Some thoughts on prints of still lifes

Theodor Matham (Dutch, 1605/6-1676). Vanitas. 1622. Engraving, Sheet (cut within platemark): 225 x 136 mm. (8 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.) Garrett Collection, BMA 1946.112.3424

Theodor Matham (Dutch, 1605/6-1676). Vanitas. 1622. Engraving, Sheet (cut within platemark): 225 x 136 mm. (8 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.) Garrett Collection, BMA 1946.112.3424

The still life is not as common a subject in the early history of printmaking as one might think.  I was reminded of this fact while helping Sona Johnston, then Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, make print selections for The Art of Still Life from The Baltimore Museum of Art, an exhibition that traveled to museums around Maryland in 2007 and 2010.  There were few examples of seventeenth-century still life prints in the BMA’s collection, though happily we did find Theodor Matham’s 1622 engraving Vanitas.  Here, in the composition’s foreground, one sees an assortment of carefully arranged and meticulously rendered objects, including a book of music and several instruments.  The prominent location of the plaque at center, showing the word “Vanitas” topped by a winged skull, reminds us that music, like all earthly enjoyments, offers only fleeting pleasure in the face of our mortality.

Given the relative rarity of seventeenth-century still life prints, it was with great excitement that in 2011 the Museum acquired Wenceslaus Hollar’s Murex haustellum from an untitled series of 38 shells etched by the Bohemian artist in c. 1646.  Unlike Matham, who placed his shells in an elaborate and iconographically significant setting, Hollar presents all his shells in the same straightforward fashion.  By isolating the shells against plain backgrounds, Hollar draws attention to their intrinsic beauty, focusing on their distinctive silhouettes and textures.  Each shell is to scale, with every bump and ridge on its exterior rendered in minute detail; one imagines the artist scrutinizing and marveling at the murex haustellum while slowly rotating it in his hand. Hollar’s etchings lack accompanying text, distinguishing them from scientific illustrations of the time, prints in which the imagery would be supplemented with the Latin name of each specimen, if not other relevant scientific information and a plate number.

Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607-1677). Murex haustellum, c. 1646. Etching, Sheet: 100 x 139 mm. (3 15/16 x 5 1/2 in.) Plate: 98 x 137 mm. (3 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.). John Dorsey and Robert W. Armacost Bequest Fund, and purchased as the gift of the Print, Drawing & Photograph Society, BMA 2011.120

Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607-1677). Murex haustellum, c. 1646. Etching, Sheet: 100 x 139 mm. (3 15/16 x 5 1/2 in.) Plate: 98 x 137 mm. (3 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.). John Dorsey and Robert W. Armacost Bequest Fund, and purchased as the gift of the Print, Drawing & Photograph Society, BMA 2011.120

Although the murex haustellum is readily available today, it was a rarity in the seventeenth century.  Brought to Europe via maritime trade, such shells were collected both as exotic objects and scientific curiosities.  They were considered exemplary items to include in the compendium of knowledge known as a wunderkammer (“hall of wonders”), of which Baltimoreans are fortunate to have a recreation at The Walters Art Museum; there is also the wunderkammer-inspired installation An Archaeology of Knowledge by the contemporary American artist Mark Dion at the Brody Learning Commons at The Johns Hopkins University. As we know from a 1656 inventory of his collection, the Dutch artist Rembrandt owned shells, one of which most likely served as a model for the singular etching and drypoint The Shell (1650).  In etching his series of shells, it seems that Hollar worked from a particular collection, though whose it was we do not know.

Hollar’s and Rembrandt’s shell etchings lead us to one other still life print: a 2002 etching by the contemporary French printmaker Erik Desmazières entitled Register and Shells that is a promised gift to the Museum.  Desmazières is an artist who is steeped in the history of printmaking—he is a regular visitor to the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris—and over the course of his long career has explored various art historical themes in his work (including the wunderkammer).  In Register and Shells, we see a piece of coral and two shells placed on and adjacent to a well-worn tome, their inclusion paying homage to the exquisitely etched creations of his seventeenth-century predecessors.

