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Shên-kan Summer

By Sarah Hammond, Special Projects Assistant at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

The dog days of summer—all things considered, we don’t have it so bad here in the Berkshires. Sun-dappled hills roll beneath blue skies, yielding to brilliant stars once the cool evening closes in. A late-afternoon walk past the Clark’s lily pond is accompanied by a serenade of twittering birds and gulping frogs. It really doesn’t get much better.

View of the Clark’s original 1955 building from the lily pond.

Our galleries, however, conjure up visions of a completely different landscape.

Ruin with horse and rider in foreground, possibly Clark expedition member Arthur de Carle Sowerby, summer 1909 (Smithsonian Institution Archives, image #2008-3086)

This mural greets visitors in the introductory gallery of Unearthed, our special exhibition on view in the Manton Research Center. At the base of a craggy rise, a lone rider, shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows, slouches atop his pony. A white cloth is tucked under the brim of his hat to reflect the blazing sun. The overgrown ruins of a massive, stone tower loom over man and steed, dominating the rough, light-blasted terrain. In the distance, unfocused peaks rise through the haze into the stark sky. Heat seems to quiver over the scene and radiate into the gallery.

The photograph was taken in northwestern China, probably during the summer of 1909. The rider appears to be Arthur de Carle Sowerby, one member of a team of explorers led by our founder Sterling Clark across the provinces of Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansu. Our shows this summer transport visitors to this remote terrain, commemorating the Clark expedition and the centennial of Clark and Sowerby’s joint publication of Through Shên-kan: The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908–9 (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1912).

Zhenmushou (Tomb Guardian Beast), Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). Lingtai County Museum, Pingliang.

Members of the Clark expedition at Yulin, Shaanxi province, December 1908 (from left to right: Sowerby, Clark, Cobb, Grant, Douglas) (Smithsonian Institution Archives, image #2008-3140

Ten Thousand Buddhas caves, Yan’an, Shaanxi province, January 2009 (top) and December 1908 (bottom) (2009 photo courtesy of Li Ju; 1908 photo Smithsonian Institution Archives, image #2008-3130)

(Learn more about each show—and the Clark expedition—from our special exhibition websites, accessed via clarkart.edu.)

Detail of Arthur de Carle Sowerby on horseback.

Sowerby, no doubt sweaty, grimy, and exhausted, gamely poses for the camera. His posture is uncannily similar to that of the silhouetted miniature rider who enlivens the front cover of Through Shên-kan.

Through Shên-kan: The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908–9 (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1912)

Detail from the cover of “Through Shên-kan”

This same figure sits squarely in the center of the “official” Clark expedition flag designed by artist Mark Dion for his installation Phantoms of the Clark Expedition.

Mark Dion (American, b. 1961), Shên-kan Expedition Flag—Clark Expedition, 2012. Felt and grommets, 36 x 48 in. © Mark Dion Studio, courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Photo by Art Evans © 2012 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts and Mark Dion

Meant to mimic the official flag of The Explorers Club in New York City—where the Phantoms installation, commissioned by the Clark, is installed—Dion’s monochrome pennant is the ghostly double of the Through Shên-kan cover and, perhaps, of the photo of Sowerby. For his project, Dion recreated the material remnants of the Clark expedition in papier-mâché; it is as though the artist has summoned these pale “phantoms” from the mists of time to haunt the halls of the Club.

Mark Dion (American, b. 1961), Campfire—Clark Expedition, 2012. Papier-mâché, dimensions variable. © Mark Dion Studio, courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Photo by Art Evans © 2012 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts and Mark Dion

Mark Dion (American, b. 1961), Provisions and Equipment—Clark Expedition (rear left) and Equipment—Clark Expedition (on table), 2012. Papier-mâché, dimensions variable. © Mark Dion Studio, courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Photo by Art Evans © 2012 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts and Mark Dion

These “sun-bleached bones of . . . expeditions past,” as Dion calls them, act as relics of the expedition, encouraging us to investigate and interrogate Sterling Clark’s reasons for organizing such an ambitious journey, and to consider the expedition’s lasting legacy.

During these dog days of summer, we can contemplate these burning questions—from the luxury of the Clark’s cool galleries!

Surveying equipment from the expedition (including a scale and weights, survey’s transit and tripod, precision stopwatches, measuring tape, trunks, and a level rod), displayed at Stone Hill Center, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass., summer 2012. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass., photo by Michael Agee.

By Giulio Sorgini, graduate student in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art

I’d like to offer another possible answer to the question “when are copies useful?” which Copycat co-curator Alexis Goodin posed in the wall text for her exhibition and in an accompanying blog post.

In the Fall of 2011, I took a seminar on the American painter John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). The professor, Marc Simpson, had each of the students in the class choose one of Sargent’s pictures in the Clark collection to study over the course of the semester. I chose Blonde Model of circa 1877—a modestly sized oil painting (roughly eighteen inches tall by fifteen inches wide) that depicts the head and shoulders of a nude female model.

For our first assignment of the semester, Professor Simpson had each of us make a pencil drawing of the painting we had chosen. It’s worth noting that the quality of our drawings was, in this case, of little importance. The point of Professor Simpson’s assignment was not for each of us to produce great works of art—as you can see below, such a project would be beyond my artistic capabilities! The emphasis here was on the process of drawing, which requires careful looking over a long period of time. Whereas I might have spent five or ten minutes in front of Blonde Model had I not been asked to draw it, I stood in front of the painting for upwards of an hour.

Copying a work of art may help you observe things you previously hadn’t noticed. In the case of Blonde Model, I had barely considered the manner in which Sargent applied paint to canvas until I set out to draw it. I noticed that the model’s hair, for instance, was merely suggested by several exuberant strokes of the brush; the background and the model’s chest were similarly painted with little concern for detail. This loose handling of the paint was, for me, a strong indication that Blonde Model was conceived of as a studio exercise, and not a commissioned painting.

In the subject’s face, I observed Sargent’s method of applying color in “patches,” as opposed to blending the paint to create a completely smooth or homogenous surface. After a bit of research, I learned that Sargent’s technique here was consistent with the instruction he’d received in the atelier of the Parisian artist Carolus Duran. Sargent’s early training under Duran was ultimately a major component of my seminar paper.

