraving on medium weight, slightly textured, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O'Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-90

    Many thanks to Colleen McDermott and the Cunningham Center for making this show possible.


  • Thursday, November 3, 2016

    STUDENT PICKS: Surreal Reality

    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 Sifan Jiang '18 discusses her show "Surreal Reality: The Eye of the Beholder " which will be on view FRIDAY, November 4 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you there!

    Guillermo Kuitca. Argentine, born 1951. Doble Teatro, 1997. Lithograph and etching printed in black on paper. Gift of Angela K. Westwater, class of 1964.

    What is a tree? What do you see when look at the moon? How are the buildings arranged? You may observe these mundane phenomena every day, perhaps when you gaze from your window or perhaps on your way to class, but you might not think much about them. You have probably developed a standard way of perceiving these commonplace objects, and that standard is rarely challenged. However, are these perceptions a genuine depiction of the reality?

    What might seem like an ordinary tree to one can be an illusion made up of hundreds of human minds. The perception of one can appear very peculiar to another, while the true reality can be something else altogether – perhaps something that appears surreal. Where then should one draw the line between reality and illusion?

    Pete Turner. American, born 1934.  Ibiza Woman, from the portfolio Selected Color Images, 1960 negative; 2003 print. C-Print. Gift of Nicole Shearman, class of 1987, and Nicholas Fluehr.

    In this exhibition, a variety of art is selected without restriction to any historic periods, styles, techniques, or cultures, but with the common motif of breaking down reality into pieces to manifest a new and surreal space from the fragments. These art works represent the artists’ attempts to construct reality in their distinctive flavors and find beauty in the seemingly illogical chaos of the surreal space. They seek to explore the connection and the boundary between reality and illusion.

    Sekino Jun'ichiro. Japanese, 1912-1988. Karadera, 1972. Woodcut printed in eight colors on medium thick, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. Gift of Lucio and Joan Noto.

    These artworks are not completely abstracted, but neither are they fully realistic visual representations of the world. They are of a distinct kind: locally, each component has its own canonical meaning and is easy to connect to perceived reality, but holistically, these works are an unrealistic portrayal of fragmented reality. Their contents and meanings can be challenging to define – to some perhaps the only possible interpretation is from their visceral reaction or subconscious feeling. Like the local component, everyone has his or her own way of interpreting the reality. Piece together these individual perceptions and the result is a surreal chaotic reality. However, like each artist represented in this exhibition has done, one can find beauty in this pieced-together world. The beauty of this world, then, truly lies in the eyes of the beholders.


    Nancy Goldring. American, born 1945. Untitled (Photo Projection/Ocular Proof), 2000. Cibachrome. Bequest of Leo Steinberg.