Monday, July 16, 2018

An Important Art Colony School

Frederick McDarrah (1926–2007, US), Hans Hofmann, Provincetown 7/4, 1959, 1959. Gelatin silver print on paper, 8" x 8" (20.3 x 20.3 cm). Image © 2018 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-1487)

Fred McDarrah was a groundbreaking photographer who documented the rise of American modernism. He also captured many cultural and art movements of the 1960s such as the Beat Movement, Abstract Expressionism, the Civil Rights Movement, Gay Rights Movement, Pop Art, and the anti-Vietnam War protests. Born in Brooklyn, he practiced photography while a paratrooper in World War II (1939–1945). In 1955, he became a staff photographer for The Village Voice newspaper when it began. His photographs essentially became a voice for an American subculture that revolutionized American thinking in many ways, not just about abstract art.

I will soon be on my way to Provincetown for vacation. Some of my favorite things to do with my husband in Provincetown are looking at the art in all the galleries and finding out where certain artists had studios during P-town’s heyday as an art colony and breeding ground of Abstract Expressionism. In 2009, I saw an exhibition of the drawings of Hans Hofmann’s (1880–1966) students at the Provincetown Art Association Museum. It was brilliant. Hans Hofmann had a major impact on the direction of abstraction in American art, particularly the Abstract Expressionists. I’m going to try to find his studio in P-town when I’m there!

In 1915, Hofmann opened an art school in Munich, where he achieved a reputation as a great teacher; a reputation that led to his invitation to teach in the US in 1930. He taught in the US from 1932 on, first in California, then at the Art Students League in New York, and finally his own School of Fine Art (1933). He established a summer school in the venerable art colony of Provincetown in 1934.

In Provincetown, he initially leased a barn (Miller Hill) and then taught in Days Lumberyard, studio space for artists starting in the early 1900s. In 1945, he bought property at 76 Commercial Street, now a private home on the main drag in P-town. Among the students who came to his Provincetown school were many of the Abstract Expressionists. It is thought that everyone who made important contributions to American modernism took at least one lesson with Hofmann while he was in P-town.

Hofmann’s greatest concern as a teacher was a solid pictorial structure. This was based in part on the architectonic principles of Cubism and partly on the color abstract of Orphism, the painting style of Robert Delaunay (1885–1941). These two styles impacted Hofmann the most when he was in Paris in the 1910s. He developed a personal theory of “push and pull” in abstract painting, where solid elements seem to float above painterly shapes. He used color to help imply space in cools and warms that recede and project on the picture plane. His school in Provincetown, like the one in New York, emphasized painting almost exclusively.

If you can’t picture the idea of “push and pull” based in color usage, then here’s a prime example. If this wasn’t influenced by New York, I don’t know what is. 

Hans Hofmann (1880–1966, Germany/US), Towering Spaciousness, 1956. Oil on canvas, 84 ¼" x 50" (214 x 127 cm). Brooklyn Museum. © 2018 Estate of Hans Hofmann/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (BMA-5291hmars)
In 1958, Hofmann closed both of his schools and turned them into studios. This was due to the fact that he wanted to concentrate on his own painting, as well as competition from the avant-garde art school that had evolved at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Black Mountain College, run by Josef Albers (1888–1976) and Anni Albers (1899–1994)both former faculty of the Bauhaus in Germany—emphasized the Bauhaus curriculum that taught the integration of fine arts with industrial design and other disciplines.