In an age where high-quality digital reproductions are easily accessible, it may seem unnecessary for someone studying a work of art to spend time drawing it. But I have found that any activity that prolongs my engagement with an original art object is worth doing. By fixing my attention on Sargent’s painting, I was able to see things I wouldn’t have noticed if I had only looked at it briefly or in reproduction.

So I’d say that copying Blonde Model was useful for me in that it opened up multiple avenues for research.

 

Image credit:

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), Blonde Model, c. 1877. Oil on canvas © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.574

Clark Copycats

By Deon Soogrim, Clark Intern

The Clark’s Copycat exhibit displayed a wide range of drawing, printmaking, and photographic techniques used for reproduction. Artistic creativity and intention vary depending on the artist and the work being copied. The works being displayed demonstrated the possibilities and limitations of past methods of reproducing art.

The computer application Adobe Photoshop has expanded the ways in which reproductions can be used to expand a work’s subject matter or to add comedy. Bouguereau’s  Nymphs and Satyr is popularly used as source material that is manipulated and expanded upon. We have found examples of his Satyr replaced with subjects like Spider-Man—and the entire painting being re-imagined as a Manga animation. We have also seen great works of art being incorporated into advertisements and creative responses to older works.

Nothing is safe.

Many works in the Clark’s collection have been appropriated by artists, advertisers, and copycats around the globe. I have collected a wide range of reproductions ranging from the artistic study to fantastic manipulations.

Degas remains as a source of artistic inspiration and study. Here a fellow artist has chosen to do a study of one of Degas’s ballerina paintings using oil pastel and charcoal. He does not cite a specific source of inspiration for this copy, but we can see clear similarities with the Clark’s Dancers in a Classroom. The artist uses a similar subject matter as Degas’s painting, paying attention to the ballerina’s scale and the way in which the frills of her tutu are rendered. Also the light rose-pink color unites the two paintings, though the artist uses a more vibrant color palette than the earth tones that Degas employs.

This artist employs Degas’s ballerina sculptures as a starting point to create a unique interpretation.  This work by Flickr user “Citybumpkin” modifies the Old Master’s work by using a light painting photography technique. We see the sculpture’s negative shape surrounded by crackling light and energy through the use of long exposure settings and L.E.D.  lights. Improvements in modern technology has given the artist new and exciting tools with which to reproduce and create unique works based works by artists like Degas.

Examples of reproduced images do not need to remain tied to their source imagery. This artist from DeviantArt.com completely re-imagines Bouguereau’s painting Nymphs and Satyr into an anime animation. The artist keeps the original work’s composition and general subject matter, but adds his own unique spin to the original work. It looks as if the drawing is placed somewhere in the future or on a different planet where people can fly!

This reproduction preserves Bouguereau’s painting completely, but reapplies it into advertising. Creative use of an image is not only limited to reproducing a new work of art based on a previous work. Instead, advertisers can use a work of art like Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr to add additional attributes to their product. Hoffman Cigars sought to attract potential customers’ attention by adding what they saw as a provocative image to their cigar packaging. This use of the image reinserts Bouguereau’s painting into the popular vocabulary in a new and reworked way.

Tampax’s creative ad for their product is inspired by the classic example of Jean-Leon Gerome’s The Snake Charmer. We can see how Gerome inspired the creation of this advertisement by looking at its subject matter, context, and painting style. In both we are given a snake charmer who is manipulating their own respective “snakes.” Tampax replaces the snake from the original painting to one of their own products. The similarities continue as each work is situated in similar location, indicated by the subject sitting on the floor and the ornamentation on the walls. Though this ad is not a direct appropriation of the previous work , we can see how a painting made a hundred years ago can influence culture today.

Image credits:

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), Dancers in the Classroom, c. 1880 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.562

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1879-81 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.45

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French), Nymphs and Satyr, 1873 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.658

Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824–1904), The Snake Charmer, c. 1879. Oil on canvas, 82.2 x 121 cm. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.51

Nine-time Grammy Award-nominee Janis Ian comes to the Clark for a remarkable double-header, featuring a free book reading on April 19 and a concert on April 20. Ian’s breakthrough hits “Society’s Child (Baby, I’ve Been Thinking)” and “At Seventeen” introduced this formidable talent to the world in the mid-sixties, and Ian has received critical acclaim for her boundary-breaking music ever since. Ian joins us today for a special interview, in which she talks about her roller coaster ride of a life in show business.

THE CLARK: In a conversation with NPR’s Robert Siegel, you said that the attention you received for your first song, “Society’s Child,” was a tough way to start your musical career—“with a song that everyone hates you for.” You received hate mail and death threats. How did this affect you, at such a young age?

JANIS IAN: Well, of course, it was terribly frightening. For years, I was scared of the audience every time I walked on stage. But it also taught me a huge lesson—that music is the most powerful of all the arts, because you need nothing more than a human being and a voice to change hearts and minds.

TC: About “At Seventeen,” you have said, “I’d never sing it in public. It was just too humiliating.” How so? And how have your feelings about this song changed through the years?

 JI: “At Seventeen” is about me. It’s about as personal a song as you can get. To unzip like that, in front of strangers…? Pretty scary. Pretty embarrassing.

My feelings began to change the first time I looked out over the audience and realized all of them felt the same way. That amazed me!

TC: You wrote your first song, “Hair of Spun Gold,” when you were twelve. Do you remember what drew you to songwriting, and what inspired this first song?

JI: I honestly don’t. There was always music in our home, and I’d been playing guitar for a couple of years. I think it was just a natural progression.

TC: What advice would you give your twelve-year-old self, if you could take her out for lunch?

JI: Don’t trust anyone with your money!

TC: You wrote a piece called “Tiny Mouse” for The Boat Project, “a 30ft boat crafted by an adventurous team of boat builders and volunteers from wood donated by the public. Each piece of wood has a moving, memorable or extraordinary story behind it,” which have become the inspiration for songs by selected singer-songwriters and musicians from different genres. What was the story that inspired “Tiny Mouse”?

JI: A young woman was going through her father’s things in the attic after he died. She ran across a jack-in-the-box clown with a little drawer at bottom, and found a tiny wooden mouse there. She remembered playing with it as a child. For me, the mouse inspired a song that could take things to the max, no holds barred. I kept thinking of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz as I wrote it.

TC: You have said that Nebula Award-winning science fiction writer Mike Resnick is responsible for your first foray into science fiction writing. Why did he sign you up to write an anthology, and what did you learn from writing it?

