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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, September 21, 2011

    Student Picks: Women, Woodblock Prints and Words

    This week you'll see a double-bill of posts about Student Picks, our student exhibition program, to mark this Friday's fast approaching deadline for Smith students to enter to win the chance to organize an art show at SCMA. In today's post, guest blogger Lori E. Harris AC '11 reflects on her Student Picks experience in the spring of 2011.

    Martin Puryear. American (b. 1941). Avey, from portfolio Cane,2000. Woodblock printed in black ink on Kitakata paper. Purchased with the gift of the Arch W. Shaw Foundation, through the courtesy of Nancy Simonds Shaw, class of 1972, administrator, and other individuals. SC 2000:36-6

    I was selected to participate in the Student Picks program in the Fall of ‘10. Although I was very excited that I had been one of seven students chosen to develop and curate my own art exhibition in the Smith College Museum of Art’s Cunningham Center, I anticipated that the process would be very structured and formal. However, upon attending my first Student Picks meeting with Amanda Shubert of the Cunningham Center, I soon discovered that the staff at the Cunningham Center’s goal was to make our experience both educational and enjoyable. Amanda let us know early on in the process that each Student Picks would have the full support of not only the staff but also the resources of the Cunningham Center in selecting and organizing our prints for our final exhibition.

    What I found most helpful in this process was that the staff at the Cunningham Center allowed us to define for ourselves what we viewed as artistically creative. The one-on-one conversations with Amanda about my individual interests allowed me to synthesize and focus my ideas and draw on themes and coursework that I had studied throughout previous semesters. I was able to connect that coursework with works of art that make up the vast collection within the Cunningham Center. I became aware that the Cunningham Center owned a volume of woodblock illustrations created by Martin Puryear. By creating abstract portraits of female characters from Jean Toomer’s Cane, Puryear’s illustrations situate the viewer in the historical context of the period, calling attention to the connections between words, community, relationships and culture. Similarly, Japanese Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” was an important vehicle for and reflection on narrative — representing scenes from folk stories and Kabuki plays as well as a cultural narrative of place. Although Puryear’s style is completely different from Ukiyo-e, both can be viewed as the nexus of many complex layers of text, narrative and history.

    The staff of the Cunningham Center gave me an opportunity to develop, shape and curate an exhibition that was a transformational experience for me. By supporting my process from the very beginning until the closing of the show, they gave me the confidence to believe that I could create an exhibition that was not only engaging and educational for the audience but also enjoyable. Student Picks is a unique and progressive concept. I would argue that it is one of the few programs on campus that brings together students from every discipline and gives them an opportunity to integrate their academic interest with art. There were a good number of students who attended my exhibition and the primary question they asked before they left was “how can I become a Student Picks!?” I believe the success of the Student Picks Program is evident in that very question.

    Toyota Hokkei. Japanese, Surimono: The Hell Courtesan (Jigokudayû), from series Three Prints of Courtesans, mid-1820s. Woodcut printed in color on embossed paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Barker (Margaret Clark Rankin, class of 1908). SC 1968:478


  • Monday, September 19, 2011

    Student Picks: Who Is She, Really?

    This week you'll see a double-bill of posts about Student Picks, our student exhibition program, to mark this Friday's fast approaching deadline for Smith students to enter to win the chance to organize an art show at SCMA. In this post, guest blogger Kendyll Gage-Ripa, Smith College class of 2012 reflects on the process of putting together her Student Picks exhibition, held in December 2010.

    Carrie Mae Weems. American, born 1950. Portrait of a Woman Who Has Fallen from Grace and into the Hands of Evil, 1988. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. SC 1991:2. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    My name is Kendyll, and I am a Smith College senior studying Studio Art and African-American Studies. Getting selected to create a Student Picks exhibition was a wonderful (and initially a bit overwhelming) surprise. I didn’t begin seriously thinking about my exhibition until late October. At the starting point I had no idea where the project would lead me—I was full of questions that I could only answer by beginning the process. Although I knew I wanted to create an exhibition that would be thought provoking for others, I would later realize that the experience would be a profound source of learning for me as well.

    Because I had a specific collection of objects to work with, whatever theme I might choose would have to be informed by the art. Therefore, my first step was to browse SCMA’s online database of artworksso I could get a sense of the material I had to work with. This proved difficult, as the database is not set up for “browsing:” although works of art are easy to search out when you know what you are looking for, if you don’t, you have to get creative.