Here are just a few of Hofmann’s students of whom you might have heard:

Richard Anuszkiewicz (born 1930, US), Dusk, 1970. Acrylic on canvas, 72" x 48" (182.9 x 121.9 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2018 Richard Anuszkiewicz/Licensed by VAGA, New York. (AK-115azvg)

Nell Blaine (1922–1996, US), Outdoor Festival, 1954. Oil on canvas, 41" x 62 3/16" (104 x 158 cm). Davis Art Images. Photo courtesy of the late Artist. © 2018 Artist or artist’s estate. (8S-16935)

Lee Krasner (1908–1984, US), Untitled, 1949. Oil on composition board, 48" x 37" (121.9 x 93.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2018 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-P2861krars)

Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011, US), Radius, 1992–1993. Nine-color woodcut from six blocks on hand-made paper dyed with six colors, sheet: 28" x 28" (71.3 x 71.3 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (PMA-8308fkars)

Larry Rivers (1923–2002, US), Drummer, 1960. Oil on canvas. Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence. © 2018 Estate of Larry Rivers/Licensed by VAGA, New York. (SMA-64rivg)

Correlations to Davis programs:  A Community Connection: 7.4; Discovering Art History 4E: 17.1; Discovering Art History Digital: 17.1

Monday, July 9, 2018

Wear a Protective Mask!

Merete Larsen (born 1953, Denmark), Translucent Vessel, 2000. Sycamore, 7 ¾" x 7 ¾" (19.7 x 19.7 cm). Image © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Merete Larsen/Artists Rights Sociary (ARS), New York. (PMA-8715larars)

My dear friend Matt was an engineering professor at a local university. You wonder why I start with that line? Well, that’s because he was also an artist in wood, as I mentioned in a previous post. He showed me how artists form a bowl out of a wood burl on his lathe. And he made me wear the head shield while he was showing me, because he told me of the dangers lathe artists face if they do not wear a head shield. Long story short, I gained a massive respect for artists in wood, because when I paint I don’t even bother putting on latex gloves! So, imagine my excitement when we added this piece to our Davis Digital collection, which was worked on a lathe so precisely that the bowl is translucent! And it’s tiny (well, small)!!

One of the reasons the art of wood is so sophisticated in Scandinavian countries is because of the arboreal abundance. In Denmark, artists who adopted the aesthetic goals of the Bauhaus in Germany helped form the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen (1924) to push the modernist goal of elegant functionalism without ornament. That was the beginning of “Scandinavian Modern” in furniture that revolutionized contemporary interiors.

Merete Larsen, born in Copenhagen in 1953, states that she has had a love of wood since childhood. She studied cabinet making from 1976 to 1979 in SIlkeborg, Denmark. She went on to study furniture restoration at West Dean College (1980–1981) in Chichester, England. While in England, she first tried turning wood herself on a lathe. She did not take it up seriously, though, until 1992.

Larsen states that she begins her work with a log and a chainsaw. She cuts sections of wood and brings them to the studio. It literally takes hours and hours of turning on the lathe for the artist to achieve the translucent results seen in this piece. She bases many of pieces on the shapes of Chinese porcelain from the 1700s. Larsen prefers native woods such as sycamore, beech, and ash.

I have seen many of her bowls and vases that she paints with acrylics, applying a shellac to finish them. I think I prefer this bowl displaying the natural grain of the wood. It’s almost as if Larsen has created a porcelain out of wood!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Happy July!

Edward Penfield (1866–1925, US), Harper’s July, poster for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, July 1894. Zinc etching on paper, 18 1/8" x 12 9/16" (46 x 32 cm). © 2018 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-215)

I want to wish everyone a happy July, even though it pains me when I think that the summer is half over, here in New England anyway. However, what better way to ignore that idea than to focus on art? While many art historians date the American poster “renaissance” to 1890–1900, I am more liberal and find lots of exciting examples well into the 1930s. A narrow classification, I feel, limits it to French poster pioneer Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's (1864–1901) period of productivity, and I think American graphic artists did equally exciting things in the genre.

Edward Penfield (1866–1925) is often mentioned as one of the most important poster artists of the period and his work is distinctly American in outlook. Along with his fellow “star” of poster art, Will Bradley (1868–1962), Penfield helped establish a “look” that was influenced by Art Nouveau aesthetics, but also reflect the major changes taking place in American society, particularly a world in which increasing numbers of women were finding jobs outside the home. The poster art of these two artists sought to define the “typical American girl,” which still was not much of a liberated idea, since women could not vote at the time.