Erik Desmazières (French, born Morocco 1948) Register and Shells 2002 Etching Collection of Nancy Patz, Baltimore: Promised gift to The Baltimore Museum of Art

Erik Desmazières (French, born Morocco 1948). Register and Shells. 2002. Etching Collection of Nancy Patz, Baltimore: Promised gift to The Baltimore Museum of Art

Engraving the Master Engravers

Stanley William Hayter. Untitled. 1936. From the portfolio "Fraternity". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sidney Hollander, Baltimore, BMA 1996.8.3. © Estate of Stanley William Hayter / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Stanley William Hayter. Untitled. 1936. From the portfolio “Fraternity”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sidney Hollander, Baltimore, BMA 1996.8.3. © Estate of Stanley William Hayter / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

One of my current projects is a large-scale exhibition focused on twentieth-century intaglio printmaker Stanley William Hayter (English, 1901-1988) and his print workshop called the Atelier 17. The exhibition is scheduled to be on view at the BMA in the winter/spring of 2018. Several artworks slated for inclusion in the Hayter exhibition would have been great fits for New Arrivals: Gifts of Art for a New Century (February 7 – May 8, 2016)—an exhibition highlighting recent gifts to the Museum paired with objects already in the collection—but issues of light exposure prevent inclusion in both projects. In the spirit of pairings that are not in New Arrivals, we want to highlight a few favorites.

Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 was a nexus of printmaking in its three iterations. It was founded in Paris in 1927 and remained there until Hayter fled German-occupied Paris in 1939. Hayter set up the workshop in New York City by 1940 where it flourished until 1955. By 1950 Hayter returned to Paris, leaving the New York shop in the hands of several directors, and reopened a branch of the Atelier there, where it still exists today as the Atelier Contrepoint some 27 years after Hayter’s death. Between 1926 and now, thousands of printmakers have worked at the studio and many in turn have founded university printmaking departments and print workshops across the United States, and around the world. Members of the Hayter artistic family tree are everywhere.**

The Atelier 17 is remarkable for three technical advances in intaglio printmaking. Hayter revived the arcane art form of copper engraving, formerly used as a formulaic means of reproducing paintings by famous artists, and used it to express deep emotions in swirling, taut lines. The studio developed a technique called softground etching in which fabrics, netting, paper, and other objects are pressed into a soft, waxy ground on the copper plate, leaving behind their texture that gets etched into the copper producing interesting tones and patterns. Lastly, Hayter and a group of artists developed a method of printing in colors using a single plate (traditional color etchings require a separate copper plate for each color) called simultaneous color printing or multi-viscosity printing.

Whereas some artists adopted simultaneous color printing as their own, or the use of fabrics pressed into softground to create textures, others embraced Hayter’s first love, engraving. Evan Lindquist is a contemporary artist using engraving as his medium of choice. His tie to Hayter is through Lindquist’s graduate studies at the University of Iowa, where Mauricio Lasansky had founded the printmaking department in the late 1940s (Lasansky worked with Hayter at the New York Atelier 17 in the early 1940s). Lindquist has created a series of elegantly engraved portraits of art history’s well-known engravers like Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, Hendrik Goltzius, William Blake, Hayter, and others. In his engraving, SW Hayter Engraves War, Lindquist portrays Hayter as an intense, powerful figure out of whose burin (his engraving tool) come motifs referring to the Spanish Civil War.

That Lindquist portrays this titan of printmaking creating a print in support of victims of a crazy war, and not as a teacher, is telling. Hayter and a group of artists created two portfolios, Solidarity (1938) and Fraternity (1939), that were fundraisers for the child victims of the Spanish Civil War. The Museum is fortunate to have the complete portfolio of Fraternity, which contains prints by Hayter along with John Buckland Wright, Dalla Husband, Josef Hecht, Wassily Kandinsky, Roderick Mead, Joan Miró, Dolf Reiser, and Luis Vargas. In Hayter’s plate, a nude male stands at a doorway while an airplane flies overhead. One can’t help but think of Guernica, the small Spanish village that was bombed in April 1937, killing vast numbers of civilian men, women, and children.

