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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

  • Friday, May 3, 2019

    Taj Diffenbaugh Worley ’69 and the Hopi prophecies

    Guest blogger Sandy Lillydahl '69 was Taj Diffenbaugh Worley's senior year roommate and fellow religion major at Smith. She retired from curating the Map Collection in the library of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2016.

    Several of Taj Diffenbaugh Worley’s prints currently on view at SCMA (through June 23, 2019) connect art, religion, and concern for the state of the world through visual interpretation of the Hopi prophecies. The Hopi Tribe is a sovereign nation located in northeastern Arizona. As a religion major, Taj Diffenbaugh Worley studied the Hopi prophecies, and attempted to represent some of their imagery in her artwork. The Hopi elders have repeatedly attempted to present the prophecies to the United Nations beginning in 1948, and their efforts were especially highlighted in the 1970s in numerous magazine articles and books.

    Taj Diffenbaugh Worley, class of 1969. Monmouth, Illinois, 1947 – Seattle, Washington, 1987. Augury. 1975. Soft ground etching printed in color on medium thick, slightly textured, cream-colored paper, 3/9. Gift of the Estate of Virginia Smith Harvey Dawson, class of 1972. SC 2017.59

    Taj’s print Augury reveals a turbulent landscape with boiling seas and mountains reddened with burning heat. The source of this vision is a Hopi elder whose head appears in the sky and whose gaze is focused on the ashen black heart floating in a white cloud.

    The passage below, which describes this part of the prophecy is excerpted from a message from Hopi elder Chief Dan Evehema (Hotevilla, Arizona, 1893-1999):

    "Hopi, the younger brother, was instructed to cover all land and mark it well with footprints and sacred markings to claim this land for the Creator and peace on earth. We established our ceremonials and sacred shrines to hold this world in balance in accordance with our first promise to the Creator. This is how our migration story goes, until we met the Creator at Old Oraibi (place that solidifies) over 1000 years ago. It was at that meeting when he gave to us these prophecies to give to you now at this closing of the Fourth World of destruction and the beginning of the Fifth World of peace.

    He gave us many prophecies to pass on to you, and all have come to pass. This is how we know the timing is now to reveal the last warnings and instructions and to wait for Older Brother, who went east, to return to us. When he returns to this land he will place his stone tablets side by side to show all the world that they are our true brothers—when the road in the sky has been fulfilled and when the inventing of something, in Hopi means, gourd of ashes, a gourd that, when it drops upon the earth will boil everything within a large space and nothing will grow for a very long time."

    Taj Diffenbaugh Worley, class of 1969. Monmouth, Illinois, 1947 – Seattle, Washington, 1987. Garden of Illusion. 1979. Soft- and hard-ground etching printed in one color on medium thick, flocked, green paper, color trial proof. Gift of the Diffenbaugh Family, and Flora and Sam Worley. SC 2012.68.6

    Garden of Illusion, created a few years after Augury displays a close visual correspondence to this passage from the Hopi Message to the United Nations, delivered by Hopi elder Thomas Banyacya, Sr. (Kykotsmori, Arizona, 1909–1999) on December 10, 1992:

    This rock drawing shows part of the Hopi prophecy. There are two paths. The first with technology but separate from natural and spiritual law leads to these jagged lines representing chaos. The lower path is one that remains in harmony with natural law. Here we see a line that represents a choice like a bridge joining the paths. If we return to spiritual harmony and live from our hearts, we can experience a paradise in this world. If we continue only on this upper path, we will come to destruction. It's up to all of us, as children of Mother Earth, to clean up this mess before it's too late.

    The word "paradise" comes from the Persian word for garden, which further links Garden of Illusion to the prophecies. The upper section of the central rectangle in this work features a chaotic myriad of squiggly lines recalling the line "these jagged lines representing chaos."

    The lower section of the central rectangle features a balanced, orderly, and harmonious image of a classic labyrinth, the labyrinth being found on ancient art in a number of widespread cultures, from Minoan to Celtic to South Asia to Native American cultures relating to the quote "The lower path is one that remains in harmony with natural law." This labyrinth reminds me of Taj's courses in Anthropology and her summer vacation work on an archaeological site in Israel.