Penfield was born in Brooklyn and grew up with a single mother. He decided to become an illustrator, influenced by his uncle Henry Lewis Penfield (1825–1901), who was an engraver in New York supplying work for publishers. He enrolled in the Art Students’ League in New York and studied painting under George de Forest Brush (1854/18551941), an artist known for painting the American West and developing military camouflage. Around 1890, Penfield was offered a job as a staff illustrator of Harper’s Weekly magazine, based on works he had exhibited. Early duties included cleaning up and inking other artist’s sketches and making small illustrations from photographs. His first published work appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1891. A visit to Paris in 1892 exposed Penfield to the Art Nouveau craze. When he returned to the US he became the head of the art department at Harper’s until he retired in 1901.

Penfield’s illustrations were meant to appeal to the stylish men and women of the burgeoning middle class. There is an influence of Art Nouveau and Japanese ukiyo-e prints in the flat shapes, asymmetrical compositions, and emphasis on swirling contour lines. His contour lines are less animated, however, than those of Bradley. 

William Bradley (1868–1962 US), Poster for Thanksgiving No. of Chap Book, 1895. Zincograph on paper, 20 ¾" x 14" (52.7 x 35.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2018 artist or artist’s estate. (MOMA-P0003)

Below is a Penfield for August, just to keep you going. I love the onesie swimming suit on the dude, but not that pathetic excuse for a cigarette in his mouth. Of course, the man is allowed to flaunt sexuality in the bathing suit, while the woman is depicted prim and proper. Maybe the whole scenario is why Penfield depicted her looking a little frustrated, especially since it was frowned upon at the time for women to smoke? Probably not. 

Edward Penfield (1866–1925, US), Harper’s August, poster for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, August, 1896. Zinc etching on paper, 18 9/16" x 13 7/16" (47.2 x 34.2 cm). © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. (MOMA-D0573)

Correlations to Davis programs: A Personal Journey: 4.3; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 3.7; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 3: 3.7; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.27; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 6: 5.6; Communicating through Graphic Design: 3, 6

Monday, June 25, 2018

Another Ignored Aspect of an American Art Movement

Claude Raguet Hirst (1855–1942, US), Book Closed Over Spectacles, ca. 1894. Watercolor on illustration board, board: 10 7/8" x 15" (27.6 x 38.1 cm). © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-8307)

Nothing showcases the American obsession with realism in art during the 1800s better than the brief Trompe l’Oeil Realism movement of the 1880s and 1890s. Like the Dutch Baroque realist still-life genre of the 1600s, American Trompe l’Oeil (literally “deceive the eye” in French) was popular with middle class art patrons because it was clever and it displayed a sophisticated technique. Yeah, we know all great artists in history are total realists, right? My point in pointing out this movement is that art history texts on American art highlight very few of the numerous American artists working in the style, most notably women.

The trompe l’oeil phenomenon did not suddenly start in the 1880s, although many art history texts treat it that way. During the earliest decades of the 1800s, American artists, including women in the Peale family—an American art dynasty led by Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827)—painted trompe l’oeil still lifes that were influenced by the Dutch Baroque. In the mid-1800s, many women genre artists such as Lilly Martin Spencer (1822–1902) were renowned for their ability to realistically depict the texture of still-life objects. As far as I’m concerned, I think American art history books should mention more than William Harnett (1848–1892), John Peto (1854–1907), and John Haberle (1856–1933). They should also feature Claude Hirst (1855–1942), born Claudine.