Occurrences like Guernica motivated many artists to create work in protest, mostly famously Picasso, and Hayter was no different. He was a passionate humanist who used art to express his profound discomfort with the darkness that befell humanity during the first half of the twentieth century. That the symbols and marks of the war are spitting out vigorously from Hayter’s burin in Lindquist’s portrait is a perfect homage.

Evan Lindquist. SW Hayter Engraves War. 2015. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of an Anonymous Donor, BMA 2015.173. © 2015, Evan Lindquist / VAGA, NY

Evan Lindquist. SW Hayter Engraves War. 2015. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of an Anonymous Donor, BMA 2015.173. © 2015, Evan Lindquist / VAGA, NY

**As part of the BMA’s exhibition, we are creating an online Hayter family tree. Artists will be encouraged to trace their connection back to Hayter, add themselves to the lineage, and establish their “H” number.

A local icon

When I first moved to Baltimore from Chicago, the questions most often posed by friends were regarding John Waters and the depiction of Baltimore in his films. At the time, the references were lost on me, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that the renowned director, celebrated for campy and at times raunchy films set in his hometown, is synonymous with the city.

Prior to the BMA’s Campaign for Art, the Museum’s collection included just one work by Waters. Dorothy Malone’s Collar, a photomontage from 1996, is a quintessential example of Waters’ early foray into appropriation art. The work, which resembles a horizontal photo strip, begins with an image of an eponymous title screen followed by nine stills of actress Dorothy Malone sporting her signature upturned collar. The artist obtained each image by scouring hours of film, pausing the movie, and taking a picture of the frozen scene on his television screen. The format proved a natural means for Waters to share his sharp observation, wit, and love of film with an expanded audience.

John Waters. John Jr.. 2009. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, BMA 2010.13. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery

John Waters. John Jr.. 2009. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, BMA 2010.13. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery

In 2010, contemporary photography collectors Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker gave the Museum John Jr., 2009. Once again, Waters found inspiration in another artist’s work. The source is a pastel portrait by a respected Baltimore portraitist who was commissioned by Waters’ parents to capture the artist as a boy. Waters took a picture of the pastel and manipulated it ever so slightly by using Photoshop to add a hint of the trademark pencil mustache that he has worn for most of his adult life. Through this simple gesture the artist unites his juvenile and mature selves. Considering the resulting image, it is just as easy to imagine that Waters was a precocious child as it is to see that the child in him lives on.

John Waters. Kiddie Flamingos. 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund; gift of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art; Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund; and purchased as the gift of an Anonymous Donor, BMA 2015.85. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery

John Waters. Kiddie Flamingos. 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund; gift of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art; Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund; and purchased as the gift of an Anonymous Donor, BMA 2015.85. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery

In 2015 a donation from the BMA’s Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art facilitated the acquisition of one of Waters’ most recent works, Kiddie Flamingos, 2014. Like Dorothy Malone’s Collar and John Jr., the work grew out of another artwork—the artist’s notorious film Pink Flamingos, 1972. The movie, which put Waters on the map as “The Pope of Trash,” quickly became a cult classic and continues to shock viewers. In Kiddie Flamingos, children perform a table reading of Waters’ adaptation of Pink Flamingos for a general audience. Seated in front of a backdrop featuring a trailer home, the kids wear clothing, wigs, and accessories that evoke the unforgettable characters of the original film. Waters’ distinctive voice delivers stage directions off camera while the children earnestly perform their roles in this remake of the battle for the title of “the filthiest people alive.” Those who have seen the original film will recognize that, though purged of its obscenity, the new script artfully alludes to the indelible scenes that make Pink Flamingos scandalous to this day.

