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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, January 11, 2018

    Color and Heat | Bolívar y Juana Azurduy

    For my first on the job project, I was to learn about Latin American artists whose work would be exhibited in “Color and Heat”, a print show to be displayed in the Cunningham Center corridor. I was asked to write the wall text for several pieces, including the colorful screen-print “Bolívar y Juana Azurduy”. I had done broad research on all the artists in the exhibit, but I chose to write about an artist for whom I found very little information. But her work grabbed my attention with its bright colors and the heroic Simón Bolívar on his white horse. A uniformity in the smiles of every figure illustrated made me wonder if there was another story behind those fixed expressions. I suspected “Bolívar y Juana Azurduy” was not as straightforward as it seemed.


    Carmen Baptista. Bolivian, 1936–. Bolívar y Juana Azurduy. 1985. Screenprint in color on medium thick, moderately textured, white Arches paper. Gift of  Marius and Suzanne Sznajderman in memory of Bernard Barken Kaufman.

    The artist Carmen Baptista was completely unknown to me, and there was little information available on her life and work. We obtained a two-page article directly from an archive in Switzerland, and a leaflet from one of her exhibitions in Bolivia that was given by the donor. So I began to focus solely on the print. The heroic rendering of Bolívar–whose name I associate with courage, and liberation since my grade-school days in Mexico– was not the most prominent element of the print. I felt it was the intimate gesture, the greeting between him and Juana Azurduy. I had never heard of Azurduy —so I began my study there. Azurduy was a guerrilla leader in the region soon to be named Bolivia. She fought alongside her husband Padilla who was also a prominent figure in the fight against the Spanish crown. Azurduy led armies of men and women into battle and defeated multiple strong Spanish brigades. In Juana Azurduy’s campaign for independence, she lost her personal wealth, her husband, and all but one of her children.

    The Bolivian nation was established in 1925, but Azurduy did not receive a grain of recognition for her leadership or sacrifice. Her status as a pivotal military leader went ignored, and she never returned to her previous status as a well-to-do woman, she was left a poor widow with her only surviving child. Although she attempted several times to receive some sort of compensation for her bravery in the fight for the now independent nation, she was denied remuneration until the Liberator Simón Bolívar intervened on her behalf. When Simón Bolívar by invitation of the Bolivian president visited the picturesque town of Sucre in Chuquisaca, Bolívar insisted on meeting the forgotten hero Juana Azurduy. Historical accounts tell that shortly after his arrival in Bolivia, he was accompanied by a few of his closest soldiers and the Bolivian leader on a visit to the home of Azurduy. Upon their meeting, Bolívar expressed gratitude to Juana Azurduy for her great courage, but he was astonished at the miserable condition in which she was living. He told his men and the Bolivian leader “this country should not be named Bolivia in my honor, but Padilla or Azurduy, because it was them who made it free”. He then insisted she be promoted to Colonel and be granted a small pension for the rest of her life. Juana Azurduy lived a hard life even with the well-deserved pension she finally received later in life. Her historical importance was undermined after the independence because she was a woman, and even to this day, she is relatively unknown outside of Bolivia and its neighboring countries.

    Learning about revolutionary leaders of the Americas was an essential part of my school days in Mexico; I was taught to commemorate the heroes that fought or influenced our independence. Although women played fundamental roles in the revolutions throughout Latin America —Bolivia, Perú, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panamá, and México, etc— they are seldom mentioned. It is a ‘liberating’ experience to have a story unfold through research, and greater still to feel that the artist herself has revealed something to you through her work. Baptista’s print attempts to right a wrong and honor the woman who led armies and fought for liberation.


  • Wednesday, January 3, 2018

    Picasso and His Muse

    Guest blogger Jenny Duckett is a Smith College student, class of 2014, with a major in Art History. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    A picture of Marie-Thérèse from Gérard Blot/Réunion de Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY, Acquavella Gallerie, via Picasso in Lust and Ambition

    As a student assistant in the Cunningham Center, one of my main duties is to pull prints, drawings, and photographs from the Smith’s collection for class visits and individual study.  A few weeks ago I stumbled upon some prints by Picasso which piqued my interest. At the time I was just beginning my research for a paper I am writing about Picasso. The topic of my paper is Marie-Thérèse Walter, one of Picasso’s many mistresses, who is an incredibly strong presence in his work during their eight year relationship. I was lucky enough to find two prints in the collection which contain her unmistakable profile, and I immediately began research in order to include them in my paper.       

    Marie-Thérèse met Picasso in the winter of 1927 outside of a department store when she was just 17.  Picasso, who was married and 45 at the time, approached Marie-Thérèse and boldly stated, “Hello, I’m Picasso. We are going to great things together.”  Although Marie-Thérèse had no idea who this strange man was, she agreed to meet him the following Monday at the St. Lazare metro station. The rest is history. Their affair lasted roughly eight years and during that time Marie-Thérèse served as Picasso’s muse, appearing in painting after painting in endless incarnations; as a still life of fruit, a voluptuous woman asleep in an armchair, a Greek goddess, or an innocent child. Although Picasso had many women in his life, Marie-Thérèse is undoubtedly the most frequently represented woman in his artwork.