JI: Mike kept saying he thought I could be a great short story writer and novelist, and I kept telling him I didn’t write stories or novels. He signed me up to force me into writing. I learned that I love to write, and it doesn’t matter what genre!

TC: You have built a successful writing career in many genres, including songwriting, autobiography, science fiction, essays, and poetry. Is there a genre that you would love to try, in which you have not yet experimented?

JI: I really haven’t begun to scratch the surface of writing fiction. I’ve finished exactly nine stories, and it’s going to take a lot more time than I’ve got to ever be good at it. I’m waiting until someone hands me enough money to stay home all the time, at which point I’m going to totally devote myself to that!

TC: You were the musical guest on the very first episode of Saturday Night Live. What do you remember from this performance?

JI: I had a fever of 104 and strep throat, so not much…I remember seeing Jim Henson with The Muppets and laughing my face off. Everyone was incredibly nervous because the show was live. Billy Preston was terrific. All the cast were really nice. No one knew it would be legendary!

TC: In 1983, you took a break from the music business that lasted nine years. What did you do during that time, and what brought you back to music?

JI: I learned not to be monochromatic—I studied a lot of forms besides my own, forms I could fail in, like classical ballet. Forms that led me to new things in my own work, like script analysis and acting. I never left music, though. I wrote all that time. I just didn’t record.

TC: How long did it take you to write Society’s Child: A Life in Song, and what was your process for writing the book?

JI: It took about five months, though I took a lot of time off during that period. I didn’t really have a process beyond the advice [fantasy writer] Mercedes Lackey gave me, which was “Sit butt in chair. Write.” Good advice!

TC: Of Society’s Child: A Life in Song, the ALA Booklist wrote, “She writes casually and conversationally about her ups and downs and the life lessons she learned. Even recounting decisions that were stupid (quite often) and bad things that happened to her (many), she keeps us on her side, hoping things eventually turn out well. Fans will love the book, of course, but many nonfans, too, should find this painfully candid memoir hard to put down.” Could you tell us how you felt during the release of such a “painfully candid” book?

JI: I tried not to think about it, really. I had a group of seven or eight “dedicated readers,” old and new friends and writers who read chapters as I finished and offered criticisms and comments, particularly if they felt I wasn’t putting enough heart into something. When I finished, before I turned it in, I contacted a number of people who are in the book and sent them copies, asking if they felt anything needed correction. (Several asked that I change their names in fact!) But for myself, I wasn’t nervous—I’ve always been pretty open about my life.

A guest post by Dallas-based contemporary artist Meg Fitzpatrick

John Singer Sargent is on my Top Ten List of best painters who ever lived. The Clark has lent four of his paintings to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, and one of them—Fumée d’Ambre Gris (Smoke of Ambergris)—is among my Sargent favorites.

Why is he in my pantheon? One reason is his masterful handling of paint.  As seen in Fumée, Sargent manipulates the color white in a way that every studio art teacher can use as a textbook example of how to handle white. There is no color white in nature; it exists only in a can or tube of manufactured paint. And, every beginner painter (myself included) automatically uses it straight from the tube; and, thus fails to capture the essence of sunlight or the subtle recesses of a distant wall. From Sargent we learn a trade secret: mix white with other colors to capture on canvas what you see in life.

To imitate sunlight, a touch of orange is the secret. To render a remote corner, violet grey is the solution. Fumée is basically a monochromatic painting, but on examination you rarely see white “straight” from the tube.

Here are a few other reasons, which are evident in Fumée, that I greatly admire Sargent. His compositions are cropped, a device that was modern for his time. He was innovative in his choice of subject matter, using travels to exotic locales for ideas. The North African woman inhaling vapors in Fumée was an image from a trip to Tangier.

Since I’ve opened and shared my art voting book, my number one favorite Sargent painting is The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, which is on permanent display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). I remember being fortunate my senior year of college when I was selected to intern at the MFA. I’d take breaks and visit this painting—simply staring firsthand at the masterpiece that I had seen in an art history slide lecture.

When I lived in the Boston area decades later, I would again sit on the same wooden bench before the sisters and sketch as a way to practice drawing and linger with Sargent.  The study below is of eight-year-old Maria Louisa (the sister in the left corner). Of note, the Boit heirs gave the MFA the six-foot-tall, blue-and-white vases you see in the painting. They now flank this nearly life-size (87-3/8” x 87-5/8”) group portrait.

If you are a Sargent fan or simply like looking at an excellent painter’s work, I recommend the drive to Fort Worth. Sargent’s Youthful Genius: Paintings from the Clark is open through June 17, as is The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark across the street at the Kimball Art Museum.

Image Credit:

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), Fumée d’Ambre Gris (Smoke of Ambergris), 1880. Oil on canvas, 139.1 x 90.6 cm. Acquired by Sterling Clark, 1914. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (1955.15)

Spring is coming! In honor of warmer weather, budding trees, and blossoming flowers, we hope you’ll enjoy these stunning photographs, taken by master photographer Allen Rokach.

Allen visited the Clark last summer to lead a workshop focusing on nature photography.  His photographs (and the photographs of the workshop participants) were so beautiful that we reconnected with Allen for this special interview, in which he talks about everything from Egyptian antiquities to wildflowers to geology—and shares his secrets to creating stunning photography.

THE CLARK: How did you get your start as a photographer?

ALLEN ROKACH: I began taking photographs some forty years ago while working as a geologist. My photos then were strictly functional, though I always enjoyed being in some of the beautiful outdoor locations. When I gave up geology, I decided to make photography my profession, though I wasn’t very good. I learned on the job, taking assignments for newspapers, magazines, and private clients. I also took workshops with some outstanding photographers, such as Ernst Haas, Bruce Davidson, Arnold Newman, and Roman Vishniac. They were wonderful people who guided me, encouraged me, and helped me transform my vision. In the late 1970s, I landed a position as Director of Photography at the New York Botanical Garden. That opened many doors for me professionally.

TC: Your work has spanned everything from public relations and photojournalism to art and sculpture to travel and profiles. Which area do you most enjoy, and why?

AR: I enjoy them all because each offers a unique challenge. But I have to admit that the travel and features photography I did for Time/Warner and other publications were the most fun. I enjoyed getting to visit some of the most beautiful and interesting locations on earth and meeting some of the world’s most amazing people. Imagine being sent on assignments to places like Papua New Guinea, Egypt, the Swiss Alps, Hawaii, and the American Southwest. And imagine photographing jazz musicians in New Orleans, magnificent gardens of Charleston, South Carolina, wildflowers across Texas, and country musicians at the Country Music Awards. It’s the reason I got into photography and the reason I stayed with it for nearly forty years.

