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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

  • Monday, August 15, 2011

    In Praise of Books

    I love books. I came from a “bookish” family: people who hoarded and treasured books and spent more time reading than speaking. In college, I adopted a second major in English simply to provide an excuse to read more literature. Like many English majors, I sought a job in publishing after graduation, and luckily ended up in the Department of Publication and Sales at the Whitney Museum of American Art. There I learned that I loathed publishing but loved art. It was also there that my love of books as literature morphed into a fascination with books as visual art. At first I channeled this into a mania for book arts, taking as many classes as I could afford in letterpress, book conservation, and hand-book binding at the Center for Book Arts in New York. To my dismay, I was terrible at it: it is hard to imagine a future as a bookbinder when you can’t cut a straight line, even using a board cutter.

    I still firmly believe that all books, to some degree, are works of visual art; even the most mundane book communicates through visual means: typeface, leading (the space between lines), page size, margins, paper, binding; not to mention any cover art—all these elements are deliberately selected to create specific visual meaning that adds to the personal experience that is reading a book.

    SCMA has a wonderful small collection of livres d’artiste: French artist’s books created between the 19th and 20th centuries where image and text are integrated. My very favorite among these books is Toulouse-Lautrec’s Yvette Guilbert. Even if one cannot read French, it is easy to get a sense of the life of the eponymous cafe singer as she shops, dresses, and performs, as well as that of turn-of-the-century Paris. The images, printed in a soft olive green seep into the text (which is printed in the same color) creating a unified visual whole that pulls the viewer both into and through the book.


    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. French, 1864-1901. Yvette Guilbert, 1894. Lithographs printed in olive green on ivory laid Arches paper. Printed by Edward Ancourt (lithographs) and Frémont (typography). Published by L'Estampe Original [Andre Marty]. Copy 34 from a numbered edition of 100. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927


  • Monday, August 8, 2011

    Smith Tours: Girl Power

    Education Department Intern Maggie Kean '14 writes about a tour she led in the Cunningham Center for Smith students.

    Guerrilla Girls. American, 20th century. Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? from Guerrilla Girls, Most Wanted 1985 - 2006,1989Photolithograph printed in color on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Fred Bergfors and Margaret Sandberg Foundation. SC 2006:44-7. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    On March 25, the first of a series of museum tours geared toward college students was rolled out for a small focus group of Smithies in order to get a feel for the students’ response to this new idea. The tour, entitled “Girl Power,” is a theme-based guided tour designed to generate discussions about art and imagery that are relevant to students’ lives. Here at Smith College we are known for our commitment to the empowerment of women. Our administrators, educators, and students all strive to embody a sense of acceptance and outward confidence. The question that this tour focuses on is how this mentality manifests itself in the artworks that the Smith College Museum of Art acquires. The discussion touches on a number of varying perspectives on womanhood and what exactly it means to be an empowered woman. Half of the tour takes place in the main galleries, while the other half is held in the Cunningham Center. For this particular tour the featured works on paper were: “Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get Into the Met Museum?,” a print by the Guerrilla Girls; and a photograph by Lauren Greenfield: “Sarah, 19, Walks Down the Street.” Some of the issues the students touched upon were sexism in the art world, feminism, body image and self-confidence, and the idea of taking advantage of beauty vs. brains. The students were particularly enthusiastic about how these various factors combine to make an ‘intimidating woman’ and how that was reflected in the artworks.


  • Monday, August 1, 2011

    Remembering Jerry

    Photographer, filmmaker, and Hampshire College Professor emeritus Jerome Liebling died on July 27 at the age of 87.

    I was fortunate to have been able to work with Jerry, and have very fond memories of time spent both talking and looking at pictures.  Asked any question, including the usually pro-forma “How are you?” would elicit Jerry’s trademark “Well. . . .” (an extended syllable, followed by a pause).

    Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Coal Worker, Minnesota, 1952 (printed 1976). Gelatin silver print. Purchased

     Jerry took you at your word: if you were going to ask a question, he would take it seriously and give you an honest answer. Not unkindly, but no sugar coating. This was, I think, one of his ways of ensuring that people were able to take full measure of their interactions with him, and by extension, with others: to encourage them to see clearly and act accordingly.

    Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Woman, Shopping Cart, Market Window, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1985 (printed in 2007). C-print. Purchased with a grant from the Artists’ Resource Trust

    His students have said that he led by example, and his photographs do too. Jerry’s pictures have always driven home to me the fact that the world that we live in is both beautiful and terrible, filled to the brim with pain and joy. What we do in this world, as human beings, matters a great deal, but the key things that we MUST do, is to commit ourselves to truly seeing how things are and to embrace the commonality of our existence. Perhaps this is too grand a statement, but it is undeniable that there is something in these photographs that is profoundly moving.

    Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Man in Restaurant Booth, Weirton, W.V., 1982 (printed in 2007). Purchased with the Fund in honor of Charles Chetham.

    The slumped posture of an unemployed man sitting in a restaurant booth, the tender mirrored gestures of a mother’s and baby’s hands, the warm light bathing a desolate corner of a broken city, an old woman both swallowed and framed by the signs of commercial culture—all of these indelible images are carefully chosen stanzas in Jerry’s magnum opus: a visual poem about what it means to be human in America in the 20th century.

    Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Mother, Baby’s Hand, Mexico, 1974 (printed 1976). Gelatin silver print. Purchased

    Throughout his career, Jerry maintained this interest in the daily lives of regular people (or “folk” as he called them). While capturing this quality seems fairly straightforward, it clearly is not. He obviously felt for the people in his images, and I remember him musing on these interactions: the dignified Minnesota coal miner captured at work in the 1950s, or the day-dreaming old woman in Brighton Beach frozen mid-reverie.

    Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Woman & Scarf, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1980s

    This openness toward his subjects was something I experienced as well. Jerry was not only generous with his time, but also with his regard. When you were with him you felt that as long as you were genuine and engaged you didn’t need to try to be impressive or display your accomplishments to gain his respect. Being human was enough.

    But the sad fact of being human is, of course, that no one lives forever. I will miss Jerry. Fortunately, for us all, part of him lives on in his photographs.

    Jerome Liebling. American, 1924-2011. Johnstown, Pennsylvania, 1984. C-print. Purchased