Hirst starting signing her paintings “Claude” in the 1870s because it was obviously easier for male artists to sell paintings at the time. The trompe l’oeil genre was popular among patrons rather than art critics, who considered such work technical proficiency rather than aesthetic. They were more likely to be found in bar rooms (the domain of men) than in gallery auctions. This would explain why so much of the imagery in these still-life paintings is predominantly male-oriented. Both of the paintings shown here have the trappings of a scholar, obviously male, with images of a pipe. Toward the late 1890s, Hirst began to include books with open pages from texts that spoke of experiences of late-1800s women. In works such as Companions, she also includes examples of art pottery, a field dominated by women. In both examples, her brilliant mastery of watercolor—known in the 1800s as a “lady’s medium”—imitates the smooth, highly detailed surfaces of oil painting. 

Claude Raguet Hirst (1855–1942, US), Companions, 1895. Watercolor on board, 10" x 14 ½"  (25.4 x 36.8 cm). © 2018 Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH. (BIAA-526)

Hirst was born in Cincinnati and first studied art at the School of Drawing and Painting at the University of Cincinnati. She moved to New York in 1879 and studied privately, building her reputation as a skillful still-life painter of flower and fruit subjects. She ultimately became a masterful watercolorist, as is obvious in both of these works. 

In the 1890s, when the trompe l’oeil style became really popular, Hirst began to branch out into still life of objects related to male pastimes. By 1895, she was incorporating small nods to women in the arts. The antique books she featured by the end of the 1890s (antique book collecting was a fashion among the “elite”) often featured text that was legible. This was quite a feat using watercolor!

In the 1910s, well into her 60s, Hirst eliminated the references to male pastimes in favor of her earlier floral and fruit works. By that time, she began to receive prizes from juried exhibitions and received critical acclaim for her work during a period when Impressionism and the Ash Can School were also prominent. She painted into her 80s, producing more than 100 still-life works.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art 1E Grade 5: 2.7; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 5: 2.1; The Visual Experience: 9.9

Monday, June 18, 2018

What Do You Think of When I Say “Porcelain”?

John Bartlam Factory (Bartlam 1735–1781, born Britain, factory 1765–1770, Cain Hoy, South Carolina), Teabowl, 1765–1770. Soft-paste porcelain with underglaze blue hand-painted (interior) and transfer-printed (exterior) decoration, width: 3" (7.6 cm) at rim. © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-8202)

“American” is probably not the first word that springs to mind when paired with “porcelain.” We all know that China developed porcelain by the 600s or 700s CE and perfected it during the Song Dynasty (960–1279/1280 CE). The formula for porcelain (secret ingredient kaolin, a clay mineral derived from feldspar) was transmitted to Korea during the Goryeo Kingdom (918–1392) and then to Japan from Korea during the 1600s.

Porcelain was introduced to Europe soon after the Portuguese trading post was established in Macau in 1557. The translucent, thin-walled nature of porcelain immediately appealed to Europeans, whose earliest efforts in the medium were in the late 1500s. They did not understand that kaolin made Chinese porcelain special and tried all manner of additives to clay.

The British initially added ground bone and ground glass (frit) to produce porcelain results that they called “China.” Ultimately, European makers discovered the secret of kaolin, which was subsequently mined in Europe as “china stone” or “china clay.” Staffordshire, England became a center of porcelain production when kaolin (or “Staffordshire clay”) was discovered in the early 1700s. In the 1730s, the earliest experimentation with porcelain was begun by André Duché (dates unknown), who introduced “Cherokee clay” to Europe in his attempt to secure funding to produce his porcelain.

It’s amazing to me that there was true porcelain being produced in the US already in the mid-1700s. This shouldn’t have surprised me, though, because some of the entrepreneurs in the US were originally from Staffordshire. Many of the techniques they used, particularly for decoration, came from their experience in Britain. John Bartlam (1735–1781) and American China Manufactory (1770–1772) were the leaders in porcelain production during the pre-Revolutionary (1775–1783) period.