John Waters’ reputation precedes him and in many circles he is regarded as the face of Baltimore. It is a fitting tribute to the local icon that two of his works joined the BMA’s collection through the Museum’s Campaign for Art.

John Jr. is on view through May 8, 2016 in New Arrivals: Maryland Artists.
Kiddie Flamingos will be running on a continuous loop in the Museum’s Black Box from September 21, 2016 to January 22, 2017.

 

An evolution in embroidery

Abraham Banishing Hagar and Ishmael. c. 1650. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier; Gift of Mrs. H.P. Bray; Gift of Mrs. Charles Collier; Gift of Mrs. Symington Dorsey; Gift of Mrs. J. Edward Duker; Gift of Maria Lovell Eaton and Mrs. Charles R. Weld, from the Estate of Mary M. Eaton; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel L. Hendler; Gift of Mrs. Gerald W. Johnson; Gift of Mrs. F.A. Korff; Gift of Ruth Young Lachman; Gift of Eleanor B. Leitch; Gift of Sara B. Lipscomb; Gift of Cornelius Ruxton Love, Jr.; Gift of Henry A. Ludwig; Gift of Fanny Lyon; Gift of Mrs. Florence Milliken; Gift of Mrs. Frank Primrose; Gift of Mrs. Jesse Rider; Gift of Mrs. Ralph K. Robertson; Gift of Mrs. C. Rogulih; Gift of Mrs. Dudley Shoemaker; and Gift of Louisa Gilmore Riach Wade, BMA 1998.528

Abraham Banishing Hagar and Ishmael. c. 1650. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier; Gift of Mrs. H.P. Bray; Gift of Mrs. Charles Collier; Gift of Mrs. Symington Dorsey; Gift of Mrs. J. Edward Duker; Gift of Maria Lovell Eaton and Mrs. Charles R. Weld, from the Estate of Mary M. Eaton; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel L. Hendler; Gift of Mrs. Gerald W. Johnson; Gift of Mrs. F.A. Korff; Gift of Ruth Young Lachman; Gift of Eleanor B. Leitch; Gift of Sara B. Lipscomb; Gift of Cornelius Ruxton Love, Jr.; Gift of Henry A. Ludwig; Gift of Fanny Lyon; Gift of Mrs. Florence Milliken; Gift of Mrs. Frank Primrose; Gift of Mrs. Jesse Rider; Gift of Mrs. Ralph K. Robertson; Gift of Mrs. C. Rogulih; Gift of Mrs. Dudley Shoemaker; and Gift of Louisa Gilmore Riach Wade, BMA 1998.528

From the Renaissance through the early 19th century and beyond, young women of high social position in England were well schooled in the needle arts. From a very young age they began making marking samplers—stitching simple letters in cross stitch on linen–progressing to increasingly elaborate work as they aged. With large houses to furnish, high born women often turned their embroidery skills toward the production of domestic articles such as book covers, pillows, boxes, and cushions. Biblical stories frequently provided the subject matter for these endeavors. This cushion cover, a rare surviving example of exceptional quality and condition from the 17th century, features the story of Abraham banishing his son Ishmael along with his mother Hagar.

Hagar, the handmaiden of Abraham’s seemingly barren wife Sarah, bore Abraham a son, Ishmael, as Sarah’s proxy. After Sarah herself gave birth to a son, Isaac, she required that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away in order to secure her son’s position as Abraham’s sole heir. The needlework portrays Abraham bidding farewell to Hagar and Ishmael as Sarah and Isaac look on from a tent. In a secondary scene Hagar and Ishmael are about to perish from thirst when an angel appears to show her a source of water and promise deliverance.

The design of the cushion cover was derived from a printed source–an engraving in Gerard de Jode’s Thesaurus Sacrarum Historiarum Veteris Testamenti published in Antwerp in 1585. While the subject is disturbing, the addition of numerous plants and animals in the background, rendered with characteristic disregard to scale, creates a naïve, whimsical landscape that belies the dark nature of the story. The excellence of this embroidery is shown in the exquisite fineness of the tent stitching, the skill exhibited in the use of multicolored silk threads for shading, and the fluidity of line achieved.  The original silver and gold metallic bobbin lace provides an elegant and expensive finish.

