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, September 16, 2016
Guest blogger Renee Klann is a Smith College student, class of 2019. She is the 2015-2017 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. This post discusses the art of Barry Moser, an printmaker and professor at Smith College. A recent gift of 91 of his works was made to the museum by Jeff Dwyer and Elizabeth O'Grady.
Leonard Baskin and Barry Moser were both typographers and printmakers who lived and worked in the Pioneer Valley. Initially Baskin was a mentor to Moser, but over time the two became peers with distinct styles and subjects.
Baskin was the son of a rabbi, and religious and mythological imagery were major influences on his work. Although abstract expressionism was the dominant artistic style at the start of his career, Baskin preferred to make representational art. He claimed that the human figure “contains all and it can express all,” and aimed to depict the human condition in his work. His view of humanity was influenced by his service in the Navy during World War II and the cruelty he saw people inflicting on each other. Baskin didn’t shy away from portraying frightening and painful subjects because he wanted to show viewers what was wrong with the world.
Leonard Baskin, American, 1922-2000. Great Bronze Dead Man, 1961. Bronze. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Baskin. SC 1964:30
Great Bronze Dead Man is an example of Baskin’s focus on the human body’s expressive possibilities. The figure’s facial features are not sculpted in much detail, so he could be anyone, and the rough, wrinkled cloth wrapping hides his body, making him a solid, imposing form. He is an ambiguous presence reminding viewers that death is inescapable but not necessarily horrifying.
Leonard Baskin, American, 1922-2000. Torment, 1958. Woodcut printed in black on thin cream Asian paper. Gift of Paul Seton in memory of Cynthia Propper Seton, class of 1948. SC 2011:24-4
Leonard Baskin, American, 1922-2000. Tobias and the Angel, 1958. Wood engraving on paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. SC 1977:32-35
Although Baskin considered himself a sculptor first, he was also a skilled printmaker, and published fine-art illustrated books at the Gehenna Press in Northampton. His wood engraving Tobias and the Angel depicts a story from the biblical Book of Tobit, in which an angel appears to the boy Tobias and tells him to use the heart, liver, and gall from a fish to make a cure for his father’s blindness. The landscape in the print is bleak and the figure of the angel is dark and almost frightening, but he is a benevolent figure trying to help Tobias. Baskin’s work continually incorporates this tension between good and evil, suffering and hope.
Barry Moser began to admire Baskin’s work as a college student. He was particularly struck by Baskin’s wood engravings, which inspired him to try the medium for himself. Moser later recalled that he was “trying, with little success, to get a handle on that devilish medium by emulating Baskin’s style.” A few years later, Moser moved to the Pioneer Valley and was introduced to Baskin, who agreed to informally teach him. Baskin told him to get a pen with a fine point and a rough sheet of paper, and to go draw a tree from life. When Moser returned with the finished drawing Baskin was unsatisfied. He told Moser to try again. Moser had about six “terse and remarkably brief” meetings with Baskin over the next few months, and each time Baskin told him to redraw the tree. These unconventional lessons taught Moser to pay attention to materials and craftsmanship and not to settle for mediocre work.
Although Moser never had specific lessons from Baskin on wood engraving, he called Baskin “a huge influence on me. A powerful influence that was difficult to get out from under.”
Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Phorkyads, from Fifty Woodengravings, 1971 print, 1978 published. Wood engraving on white wove Mohawk Superfine paper. Gift of William M. MacRae. SC 1981:23-21
One of Moser’s fairly early works, Phorkyads, displays a similarity to Baskin’s style of cutting. The Phorkyads were three mythological sisters who shared one eye and one tooth among them. They lived in a dark cave because they were too monstrous for the sun or moon to look at. The visual similarity between Moser’s Phorkyads and Baskin’s work stems from the grotesque nature of the faces and the web of black lines that define the facial features. This texture creates recalls the texture of creased and pitted skin, and the contrast between the smooth white foreheads with the black eye sockets effectively emphasizes the repulsive nature of the Phorkyads.
