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Now everyone is an insider!

In order to provide an open forum for ALL of the museum’s collection and activities, the Paper + People blog is being renamed SCMA Insider. With its expanded focus, SCMA Insider will act as a go-to place for sharing information on the diverse collections and many voices and visions that shape SCMA.

If you want to contribute to the blog, please contact the Brown Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow, Shanice Bailey, at

  • 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


  • Tuesday, November 14, 2017

    A History of Handwork | Giant Woman (Empire State)

    Guest blogger Julia B Smith, class of 2019, wrote this post as part of her coursework for ARH 280: Photography and the Politics of Invisibility taught by Post-Doctoral Fellow Anna Lee. This course informed the current exhibition A History of Handwork: Photographs from the SCMA Collection on view on the Museum’s second floor until December 3, 2017

             Anita Steckel. American, 1930–2012. Giant Woman (Empire State). 1974. Gelatin silver print photomontage with graphite. Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1925, Fund

    Anita Steckel’s Giant Woman (Empire State) is part of the Giant Woman series, in which she depicted mammoth women overtaking five New York City landmarks, including the Chrysler Building and Coney Island. Here, an illustrated female body straddles the phallic Empire State building as if she is King Kong. Drawn on a photographic background of Midtown Manhattan, the shapely woman seems almost too big for the confines of the picture. In a 1969 version of the image, her face was hand-drawn like the rest of her body – it was not until 1973-74 that Steckel superimposed a photograph of her own face on each image in the series, eliminating the woman’s anonymity and, according to some scholars, exemplifying her growing feminist consciousness.

    Although Steckel has integrated each layer of the photomontage, one can still distinguish between the photographic and the drawn due to the translucency of the woman’s legs and the disproportionate size of her hand. For the final version of the image, Steckel re-photographed the arrangement, flattening the layers into a single plane while maintaining traces of her presence as the creator of the image. 

    Gripping a paintbrush in one hand and the Empire State in the other, the woman dominates a space synonymous with male-centric corporations and class inequality. The paintbrush can be seen as symbolic of Steckel’s involvement in the feminist art movement of the 1970s, while her serene facial expression could connote her indifference or defiance towards patriarchal mores, including the notion that women do not belong in places of corporate male power. 

    Following controversy over whether her solo exhibition, “The Feminist Art of Sexual Politics,” should be closed on the grounds of obscenity, Steckel formed the group “Fight Censorship,” which united female artists advocating for equality and freedom of expression in the arts. Having been rejected from numerous shows on the grounds of pornography, Steckel and fellow members of Fight Censorship gained publicity through feminist and mainstream publications. Together they challenged the patriarchal conventions of female nudity as acceptable only if created under the male gaze. Steckel satirized this double standard by daring her subjects – now adorned with her own face – to take up space in places they were not typically welcome in 1973, and where, one might argue, they remain unwelcome today.