Artist unknown. Needlework Picture: The Sacrifice of Isaac. Early 19th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Textile Acquisition Fund, BMA 2009.140

Artist unknown. Needlework Picture: The Sacrifice of Isaac. Early 19th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Textile Acquisition Fund, BMA 2009.140

Abraham and his son Isaac were also the subject of girlhood embroideries in the late 18th and early 19th century as seen in this excellent example, “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” which is also probably English. Characteristic of these fashionable silk pictures, this example was worked in silk threads on a silk ground with painted hands, faces, and background. Here, Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering. He prepares to do so, but is prevented at the last minute by an angel, who tells him that God has relented and Isaac may live.

This beautifully conceived, expertly painted, and expertly embroidered scene may have been drafted by a professional artist for the embroiderer. The needlework in this piece shows a variety of stitches and materials used to achieve textural diversity: straight stitches in silk threads used to present the costume of Abraham with fringe, knotted stitches in silk depict the tress, and stitches in wool render the ram’s wooly fleece.

Comparing the two embroideries reveals great contrast between 17th and early 19th century norms. One shows an unrealistic landscape crowded with flora and fauna in varying scale, with characters dressed in contemporary garb and no interest in realism; the other portrays a realistic landscape with emphasis on the individuals, the action, and the detail of the costume.

Embroidery of such scenes provided an opportunity to teach moral precepts to young women along with needle skills. One wonders, however, what moral or message the embroiderer took from these stories. Did she feel the injustice of Hagar’s position? Did she find Abraham’s decision to favor Isaac over Ishmael and expel him into the wilderness cruel? Did she believe Sarah’s ruthless demands against Hagar and Ishmael were justified because they were made in defense of her own son’s interests? Was she shocked at the intention of Abraham to kill his own son? If she were faced in the future with the choice of protecting her child or her husband, which would she choose? How well equipped were the young women stitching these stories to put them into a context that would prove meaningful to their own lives?

 

Considering the “Fold” with Tauba Auerbach and John Singleton Copley

 

Tauba Auerbach. Plate Distortion II. 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.198. © Tauba Auerbach

Tauba Auerbach. Plate Distortion II. 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.198. © Tauba Auerbach

Tauba Auerbach’s Plate Distortion II came in to the BMA collection in 2012, and it captured my attention on my very first visit to the Museum, when it was on view in On Paper: Spin, Crinkle, Pluck. Its abstract folds reminded me of an art student’s favorite still life exercise: piles on piles of dramatically lit fabric.

Throughout her work, Auerbach nods to many technical and historical themes, and in Plate Distortion II she references a centuries-long tradition of western portraiture in which clothing and drapery are rendered in marvelous detail in order to fulfill the sitter’s desire to appear wealthy and fashionable and the artist’s desire to show off technical ability. John Singleton Copley’s Mrs. Joseph Hooper (1770-1771) is an apt example of this tradition.

John Singleton Copley. Mrs. Joseph Hooper. 1770‑1771. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Dr. Morton K. Blaustein, Barbara B. Hirschhorn, and Elizabeth B. Roswell, in Memory of Jacob and Hilda K. Blaustein, BMA 1981.74

John Singleton Copley. Mrs. Joseph Hooper. 1770‑1771. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Dr. Morton K. Blaustein, Barbara B. Hirschhorn, and Elizabeth B. Roswell, in Memory of Jacob and Hilda K. Blaustein, BMA 1981.74

Studying Mrs. Joseph Hooper closely, my eyes bounce from her fair skin, dark braid and the flow of her dress dropping back to the cloth draped behind her all carefully rendered in space using perspective. Copley was a prominent portrait painter working in the American colonies during the 18th century. While working in America, Copley’s career benefited from having access to prints, particularly reproductions of old masters and 18th century English portraits. These references provided Copley with the poses and motifs to help cater to the aspirations of his American patrons.

