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, January 14, 2016
Guest blogger Brittany Rubin graduated with an MA in Art History from the University of Massachusetts and was the 2014-2015 cataloguing intern for the Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection.
This piece discusses works from the The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection, a significant collection of prints donated to the Museum.
Minna Bolingbroke, English (1857-1939). Norfolk Marshes, 1916. Etching printed in black on medium weight, smooth, cream-colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2014:32-117
During my first day at the Cunningham Center, I was handed a lengthy spreadsheet documenting the Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection’s contents. I had been hired to catalogue and research the collection, a compilation of 1400 prints and drawings heavily focused on the 19th Century Etching Revival, and was eager to discover the myriad of artists and impressions that would be arriving in the next few weeks. I scanned the list immediately, picking out a few familiar names. The usual suspects of 19th Century printmaking were all represented; I could immediately find Pissarro, Whistler, and Goya in my game of artistic Where’s Waldo. Yet, the spreadsheet also listed many artists, primarily female, whose names I had never heard before. Who were Minna Bolingbroke and Bertha E. Jaques? Why was I unfamiliar with their artistic output?
Drs. Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang, professors emeriti of sociology at the University of Washington, drew upon their personal collection of works on paper to explore larger questions of artistic reputation and collective memory. Their book, Etched in Memory: the Building and Survival of Artistic Reputation, is a sociological study of why certain artists maintain critical acclaim and notoriety, while others fade into relative obscurity. Their study examines a myriad of hypothetical factors that contribute to an artist’s “reputation building,” including socioeconomic status, education, family background, and-most intriguing to me-gender. In fact, the Langs devote an entire chapter of their study to examining “The Disappearing Lady Etchers,” and the circumstances that led to their unfortunate relegation as a minor figure in the printmaking world.
Minna Bolingbroke, English (1857-1939). Marauders, 1894. Etching printed in black on medium weight, slightly textured, cream colored paper. The Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection. Promised Gift. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC TR 7604.509
Bolingbroke is a perfect encapsulation of the Langs’ “Disappearing Lady Etchers.” Bolingbroke’s works, like 1894’s Mauraders (above), render landscapes, street scenes, and animals with eerie foreboding. Although her etchings have been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum, the Langs hypothesize that her lack of self-promotion in later years coupled with her death on the eve of World War Two led to her present relative obscurity. When her work is studied, it is often deemed derivative of the etchings of Charles Watson, her teacher and, later, husband. To date, little scholarly attention has been given to Bolingbroke’s enigmatic oeuvres.
The SCMA is extremely excited to receive the Langs’ personal collection of works on paper. Indeed, the collection contains many works that have been tragically overlooked by scholars. We hope that the coming generations of Smith students and SCMA visitors can build on the Langs’ sociological theories with further studies of these “disappearing” artists. Our visitors can help to build and maintain the artistic reputations of Bolingbroke and her colleagues, and overturn the course of history by preserving their memories as significant members of the 19th Century Etching Revival.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Although it only lasted for a decade, Eddie Arning’s brief period of drawing is remarkably compelling. People have long held a fascination with the idea of “outsider” art—work seemingly untouched by the echo chamber of the modern art world, created by someone who presumed to be entirely unaware of his own unthinking brilliance. However, despite his isolation and unconventional environment, he did not create in a vacuum.
Arning led a relatively conventional life on his family’s farm until his mid-twenties, when he began to have violent, unpredictable outbusts. After he was arrested for an attack on his mother, he spent the next several decades in a Texas mental institution where he was diagnosed with demential praecox, which is now generally known as schizophrenia.
Eddie Arning, American (1898 - 1993). Figure with Umbrella, 1969. Craypas on pink wove paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alexander H. Sackton (Ivria Adlerblum, class of 1936). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1987:7-1
At the age of sixty-six that he began to show an interest in making art, after a hospital nurse gave him crayons and paper to work with. Eventually he switched to oil pastels, as they gave him better control and a wider variety of colors.
Eddie Arning, American (1898 - 1993). What's a Doctor Doing in the Soft Drink Business Anyway?, 1970. Craypas on green wove paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alexander H. Sackton (Ivria Adlerblum, class of 1936). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1987:7-2
Arning would often replicate newspaper and magazine advertisements in his own distinct style. What's a Doctor Doing in the Soft Drink Business Anyway? is based on a Dr. Pepper ad of the same name. While the basic elements of the two pieces are the same, Arning has flattened and brightened the colors, reducing the composition to geometric shapes and clean lines.
Eddie Arning, American (1898 - 1993). Master Dog of Villa Siesta, 1970. Craypas on green wove paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alexander H. Sackton (Ivria Adlerblum, class of 1936). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1987:7-3
Master Dog of Villa Siesta, however, seems to be a memorial to a deceased pet dog. The writing in the lower right corner reads:
He was a master dog of Villa Siesta. His name is Henry. He was born May 1964. He
die (sic) May 2 1970.
