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, May 23, 2013
Artist/poet Munio Makuuchi (born Howard Munio Takahashi) was a third-generation Japanese-American born in Seattle. From 1941 to 1945, he and his family were confined in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in southern Idaho. This pivotal childhood experience became the basis for a lifetime of visual and poetic works. After their release from the camp, the artist and his family settled permanently in Idaho. Makuuchi studied art education, printmaking, and painting, and taught both in the U.S. and Africa. He retired from teaching and returned to Seattle in the mid-1980s.
Like all of Makuuchi’s visual works, On Boy’s Dayrelates directly to his life history. The twin images of Mount Rainier and Mount Fuji are visible in the background of this print, alluding to his dual Japanese/American identity. The central image of the print is a school of leaping fish bisected by a bamboo pole bearing a flag. The pole and flag are part of the rituals celebrating the Japanese festival “Boy’s Day” (Tango-no-sekku),in which paper carp (one per male child) are flown in celebration of the healthy growth of sons. The carp, a symbol of resilience and determination, is seen as an embodiment of male virtues. Makuuchi replaces the traditional carp with an image of salmon, a fish native to the Northwest coast, which he felt had more resonance with his past.
In the poem referred to in the title of this print, Makuuchi mourns what he saw as the cultural assimilation of many Asian Americans during the post-War period.
On boy's day I I.D.
with slant/Sockeyes of
Steelheads/hearts of the
Rocky Mountains rather
than flying paper Carp...
They tagged and released us
after four years
in a USA reeducation camp.....
They tried to drum out the drums of the Afro/Americans.....
And the Latino still speak
and eat Spanish
500 years later.....
We went 1000 miles
up inland Rocky Mountains
with special long enduring
genes and chromosomes
only to be watered down
Only a few are reaching
When it comes to our kind soul vittles -
“No you can't take that away from me!"
This work is on view in Collecting Art of Asia until May 26, 2013.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Guest blogger Maurine Collins Miller is a Smith College student, class of 2013, majoring in Art History and minoring in Spanish. She is a Student Museum Educator at the Smith College Museum of Art.
Designing and giving a tour at the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) is both exciting and unpredictable. So when I was presented with a group of sixth graders who had been studying Mexican culture, I decided to focus the tour around the SCMA’s Diego Rivera works. Rivera is generally interesting to kids since he is such a famous artist with a very aesthetically approachable style. For this particular tour, the Museum’s collection spanned beyond the paintings typically associated with Rivera; the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs is home to an impressive collection of works on paper by the Mexican artist. With some advanced planning, we were able to view a selection of these prints and drawings depicting a variety of daily life scenes and portraits. With a reasonable amount of knowledge on Rivera, I felt confident that I could answer almost any question and build off of what the kids already knew. As a tour guide, however, you can never fully prepare for what the kids will ask about the pieces.
Much to my surprise, the students were more interested in the monetary value of Rivera’s work than what they looked like. Why and how art is valued is fascinating -- I don’t blame them for inquiring as to the value of the pieces. Unfortunately, I was prepared to talk about culture and why Rivera might have made some stylistic choices. I formulated an explanation “on the fly” to direct the discussion away from the monetary issue: when artworks are acquired by or donated to a museum, the purpose is not to put a price tag on them. Since museums build their collections based on what they’d like to show and conserve forever, accessioning works into a collection almost negates any monetary value. Their “worth” is not about money.
Sixth graders, however, are persistent. Thus, when they continued asking me about how much all of the Diego Rivera works on paper are collectively worth, “even if I was just guessing,” I explained that value is more than a monetary concept. Value also means how a work enhances a collection and, particularly in a teaching museum like SCMA, can be compared with other pieces for educational purposes. Value and price are not mutually exclusive.
I was eventually able to re-route the discussion back to Mexican culture, and the students finally settled into appreciating how amazing the SCMA and the Cunningham Center are. After all, how special is being in a room with only fifteen people and ten impressive works on paper—not behind glass or framed-- from such a phenomenal artist? Now that is a valuable experience.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Guest blogger Petru Bester is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in Art History and minoring in Anthropology. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Honoré Victorin Daumier, a French caricaturist, began producing prints in 1830 and created over 4,000 lithographs before his death in 1879. Within this plethora of lithographs Daumier produced a series entitled Les Baigneurs,which provides humorous commentary on bourgeois bathers in the nineteenth-century. Before private restrooms were commonplace, various members of society would convene in large bath houses where one could exercise, soak, and relax with friends. Daumier’s political and social satires explore various contemporary issues through both comical and aesthetically interesting images. His characters are exaggerated and often stand in stark contrast to one another.
Les Baigneurs, No. 21,depicts two women about to enjoy the luxuries of their bath house. The figure on the left, tall and lanky, prepares to toast to the short and stocky figure on the right. Daumier magnifies the differences between the two women in their contrasting facial features. The tall figure’s linear physique is reflected in her long pointed nose which protrudes from her angular face which sits precariously on a pencil-like neck. The short figure’s round body is echoed in her equally round face with a rounded nose and full lips.
The inviting pool appears on their left and a bucket resting on the wooden counter behind them holds various bottles of libations. (Although Daumier’s objective is to stimulate thought about social change, I can’t help but feel envious of the bathers and can only hope my summer involves friends, a pool, and a cold beverage!) Daumier frames the image in text with both a title above and a caption below. The text verifies his intentions by poking fun at the two self-indulging women: one says to the other, “Seeing us (swim) one would swear we were two fish… a carp and an eel.”