Archive for Friday, June 22, 2007

Handsome prints

Spencer Museum of Art collection encompasses a true paper warehouse

Kate Meyer, curatorial assistant of prints and drawings at the Spencer Museum of Art, looks at two miniature works by artist John Taylor Arms.

Kate Meyer, curatorial assistant of prints and drawings at the Spencer Museum of Art, looks at two miniature works by artist John Taylor Arms.

June 22, 2007

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Curious Collections: Spencer

Slideshow of some of Spencer Museum of Art's Print Room exhibits. Enlarge video

Every Friday, the Spencer Museum of Art opens its Print Room to requests.

Want to look at rock music posters by Rick Griffin, pinups by Alberto Vargas, woodcuts by Antonio Maria Zanetti or photographs by Diane Arbus? Anything is fair game.

"I love how I'm spoiled by getting to be so close to the objects," says Kate Meyer, curatorial assistant of Kansas University's department of prints and drawings.

"You can have a sense of how they were made, a sense of the artist's hand because you're handling that object yourself."

Located on the third floor of the Spencer, the collection contains about 15,000 prints, drawings and photographs. Meyer says strengths of the print collection include 20th century American, German Expressionism, Japanese and local works. Photography fortes feature American documentary and journalistic snapshots from the 1930s-'70s.

Although these fragile works are highly sensitive to temperature, humidity and light, they can be brought out to interested parties on short notice.

"You also have to consider what you do with your collections, not just what you have," adds Stephen H. Goddard, curator of the department.

"We consider ourselves to be a really good university art museum. A lot of students at KU don't realize how lucky they are to have these resources close at hand. It's a wonderful introduction to tangible artwork."

Esquire works

Esquire works

Esquire works

"Around 1980, Esquire made a major donation to the university with a lion's share of the graphic art that went into illustrating the magazine from its first years (1930s) up until the early 1970s. That included Diane Arbus photographs and the famous pinups that were in the magazine," Goddard says.

It also included drawings such as this piece from the March 1953 issue, which illustrated the "really big news about rocket travel," envisioning a flight through space from New York to San Francisco in minutes.

Westermann box

Westermann box

Westermann box

"Something as simple as a letter becomes a work of art," describes Meyer.

In this case, artist H.C. Westermann sent a letter of appreciation to Richard Hollander, a Kansas City sculptor who had given the artist some brass screws as a gift.

"This is actually a very complicated thank-you letter. It includes this beautiful dovetailed box within a box, which he did by hand, and the slide-out lid is carved with tools and a woodburning kit to make a woodcut print," Goddard adds.

Earliest daguerreotype

Earliest daguerreotype

Earliest daguerreotype

Developed by Louis Daguerre in 1839, the daguerreotype is an early type of photograph in which an image is exposed directly onto a mirror-polished surface of silver bearing a coating of chemicals.

"This is the oldest portrait daguerreotype in the world that we know of. It's a pilgrimage object," Meyer says.

Taken by John Draper of his wife, Polly, the 1840 portrait was damaged a century later during a cleaning procedure. The photo image is a reproduction of the faded original to the right.

"There's not a lot of her left. It's not functioning in the way it originally did. It's more of a relic to being the oldest thing," she says.

Windmill photo

Windmill photo

Windmill photo

An 80-foot, Dutch-style windmill at the corner of Ninth Street and Emory Road operated between 1864-1885 before being destroyed by fire in 1905. (For years, it was the site of the Windmill Apartments.)

"It's a great part of Lawrence history, with its onion top," Meyer explains. "What's fun about this photo is the frame is actually made out of wood taken from the windmill."

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