Much as Copley’s study of prints—including the depiction of drapery—helped him to formulate his distinctive style, Auerbach’s work with the printers of Paulson-Bott Press in Berkley, CA, prompted her to explore—and push the boundaries of—the technical possibilities of printmaking. Plate Distortion II doesn’t just represent the idea of “fold”, but the work is created by the physical impression of a folded object. Auerbach worked with Paulson-Bott Press to etch copper foil, which had been crumpled by the artist. When etched and flattened the foil holds a record of its folded shape. (For more on the process used to make this print, check out Ben Levy’s video on Plate Distortion II.)

Auerbach’s work sits in the space just between the peaks and valley’s of the etched copper and the flatness of the paper. Plate Distortion II takes all of this surface speculation into account, as Auerbach considers the shift of modern and contemporary artists to investigate the image surface over the 20th and 21st centuries.

Introducing The Campaign for Art blog series

The 100th anniversary of The Baltimore Museum of Art in 2014 was cause for celebration on numerous counts including the re-opening of the original entrance to the Museum, the reinstallation of several parts of the collection, and the publication of a new highlights catalogue.  To further honor this centennial, the Museum was fortunate to receive 4000 works of art through the Campaign for Art over the course of the past decade.  These gifts, promised gifts, bequests, and purchases made with recently donated funds would have been unattainable without the extraordinary generosity of many donors who chose to contribute so meaningfully to the Museum.

The acquisition of these works has prompted us to contemplate how the collection, now encompassing 95,000 works of art, has grown and evolved over time.  Because only a selection of these works may be shown in the New Arrivals exhibitions and in the collection galleries, we thought it would be exciting to feature a series of blog posts that demonstrate how some of these new acquisitions build and offer new perspectives on the Museum’s collection.  We hope that you will enjoy reading these posts written by our curatorial staff.

Jay Fisher, Interim Co-Director
Rena Hoisington, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

Baltimore’s First Exhibition of Work by African American Artists

Throughout my years working at the BMA, I’ve heard much about the museum’s 1939 exhibition, Contemporary Negro Art.  As one of the earliest exhibitions of the work of African American artists in a major American art museum, the Library and Archives regularly receives questions about it.  Sorting through a box of BMA publications recently, I was surprised to find this invitation which, although it doesn’t have anything to do with the publications, does provide some important context to the 1939 exhibition and the history of early twentieth century African American art in Baltimore.

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Invitation, First Negro Art Exhibit, Douglass High School, 1926. Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Held more than a decade before the BMA’s exhibition, the First Negro Art Exhibit was by all accounts the first exhibition in Baltimore solely of the work of African American artists.  According to articles in The Sun, the exhibition featured artists Augusta Savage, Marion Bagley, Clifton Thompson Hill, Laura Wheeler, Allan Freelon, William McKnight Farrow, Charity Govens, Caroline Cook, and Terrevous L. Douglas.  Alain Locke (author of the essay in the 1939 exhibition catalogue) spoke at Douglass High School in conjunction with the exhibition.  It’s notable that the participating artists came from Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. rather than Maryland, and many were already fairly well known nationally.  Similar exhibitions appeared in major cities across the US in the 1920s and if you’re interested in learning more about them, I recommend reading Bridget R. Cooks’ Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum (2011).

Following Baltimore’s 1926 exhibition, more opportunities for African American artists to show their work slowly started to appear in the city, though very often separate from the work of white artists.  In 1928, the Charcoal Club announced that its spring exhibition, one of the highlights of Baltimore’s art scene at the time, would not be juried, allowing African American artists to enter.  According to a March 16, 1928 article in The Sun, “Should…Negro artists and sculptors enter the exhibition it will mark the first time they have participated in an exhibition held under white auspices.”  In 1931, members of the Baltimore chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity organized an exhibition at the Pitcher Street Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library featuring, among many other things, paintings and works on paper by African American artists on loan from the collections of Howard University and the Afro-American newspaper.  Artwork by African Americans was again exhibited at high schools in Baltimore in 1932, this time organized by the Harmon Foundation, the same group that put together the BMA’s exhibition in 1939.