    In the midst of the mysterious process of “getting creative,” I began to feel that images I was pulling up from SCMA’s collection were strongly connected to ideas from one of my classes, conversations I had been having, and my own private musings. Slowly, along with my discovery of certain images from the collection, an exhibition theme revealed itself to me from my mess of thoughts and feelings.

    The theme and title for my show gradually emerged from questions I had about images of women’s bodies. As I thought about the role women’s bodies play in western art and contemporary visual culture, I began searching for artists whose work attempts to resist, critique, and even subvert the way the female body has traditionally been depicted. This process led me to consider much broader ideas that were, nonetheless, intimately tied to the specific topic I was trying to explore. For example, works from the collection like Carrie Mae Weems’s Portrait of a Woman Who Has Fallen from Grace and into the Hands of Evil, and Imogen Cunningham’s The Unmade Beddrew my attention to the process of representation itself, and how it shapes our society’s reading of the female body.

    I decided to center my show on “questions”: questions the artists ask, questions I posed, and questions the viewer might ask. I wanted to ask “who is she, really?” as a way to start a conversation between images and audience. Putting together this exhibition taught me that while asking questions is the beginning of interpretation and understanding, perhaps it is the final goal as well. Maybe critical thinking means moving from question to question—gathering meaning, without necessarily reaching concrete answers. In putting a stop to the process of questioning, a fixed “answer” might actually cut off the flow of learning. Questions leave us open to the fullness of the world. Perhaps questions are the closest we can come to the truth. In a sense, I ended where I had begun in October—with a beautiful mess of questions, and not an answer in sight.

    Imogen Cunningham. American, 1883–1976. The Unmade Bed, 1957. Purchased. SC 1976:19-14. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.


  • Monday, September 12, 2011

    Teaching: Language classes in the Cunningham Center

    Guest blogger Judith Keyler-Mayer is a Senior Lecturer in the German Department at Smith College.  

    Käthe Kollwitz. German, 1867 - 1945. Weberzug (March of the Weavers);Plate IV from the series Ein Weberaufstand (A Weavers' Rebellion),1897. Etching on thick cream wove paper. Purchased. SC 1958:45. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    My classes and I have been fortunate to benefit from the Cunningham Center for many years and in many ways. I usually bring students of advanced German language and culture (300-level) to “private showings” at the CC towards the end of each semester. These classes are geared towards special topics in German society and history and culture like “War and Peace in German culture,” “Growing up in German Speaking Europe,” or “Made in Germany.”

    In the last five years, I worked mostly with Henriette Kets de Vries, who selected and assembled the relevant artifacts and meticulously prepared a custom tailored exhibition of prints for my groups weeks before the actual showing.

    It is in the nature of advanced language classes that the students mostly work with a lot of ready-produced texts in written form (i.e. articles, fiction etc). They also might acquire special vocabulary by listening to songs or by watching movies.

    There is, however, a great challenge for the students to deal with non-verbal media like pictures, since these require the students to produce their own formulations, without reproducing ready-made building blocks. The confrontation with a selection of prints relevant to the class’s topic gives them the opportunity to perceive their topic in a new way - visually and without words.

    For me as the teacher, a lesson in this custom tailored art environment offers an abundance of teaching opportunities in regards to language and culture, or ideally “language through culture.”

    After a short introduction given by Henriette the students have the opportunity to closely inspect the 10 to 16 presented artifacts. During the lesson, the students are encouraged to describe and compare the prints, verbalize their own impressions, interpretations, and emotions. Typically, class discussions develop by themselves when students speculate about the artist’s intentions, the cultural relevance of the work and/or its connections to the class’s topic. Sometimes students with knowledge of art history can contribute background information, and Henriette is around to answer specific questions (yes, in German!).

    For me as the teacher, these lessons are normally very rewarding, because I can observe how much knowledge and means of language the students have acquired throughout the course, and whether they are able to bring cultural information together and find the connection to the class’s topic.

    Beyond direct benefits to the classroom, a visit to the Cunningham Center can have some other desirable side effects, like a welcome break from the class routine. For many students, this is their first visit to the Smith Art Museum, and for some even the first encounter to an art exhibition at all. My hope is that they feel encouraged to have a closer look, get an “eye-opener” or at least an introduction to the language of art and maybe come back again.