Arning tended to render all of his figures—both human and animal—in profile. Another curious aspect of Arning’s drawings is that he drew a picture frame around each piece, even if his source material did not include one.
In 1973, Arning’s symptoms of mental illness subsided, and he left the nursing home to live with his sister.This change in environment must have affected him, as he stopped drawing within a year.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Guest blogger Renee Klann is a Smith College student, class of 2019. She is the 2015-2017 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
This post discusses the art of Barry Moser, an printmaker and professor at Smith College. A recent gift of 91 of his works was made to the museum by Jeff Dwyer and Elizabeth O'Grady.
Barry Moser is one of the most well-respected wood engravers and book designers working today. What’s most interesting, though, is how he reached this point in his career. He found his preferred media by coincidence and is mostly self-taught.
Moser was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1940. As a child he liked to draw, and although his family didn’t support his interest in art, he studied painting in college, first at Auburn University and then at the University of Chattanooga. Paint would not remain his primary medium, however. While at Auburn, he saw Leonard Baskin’s wood engraving print The Death of the Laureate. “I was smitten by his work,” Moser said in his bookIn the Face of Presumptions, and he decided to attempt wood engraving himself.
Wood engraving is a demanding medium, in which a print is made from a block of boxwood with lines cut into it, producing an image with white marks on the dark background of the inked block. Moser got some wood blocks and tools, and in his words “butchered them in short order, making wood engravings that looked more like linoleum cuts or potato prints than engravings.” One of those early wood engravings was Une Ecraseuse (A Bug-crusher). Moser is overly critical of this piece; Une Ecraseuse is much more polished than a potato print, but he’s right that the shading on the figure and the background could be more refined. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Moser has a strong sense of what he wants the image to look like and is trying to make his technical skills match his ambitions.
Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Une Ecraseuse, 1967. Wood engraving printed in black on medium weight, smooth, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-57
By the time Moser made Une Ecraseuse, he had moved to Massachusetts, where he taught art at Williston Academy. To print his first engravings, Moser went to Harold McGrath at the Gehenna Press in Northampton for assistance. The Gehenna Press shop would prove to be extremely influential for Moser, because it was his first exposure to handmade books. “That moment was the great epiphany in my life, and I wish I knew the exact date,” he later recalled. With that inspiration, Moser began to learn everything he could about printing. He bought a used press for Williston Academy, and printed his first book,The Red Rag, on it.
In 1970 Moser was accepted to the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he studied wood engraving with Jack Coughlin and Fred Becker. When Moser wanted to give up on wood engraving, Becker encouraged him to continue. Despite this formal training, Moser’s process of learning wood engraving was unconventional and largely independent. Moser said other artists “showed me a couple of tricks . . . but in the main I am self-taught.”
Eventually Moser’s work paid off, and he made engravings he was satisfied with. He said “After two years of trying and failing, I finally broke through – with a print called Icarus Agonistes. I knew what wood engravings were supposed to look like—I had studied plenty of them—but the muscles in my hands and arms didn’t know or understand what the movements and actions were supposed to feel like.”Icarus Agonistesis a depiction of the character from Greek myth; his father Daedalus made him wings held together with wax, which melted when Icarus flew too close to the sun. In this print Icarus has large wings with a dense mass of lines forming the feathers. In addition to the beautiful texture of the wings, Icarus’s pose is interesting because he’s not flying with his wings outstretched, but rather bent and tilted to the side, with one wing extended--as if he’s paused to listen to his father’s warning.
Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Icarus Agonistes from Fifty Woodengravings, 1978. Wood engraving on white wove Mohawk Superfine paper. Gift of William M. MacRae. SC 1981:23-31
In the 1980s Moser designed and illustrated several books that solidified his reputation as an artist and book designer, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Each of these books was illustrated with dozens of wood engravings. The prints are beautiful images by themselves, but they are meant to complement the text.
The White Knight is based on an image of Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Notice the uniform lines used for shading the armor and the different textures of the armor and the carrots, made by carving into the wood block with different tools or at different angles. Even though it’s a rather crowded composition, Moser keeps each element clear, and the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the knight’s face.
Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Delicate China Maid from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1985. Wood engraving printed in black on medium weight, smooth, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-32
Do you recognize Judy Garland as the delicate China maid? Moser decided not to include this image in the book, but he did use another, less familiar picture of Garland as an homage to her role in the film The Wizard of Oz. Delicate China Maid is striking because it has large areas of black and white for the girl’s hair and shirt, which put the focus on the well-controlled shading in her face and the background.
Barry Moser’s success results from a combination of coincidence and a great deal of perseverance to master the media of wood engraving and book design.