Although Moser looked up to Baskin, he soon developed his own style, saying “As I became comfortable with the fact of Baskin’s humanness . . . I began to think for myself and to form and respect my own opinions, independent of his--or anyone else’s.” This allowed him to develop in new directions for his Pennyroyal Press book projects such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
Barry Moser, American, 1940-. The Lady and the Merman: He Sailed Off on His Great Ship..., She Sat There, Still as a Rock..., Up From the Depths Came the Merman, from Fifty Woodengravings. Wood engraving printed in black on thick, rough, cream-colored Rives BFK paper with blindstruck plate mark. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-6
Barry Moser, American, 1940-. The Horse from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1983. Wood engraving printed in black on medium weight, slightly textured, cream-colored paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-21
Moser based his illustrations of the caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on Leonard Baskin, first depicting him as a large, imposing figure with arms crossed and then as a figure who, while stern, is only three inches tall. This could represent the way Moser’s relationship to Baskin had evolved: initially Moser viewed Baskin as a somewhat intimidating giant of the art world, but eventually he felt that they were on more equal footing.
The Caterpillar from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Images courtesy of Barry Moser.
Both Leonard Baskin and Barry Moser made representational art including illustrated books, and both incorporated religious and mythological themes into their work. Moser learned important lessons from Baskin, but he didn’t stay in the shadow of the older artist for long. Throughout their respective careers, both artists developed their own styles and strengths while maintaining an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Friday, September 9, 2016
Ken Heyman. American, born 1930. Hip Shots: Dog with Sunglasses. 1985. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2011:71-50
It's time for the Student Picks Sweepstakes again! Every year, six Smith students get the chance to curate a one-day show at the Museum, using works from our very own Works on Paper collection. No application necessary--just fill out a ballot and you're good to go.
Who is eligible to apply?
All Smithies are encouraged to apply, regardless of class year or major. (And you can apply as many times as you like!) You don't need any prior art history, museum, or curating experience, since the staff at the Cunningham center will guide you through the entire process.
The sweepstakes goes on until September 24--winners will be contacted around the end of September. Ballot boxes are available in Neilson Library, the Museum lobby and the Campus Center. You can also apply online through our Facebook page.
What kinds of art can be used?
Anything from the over 18,000 objects in the Works on Paper Collection! This includes prints, drawings, and photographs from the past 500 years from all over the world. Students are able to bring their own personal interests an experiences to the process, and give life to the collection in really new and exciting ways! In the past year alone, we've had shows on exoticism and colonialism, witches, containment in architecture, collage, sarcasm and visual protest, and water photography.
Visitors discussing Niyati Dave '15's show, Camera Exotica: Clichés, Counter-Narratives and Cultural Clashes
When and where do shows go up?
Student Picks shows are the first Friday of every month during the academic year. They run from 12-4 pm and are located in the Cunningham Center. And be sure to see our first Student Picks show of the year, which is coming up Friday, October 7! It'll be curated by Ellen Sulser '18, who was chosen during last year's Sweepstakes.
Good luck, and we're so excited to be working with you!
Friday, August 12, 2016
Guest blogger Catherine Bradley is a Smith College student, class of 2017. She is a Student Assistant this summer in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
The Abstract Expressionist movement emerged in the 1940s, amidst the chaos and aftermath of World War II. During this global crisis, American artists such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, and Jackson Pollock broke away from typical art conventions and opted to focus on movement, improvisation, and spontaneity in their works. After World War II, many European artists fled to America, further influencing the new style characterized by bold, black strokes and an emphasis on inner emotion and expression.
Barnett Newman. American, 1905—1970. Untitled, 1948. Brush and black ink on heavy cream wove paper. Gift of Philip C. Johnson. SC 1952:105.
Willem de Kooning. American, 1904—1997.Women, ca. 1950. Graphite on cream wove paper. Gift of Mrs. Richard L. Selle (Carol Ann Osuchowski, class of 1954). SC 1969:46.