Several years later, in 1937, the BMA’s Board of Trustees organized the Committee of the City, a Baltimore-wide group with representatives from nearly every imaginable organization including prominent African Americans Sarah Collins Fernandis, Vivian Cook, Lillie M. Jackson, Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., Carl Murphy, and Harry T. Pratt.  The committee members surveyed their organizations and reported back about what types of exhibitions and programs were of interest, eventually leading to popular exhibitions such as Labor in Art, Religious Art, and Contemporary Negro Art.

AN006_040

Boys and sculpture, Contemporary Negro Art exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1939. Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. AN6.40

I’m looking forward to learning more about this fascinating piece of Baltimore’s history and would love to hear from you about it.

Celebrating the BMA’s Monuments Men

PCP05_36_001

Charles Parkhurst in the BMA Education Department, October 1965. People Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. PCP.5.36.1

Tracy Lewis, BMA Archives Intern

When I first sat down with the BMA Archives’ People Photograph Collection, I felt like a stranger lost in a crowd. As a Library and Archives intern on a project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), I have been rearranging and processing photographs, negatives, and slides of people who have are in some way connected to the Museum, whether they be staff, members of the Board of Trustees, speakers, or visitors to the galleries. Over the past seven months, I have gotten to know these people in the crowd. I even know some of their birthdays, such as former Museum Director Charles Parkhurst, who was born on January 23, 1913. He and former Associate Director Denys P. Myers were both Monuments Men.

Men and women who have served in the US Armed Forces have not only served their country, but also the world’s art. In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (MFAA) of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Divisions of the Allied Armies. Their story made popular by the 2014 film starring Matt Damon and George Clooney, the Monuments Men were 345 volunteer museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, educators, and other experts from 14 nations. The MFAA selected them to retrieve, protect, and return cultural artifacts that had been looted by Nazi forces during World War II.

PCP02_68_001

Denys Peter Myers, June 1961. People Photographs Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. PCP.2.68.1

An architectural historian and Episcopalian deacon who worked at the Museum from 1959 until 1965, Denys P. Myers helped Lt. John Skilton to salvage the Trepolo ceiling in the Residenz Palace in Würzberg, Germany. Allied bombing in 1945 had destroyed part of the ceiling of the palace and left Trepolo’s painting Olympus and the Four Continents exposed to the elements. Skilton and his crew scoured the region for lumber and rebuilt the ceiling. Restoration of the palace wasn’t completed until 1990.

Parkhurst, Director of the BMA from 1962 until 1970, served as a Navy gunnery officer in the Mediterranean prior to his appointment as deputy chief of the MFAA section of the US Military Government in Germany around the end of the war. France named Parkhurst a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor in 1948 for his contribution to the reclamation of the art stolen by the National Socialists. On November 7, 1945, Parkhurst and 24 other military officers signed the Wiesbaden Manifesto in protest to a US government directive that ordered the Monuments Men to ship 202 German-owned paintings held at the Wiesbaden Collecting Point to the National Gallery of Art. In a 1982 interview, Parkhurst said he and his fellow officers likened the federal government’s demand to the very looting that instigated their mission.

Parkhurst wholeheartedly believed in the responsibility of a museum to educate its visitors. In his first annual report to the Board of Trustees, excerpts of which were published in The Baltimore Museum of Art News in 1964, the Director listed several objectives for the museum. One of those objectives, he said should be “to broaden and to enrich the visitor’s knowledge of the world, particularly of his own cultural heritage; but also to shed light upon cultures other than his own which otherwise he might not recognize, let alone understand.”  Without his and Myers’ efforts to rescue European art from the plundering of the Nazis, these cultural treasures might not exist for museum visitors worldwide to learn about today. The experiences that Parkhurst, Myers, and the many other individuals who are pictured in the People Photograph Collection have brought to the Museum are treasures in themselves that add a dynamic dimension to the art displayed in the BMA’s galleries. Preservation of the photographs and other records in the BMA Archives make their stories available so that others may learn about and understand their legacy to the Museum.

