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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

  • Tuesday, December 4, 2018

    Vanguards of Ukiyo-e: The Women of Modern Japanese Printmaking

    Guest blogger Nicole Bearden is a Smith College student and Ada Comstock Scholar with a major in Art History and a Museums Concentration. She was a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    When most people envision Japanese woodblock prints, images by Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Utamaro often come to mind. These great masters of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) were incredibly prolific, and educated generations of artists via their ateliers--workshops in which multiple artists and assistants worked and were trained. While these men were certainly experts, their images of Japan’s “Floating World”--beautiful women, Kabuki, landscapes, and illustrations of folktales--are not the sole interpretations of this popular art form.

    Katsushika Hokusai. Ejiri in Suruga Province, from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. ca. 1831. woodcut printed in color on paper. Gift of Mrs. Arthur B. Schaffner in memory of Louise Stevens Bryant, class of 1908. SC 1959:264

    During the early modern period (17th-early 19th centuries) there were very few female professional artists. Women were excluded from the guilds of professional painters who worked in the ateliers. Japanese society at the time had firm expectations that women conform to the role of mother, wife, and household manager. During the Tokugawa Shogunate (1602-1868) women did not even legally exist as individuals. They were considered subordinate to men, and could not own property. A woman living as an artist was seen not only as an anomaly, but as an affront to Japanese society.

    Other Japanese art forms such as scroll painting and calligraphy increasingly included women during the 19th century, but the popular ukiyo-e ateliers were not as conciliatory. In these woodblock print workshops, there were very few women to be found, and those present were often the daughters, nieces, or granddaughters of the artists themselves (such as Hokusai’s daughter Katsushika Ōi). The limitations placed upon Japanese women would only be overturned after WWII, when Confucian-centric ideals were displaced by the the Civil Code of 1947. Through this code, women were granted legal equality with men, which included the rights to own property, vote, inherit from their families, and marry and divorce at will.

    Iwami Reika. Morning Waves. 1978. Woodblock printed in black and metallic ink with embossing on medium thick, slightly textured, cream-colored paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of The Tolman Collection, Tokyo. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-15

    Although pursuing a career in art was still a struggle, it became a possibility for many young Japanese women who came of age during WWII, such as Iwami Reika and Naoko Matsubara. Still alive and working, These women, are considered trailblazers in the world of Japanese art. Their interpretations of the woodblock print run the gamut from floral and picturesque--reminiscent of the work of earlier masters--to abstract and minimalist.

    Iwami Reika uses driftwood motifs and gold leaf to create a hybrid of earthbound and the celestial, often referencing water and the light of the moon or the sun. Her compositions evoke nature, rendered in various shades of black and white, then punctuated briefly with splashes of gold. Reika makes great use of negative space, balancing her final design as simultaneously resolute and delicate.

    Shinoda Toko. Spring. 1978. Lithograph and handcoloring on heavyweight, moderately textured, white paper. The Hilary Tolman, class of 1987, Collection. Gift of the Tolman Collection, Tokyo Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:12-33

    Working in a similarly spare fashion, Shinoda Toko’s prints center around conceptual shapes and calligraphic methods. Unlike Iwami’s work, which is devoid of words, Toko uses text--or the illusion of text--and calligraphic brushwork to form abstract landscapes. The work Spring (1978), for example, is composed of bold, black strokes; the wide marks left by the brush create a structured, very linear view of nature.

    An erratic diamond-shape creates the illusion of a winter field--white snow bordered by sterile hedges, their black color faded to reveal a gray-white underneath. In the bottom right-hand portion of the print, is a stiff tree, leafless in the dead of winter. These elements of the dormant life of winter are interrupted in the upper-left part of the composition by fine flourishes of deeper black and bright green, signifying the return of spring.

    Naoko Matsubara. Boston Museum of Fine Arts. n.d. Woodcut printed in black on medium thick, slightly textured, cream-colored Asian paper. Gift of Joan Lebold Cohen, class of 1954, in honor of MFA colleagues Martha Manchester Wright, class of 1960, Sarah Griswold Leahy, class of 1954, and Sue Welsh Reed, class of 1958. SC 2012:80.

    Naoko Matsubara’s work forcefully diverges from that of Shinoda and Iwami. Rejecting minimalism, her images crowd the page, resembling a haphazard, almost cartoonish rendition of modern life. In Matsubara’s woodblock print Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the viewer is presented with a cross-section of the museum, its contents, layout, and patrons, as if the side of the building had been neatly removed. The result, printed in bold black and white lines, draws attention to the multitude of cultures displayed and appropriated by BMFA--a serious issue playfully depicted by the levity of her style.

