A common misconception about working in museums is that you get to touch the stuff, whether artworks or artifacts. When I lead a tour a common question is: “What is the coolest piece of art you’ve gotten to handle?” As an educator, I have to explain, I’m not allowed to touch the stuff either! While my job requires handling of reproductions, I rarely get to to into the vault and see, or write about, the various treasures we have. Read on to see which treasure from the vault caught the eye of our writer!
The temperature is dropping and the leaves are finally changing; it’s a favorite time of year for many! The hot and muggy days of summer are gone, and it’s finally sweater weather, which all of my coworkers know I’m very excited about. But, more importantly, it’s hot tea and coffee weather, too! I know, I know, you can enjoy delicious, hot drinks throughout the year, but, let’s be honest, they’re best when it’s crisp and cool outside. In honor of this season of change, our treasure from the vault this week is an exquisite tea and coffee set.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I decided to select a work by Hollis Sigler in loving memory of her and in honor of the multitude of breast cancer survivors and those who are no longer with us. This disease has become far too familiar for many of us, whether it has been faced firsthand or experienced through the care of family members or friends. Read on to see how Sigler confronted her illness in her artwork and helped further the conversation around breast cancer research.
Today’s treasure comes from one of FWMoA’s hottest artists, Chuck Sperry. Sperry has been on the rock poster scene for over 20 years and his unique style has resulted in legions of fans who flock to his gallery openings for the chance to purchase one of his sumptuous prints. The women he features are synonymous with fantasized beauty – full lips, mysterious expressions, lithe figures, and perfectly tousled red ringlets. Justice, the print in FWMoA’s collection, embodies Sperry’s oeuvre.
Fish’s decision to focus on still life painting was an interesting one. For centuries there has been a hierarchy of subject matter in art – histories or dramas have been the most highly regarded, followed by portraiture, and then the lowly still life. This latter genre was often viewed as quaint and trite, something light and palatable that female painting hobbyists could do in their spare time when not taking care of the home or their children. While some artists have attempted to raise the status of still lives through history – 17th and 18th century Spanish and Flemish still life painters, for example, whose paintings rival photography in their level of detail and perfection – the genre failed to ever move up the ladder. Fish likely knew that she was tackling an almost impossible subject, but it’s possible that that’s what drew her to it: in a modern world with an abundance of abstract painters, still life painting was a true challenge that she could make her own.
Burroughs’ work in the visual arts took the form of painting, some sculpture, and a large body of relief prints. In Black Venus, Burroughs surely sought to reinterpret Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli’s iconic Birth of Venus. Dr. Alain Locke, along with other Harlem Renaissance intellectuals and writers, set out to redefine their image as the New Negro, which would counter the stereotypes associated with Jim Crow America. They challenged artists to forge a new, authentic iconography for a re-envisioned identity. The arts would draw inspiration from the South, the Caribbean, and pre-colonial Africa—their true cultural roots. Burroughs borrowed compositional elements from Botticelli’s painting of the classical goddess rising from the sea, but provides a renewed definition of beauty by replacing her fair hair and complexion with a rich, dark skin tone.
Over the course of his 30+ year career, Stackhouse has refined his style. He almost exclusively crafts around the forms of ships and snakes, believing that a great artist doesn’t need an abundance of new information. He’s found what works for him, and if it’s not broken, he doesn’t plan on fixing it.
Today, we are more accustomed to posting digital images on social media than printing photographs and putting them in albums. Recently, companies like Polaroid and Fujifilm have manufactured a line of retro looking cameras, like the Fujifilm Instax Mini, that produce prints almost immediately without the need for a darkroom. Perhaps it is a mixture of nostalgia and novelty that has caused a resurgence in popularity with these instant print cameras.
This week’s treasure is a peculiar curiosity. Instead of a painting or print, this week I present a Concert Roller Organ! What is a Concert Roller Organ you ask? Well, it was only the most fashionable form of entertainment for working class Victorian Era Americans. See and listen to FWMoA's Concert Organ play you a tune in the video at the end of this post!
Our first official installment of Treasures from the Vault features one of FWMoA’s original treasures: Snails on Rhubarb. Painted in 1919 by German painter Richard Müller, Snails on Rhubarb is a whimsical study of foliage and the critters inhabiting this small ecosystem. Scattered over several large rhubarb leaves are snails, and a frog who seems to be mid-jump. A glimpse of a pond is seen in the background, which we can imagine as the home of our amphibious friend, his gastropod companions, and other creatures out of sight.