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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 sbailey@smith.edu.

  • Tuesday, September 3, 2019

    Questions and Answers from Defiant Vision: Prints & Poetry by Munio Makuuchi

    In this series, Aprile Gallant, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs answers visitor questions about the SCMA exhibition Defiant Vision: Prints & Poetry by Munio Makuuchi. Visit the exhibition to pose a question in the comment book, then check the book and SCMA Insider for the answers! Our first question explores Makuuchi's selective use of color in his work.

    Question #1: Why are all the pictures in black, gray, and white?

    AG: 

    Great question!

    I wish the artist was here to answer that—it’s clear that working in black and white was important to his message. I think it may have been because he worked primarily with lines and he liked to contrast between black and white.

    Look at the few color works in the show—how are they different? Do they strike you visually in different ways?

    Whispers, Cries, Howls in a Doll’s House, ca. 1972–75. ©The Estate of Munio Makuuchi

    Often, printing in color is more complicated. If you look at the work called Moon Catchers you can get a sense of this—that work was created with a separate plate for each color, so making the plates and printing the final work was an intricate process. This is one of the only full-color pieces in the exhibition.

    Moon Catchers, 1999. ©The Estate of Munio Makuuchi

    I suspect that Makuuchi liked the immediate, spontaneous, and direct expression of black lines on white paper.

    What do you think?

  • Tuesday, May 14, 2019

    Honoring Kurt Lang (January 25, 1924 — May 1, 2019)

    All of us at SCMA were very saddened by the passing of donor and scholar Kurt Lang on May 1, 2019. In 2014, Kurt and his late wife, Gladys Engel Lang, donated their extensive collection of over 1400 prints, drawings, and paintings to the museum. This collection was developed during the research for their co-authored book Etched in Memory: The Building and Survival of Artist Reputation (1990). Examples from this important gift have been featured in exhibitions in the Museum over the past five years, most recently in No Man’s Land: Prints from the Front Lines of WWI.

    In addition to being a highly-respected scholar, Kurt was a remarkable person with an intriguing history. Born in 1924, he lived in Berlin, Germany, for his first twelve years before immigrating to the U.S. with his family. Kurt grew up in the shadow of the Great War. His father served as a medical officer in the German army and as a child Kurt heard harrowing tales of the war and read many accounts of these momentous events. 

    Both he and Gladys played important roles in the American war effort during the Second World War. Gladys worked at the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C., while Kurt served in the U.S. Army and shared his expertise to counter-intelligence operations, including the de-Nazification programs following the war. The fascinating story of Kurt’s experiences during the war and their impact upon his career were highlighted in an Atlantic article in 2017.

    His perspective on the war spurred him to study the military and political propaganda and the effects of Television on politics in 1947. These interests ultimately resulted in a PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago. It was during his studies that he met Gladys.

    Kurt Lang in the 1940s while he was home on leave from U.S. Army basic training during World II

    In the early 1950s, the Lang’s began their prodigious careers as collaborators. Together they authored the ground-breaking study “The Unique Perspective of Television and Its Effect: A Pilot Study,” in which they documented how television coverage shapes and effects how viewers understand and react to current events. Their collaboration would continue for decades to follow and led to Etched in Memory: The Building and Survival of Artistic Reputation. This study focused on the painter-etcher movement from the 1860s through World War II, as they sought to understand why some artists are remembered while others languish in obscurity.

    Kurt in conversation with photographer Shellburne Thurber during the opening of No Man’s Land: Prints from the Front Lines of WWI

    Kurt was generous with his expertise and his time. As curator of the No Man’s Land Exhibition I personally got to work with him during the preparations of the show, and it was his deep knowledge of the collection that helped me formulate its thesis. I will remember fondly the unique experience of his participation in the study session on the Lang Collection with Smith faculty. It was equally auspicious that he was able and willing to formally introduce the opening of the No Man’s Land exhibition and offer his perspective on the prints in the gallery.

    Kurt during the Lang collection study session with Smith faculty, 4/18/2017.

    The unique selection of prints Kurt and Gladys collected over the years bear witness to their life’s vision. Prints created during the 1930s from the Lang Collection will be included in an exhibition on the American Depression which will open at SCMA in November 2019. Kurt provided helpful insights for this show as well. These two exhibitions demonstrate the breadth of the resource represented by the Lang Collection. I am sad that this time neither of Kurt nor Gladys will be with us to see the show come to fruition, but gratified to see that their legacy will continue to be preserved at SCMA.

    Gladys and Kurt in the Cunningham Center, 2015.