TC: You have traveled the world on photographic assignments that range from the bulb fields of Holland and the antiquities of Egypt to the vast Amazonian rain forest. Could you tell us about one of your most memorable assignments?

AR: Believe it or not, one of my most memorable assignments was one I got early in my career—maybe that’s why it’s so memorable. Anne Millman and I proposed an idea to Science Digest Magazine on the mysteries of ancient Egypt. Anne, who is now my wife, is a great researcher and she had come across some interesting explanations about the creation of various Egyptian antiquities. She would write the article and I would photograph it. (By the way, working as a team was a big advantage in getting assignments since it saved the editors a lot of effort.)

We got the assignment and flew off to Egypt to gather more information and bring back photographs that, as the editor put it, had to be “smasheroos.” It was quite challenging. I had to shoot inside the dark interior chambers of the tombs without flash or other modern supplemental lighting. All I used was a relay of mirrors, replicating what some archeologists surmised was the illumination used in the past. Then I set up shots of the pyramids at night, again without added light.

Along the way, we got to meet the local people, many of whom helped us get the story and the images we needed. And we got to see the amazing temples, tombs, and landscapes of this ancient historic land. It was an exciting and exhilarating experience that made me realize photography can open many doors for me, if I do it well and come up with good ideas.

TC: Let’s take a look at some of the amazing photographs you took while leading the “Focus on Nature” workshop at the Clark. What inspired you about this foggy landscape scene?

AR: I took this photo during our first morning out. We had everything a nature photographer dreams of: an incredible sunrise, fog, mist, and a bank of low-hanging clouds as day broke. The sun merged with the mist, creating an amazing atmosphere of mystery on the landscape. Everyone enjoyed photographing in the fog and mist. The challenge is to the get the shot before the fog and mist disappear. I decided to use a panoramic format to draw the viewer’s attention to the mountain and cloud and to minimize the dark foreground. I slightly underexposed to add contrast, which helps emphasize the trees in the background and the mountain itself.

TC: Could you tell us about the choices you made in lighting and coloring these two images of the same flowers?

 AR: Actually, the lighting and color in these images are two different considerations. This is natural light but it’s filtered through the field of wildflowers. This soft, filtered light is ideal for a technique I call a “shoot through,” which involves getting low to the ground in a field or bed of flowers, selecting a subject that’s in the middle range from front to back and focusing on that flower using a narrow depth of field. This causes the foreground and background to be thrown out of focus while the subject remains relatively sharp and seems to float in the composition. If it’s a windy day, the movement of the flowers can register as a blur, adding to the impressionistic feel of this effect.

A “shoot through” gives the photographer an opportunity to experiment with selective sharpness and create unusual images of flowers that respond to the light and weather conditions at hand. These particular flowers were ideal candidates for a shoot through. Their petals were translucent, making it easy for the light to illuminate them. As for the color, I was not so taken with the golden/orange color of these flowers so I experimented with Photoshop to get a brighter yellow to achieve the aesthetic effect I wanted.

TC: What do you enjoy most about teaching?

AR: I enjoy sharing. After nearly forty years of making images, I believe I have the skill, knowledge, and experience to help my students become better at seeing the world; learning how to recognize what is beautiful versus photogenic; and to understand how to imagine what is possible with their cameras.

People ask me, “Is it possible to learn to be creative with the camera?” My experience has been that it certainly is! Some will learn from instructions and demonstrations; some will learn from the critique sessions, and some will gain insight by seeing how others approach the same subjects. A small group of photographers shooting in the same area and using the same basic equipment will see that each individual finds a unique photographic perspective. I get tremendous pleasure from guiding this learning process and seeing how much fun people have along the way.

TC: How did you and the participants spend your time here at the Clark during the “Focus on Nature” workshop?

AR: First, it’s important to realize that people don’t automatically think of the Clark as a location for nature photography. The Clark is known for art and its setting in a college town. So it shakes people up a bit to think in terms of nature, which is a good thing, because it makes people think outside the box and spurs them to be creative.

Once we got past that initial disorientation, I wanted participants to look with fresh eyes at the landscape all around the Clark and to see it with the sensibility of a nature photographer. That begins with an appreciation for natural light. That’s why I began the workshop with a presentation called “The Power of Natural Light.” In the presentation, I showed participants how to discover the beauty of every kind of natural light and how to capture it with their cameras.

Then, over the next two days, we took a series of outings, starting at sunrise and ending past sunset, exploring various settings around Williamstown, with an eye toward the light. The participants soon found out that shooting under rapidly changing lighting conditions is very challenging and they came to understand that decisions must be made quickly.

Between our outings, we worked in a classroom at the Clark to download and edit the images we had taken and hold our daily review session. This is always an eye-opener for participants because they realize how each person brings a different vision even though they are looking at the same scene.

If we liked what we saw, we probed to find out how the photographer approached it, visually and technically. If there were problems with an image, we discussed what the photographer might have been done differently. In this way, everyone became more familiar with the basic terminology used in digital photography (jpeg vs. raw, resolution, white balance, etc.); learned techniques to solve certain common problems—like getting the right exposure by using histograms or changing the ISO; or creating an interesting composition—and had a chance to learn about workflow procedures and after capture techniques that I use to enhance and/or “fix” a photo. Most important, we learned to expand our creative vision by seeing what was possible with the right imagination.

Of course, each day and each review session is different, but the concept is the same and it always enables participants to become better photographers.

TC: What was the main lesson that you intended participants to take away from the workshop?

AR: My intention always is to make all the participants better photographers, no matter where they are when they start. I know from many years of offering photo workshops that everyone has a creative core, everyone can learn, and everyone can improve. We may learn in different ways and at different speeds. We may start from different places. Some may need to learn techniques and develop their skills. Others may need to find their personal vision and gain confidence in finding their creative selves. We are all unique and I believe that everyone can create meaningful, imaginative photographs. Photography is wonderfully accessible means of self-expression.

