Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Student Picks: Women, Woodblock Prints and Words

This week you'll see a double-bill of posts about Student Picks, our student exhibition program, to mark this Friday's fast approaching deadline for Smith students to enter to win the chance to organize an art show at SCMA. In today's post, guest blogger Lori E. Harris AC '11 reflects on her Student Picks experience in the spring of 2011.

Martin Puryear. American (b. 1941). Avey, from portfolio Cane,2000. Woodblock printed in black ink on Kitakata paper. Purchased with the gift of the Arch W. Shaw Foundation, through the courtesy of Nancy Simonds Shaw, class of 1972, administrator, and other individuals. SC 2000:36-6

I was selected to participate in the Student Picks program in the Fall of ‘10. Although I was very excited that I had been one of seven students chosen to develop and curate my own art exhibition in the Smith College Museum of Art’s Cunningham Center, I anticipated that the process would be very structured and formal. However, upon attending my first Student Picks meeting with Amanda Shubert of the Cunningham Center, I soon discovered that the staff at the Cunningham Center’s goal was to make our experience both educational and enjoyable. Amanda let us know early on in the process that each Student Picks would have the full support of not only the staff but also the resources of the Cunningham Center in selecting and organizing our prints for our final exhibition.

What I found most helpful in this process was that the staff at the Cunningham Center allowed us to define for ourselves what we viewed as artistically creative. The one-on-one conversations with Amanda about my individual interests allowed me to synthesize and focus my ideas and draw on themes and coursework that I had studied throughout previous semesters. I was able to connect that coursework with works of art that make up the vast collection within the Cunningham Center. I became aware that the Cunningham Center owned a volume of woodblock illustrations created by Martin Puryear. By creating abstract portraits of female characters from Jean Toomer’s Cane, Puryear’s illustrations situate the viewer in the historical context of the period, calling attention to the connections between words, community, relationships and culture. Similarly, Japanese Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” was an important vehicle for and reflection on narrative — representing scenes from folk stories and Kabuki plays as well as a cultural narrative of place. Although Puryear’s style is completely different from Ukiyo-e, both can be viewed as the nexus of many complex layers of text, narrative and history.

The staff of the Cunningham Center gave me an opportunity to develop, shape and curate an exhibition that was a transformational experience for me. By supporting my process from the very beginning until the closing of the show, they gave me the confidence to believe that I could create an exhibition that was not only engaging and educational for the audience but also enjoyable. Student Picks is a unique and progressive concept. I would argue that it is one of the few programs on campus that brings together students from every discipline and gives them an opportunity to integrate their academic interest with art. There were a good number of students who attended my exhibition and the primary question they asked before they left was “how can I become a Student Picks!?” I believe the success of the Student Picks Program is evident in that very question.

Toyota Hokkei. Japanese, Surimono: The Hell Courtesan (Jigokudayû), from series Three Prints of Courtesans, mid-1820s. Woodcut printed in color on embossed paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Barker (Margaret Clark Rankin, class of 1908). SC 1968:478


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