Bartlam settled in South Carolina in 1763 to exploit the abundant varieties of clay found in that state, extending down into Georgia. He was producing soft-paste porcelain as early as 1765 in Cain Hoy (north of Charleston) and then in Charleston until 1773. Teabowls are one of the signature forms made by Bartlam. They were a combination of painted and transfer decoration. Bartlam himself may have overseen the transfer printing of the porcelain, as he was a skilled copper engraver himself. The exterior decoration of this teabowl was laid down from a stiff tissue to which an oil-inked design had been transferred from a copper plate. Many of the artists (“transferrers”) who did this tedious work were young women. 

American China Manufactory (firm 1770–1772, Philadelphia), Pickle Stand. Soft-paste porcelain with underglaze blue decoration, 5 1/8" x 7" (13 x 17.8 cm). © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-8500)

American China Manufactory was formed by Gousse Bonnin (ca. 1741–1780, France) and George Antony Morris (1742/1745–1773). They formed the company at an opportune time after the Nonimportation Act of 1760, secessionist fever leading up to the Revolution, and a newly wealthy merchant class that wanted the same luxuries as their British counterparts. The team even lured away skilled porcelain artists from the Bow factory in London. Their standout product is this pickle stand, the likes of which were sold as far north as Albany, NY and as far south as Charleston.

The great British ceramic guru Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795) was sufficiently worried about the competition in the colonies that he conspired with the East India Company (a “trading” outfit) to flood the American market with cheap British porcelain in 1771. This violation of the Nonimportation Act was a catalyst for the revolution to follow. Unfortunately, it led to the demise of both Bartlam and American China Manufactory, ending a truly unique period in American ceramic history. 

Well, porcelain manufacture in the US did not just wither completely. By the 1880s, the American Art Pottery movement reinvigorated the production of native porcelain in kilns throughout the country.

Mary Louise McLaughlin (1847–1939, US), Vase, 1900–1903. Porcelain, height: 5" (12.4 cm). © 2018 Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-747)

Mary Louise McLaughlin was a pioneer in art pottery. She studied furniture carving during the late 1860s in a studio in her native Cincinnati, a class that also introduced her to pottery painting. Ceramics thereafter dominated her interest. Her book entitled China Painting: A Practical Manual for the Use of Amateurs in the Decoration of Hard Porcelain sold 23,000 copies, indicating the growing popularity of art pottery in the US.

Porcelain is not going anywhere in the 21st century either, with many contemporary artists working in the medium in both utilitarian and non-utilitarian forms.

Robert Lazzarini (born 1965, US), Teacup, 2003. Gilt porcelain, stainless steel spoon, assembled: 3 1/2" x 6 1/4” x 7" (8.9 x 15.9 x 17.8 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Robert Lazzarini. (PMA-8709)

Robert Lazzarini is primarily a sculptor. He achieved a BA from the School of the Visual Arts in New York in 1990. One of the main focuses of his art is the disruption of the viewer’s normal perception of everyday objects. He does not always do this with unusual materials foreign to the subject. In Teacup, Lazzarini has exploited the normal material used in tea cups to create an uncomfortably distorted, yet fascinating play on a common object. Take that Andy Warhol (1928–1987), it’s more interesting.

Monday, June 11, 2018

American Impressionists You Probably Don’t Know

The joy of approaching summer always makes me think of color, and color makes me think of Impressionism—American Impressionism in this case. The Ten American Painters group was formed in 1898 by American artists who had adapted the Impressionist style. At the time, it was not well received in the realism-obsessed “official” American art academies: the National Academy of Design (founded 1825) and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (founded 1805, Philadelphia). These academies were oriented on the European model of Neoclassicism-based art education.

Naturally, when the Ten American Painters group formed in opposition to the academies’ rejection of Impression—much in the same vain that the original Impressionists formed the Salon des Refusés—they did not invite any women, such as Mary Cassatt (1844–1926). Cassatt was back and forth between Paris and Philadelphia at the time and her work was featured in the Women’s Pavilion of the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition in Chicago, surprise, surprise.