    Pablo Picasso, Spanish (1881 - 1973). Printed by Roger Lacourière. Sculpteur, modèle accroupi et tête sculptee (Sculptor, Model Crouching and Sculpted Head); from the Vollard Suite, 1933. Etching on cream Montval laid paper with Vollard watermark. Bequest of Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1997:16-2

    The first work that I looked at from Smith’s collection was an etching from the Vollard Suite, featuring a Greek sculptor and his model gazing up at his sculpture; a large sculpted head with Marie-Thérèse’s profile. At the time this print was created, Picasso had just purchased the Chateau de Boisgeloup, an hour outside of Paris, as a summer hideaway for himself and his mistress, using its stables as a sculpture studio. It was there that he sculpted monumental busts of Marie-Thérèse. 

    Detail of Sculpteur, modèle accroupi et tête sculptee (Sculptor, Model Crouching and Sculpted Head). SC 1997:16-2

    Picasso liked to envision himself as a Greek sculptor like Polyclitus or Praxiteles, imagining Marie-Thérèse as a goddess that he was sculpting. In this etching Picasso pictures himself as the bearded sculptor, admiring his masterpiece. One can observe the jutting out from behind the bust, almost as if they are rays of light springing forth from the sun.

    The second piece that I chose to study is a print wherein Picasso depicts himself as a blinded minotaur while a small girl holding a dove leads him by the hand. While there are multiple theories by art historians regarding the meaning of this print, I prefer to think that Marie-Thérèse is bringing Picasso solace or peace, represented by the dove, while she guides him out of the darkness.

    Pablo Picasso, Spanish (1881 - 1973). Minotaure Aveugle Guide par une Fillette dans la Nuit, 1934. Acquatint, scraper, drypoint and burin printed in black on Montual paper. Gift of Susan S. Small (Susan Spencer, class of 1948). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2009:14.

    At this time in Picasso’s life he was coping with a painful divorce form his current wife, Olga, and Marie-Thérèse served largely as a respite from this daily stress. What is interesting to note is that soon after the creation of this print, in 1935 Picasso abandoned her for the photographer Dora Maar, leaving Marie-Thérèse heartbroken with a young daughter to care for. Picasso ultimately ended their relationship because Marie-Thérèse could not compete with him intellectually. In his mind she was still the young girl outside the department store, eternally innocent and naïve. Perhaps this is why he chose to represent her as a young girl in this print, instead of a woman. Although Picasso had progressed over the course of their relationship, Marie-Thérèse had not, and the qualities for which he had originally loved her became the reason for their relationship's demise.

    Detail of Minotaure Aveugle Guide par une Fillette dans la Nuit. SC 2009:14.

    Marie-Thérèse never married, spending the rest of her days raising their daughter Maya and quietly loving Picasso from afar. Like many of his lovers, Marie-Thérèse never fully recovered from their relationship, ultimately committing suicide in 1977, four years after Picasso’s death. Picasso’s love life is a fascinating subject, filled with more scandal and drama than any soap opera on television today.  Marie-Thérèse Walter played an integral role in this story, as well as in Picasso’s artwork, and I have greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to study images of her in person. 


  • Friday, December 22, 2017

    Transforming Dish Towels: Anne Ryan's Collages

    Anne Ryan didn’t start making collages until she was 58, but once she found the medium, she embraced it eagerly. In 1948 she visited an exhibit of the German artist Kurt Schwitters’ work, which included collages. Ryan’s daughter Elizabeth McFadden said that her mother was so inspired by the exhibit that she made her first collages the same day. “Mother went from one collage to another in a passion of delight,” she recalled. “We went home and before she put water on for supper, she was at her work table making collages.”

    Over the following six years, Ryan created about four hundred collages. She used a variety of materials, including silk, burlap, and Japanese rice paper. The components were often recycled, showing signs of their original use. McFadden said that her mother saved old dish towels to use in collages. “When something in the house got old, acquired by wear a ‘feel,’ and to the usual person was ready for the trash can, we would say, ‘Now it‘s getting to the collage stage.’” Ryan turned the debris of everyday life into art, transforming the materials by arranging them into abstract compositions.


    Anne Ryan, American, 1889-1954. Collage, 1951. Paper and cloth collage with ink and gouache on textured blue rag paper. Gift of Mrs. Alfred H. Barr Jr. SC 1979:8-3

    In her early collages, Ryan used papers with words on them, but eventually, she stopped using such materials and focused on the formal arrangement of shape, color, and texture. Ryan valued the integrity of the materials she used, and rarely painted or made marks on their surfaces. Her collages were typically small, with components arranged in blocks along perpendicular axes. The use of a strictly ordered grid contrasted with the materials that showed signs of wear and disorder.

    Although Ryan’s collages were shown in group exhibitions with the work of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, and Robert Motherwell, Ryan was not as well-recognized as some of her peers. Perhaps it was because the small size and restrained style of her work did not fit in with the large-scale, expressive art that was popular at the time. Ryan’s collages were often described as “delicate” and “elegant,” terms with feminine connotations that marked her work as different from that of her male contemporaries.

    Anne Ryan turned ordinary paper and textiles into striking collages that urge viewers to look closely at the materials she chose. And Ryan herself deserves a closer look so her contributions to 20th-century art can be properly appreciated.

    Anne Ryan, American, 1889-1954. Untitled (No. 66), ca. 1948-1954. Paper, thread and cloth collaged on paper. Promised gift from a Private Collection, Houston. SC TR 7808.29

    Anne Ryan, American, 1889-194. Collage, n.d. Paper and cloth collage with watercolor on heavy textured white wove paper. Gift of Mrs. Alfred H. Barr Jr. SC 1979:8-25