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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, March 20, 2014

    Lady in White

    Guest blogger Petru Bester is a Smith College student, class of 2015, with a major in Art History. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    While browsing the Cunningham Center’s collection, I happened upon a beautiful portrait of a woman in all white. Out of curiosity I glanced over the catalogue information and found little satisfaction in the information provided. I, of course, immediately turned to a preliminary Google- the bearer of all knowledge- search of the artist's name, Charles H. Hearn, but again found little information of use. Shifting to a more refined and academic source I invested some time into prodding the 5 College library database...still nothing! How could this be?  Completely enamored with mystery and intrigue, I became obsessed with the woman in white and was determined to unveil her secrets. 

    Charles W. Hearn, American. Studio Portrait of a Young Woman, c.1860-70s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 4643-801.

    The portrait, hidden amongst the 18,000 works on paper housed by the Cunningham center, had not yet been fully processed. When it first entered the museum, an influx of accessioned works made it almost impossible to fully research each work to the fullest extent. Many, like my lady in white, lay in waiting. Excited by the blank slate I surrendered myself to the web and its vast chasm of endless unfettered information.

    Detail of Studio Portrait of a Young Woman

    Up until this point I had only seen my lady in white, who is actually simply entitled Studio Portrait of a Young Woman within the museum database. Needing to see the photograph in person, I brought it out of storage, and with bated breath lifted the matt and removed the protective tissue paper. Aside from her imposing presence and beauty, my eye was instinctively drawn to the matt information: the handwritten description read “Charles W. Hearn” --The clue and confirmation I needed. With renewed sense of hope I fervently returned to the seemingly less daunting web chasm to explore the discrepant middle initial. Turning up more favorable results, I finally began seeing remnants of the illusive artist.

    An hour or two later I had uncovered that Charles W. Hearn was in fact an affluent portraitist and author who owned his own studio. I was, unfortunately, not able to get a hold of a copy of any of his books but found several art journals and magazines in which he was featured or contributed. More interestingly I found a few fun archival pieces that illuminated the career and success enjoyed by Hearn. Below a page from a 1902 edition ofThe Tech, the school newsletter for MIT, illustrates an advertisement of Hearn’s for senior portraits. I was also able to find a listing for Hearn’s studio in a 1922 edition ofThe New England Business Directory and Gazetteerfor the area of Boston. Additionally I discovered an account of the meeting minutes recounted in,The professional and Amatuer Photographer, Volume 8, in which Hearn was elected First Vice-President-elect of the P.A. of A (one of various state associations of Photographers).

    Now satisfied with the biographical information obtained about the artist I was still left yearning to know more about the woman that found herself the object of this print and my affection.  As would be expected with Hearn’s expertise, the portrait is executed to technical perfection. The sitter’s lower body turns away from the camera as her torso turns back toward it. Her face is in full frontal profile while her hands clasp behind her back. A sense of elegance and effortlessness are evident both in her posture and through her flowing white gown. Her direct gaze meets the viewer directly but remains soft and inviting.

    The aesthetics and visual analysis of the portrait only serve to embellish my adoration of the lady in white. All I can do is reciprocate her gaze woefully.  I do not know who she is. I do not know for what purpose her portrait was taken. I do not know if she ever saw her portrait or received a copy of it (or even perhaps once owned this copy).  She remains elusive to me and will forever haunt me.


  • Thursday, March 13, 2014

    CHM 100 Visits the Cunningham Center

    Guest blogger David Dempsey is the Associate Director of Museum Services at the Smith College Museum of Art

    I have had the pleasure of co-teaching Chemistry 100 “The Chemistry of Art Objects” for the last ten years first with Lale Burk and now with Betsy Jamieson. CHM 100 is the chemistry for non-science majors offering from the chemistry department. It covers all the important introductory chemistry subject matter using art objects from the museum as illustrations for chemical principals.


    Photography by Maggie Kurkoski

    One of my favorite topics is photography. We go through the chemistry involved in basic black and white photography and tie it into solutions and their relative solubilities, precipitation reactions that deposit silver halide salts on paper or film for photography and how chemical developers convert latent images into the finished product.  Having the photography collection housed in the Cunningham Center is a great benefit to the class.


    Visit the Cunningham Center to see this daguerreotype in person!

    Attributed to Benjamin D. Maxham, American (active 1848 - 1858). Helen Thoreau , 1849. Daguerreotype. Gift of Dr. James L. Huntington . Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1950:75-2.

    Each year we visit the center and examine about twenty photographs. They vary from daguerreotypes, which really can’t be understood without actually seeing them in the flesh, to large –scale Polaroids at the other extreme of chemical complexity. The depth of the collection allows us to compare works in perfect condition and those that have suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” over the course of their histories. These are great teaching opportunities about the care in the processing of photographs and in their long-term storage and display.


    Thomas Annan, British (1829 - 1887). Close, No. 148 High Street, ca. 1872. Carbon print on paper. Purchased with the Eva W. Nair, class of 1928, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1991:9

    It is also wonderful to have beautiful examples of rather exotic photographic species such as a gorgeous Thomas Annan carbon print Close, No. 148 High Street. The carbon print, which uses carbon in photo-activated gelatin as its pigment, not silver salts, has an amazing depth and vividness. And it isn’t every chemistry student who gets to learn about Fox Talbot’s invention of the salted paper print and then gets to stand eyeball to eyeball with one of the earliest photographs in existence.


    William Henry Fox Talbot, British (1800 - 1877). The Open Door, Plate VI from The Pencil of Nature, 1843. Salt print from a calotype negative on paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Perry W. Nadig in honor of their daughter, Claudia Nadig, class of 1985. SC 1985:14-1

    The early pioneers in photography were almost all also experimental chemists working through trial and error to understand the nature of chemical elements in the decades before the discovery of many basic chemical components such as electrons, protons and neutrons. It seems particularly fitting that we use their artwork to explain chemical reactions to a new generation of up and coming chemists.

    David Dempsey teaching CHM 100. Photography by Maggie Kurkoski


  • Tuesday, March 4, 2014

    Student Picks: Lo! Medieval Muslim & Christian Art

    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 Khadejeh Al-Rijleh '16 discusses her show “Lo! Medieval Muslim and Christian Art” which will be on view THIS FRIDAY, March 7 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!

    Unknown. Missal Page, ca. 1285. Simple leaf on vellum. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:295

    Choosing the theme for my Students Picks show was not difficult.  I knew that I wanted my show to have the coolest objects in the collection.  The coolest objects are the oldest ones.  And many of the oldest works on paper in the Cunningham Center are, unsurprisingly, religious manuscripts.

    Iranian (Persian). Joseph Bathing in the Nile, late 16th-early 17th century. Opaque water base colors and gold on paper with gold border. Gift of Mrs. Evan M. Wilson (Leila Fosburgh, class of 1934). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1990:2-26

    My favorite thing about religious art is that it is not art for art’s sake. I decided to feature religious texts and photographs of buildings because unlike other artistic mediums such as drawings or paintings, their primary function is something other than being awe-inspiring and compelling to look at. Rather, their purpose is practical – in this case the manuscripts are sources of knowledge and the mosques and churches in the photographs are sites for religious affairs.

    Detail of Joseph Bathing in the Nile

    Thanks to Maggie and the Cunningham Center for making this show possible.  Thank you also to the unnamed artists, artisans, scribes, workers, and all who made the beautiful manuscripts and buildings in the photographs.

    Underwood & Underwood. The prayer-niche (S.E. toward Mecca), tomb-mosque of Kait Bey, Cairo, Egypt, no date. Stereograph. Bequest of Henry Latimer Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2011:26-151