Many American women artists adapted the Impressionist style aside from Cassatt, and I am presenting three of these artists to you. Although Impressionism had run its course as a “revolutionary” style by the first decade of the 1900s, many artists persisted in this style. It gradually spread to the West Coast in the late 1910s after the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco introduced French and American Impressionists’ works. The California Impressionism painting movement, often called the Plein Air Movement, developed, although many of the artists were not native to the state.

Fern Isabel Coppedge (1883–1951, US), Drying Sails, Gloucester. Oil on canvas, 20" x 24" (50.8 x 61 cm). Image © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Estate of Fern Isabel Coppedge. (PMA-4552)
Fern Coppedge (1883–1951) was born and raised in Decatur, Illinois. At thirteen she moved to California with a sister and became interested in painting for the first time. She studied watercolor and, even though the California Impressionist movement had yet to coalesce, she became interested in reflections of sunlight on snow and water. Returning to the Midwest, she studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She also studied under American Impressionist William Merritt Chase (1849–1916) at the Art Students League in New York.

Key to her development as an Impressionist was her move to Philadelphia in 1917 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where her mentor was the American Impressionist Daniel Garber (1880–1953). By that time, the Pennsylvania Impressionist movement had become a phenomenon. Coppedge was active summers at the New Hope art colony, which was home to many Impressionists. She was a member of the influential women’s art group The Philadelphia Ten from 1922 to 1935. Many of the members of that group also painted in an Impressionist style.

Coppedge is most famous for her snow scenes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which she always painted outdoors, often with her canvas lashed to a tree or from the back seat of her car. This painting of Gloucester comes from summers spent at the Rocky Neck Art Colony there, the oldest art colony in the US. Rocky Neck was a haven for many American Impressionists, including Childe Hassam (1859–1935), Celia Beaux (1855–1942), and Frank Duveneck (1848–1919). 

Harriet Lumis (1870–1953, US), Pasture Brook, Berkshire, ca. 1928. Oil on canvas, 24" x 28" (61 x 71 cm). Photo courtesy of R.H. Love Gallery, Chicago. © 2018 Davis Art Images. (8S-27160)
Harriet Lumis (1870–1953), born in Connecticut, was initially discouraged from painting by her parents. After marriage in 1892, she began formal painting lessons under Willis Adams (1848–1921), a landscape painter in the Barbizon-Realism style. Her first landscapes were in the Tonalist tradition, which means an interest in light and atmosphere within the traditional academic landscape palette of greens, yellows, and browns.

This changed after she studied under the Impressionist Leonard Ochtman (1854–1934), who was one of the founders of the Cos Cob art colony in Connecticut, a hotbed of American Impressionism. Ochtman had studied with Dutch Tonalists Anton Mauve (1838–1888) and Jacob Maris (1837–1899), and then in Paris where his work was influenced by the airy, lyrical landscapes of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875). After studying with Ochtman, Lumis’s palette lightened and she changed her approach to landscape from broad vistas to more intimate snapshots of nature.

Lumis was one of the founding members of the Springfield (MA) Art League in 1919. This work from the 1920s demonstrates how, as time went on, her approach became looser in brush work, yet still firmly rooted in sound composition. 

Helen Hamilton (1889–1970, US), The Old Dock. Oil on canvas, 25 3/16" x 29 15/16” (64 x 76 cm). Photo courtesy of R.H. Love Gallery, Chicago. © 2018 Davis Art Images. (8S-26991)
Helen Hamilton (1889–1970), the daughter of academic painter Hamilton Hamilton (1846–1928), showed artistic talent at a young age. Like Coppedge, the California Impressionism movement was in a nascent period when she moved there in 1908. She received training from her father there and early on was interested in landscape, practicing in the Sierra Madre Mountains. She gradually became interested in Impressionism. In 1910, she moved to New York where she took lessons at the National Academy.

Hamilton’s family also had a house in Silvermine, Connecticut, home to a thriving art colony since 1908. Hamilton spent much time there, where, among the many styles explored, Impressionism was coming to the fore. Silvermine artists (although not including Hamilton or her father) exhibited in the landmark 1913 Armory Show in New York, where Helen saw thirteen of Vincent van Gogh’s (1853–1890) works. Judging by this work, van Gogh had a lasting influence on her painting.