Home Stories Profiles: Michelle Gomez and Anthony Summers

Anthony Summers and Michelle Gomez

Anthony and Michelle lived with a reproduction of The Steerage by Alfred Stieglitz for one month.

What could people discover about their ideas of home and art by living with a life size reproduction of a BMA artwork for one month? Home Stories is our quest to find out…

Partners Michelle Gomez and Anthony Summers live at the intersection of two neighborhoods in North Baltimore, and it seems their lives are, at least in part, shaped by intersections. Michelle is an independent curator and arts organizer and Anthony is an art-lover working in finance. Their home is filled with beautiful objects they have made and collected alongside tomes on economics and books on cultural theory and art history. Their responses to The Steerage were very different, yet complementary, emerging from the intersections of art, finance, migrant experience, and activism.

When you visit Imagining Home at the BMA you’ll have the opportunity to watch a video of Michelle and Anthony with The Steerage alongside two households that also lived with it.

Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage. From the journal "291" (Nos. 7-8, September-October 1915). 1907, published 1915. Photogravure, Sheet: 465 x 318 mm. (18 5/16 x 12 1/2 in.), Image: 333 x 264 mm. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Cary Ross, BMA 1988.565

Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage. From the journal “291” (Nos. 7-8, September-October 1915). 1907, published 1915.
Photogravure, Sheet: 465 x 318 mm., Image: 333 x 264 mm. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Cary Ross, BMA 1988.565

Imagining Home, the inaugural exhibition for the BMA’s new Joseph Education Center brings together more than 30 works from across the BMA’s collection to explore the universal theme of home.

A Short History of Epic Pillow Forts

Since the dawn of time, humans have been rearranging their stuff. Stonehenge, Easter Island, the Great Pyramids, can all be seen as the results of people deciding to move their things around. As soon as couch cushions, chairs, and blankets were available, someone was probably combining these pieces in ways that they were never intended to be combined. People (of all ages) use furniture and fabric to make forts within their homes for a lot of reasons, but most of these boil down to a need find some temporary refuge from everyday life. If the home is a shelter, then the pillow fort is a shelter within the shelter, an interior within the interior. The pillow fort is defensible space, but it is not made of hard warlike materials. Instead it is soft, the comfortable, inviting ordinary stuff of the home is rearranged into new configurations to make new kinds of space. The pillow fort has a whimsical legibility, it reads as both the castle and the couch at the same time, and it invites us to engage with it, to use it, and to remake it. This making and remaking is extra fun with company. Just like in full size home-building (or Stonehenge building), the creation of the pillow fort needs extra hands present, if only to balance the couch cushions while the blanket is draped over the top.

A sketch of the BMA's pillow fort activity

A sketch of the BMA’s pillow fort activity

The pillow fort uses many of the same construction methods present in domestic architectural history. First a site must be chosen and prepared. Low heavy space can be made by stacking things, and higher, lighter space is defined by adaptable frames. Modular textiles can wrap around all of this and create enclosure, with openings back to the outside world. No pillow fort, or house, is complete without something like a hearth. People need light, entertainment, and the social space that’s created around an active center like a fireplace, ipad, or flashlight…

For The Baltimore Museum of Art’s first Art After Hours event, come join us in the collaborative construction of a giant pillow fort in the Museum’s East Lobby. The event will include live music, local food and beer, and other activities in conjunction with the Imagining Home exhibition. Baltimore is our home, and the BMA invites you to come and make yourself at home here for the evening. We’ll make a temporary home within the lobby, come participate in person, and follow along with the hashtag #BMApillowfort on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The pillow fort will be up over the weekend, but we hope you’ll be comfortable and cozy enough to come back anytime!

– Fred Scharmen and Marian April Glebes