I give participants a handout of my 10 commandments for better photography, and I’ll share it here with you:

  1. Think for yourself: Don’t let fancy gadgets think for you.
  2. Less is more: Include only what is necessary in each frame; eliminate anything extraneous.
  3. Light is everything: Use every kind of light to its best advantage.
  4. Be objective: The camera sees everything; train your eye to do the same.
  5. Imagine before you shoot: The picture your camera takes can only be as good as the picture your mind creates.
  6. Make it simple: As a photographer your task is to make order out of chaos.
  7. Beauty is made, not found: Ordinary objects seen by a sensitive eye are transformed into extraordinary images.
  8. Master your equipment: Understand your gear so that it serves the intentions of your eyes and mind.
  9. Never say “done”: There is always one more way to shoot the picture.
  10. Express yourself: The joy of photography comes from the ability to project a unique vision that you can share with others.

TC: You have been invited to judge local, national, and international photographic competitions. What makes a photograph truly great?

AR: To paraphrase a Supreme Court justice’s response to a different question, “I know it when I see it!” More seriously, I think there are elements that make a photograph truly great, though few photographs have them all: 1) an emotional connection to the viewer; 2) a dynamic composition; 3) interesting light; 4) a unique point of view; 5) the decisive moment; and 6) humor.

Interested in learning more about how to take stunning professional photographs? Join Allen Rokach later this year for another “Focus on Nature” workshop at the Clark! Please check www.clarkart.edu/calendar for updates.

 

All images courtesy of Allen Rokach

The Clark Photograph and Clippings Archive contains nearly a million images that were used to teach and study art in the early twentieth century.  Sadly, some of these images represent the only remaining documentation of important works of art. The Lost Art Project draws on the Clark’s photograph and clipping collection to highlight these important lost works.

Today’s lost art work is St. Agnes by Alonso Cano (1601–1667):

St. Agnesis one of approximately 417 works of art from the Kaiser Friedrich Museum that was deposited in the Friedrichshain flak tower, or Flakturm, for safekeeping during the Second World War. The painting is presumed to have been destroyed when the tower was burned in May of 1945.

Click here to learn more.

Where’s My Museum?

By Andrew Davis

Photo by Blake Gardner

With the original museum building closed for renovations, where are my favorite Clark masterpieces? I checked in with curatorial to get the full story. You may find the answers surprising. Come, let’s take a look, shall we?

The Renoirs I love so well have been to Madrid:

And Milan:

And Giverny:

And Barcelona:

And will see quite a few more cities before they return home.

More than one million people have enjoyed the Clark’s collection since these paintings hit the road over a year ago. I hope some of those people come to Williamstown when the collection is reinstalled here in 2014.

It’s all part of ClarkNOW. That’s the snazzy name someone thought up for all the museum programming happening from now until Summer 2014, when the museum building reopens. It’s being renovated now, from top to bottom. It will be bigger and more spacious when it’s done.

There will also be a completely new visitor services building. They’re working on that right now.

ClarkNOW is more than a world tour of paintings. Plenty of things are staying right here in Williamstown. In fact, nearly everything that was in the old museum building is still here at the Clark and on view.

Monet’s Rouen Cathedral? Ugolino’s altarpiece? Homer’s Undertow? They’re all on view now, in the galleries off the main lobby. I just walked over there myself, to be sure.

Photo by Kevin Sprague

There will also be plenty of special exhibitions in the Manton building, and at Stone Hill Center.

Clark Remix, which opened February 12, more than doubled the number of paintings on view in Williamstown. Clark Remix is an utterly different way to enjoy the collection. Think of a salon-style install, and amplify that. There are more paintings per square foot than I’ve ever seen in one place. I don’t know if I can handle it!

Photo by Kevin Sprague

Every single decorative object the Clark displays is shown in a spectacular V-shaped room-within-a-room. That’s hundreds of objects! I have to remind myself to breathe.

Photo by Kevin Sprague

 They’ll be handing out touch screen tablets in case I want to look up info on anything.

Photo by Kevin Sprague

Seeing all this art in a novel way has definitely lit a creative spark, so I’ll be designing my own exhibition with uCurate. I’m excited about this interactive feature. It might be the first of its kind in the world. Anyone can walk up to the screen and arrange digital works from the collection however they like. People can post their exhibitions online, and some of them will actually be chosen to get installed after the museum building reopens! So, if you ever wanted to design exhibitions, here’s your chance. I’ve got a couple ideas…

I’m glad to know ClarkNOW offers plenty to see and do for the next couple years.

When Are Copies Useful?

by Alexis Goodin, co-curator of Copycat

We’ve posed four open-ended questions about the nature and usefulness of copies on a wall graphic in the Copycat: Reproducing Works of Art exhibition:

There surely are many answers to the question “When are copies useful?”—and I hope you’ll respond to this post with your own thoughts on this question—but today I’ll focus on prints and a photograph that copy works that no longer exist, are untraced, or changed by time.  The copies in question are not only fascinating original works of art, but they provide us with important information regarding the appearance of the works that inspired them.

An 1816 fire at Belvoir Castle destroyed the painting Penance from Nicolas Poussin’s first set of canvases depicting the seven sacraments. The fire reduced the ancient wing of the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland to ruins.  The modern building was spared, as were many works of art in the famed collection.  The London Times remarked, “Some of the most valuable pictures of the inimitable collection were fortunately preserved; and, above all, no lives were lost.” The etching Penance by Poussin’s brother-in-law, Jean Dughet, preserves the composition of the destroyed painting, albeit in reverse.

John Skippe, a collector of Old Master drawings, made a chiaroscuro woodcut after a drawing in his collection, which he attributed to Parmigianino. The red chalk drawing, reattributed to an “Imitator of Parmigianino” at the 1958 London sale of Skippe’s collection, hasn’t been located.  The work may be in a public collection as a work attributed to another artist; perhaps it is in a private collection, waiting for the experts of Antiques Road Show to identify it!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York owns François Boucher’s canvas The Dispatch of the Messenger, but the painting’s pendant, The Arrival of the Messenger, has been untraced since the pair was offered for sale in February 1856. Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet not only copied Boucher’s compositions as drawings, but made prints of them as well.  While Beauvarlet reversed the compositions of the paintings in his prints—preventing us from reading the narrative as intended from left to right—the print The Arrival of the Messenger is nevertheless a valuable document of Boucher’s oeuvre. In fact, Alexandre Ananoff’s catalogue raisonné of Boucher’s paintings uses the print The Arrival of the Messenger to illustrate the lost painting.

