Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.
Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
As I was pulling pieces for a photography class a few weeks ago, I happened upon a photograph of a small Chihuahua dog dressed in a sweater, which seemed so absurd that it made me laugh out loud. Upon further investigation, I realized that this was just one photograph within a series of photographs of dogs, cleverly entitled Son of Bitch. I was unfamiliar with the photographer, Elliott Erwitt, and decided that I should do some research on the artist and his photographs, and what I found was truly interesting.
Elliott Erwitt, American born France (1928 - ). New York from Son of Bitch portfolio, c. 1946. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lynn Hecht Schafran, class of 1962. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:21-4
Beginning his career in the 1940s, Erwitt’s photography can be characterized by the absurd and unexpected, as well as the tender, heartfelt moments that occur in everyday life. His photographs capture fleeting moments which often possess the uncanny ability to make us erupt with laughter or sigh with melancholy. Over the course of his career Erwitt’s favorite subjects have ranged from the streets of Paris, to children at play, to inside America’s museums, to the subject of this blog post: Dogs. Erwitt has published four books on the subject, the earliest of which is Son of Bitch, published in 1974, the photographs of which the Cunningham Center owns.
Elliott Erwitt, American born France (1928 - ). U.S.A. from Son of Bitch portfolio, c. 1964. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lynn Hecht Schafran, class of 1962. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:21-2
Erwitt’s photographs of dogs often depict them in such a way that they don’t seem to be dogs at all. In fact, in his 1992 book To The Dogs, Erwitt suggests that his photographs are not photographs of dogs at all. “Look again,” he writes. “Essentially, these are pictures of people. But if I really took photos of people doing some of these things, I’d get into trouble...Dogs don’t mind being photographed in compromising situations.” Erwitt asserts that dogs have the unique position of living on two planes - existing within both the human and animal worlds. It is easy to look at these photographs and to see human characters. For example, the dog brazenly staring into the camera at the dog show while his owner primps and combs her fur, could easily be imagined to be Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell. Erwitt places the focus of the photograph on the dog, quite literally the star of the show, while her owner is unfocused and largely hidden by her fur, effectively elevating the dog to a near human status.
Returning to the photograph of the miniature Chihuahua in the sweater, which happens to be first photograph of a dog that Erwitt ever published, the photo is taken from the dog’s point of view on his own level. The woman is cut off at the shins, largely forgotten as her dog becomes the main attraction, similarly to how the show dog’s owner is hidden behind her. There’s an unselfconscious quality to both of these photographs, as the dogs stare directly at the camera. The Chihuahua seems to wear a big smile, joy and excitement emanating from within. In doing so, Erwitt calls attention to a world that thrives at our feet, but that we perhaps too often overlook.
Elliott Erwitt, American born France (1928 - ). New York from Son of Bitch portfolio, 1973. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lynn Hecht Schafran, class of 1962. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:21-7
Erwitt also has very comical take on the portrait photograph. In both U.S.A.and Brighton, England there is a wonderful interplay between the formality of the sitters and the expressions of their dogs. In the family portrait the parents and children have made an obvious effort to look presentable, dressed in their Sunday best with their hands placed politely in their laps. Meanwhile, their larger-than-life German shepherd is sprawled out in front of the family, proudly displaying his belly and sporting an unmistakable smile, which adds just a pinch of absurdity to an otherwise all-too-normal family portrait.
Elliott Erwitt, American born France (1928 - ). Brighton, England from Son of Bitch portfolio, 1956. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lynn Hecht Schafran, class of 1962. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2001:21-13
Similarly, in the photograph Brighton, England, the prim and proper owner in her pearls and cashmere smiles sweetly, hugging her dog lovingly while he snarls meanly at the camera. These types of juxtapositions not only make us laugh, but prompt us to question what the stories behind these scenes are. Why is the dog snarling? Is the woman really unaware of his mean expression? More importantly, does this symbolize something deeper? Perhaps we will never know, but the wealth of possibilities presented in Erwitt’s photographs is enticing.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Lesley Dill, American (1950 - ). The Poetic Body: Poem Dress of Circulation, 1992. Lithograph, letterpress and collage on Japanese silk tissue mounted on paper. Gift of Rita Rich Fraad (Rita Rich, class of 1937) and Janice Carlson Oresman (Janice Carlson, class of 1955). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1992:47d
"Words are an intervening armor between ourselves and the world. I think of words and especially the poems of Emily Dickinson (for their embodiment of psychological
states of despair and euphoria) as a kind of spiritual armor,
an intervening skin between ourselves and the world"
As those of us who live here know, the Pioneer Valley has a rich history. In Amherst you can visit the home of Emily Dickinson, where the poet lived much of her life as a recluse, and penned over one thousand poems. While she kept her works private during her lifetime, sharing them only with close friends and mentors, she is now recognized as one of the most influential and vital American poets.