As Hamilton’s style evolved after World War I (1914–1918), color became more important to her than subject matter. That is obvious in this luscious painting where she has delighted in laying down thick layers of pure color, probably with a palette knife. Hamilton was renowned for her works involving reflections in water and her loosely painted snow scenes.

Monday, June 4, 2018

An Illustrator (Who Happens to be a Woman)

Barbara Shermund (1899–1978, US), Saleswoman: “This is a bath salt one may sit on.” Original drawing for a cartoon in The New Yorker magazine, 1938. Ink and wash on paper, sheet: 19" x 14 ¾" (48.3 x 37.5 cm). Image © 2018 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2018 Estate of Barbara Shermund/The New Yorker. (AK-4368)

As we know, women have been artists since the beginning of recorded time. The dawn of women artists as a significant part of magazine, book, and newspaper illustration, however, came at the end of the 1800s. Ironically, women artists were able to enter the world of illustration because all “proper young ladies” were trained in the art of sketching and watercolors from the Renaissance (1400–1600) on. Like “art pottery” and photography of the late 1800s, women were able to study illustration at home (“propriety”: no dirty art schools with their nude drawing classes!). 

At the turn of the 1900s, the demand for illustration in printed matter was high, due in large part to the printing advances of the late 1800s that allowed for easier reproduction of illustrations—photolithography, chromolithography, and photography. In a field crowded with male artists, women illustrators had to be self-motivated and determined. Barbara Shermund (1899–1978) is an artist I just learned about, so I’m now letting you know about her.

Shermund was born in San Francisco to an artistic family: an architect father and sculptor mother. She started drawing as a child and studied at the California School of Arts, where she received an academic training in the basics. She subsequently moved to New York. Shermund started working for The New Yorker magazine four months after it was founded in February 1925. Almost at once (13 June, 1925), she had designed her first New Yorker cover, featuring a young woman with bobbed hair, very much in an Art Deco aesthetic.

Shermund’s cartoons mostly revolved around the so-called New Woman, a term that referred to women who had joined the work force beginning in the late 1800s. This term was particularly appropriate to address the state of women after World War I (1914–1918), when even more women were pushing the boundaries of what society deemed was “proper” for women. Shermund received inspiration for many of her gags from the social network in which she lived in New York. She depicted a broad range of women, from independent to traditional, set against the latest nuances of American society. 

The artist was so driven by the subject matter for her cartoons that she reportedly slept with a pencil and pad under her pillow in case she came up with an idea in the middle of the night. She once admitted that she would work and rework a drawing twenty times so that it had the appearance of being spontaneous. She often worked only with a brush, employing dramatic, decorative washes to establish volume or depth. There is a description of her technique in the book by Liza Donnelly Funny Ladies: The New Yorker’s Greatest Women Cartoonists and Their Cartoons (Prometheus Books, 2005).

The astonishing career of women like Barbara Shermund (597 cartoons and eight covers) is in a stark contrast to many women illustrators of the late 1800s who often worked in virtual anonymity for male publishers. This was particularly true for the women who worked on the illustrations for Currier and Ives, with the exception of Flora Frances Palmer (1813–1876), who produced dozens of prints for that publisher. Shermund worked for The New Yorker until 1944 and was featured in a 1947 photograph by Irving Penn (1917–2009) of New Yorker illustrators. Shermund is the one in the broad-brimmed black hat.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art 2E Grade 6: 3.1, 3.2

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

National Textiles Month

Ghana, Sisala Woman from Techiman, 1975. Image © 2018 Davis Art Images. (8S-11085)

Although I’m an art historian, sometimes I feel that art should just be looked at rather than analyzed to death. When I read somewhere that May is National Textiles Month (May 3rd was National Textiles Day), I just felt like showing you some particularly interesting examples from the Davis digital collection. 