Although not destroyed, the nineteenth-century chimeras and gargoyles made for the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris—part of Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration efforts of the medieval structure—have eroded over nearly two centuries.  The anonymous French photograph of the chimeras on the roof records the pristine appearance of these sculptures, giving us a sense of the powerful destructive force of weather and pollution.

Copies help preserve works of art that are no longer accessible to us, or are changed by time. I hope you’ll have a chance to explore the works of art featured in Copycat, now on view at the Clark through April 1.

 

Image Credits:

Jean Dughet (French, 1619–1679), after Nicolas Poussin (French, active in Italy, 1594–1665), From the First Suite of The Seven Sacraments, c. 1650. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Ordination, Matrimony. Etchings on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2011

John Skippe (English, 1742–1811), after Parmigianino (Italian, 1503–1540), The Entombment, 1783. Overall: 1 3/16 x 10 5/16 in. (3 x 26.2 cm); image: 8 1/4 x 10 5/16 in. (21 x 26.2 cm); sheet: 13 7/16 x 16 7/16 in. (34.2 x 41.7 cm). Color woodcut on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1980.21

Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet (French, 1731–1797), after François Boucher (French, 1703–1770), The Arrival of the Messenger and The Dispatch of the Messenger, after 1769. Etchings and engravings on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.2236 and 1955.2237

Artist unknown (French), Chimeras, South Tower, Notre Dame, Paris, c. 1855. Albumen print on paper, mounted on canvas. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of Paul Katz, 1995.6.2

By Monica Henry, Education Coordinator

My absolute favorite Clark family program is Start with Art, which serves preschool-aged children and their parents. Younger and older siblings are welcome to join in too, so nobody is left out. We designed Start with Art to introduce young families to museums in a way that, as one parent said, “made me feel comfortable and helped me to understand how to explain art to a child.” Start with Art is all about showing families that visiting a museum can be a fun activity for a family outing.

At each session we offer painting talks to engage children in looking carefully at art, and written gallery discussion guides to spark conversation about the art between parents and their children. We also offer art projects around a theme drawn from the works in our collection. Each session is organized around a different theme that appeals to children. Our January Start with Art event was on “Food and Art.”

Our first priority of the day is to make families feel comfortable and welcomed. We want them to know that we’re excited they’ve come! On the day of the event, Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer (Head of Education Programs), docent Carol Kiendl, our family program volunteer extraordinaire Linda Dragat, and I were all on hand to host.

The first activity on the program was to head to the galleries for a painting talk, which we repeated a little later that morning so that late-comers would have a chance to catch the talk (we know it can sometimes be hard for young families to get out the door on time!). I gave this particular painting talk about The Women of Amphissa, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, which I selected because it is set in an ancient Greek marketplace. Carol Kiendl engaged the children in discussing The Wheatfield by John Constable.I really enjoy giving gallery talks at this program. I guide the group in exploring different sections of the art work, but approach it with a lot of flexibility. Preschool-aged children are excited to tell you about how the image relates to their everyday life. I like to highlight how fun it is to look at details they’ve never noticed before, giving the kids the chance to make discoveries and share their experience with the other children and parents as they talk about what they see.

Talking about art with kids might seem straightforward enough, but engaging children with seemingly complex artworks in a gallery setting can be a tall order for a lot of parents. We want to turn it into a laid-back conversation with their kids, along the lines of: What do you notice? What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? Do you like the picture? Discussing art in general doesn’t have to be hard or complicated, and what we’re trying to do is make it an enjoyable experience.

We share these techniques with parents both by modeling them during the gallery talks and in our written gallery discussion guides. As one parent said, “Start with Art gave me ideas and language for framing a conversation with my child.”

We gave the families some time to do a little exploring in the gallery, and then opened the art room so they could try their hands at “food and art” themed projects. Our masterpiece cookie project was far and away the favorite (who doesn’t love a painting you can eat?). The Clark’s caterer, Steve Wilkinson, made large, rectangular sugar cookies for the kids and supplied icing in four colors—it was the perfect “canvas” for edible pictures.

In another art-making project, kids snipped pictures from magazines and collaged their own stir-frys. We also offered the kids metallic markers and self-stick “gemstones” and let them go to town decorating wooden eggs with fancy stands.

When we design art projects for each Start with Art session (and our Family Days) we try to provide a variety of tactile experiences and motor tasks. If two of the three projects involve the same task, we’ll scrap one and choose another that provides opportunity for the kids to move their hands in another way and problem-solve from another angle.  It’s best to have a variety of materials to look at on the table, and the tactile experience of reaching into the bowls and touching the materials is also important. Are these materials interesting to touch? Do they catch the eye? We also try to bring in things kids haven’t played with before. Are these materials the kids would usually have at home or at school? If the answer is yes, we usually look for another option. The bottom line is that the process of making the projects is more important than the finished product.

Start with Art facilitates meaningful interaction between parents, grandparents, and children through gallery conversations and creative collaboration in the art room. Preschoolers are a curious, enthusiastic bunch, and we love to encourage their ideas, questions, and creativity!

We hope you’ll join us this Saturday, February 11 from 10 am to 12 pm for our next Start with Art program, this time on the theme “Animals.”

Can’t make it this weekend? We’ll also host a “Flowers and Plants”-themed program on Saturday, March 10!

Image credits:

Linnea Keiser-Clark, Finnegan Noyes and Liam Noyes working away

Henry Bradway (child) and Kim and Rich Bradway and Natasha Nugent (child)

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (British, 1836–1912), The Women of Amphissa, 1887. Oil on canvas,
121.9  x 182.9 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (1978.12)

Erin and Linnea Keiser-Clark

Zamir Ashraf eating his “paint”

Finnegan and Liam Noyes showing off their art-making skills

Loghan Strzepa working on her stir-fry collage at a table adapted for preschool height

By Michael Cassin, Director, Center for Education in the Visual Arts

By the time John Singer Sargent visited Venice for the first time in 1880, the Most Serene Republic had been in decline for two centuries. This decline didn’t make any difference to the tourists, who still meandered around the city “elegantly killing time,” sipping espressos at Florian’s cafe. It didn’t deter the artists either; Turner, Whistler, Monet and many others were entranced by the light that shimmered on the city’s waterways and metaphorically dissolved the solidity of its buildings.