After a friend lent Leslie Dill a book of Emily Dickinson's poetry, the artist became fixated on the poet's spare, emotional lines. In the artist’s words: Dickinson's works "hit me like a bullet … I feel her words are basically blood to me." Now, Lesley Dill takes the poems of Emily Dickinson and makes them tangible through her art.
Lesley Dill, American (1950 - ). The Poetic Body: Poem Eyes, 1992. Lithograph, letterpress and collage on Japanese silk tissue mounted on paper. Gift of Rita Rich Fraad (Rita Rich, class of 1937) and Janice Carlson Oresman (Janice Carlson, class of 1955). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1992:47a
The Poetic Body, a series of four works by Dill, lets us see and read Dickinson’s poems with new eyes. Each piece is a delicate collage of different papers, tissues and sometimes thread. Dill first began to create works in paper while she lived in India in the early 1990s, in part because it was more transportable than her earlier pieces in wood. Soon, however, she began to imbue the material with a deeper meaning, seeing paper as a symbol for humanity, fragile and malleable and strong all at once.
Lesley Dill, American (1950 - ). The Poetic Body: Poem Gloves, 1992. Letterpress, thread and collage on Japanese silk tissue mounted on paper. Gift of Rita Rich Fraad (Rita Rich, class of 1937) and Janice Carlson Oresman (Janice Carlson, class of 1955). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1992:47b
Detail of The Poetic Body: Poem Gloves
Paper endows a definite tactile quality to The Poetic Body series. Instead of pasting each element completely flat, Dill billowed and draped the pieces over each other, creating a varied landscape on the page. Colors are muted. The lines of poetry from Emily Dickinson are fragmented and woven into the works, and form part of an inseparable whole.
Lesley Dill, American (1950 - The Poetic Body: Poem Ears, 1992. Lithograph, letterpress and collage on Japanese silk tissue mounted on paper. Gift of Rita Rich Fraad (Rita Rich, class of 1937) and Janice Carlson Oresman (Janice Carlson, class of 1955). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1992:47c
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Monday, March 31, 2014
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Marion Gajonera ’14 discusses her show “Mother and Child” which will be on view THIS FRIDAY, April 4 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!
Munio Takahashi Makuuchi, American (1934 - 2000). Fairgrounds Called Camp Harmony, no date. Etching, drypoint and roulette printed in black on heavyweight, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. Gift of Jamie Makuuchi. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:63-8
While the theme of Madonna and Child is indeed familiar to many of us for its religious connotations, it should not be over-looked for its portrayal of the love and devotion between a mother and her child. Given the universality of motherhood, this exhibition explores the theme of “Mother and Child” across time and cultures.
Willi Hartung, Swiss (1912-1987). Southern Landscape with Mother and Child, 1959. Watercolor on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Max Seltzer (Selma Pelonsky, class of 1919). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1990:5-21
From the beginning, I specifically chose to include as many works by people of color to juxtapose them with the more conventional representations of motherhood encountered in Western art such as in the Renaissance. In this way, I was able to include the wide-ranging narratives of poverty and oppression.
Yet I also wanted to challenge the notion of what can constitute a “Mother and Child” image. In Jerome Liebling’s Mother, Baby’s Hand, Mexico, we only see a close-up view of the mother’s hand and the baby’s arm instead of their whole figures. Lin Tianmiao’s contemporary lithograph, Focus I B, is an image without a mother, although its only figure—a baby—appears to reflect back their mother’s loving gaze.
Jerome Liebling, American (1924-2011). Mother, Baby's Hand, Mexico; from Photographs, negative 1974; print 1976. Gelatin silver print. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1988:16-10
The icon of Madonna and Child is one that I encountered frequently while growing up in the Philippines. Working on this exhibition has been incredibly exciting and rewarding since I was able to combine my interests in art, women and gender, and the experiences of people of color. Thank you so much to Maggie Kurkoski for her support during the development of this exhibition. To the Cunningham Center and the Smith College Museum of Art, thank you for this unforgettable opportunity. And lastly, to my mother who has always supported me, I love you.
Lin Tianmiao, Chinese (1961 - ). Focus I B, 2006-2007. Lithograph printed in black on STPI handmade paper with embedded thread. Gift of Friedman Benda LLC. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2013:76-4