  • Friday, May 3, 2019

    Taj Diffenbaugh Worley ’69 and the Hopi prophecies

    Guest blogger Sandy Lillydahl '69 was Taj Diffenbaugh Worley's senior year roommate and fellow religion major at Smith. She retired from curating the Map Collection in the library of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2016.

    Several of Taj Diffenbaugh Worley’s prints currently on view at SCMA (through June 23, 2019) connect art, religion, and concern for the state of the world through visual interpretation of the Hopi prophecies. The Hopi Tribe is a sovereign nation located in northeastern Arizona. As a religion major, Taj Diffenbaugh Worley studied the Hopi prophecies, and attempted to represent some of their imagery in her artwork. The Hopi elders have repeatedly attempted to present the prophecies to the United Nations beginning in 1948, and their efforts were especially highlighted in the 1970s in numerous magazine articles and books.

    Taj Diffenbaugh Worley, class of 1969. Monmouth, Illinois, 1947 – Seattle, Washington, 1987. Augury. 1975. Soft ground etching printed in color on medium thick, slightly textured, cream-colored paper, 3/9. Gift of the Estate of Virginia Smith Harvey Dawson, class of 1972. SC 2017.59

    Taj’s print Augury reveals a turbulent landscape with boiling seas and mountains reddened with burning heat. The source of this vision is a Hopi elder whose head appears in the sky and whose gaze is focused on the ashen black heart floating in a white cloud.

    The passage below, which describes this part of the prophecy is excerpted from a message from Hopi elder Chief Dan Evehema (Hotevilla, Arizona, 1893-1999):

    "Hopi, the younger brother, was instructed to cover all land and mark it well with footprints and sacred markings to claim this land for the Creator and peace on earth. We established our ceremonials and sacred shrines to hold this world in balance in accordance with our first promise to the Creator. This is how our migration story goes, until we met the Creator at Old Oraibi (place that solidifies) over 1000 years ago. It was at that meeting when he gave to us these prophecies to give to you now at this closing of the Fourth World of destruction and the beginning of the Fifth World of peace.

    He gave us many prophecies to pass on to you, and all have come to pass. This is how we know the timing is now to reveal the last warnings and instructions and to wait for Older Brother, who went east, to return to us. When he returns to this land he will place his stone tablets side by side to show all the world that they are our true brothers—when the road in the sky has been fulfilled and when the inventing of something, in Hopi means, gourd of ashes, a gourd that, when it drops upon the earth will boil everything within a large space and nothing will grow for a very long time."

    Taj Diffenbaugh Worley, class of 1969. Monmouth, Illinois, 1947 – Seattle, Washington, 1987. Garden of Illusion. 1979. Soft- and hard-ground etching printed in one color on medium thick, flocked, green paper, color trial proof. Gift of the Diffenbaugh Family, and Flora and Sam Worley. SC 2012.68.6

    Garden of Illusion, created a few years after Augury displays a close visual correspondence to this passage from the Hopi Message to the United Nations, delivered by Hopi elder Thomas Banyacya, Sr. (Kykotsmori, Arizona, 1909–1999) on December 10, 1992:

    This rock drawing shows part of the Hopi prophecy. There are two paths. The first with technology but separate from natural and spiritual law leads to these jagged lines representing chaos. The lower path is one that remains in harmony with natural law. Here we see a line that represents a choice like a bridge joining the paths. If we return to spiritual harmony and live from our hearts, we can experience a paradise in this world. If we continue only on this upper path, we will come to destruction. It's up to all of us, as children of Mother Earth, to clean up this mess before it's too late.

    The word "paradise" comes from the Persian word for garden, which further links Garden of Illusion to the prophecies. The upper section of the central rectangle in this work features a chaotic myriad of squiggly lines recalling the line "these jagged lines representing chaos."

    The lower section of the central rectangle features a balanced, orderly, and harmonious image of a classic labyrinth, the labyrinth being found on ancient art in a number of widespread cultures, from Minoan to Celtic to South Asia to Native American cultures relating to the quote "The lower path is one that remains in harmony with natural law." This labyrinth reminds me of Taj's courses in Anthropology and her summer vacation work on an archaeological site in Israel.

    Between these two sections there is a connecting section in which the dense chaotic lines have widened out to be more visually comprehensible: "Here we see a line that represents a choice like a bridge joining the paths."

    This Hopi rock drawing prophecy would have been known to anyone like Taj who was familiar with the larger Hopi prophecy. The lines and paths of harmony and chaos in the prophecy may provide an insight into Taj’s later works also featured in this exhibition.