Chimú Culture, Peru, Tapestry panel, 1100–1470. Cotton and camelid fibers, 26" x 43" (66 x 109.2 cm). © 2018 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-1288)

If I ever teach again (not likely), I would teach a course on the history of abstraction. Believe me, it doesn’t start in the 20th century!  One of the reasons I love ancient Andean textiles so much is the abstract quality of the decoration. Come on, this pre-dates Picasso’s (1881–1973) fractured figures! This panel represents an anthropomorphic mythological being or deity. 

The Chimú (ca. 900
–1470) were the successors of the Wari Culture (declined around 700 CE) and Tiwanaku Culture (declined around 1100 CE). The Chimú kingdom, centered in Chan Chan (near contemporary Trujillo, Peru), was a highly organized society where textile artists worked in royal compounds. Unlike other Andean cultures, the Chimú developed highly refined textile arts before ceramics. 

Textiles were the most highly prized objects in Andean cultures after gold. Chimú weavings were often used as money, so highly were they valued. Chimú textiles were predominantly produced by male artists, using combinations of cotton and alpaca (camelid) fibers. Cotton had been cultivated in Peru since the 3000s BCE. 

Navajo Culture, Transitional Blanket, 1885–1895. Wool, tapestry weave, 79 3/4" x 47 1/4" (202.5 x 120 cm). © 2018 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-576)

Navajo blankets were originally used mainly for clothing (“wearing blankets”). They were also used as covers over doors and room dividers. “Transitional” refers to blankets produced during the period 1880–1895, when the blankets became trade items with whites as rugs. Before the 1880s, red in Navajo weaving was sourced from bayeta, a type of imported red flannel that would be unraveled and respun for use in blankets. Aniline dyes, chemical dyes derived from coal tar, were introduced by the 1880s. 

The symmetry and geometric straightness of Navajo designs represents the limitations of the upright loom, which does not accommodate rounded patterns. The jagged edges on the bands came from a cloud pattern, an element of nature that symbolizes change. 

The Navajo, an Athabascan-speaking people who occupy New Mexico and Arizona, were once nomadic and are thought to have northwestern origins, migrating from the interior of Alaska between the 1200s and 1400s CE. In successive migrations they settled in the Southwest and adapted elements of Pueblo culture—including weaving—making them uniquely their own. 

While men are traditionally the textile artists in Pueblo cultures, it was the women who tended and sheared the sheep and became the weavers in Navajo culture. They learned weaving from Pueblo men who had been raising cotton and weaving blankets since about 700 CE. Pueblo weavers were introduced to sheep wool by the Spanish in the 1600s. The Navajo acquired the churro sheep from the Pueblo weavers and developed it into their own unique breed. 

Galya Rosenfeld (designer, born 1977, Israel) and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Industrial Design Department (manufacturer, found 1906, Jerusalem), Headscarf (hijab), 2003–2005. Staineless steel, 33 7/26" x 19 11/16" x 1 3/16" (85 x 50 x 3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, © 2018 Galya Rosenfeld. (MOMA-D1234)

This last example is not, strictly speaking, a textile, but it is such an interesting piece that I had to include it! It is a headscarf that was featured in the 2005–2006 Safe: Design Takes on Risk exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibit hightlighted more than 300 objects that were meant to protect people from a wide variety of contemporary anxieties and dangerous situations. I can only assume that this headscarf, similar to the hijab worn by Muslim women, is meant to protect women in the danger zones of the world.

This headscarf is made from the same metal from which the chains for soldiers’ dog tags are made. Many of Galya Rosenfeld’s (born 1977) objects—jewelry to wall installations—are made from repurposed military-related materials. She mixes traditional techniques such as weaving with industrial materials. Her work is a place where the whimsical meets with common sense protection.

Rosenfeld studied object design at the National Higher School of Decorative Arts, Paris (fashion) and Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem, Israel, Department of Ceramic Design.