    Between these two sections there is a connecting section in which the dense chaotic lines have widened out to be more visually comprehensible: "Here we see a line that represents a choice like a bridge joining the paths."

    This Hopi rock drawing prophecy would have been known to anyone like Taj who was familiar with the larger Hopi prophecy. The lines and paths of harmony and chaos in the prophecy may provide an insight into Taj’s later works also featured in this exhibition.

  • Monday, April 1, 2019

    "When this you see remember me": Embroidered Samplers at SCMA

    This museum has art made by children in its collection. To be more specific, SCMA has a few 18th and 19th century colonial American embroidered samplers, and samplers were usually made by middle and upper class school-age girls. Girls worked on their first samplers when they were as young as six or seven. These first samplers were called marking samplers, and they often featured the alphabet and numbers along with demonstrations of basic embroidery techniques. If girls attended secondary school, they might also make another more decorative embroidery, called a pictorial sampler.

    There are two pictorial samplers in the SCMA collection by Isabella Lightfoot. Both were given to the museum by Caroline Wing Roberts in 1968. SC 1968.30.211 is an embroidery of Adam and Eve beside the Tree of Knowledge, with a snake wrapped around the trunk between them, and “Isabella Lightfoot remember” written below. SC 1968.30.212 has a picture of woman in white standing in a flat landscape with the word “Prudence” written below her. Both embroideries have a similar decorative vine border.


    Lightfoot, Isabella. American. Embroidered Picture; Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Linen embroidered with cotton thread in cross and satin stitch. Gift of Caroline Roberta Wing, class of 1896. SC 1968.30.211

    Lightfoot, Isabella. Embroidered Picture; Prudence. Linen embroidered with cotton thread in cross and satin stitch. Gift of Caroline Roberta Wing, class of 1896. SC 1968.30.212.

    Adam and Eve appear in many English and American samplers. This is maybe because their story in Genesis 2 and 3 touches on several subjects that girls in these contexts were supposed to be thinking about, like the power of God, the inevitability of death, and the importance of modesty. Isabella’s embroidery of the subject captures the moment before Adam and Eve make the hasty decision to consume the forbidden fruit – their hands are poised just below the branches of the tree. In the “Prudence” embroidery, the central figure is dressed in white and she holds a mirror up to her face. A snake winds along beside her left foot but she pays no attention to it, and in doing so she effectively avoids sin and remains virtuous. The mirror in this context seems to symbolize the importance of remembering oneself in the face of temptation. The virtuous woman in the “Prudence” embroidery acts as a foil to the sinful, selfish Eve. The content of samplers expressed and enforced class and gender expectations of the period, as exemplified by Isabella’s dichotomous treatment of feminine subjects in these embroideries. Samplers are often fetishized as “quaint” colonial kitsch in popular culture, but they are also very interesting objects for study. They are some of the only representations of art made by children that are preserved in many museum collections, and they often include symbolic imagery or deal with unexpectedly complex themes.

    I haven’t been able to find any additional information about who Isabella Lightfoot was - I only know that she made these two works of art. Often samplers are the only remaining testaments to the lives of the girls who made them. Some of these young artists seemed to have foresight of this, and they actually acknowledged their imminent deaths in their samplers and asked to be remembered by future viewers. One of my favorite examples of this type of morbid message is in a sampler by Phebe Hart in the collection of the MFA Boston: “Phebe Daughter of Asa and Rebeckah Hart who finish her work June the 7 18- when I am ded laid in my Grave and all my bones are rotten when this you see remember me least i should be forgotten. Phebe hart.” (



  • Friday, January 11, 2019

    Art I Touched Today


    Skoglund, Sandra Louise. American, born 1956. Cats in Paris. Photolithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Sandy Skoglund, class of 1968, and Janet Borden, class of 1973, in memory of Charles Chetham. SC 1995:32-2

    Today we're featuring an inside scoop on the Cunningham Center experience! Nicole Bearden AC '19 worked as a student assistant in the Cunningham Center, and her time spent handling works on paper inspired her to share her findings on her Instagram, titled Art I Touched Today. You may recognize Nicole's name from her April 2018 Student Picks exhibition, Abstractions in No Man’s Land: A Future Without Us. Though her time at the Cunningham Center has ended, her account has expanded to cover her other artistic adventures as well. Give it a look!