But, like an insider keen to show off his local knowledge, Sargent turns his back on “tourist Venice” and leads us off the beaten track, to a little place we’d never find on our own. It might look a bit seedy, with its dark doorways and its walls shedding stucco; we might hesitate to venture down such a narrow alley after nightfall, but Sargent’s confidence is contagious. His painting is a “snapshot” of life in backstreet Venice caught with amazing deftness and painterly self-assurance.

Turning abruptly into the passage we come upon a man and a woman engaged in some private interchange. The man’s attention is fixed on the woman (that salmon pink skirt is pretty distracting!).

The woman has noticed us, though whether she’s pleased to see us or not is hard to say.  As she steps into the wine store she looks at us with…surprise? annoyance? flirtation? Sargent leaves us wondering. And how should we respond?

Personally, I think I’d take a stab at a gracious apology, a “Scusi signora” and head back to Florian’s for another shot of espresso. Or maybe grappa. How about you?

This painting, and three other masterworks by Sargent will be traveling to the Amon Carter Museum of Art in Fort Worth, Texas, this spring! Sargent’s Youthful Genius: Paintings from the Clark will be on view at the Amon Carter from March 11 to June 17, 2012, as part of a joint program with the Kimbell Art Museum, which will concurrently host the exhibition The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark, part of the Clark’s international tour of masterpieces.

Image credits:

Carlo Naya (1816–1882), “Venezia. Riva degli Schiavoni” (con l’Hotel Danieli). Numero di catalogo: 88a. {{PD-1923}}

John Singer Sargent, (American, 1856–1925), A Street in Venice, c. 1880–1882. Oil on canvas, 75.10 x 52.40 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (1955.575)

Game Face

Everyone’s got their game face on for Sunday’s Superbowl, even the paintings and sculpture at the Clark. It seems the Clark’s art favors their hometown team the New England Patriots over the New York Giants.

Hope you enjoy this album that includes our favorite “patriot” and sneak peek of Clark Remix, which opens 2/12.

By Alexis Goodin
Exhibition Co-Curator
and Curatorial Research Assistant at the Clark

Just a couple more labels to mount on the walls, a few lights to tweak, and then Copycat: Reproducing Works of Art will be ready to open to the public. It’s gratifying to see the exhibition become a reality.

Just last fall, James Pilgrim, co-curator of the exhibition, and I were looking at prints in the Manton Study Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, selecting works for this show. We were amazed to discover that the Clark’s collection included more than a thousand works that could be classified as reproductive prints (prints made after other works of art), whether drawings, paintings, or other prints. We saw wonderful works in our first months of research on this exhibition, and had a difficult time narrowing our selection down to just forty-three.

In choosing prints for Copycat, we looked for strong impressions of works in excellent condition. We gave preference to prints that had never been exhibited at the Clark (and, on that note, had to say “no” to a few prints that had been recently shown, as works on paper are sensitive to light and, by a rule, should only once every five years).

James and I looked for works with diverse subjects, made by artists representing a variety of eras and geographies, from sixteenth-century Germany to eighteenth-century Britain, to nineteenth-century France. We also wanted to exhibit prints that utilized a variety of techniques—engraving, etching, lithography, mezzotint, chiaroscuro woodcut, to name just a few—in order to convey the range of options that artists had to choose from when creating prints that copy other art.

I hope you enjoy the works on view as much as I enjoyed selecting them! Here’s a sneak peek at what you’ll see in the galleries:

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Image credits:

Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), Lion Devouring a Horse, 1844. Lithograph on chine collé on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1993.38.1

Francesco Bartolozzi (Italian, 1727–1815), after Guercino, Italian, 1591–1666, The Libyan Sibyl, c. 1780. Etching and color etchings on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Acquired with funds donated by participants in the Friends of the Clark Print Seminar, 1984.75b

Johann Gottlieb Prestel (German, 1739–1808), after Jacopo Ligozzi (Italian, 1547–1627), Allegorical Composition: Virtue Overcoming Sin, 1780. Color etching and aquatint, with gold woodcut additions, on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Acquired by the Clark, 1987, 1987.55

Attributed to Félix Bracquemond (French, 1833–1914), after William–Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825–1905), Nymphs and Satyr, c. 1873. Etching on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1999.6

Charles Courtry (French, 1846–1897), after Théodore Géricault (French, 1791–1824), Trumpeter of the Hussars, c. 1870. Etching and drypoint on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.2423

John Baptist Jackson (English, c. 1701–1780), after Paolo Veronese (Italian, 1528–1588), The Marriage at Cana, 1740. Color woodcut on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2002.1

Édouard Baldus (French, 1813–1889), Statue of Pericles with Standing Figure in the Tuileries, c. 1856. Salt print from a wet-collodion-on-glass negative on paper. Collection of the Troob Family Foundation, TR2003.35.5

David Lucas (English, 1802–1881), after John Constable (English, 1776–1837), Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, 1831–32. Mezzotint on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of the Manton Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007.20.6.1

By local artist and musician Karl Mullen

Curious children, aspiring artists, outdoor adventurers, and people of all ages interested in magical thinking and being inspired, that’s who.

For the past three Saturdays, I’ve led Discover, Collect, Create, a four-week series of art walks on the Clark campus exploring the winter landscape and the creative process. Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer, head of education programs at the Clark, Willinet executive director Debby Dane, and I collaborated on this program, which invites children and parents on open-ended nature walks that heighten their senses and inspire art making. And the Clark’s grounds manager Matt Noyes taught us about the trees, paths and geology of Stone Hill.

Each of the Saturday sessions is different and the participants vary, the common theme being Paul Klee’s famous observation that “drawing is a line that goes for a walk.”   After discussing the concepts of line, pattern, shape and texture, we go exploring.  Next thing you know, everything in sight spurs ideas for drawing: footprints on the path, animal tracks, tree branches, cloud formations, the horizon line atop Stone Hill, geometric shapes of museum buildings down below.

I encourage participants use video and their imaginations to “draw with a camera.”  Thanks to an investment by Willinet in Flip cameras that will be used in this and other community projects, children zoom up the trunks trees, crouch down to capture pockets of stones hidden beneath the snow, and run with the camera to create a kind of kaleidoscope montage. One intrepid artist climbed up the trees (with mom’s supervision) to get a better vantage point for her footage.  It’s about nature from the kids’ point of view.