But during the initial boom, Abstract Expressionism was largely limited to drawing and painting. Photographers of the day were largely focusing on documentary subjects. As a member of the New York Photo League in the 1930s and the head of the group’s “Feature Series,” Aaron Siskind created series such as The Harlem Document, Portrait of a Tenement, and St. Joseph’s House: The Catholic Worker Movement. These photographic essays sought to portray the social, economic, and political conditions of its subjects, keeping in line with the League’s mission to link social commentary with art.
Moving into the 1940s, however, Siskind began experimenting with more abstract compositions. While other photographers looked past sidewalk markings, graffiti, and torn posters, Siskind considered them worthy subjects. He zoomed in tightly to create his desired composition, emphasizing the movement or texture that he found most compelling. In New York 1, small bolts indicate that the picture is of some sort of metal surface, perhaps a dumpster. But the focus is not on the larger object. Instead, Siskind positions a small section of graffiti marks slightly off-center, inviting the viewer to consider the asymmetrical lines, their white and gray tones, their contrast with the dark background, and what other markings they may be connected to.
Aaron Siskind. American, 1903—1999. New York 1, 1951. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lynn Hecht Schafran, class of 1962. SC 2003:43-3g.
With a strong emphasis on line and tone, Siskind’s work grew to closely resemble that of the Abstract Expressionist painters. He became close friends with artists such as Kline, Newman, and Mark Rothko. His relationship with Kline was so strong that after Kline’s death in 1962, he created several series of six photographs each titled “Homage to Franz Kline.” Organized by the location where they were taken, these groups emphasized the dark black lines and shapes that characterized most of Kline’s paintings.
In Lima 89 (Homage to Franz Kline), Siskind centers his picture on two black strokes that form an “L.” As in Kline’s painting Rose, Purple, and Black, the lines are imperfect and slanting, with stray brushstrokes visible. Though the black marks are the emphasis of the composition, he also pays considerable attention to the background. Larger blocks of paint, errant drippings, and the natural texture of the surface below all contribute to the composition, creating a backdrop that resembles the chaotic application of color in Kline’s work. While Kline and other painters were able to create their own composition, Siskind limited himself to what he found. Yet the way he framed his shots emphasized the smaller markings of an ordinary object, lending an entirely new and decidedly expressionist perspective.
Franz Kline. American, 1910—1962. Rose, Purple, and Black, 1958. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mrs. Sigmund W. Kunstadter (Maxine Weil, class of 1924). SC 1965:27.
Aaron Siskind. American, 1903—1999. Lima 89 (Homage to Franz Kline), 1975. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lynn Hecht Schafran, class of 1962. SC 2003:43-3h.
Though Abstract Expressionism continued to largely be associated with painting and drawing, Siskind was not the only abstract photographer during this time. He also developed a close relationship with photographer Harry Callahan, who also focused on more mundane subjects, taking pictures of leaves, grass strands buried in snow, or telephone wires spanning across the sky. Much like Siskind, Callahan preferred harsh black-and-white tones in his work, and often shot such a small fragment of his subject that it was unclear what the original object was. The composition of Grasses in Snow, Detroit is so tight that it is completely devoid of trees, fences, or any indicators of an outdoor scene. Without such context, the grasses appear more like ink or pencil marks more than blades of grass.
Harry Callahan. American, 1912—1999. Grasses in Snow, Detroit, 1943. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. SC 1977:29-4.
Aside from his own work, Siskind also was a prolific teacher. Together with Callahan, he founded a graduate program at the Illinois Institute of Technology and later taught at the Rhode Island School of Design. Many of his students, such as Joseph Jachna, below, continued in his abstract tradition, ensuring that what began as a movement for painting and drawing was now a space for photography as well.
Joseph D. Jachna. American. Colorado from Underware, 1975. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nancy Waller Nadler, class of 1951. SC 2007:34-2 (9).