    These women, who have embraced the art of ukiyo-e in the 20th and 21st centuries differ widely in style from both the works of the famed forefathers of Japanese printmaking and one another. However, the influence of those who came before left a definite imprint, while the global exchange and rights gained for women after World War II allowed for development of the individual styles developed by these contemporary print makers.


  • Thursday, November 29, 2018

    STUDENT PICKS | no gender i'm feral

    Schneemann, Carolee, (American (1939 - ). Eye Body # 10, 1963-1979. Photograph, gelatin silver print with hand coloring and scratching. Purchased with the Judith Plesser Targan, class of 1953, Fund.

    This show is about when Kristin Chang said “Godhood is just like girlhood: a begging to be believed,” or when Laurie Penny said “It’s no surprise that so many women and girls have control issues around their bodies,” or when Fiona Apple said “There’s no hope for women,” or when Elana Dykewomon said “Almost every woman I have ever met has a secret belief that she is just on the edge of madness,” or when Carolyn Gage said “You can terrorize her with her own body and then she will torture herself” or when Angela Carter said “I often felt like a female impersonator” or when Leslie Feinberg said “I don’t feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body, I just feel trapped”.


  • Friday, November 9, 2018

    Theresa Bernstein at the SCMA: Armistice Day Parade

    Theresa Ferber Bernstein, American (1890-2002), Armistice Day Parade: The Altar of Liberty, 1919, oil on linen, Purchased with the Kathleen Compton Sherrerd, class of 1954, Acquisition Fund for American Art, SC 2015:42

    Born in Krakow, Poland, Bernstein’s parents immigrated to the United States when she was an infant. She began her training in Philadelphia at the School of Design for Women (today, the Moore College of Art & Design), and later studied with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in New York City. Her portrayal of life in New York City at the turn of the century draws on the work of artists such as Robert Henri, among others. Her paintings address a range of subjects including unemployment, women’s suffrage, World War I, the immigrant experience, Jewish culture, and jazz. A common thread that runs throughout her art is her interest in depicting people, either as individual portraits or as groups in urban settings.

    Bernstein won countless awards for her paintings, especially in her early career. Among her many achievements, she co-founded the Society of Independent Artists with John Sloan and was a founding member of the New York Society of Women Artists. She was also a member of the North Shore Art Association and of the National Association of Women Artists. Bernstein received many awards for her art, which was highly regarded by art critics. For example, Frederick James Gregg wrote of her work, “There is nothing feminine about the paintings of Theresa Bernstein.” (Frederick James Gregg, “Theresa Bernstein a Realist in the Old Sense of the Word,” New York Herald, November 2, 1919, sec. 3, p. 46.) Gregg compared Bernstein to her male contemporaries in order to put her on equal footing with them as a mark of her talent. In fact, she participated in important exhibitions alongside the likes of John Sloan, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, and her husband, artist William Meyerowitz. However, her success only went so far, and she was excluded from the Museum of Modern Art’s 1929 “Paintings by Nineteen American Artists” exhibition, in which Georgia O’Keeffe was the only woman represented. Perhaps it was due to the male-dominated art world that Bernstein often signed her works with only her maiden name, as in the SCMA’s painting.

    The Armistice Day Parade: The Altar of Liberty, is from an early series depicting parades that marked the end of World War I. In 1918, the war ended on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11 am, when the armistice between Germany and the Allied forces went into effect. One year later, Bernstein watched the Armistice Day parade as it made its way down Fifth Avenue in New York City. This painting records the Altar of Liberty, a temporary structure created by architect Thomas Hastings and placed in Madison Square Park to promote the fourth Liberty Loan campaign that helped fund the war. Purchasing war bonds was viewed as part of every American citizens’ duty. This same patriotic spirit infuses the crowd that has gathered before this monumental structure to cheer on members of the US armed forces. The pageantry and vivid colors of this and other paintings from the series celebrate American identity and recent victory as a unifying force.

    Bernstein had a long, prolific career as an artist and her oeuvre spans the entire twentieth century. She died in New York just before her 112th birthday. In addition to her art, she made contributed significantly to the art world, particularly in her advancement of women artists. Her most famous student was the sculptor Louise Nevelson, whose work is also represented in the SCMA’s collection. In addition to Bernstein’s painting and an etching housed in the SCMA, her art is part of many prestigious public and private collections.