The first Saturday of the project was 40 degrees and snowless, so participants hiked the Howard Path up Stone Hill and collected sticks, branches, leaves, and stones. They danced to a tin whistle and mimicked the rustling of golden leaves that hang onto the branches of beach trees, despite winter’s bluster.  They also played piano on the trees.

The art project that week was making temporary kinetic sculptures out of birch bark installed on a majestic ash tree that crowns Stone Hill.

Week two was chillier, and, in the spirit of Paul Klee, the group took turns taking a ball of string for a walk to make wonderful line drawings in the fresh snow.

To heighten their audio awareness, they took turns playing musical instruments and listening—really listening—to their echoes off the museum building and the deadened sounds of the music throughout the snowy trails.  They talked about the notion of music being a note going for a walk.

Week three saw a blizzard!  Undaunted, the artists made glorious drawings with sticks and strings and left trails of circles and primary shapes that the falling snow quickly erased as nature reclaimed the temporary markings. More art-making continued inside in the warm penthouse of the Manton Research Center where participants made drawings inspired by their experience outside.

This Saturday is the fourth and final session of Discover, Collect, Create. And it looks like the weather is cooperating—as of this writing the forecast is sunny and in the 40s!  Bundle up and meet us at 1:00 pm in the Clark’s courtyard lobby for a memorable artistic adventure.

Photographs by program participant Michael Stern and Karl Mullen.

The Clark Photograph and Clippings Archive contains nearly a million images that were used to teach and study art in the early twentieth century.  Sadly, some of these images represent the only remaining documentation of important works of art. The Lost Art Project draws on the Clark’s photograph and clipping collection to highlight these important lost works.

Today’s lost art work is St. Mary Magdalene, by Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787).

Batoni’s oil painting was destroyed in the Second World War, during three allied bombing raids of Dresden between February 13 and 14, 1945.

Click here to learn more. 

“From the Vault” is a weekly post highlighting a rare book from the Clark Library’s extensive collection. This week, Collections Management Librarian, Penny Baker, shares the book Professional Criminals of America (1886), by Thomas Byrnes, who served as head of the New York City Police Department detective department from 1880 until 1895.

This is Byrnes:

Here is his preface: And here is a selection of “celebrated robbers”:

Click here to read the book!

View from our Windows

In honor of yesterday’s snowstorm, the Clark staff made this special “View from our Windows” album using our cell phones. We invited our Facebook friends to post photos from their own offices and homes to our wall, expanding the album to include window views from througout the Berkshires.

Join us on Facebook.

Whose windows are these? Clockwise from top left, these windows belong to:

the Clark’s Museum Building Reinstallation Project
the Clark’s Web Developer’s office
the Clark’s Library
the Clark’s Publishing and Information Resources office
Terry Clark’s home in Hancock
the Clark’s Associate Registrar’s office
the Clark’s Curatorial office
the Clark’s Director’s Office
Soaring Eagle Lodge in Charlemont, courtesy of Dona Aria
the Clark’s Capital Campaign office
the Clark’s Marketing and Communications office
the office of the Clark’s Director of Special Projects
Storey Publishing
Pittsfield, Central Block looking west
the Clark’s Graphic Design office

By Michael Cassin, Director, Center for Education in the Visual Arts

I don’t often get homesick for Britain, but at this point in the year as we prepare for another New England winter, I do occasionally find myself thinking about summer days in “old” England. Constable’s Wheatfield is all it takes to get the nostalgia going.

Wheatfield shows the different stages of a harvest. If you look closely, you can see farm laborers at the far edge of the field, scything through the stems of golden wheat while others follow behind them, binding the wheat into sheaves and gleaning—pulling up individual stalks of grain that the reapers have missed.  Even the little boy on the right is contributing something to the collective workload: he and his dog are not simply lazing around in the sun, they are probably guarding everyone’s lunch so the creatures who live in the fields don’t run off with it into the hedgerows.

The wheat harvest was a big event in a rural community. It usually took place in August, when even the British weather might be reasonably warm and dry. But the British climate is famously changeable—I know, believe me, I used to live in Manchester and Edinburgh, as well as here in “Constable Country.” Constable knows it too, and he gets the uncertain weather conditions just right. The summer sun casts warm shadows across the fields, but clouds are gathering in the sky. The workers had better get a move on if they’re going to get the harvest in before the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Image credit: John Constable (English, 1776– 1837), Wheatfield, 1816. Oil on canvas, 21 1/8 x 30 3/8 in. (53.7 x 77.2 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA. Gift of the Manton Art Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007.8.27

The Clark Photograph and Clippings Archive contains nearly a million images that were used to teach and study art in the early twentieth century.  Sadly, some of these images represent the only remaining documentation of important works of art. The Lost Art Project draws on the Clark’s photograph and clipping collection to highlight these important lost works.

Today’s lost art work is Gartenweg mit Hühnern (Garden Path with Chickens), by Gustav Klimt. 

Among many paintings from the Erich Lederer collection, Garden Path with Chickens (1917) was removed to the Schloss Immendorf in Lower Austria for safekeeping during World War II. When the castle was burned by retreating SS troops in 1945, the painting was destroyed.

Click here to learn more.

“From the Vault” is a weekly post highlighting a rare book from the Clark Library’s extensive collection. This week, Acquisitions Librarian and Special Projects Officer, Terri Boccia, shares the first issue of fashion designer Rei Kawakubo’s catalogue, Sixth Sense:

From 1988 to 1991, Kawabuko embarked on a bold experiment that transformed the notion of a fashion catalogue from a documentary listing of individual items into an avant-garde fine arts magazine that incidentally included images of the Comme des Garçons line.

She called the publication Sixth Sense, or Six for short, explaining in the premier issue, “‘Six’ is the sixth sense. It is the sense of the surreal. Although the sixth sense is impossible to describe, ‘flair’ may be one aspect of this sense.” Each issue mixed newly commissioned works by the hottest contemporary fashion photographers showcasing Comme des Garçons wardrobe with iconic images created by the masters of photography. Contemporary artists frequently appeared in the issues, both with their art and as models. The overall gritty quality of the prints is evocative of Kawakubo’s design aesthetic.

The Clark is one of a small number of libraries that holds a complete set of Sixth Sense. This issue features highlights from the Comme des Garçons 1988 season, including Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ portraits of contemporary artists dressed in the firm’s Comme line. Particularly notable is a die-cut overlay in a feature on Jean Cocteau, which puts the French Surrealist in a stylish Comme des Garçons suit.

Click here for more images!