Blogs

Felice natal e eon anno nove

One of our loveliest portraits is of a young Alice Vanderbilt Shepard by John Singer Sargent. Alice was a well known beauty, but she was involved in a childhood mishap that led to a life of enforced inactivity. During one period of convalescence she became interested in the idea of a neutral auxiliary language that could facilitate communication among diverse groups of people. Alice and her husband David Morris founded the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA). Not too long after her death the Interlingua-English Dictionary was published, presenting to the world her life's work, Interlingua, a language for the world to use. All of us here at the Amon Carter wish you a "Felice natal e eon anno nove," which is "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" in Interlingua.

John Singer Sargent, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888, oil on canvas

John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)
Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888
Oil on canvas
1999.20

A Bird of Courage

Before you extract your roasting pan, baster, and meat thermometer from their storage places to cook your holiday bird, I ask that you pause for a moment to honor the nobly awkward fowl that is Thanksgiving’s most famous participant—the turkey.

Benjamin Franklin, purveyor of early American wisdom, is said to have remarked that, in comparison to the badly behaved bald eagle, the turkey was “though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

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John James Audubon, VULGO (WILD TURKEY) Meleagris Gallapavo, Engraving with watercolor on wove, off-white paper, 1826

It’s no wonder, then, that in 1826, American ornithologist John James Audubon chose the wild turkey, or Meleagris gallapavo for the first plate of his monumental publication, The Birds of America (1827–38). Audubon’s grand project to record all the birds of North America was not merely a scientific pursuit but an artistic accomplishment of great ambition. Audubon’s life-sized rendition of the wild turkey is not your grandmother’s frozen Butterball but a resplendent creature with a full beard and intricately articulated copper, yellow, and blue feathers. He stands in a pose designed to show off all the colorful assets belonging to the male of the species. The successful outcome of Audubon’s now-famous project was not simply that he reproduced the birds to scale in a setting that allowed them to appear their most lifelike, but also that he sought the best collaborators to bring his project to life.

Audubon initially relied on the Scottish engraver William Home Lizars to translate his large watercolors into colored engravings, and the first ten plates in the series are the result of Lizars’s efforts. This print in the Amon Carter’s collection was possibly one of the first Audubon works to make its way to America from Edinburgh where it was printed.

If you happen to encounter a wild turkey this season, take care to check out his every attribute. Then, as the Meleagris gallapavo gobbles along his merry way, tip your hat to the prowess of John James Audubon.

Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator

A Familiar Goddess

As a recent addition to the Amon Carter’s staff as an assistant curator, and as a newcomer to Fort Worth, it’s comforting to have art around that reminds me of my east coast origins and the places I’ve been. Chances are, if you have the opportunity to care for and interpret a stellar collection of American art, you have had the privilege of engaging with one of the Diana sculptures created by the renowned nineteenth-century artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. As I ascend the Amon Carter’s Atrium stairs, I am delighted to be greeted by our bronze Diana of the Tower.

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Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), Diana of the Tower, bronze, 1899

A close friend of celebrated New York architect Stanford White, Saint-Gaudens was asked around 1887 to create a sculpture to adorn the top of the architect’s Madison Square Garden. Saint-Gaudens chose to make a monumental weathervane depicting the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana. Traditional classical sculptures of Diana were robust, but Saint-Gaudens, in the only female nude sculpture of his oeuvre, sculpted a more lithe version of the goddess, delicately balanced on one foot as if interrupted mid-hunt. When the original eighteen-foot-tall Diana, adorned with flying drapery, was installed atop the building’s tower, White and Saint-Gaudens were dismayed to discover she was out of proportion with the building and too unwieldy to move well. Down she came to be replaced with the thirteen-foot Diana now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, my former curatorial home. She was the talk of the town in her heyday.

Nineteenth-century Americans judged the sculpted goddess a major hit, and she quickly became the most famous nude in the country. Saint-Gaudens then went about creating intricate bronze reductions of the larger goddess. Each one of the smaller versions was modeled by hand and varied in the configuration of bow, arrow, string, hair, patination, and base. So, even though I have seen a Diana or two in my day, there’s always something special to see with each encounter.

Our 1899 small-scale Diana of the Tower is not the lone representative of the sculpture in our collection, or even in Fort Worth. Over time, the Amon Carter has acquired three different versions of Saint-Gaudens’s Diana – the bronze, an early concrete sculpture, and the large gilded version that now resides at Fort Worth’s Bass Hall.

Though a late-nineteenth-century artwork holds intrinsic appeal for me as an art historian, Diana is of particular interest to me as a former competitive archer. While Saint-Gaudens’s technique is beyond reproach, archers will tell you that the goddess could benefit from a few pointers. Suffice it to say, none of my competitors ever prospered by pulling the bowstring back behind the ear, and I never saw an Olympian able to shoot a bow standing on tippy toes!

Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator

100 Woodcuts by Posada

As a companion to ¡Hombre! Prints by José Guadalupe Posada, the research library has installed a selection of color woodcuts from the 1947 portfolio 100 Original Woodcuts by Posada in the reading room. These prints are on loan to the library from a local collector through December. We’ll rotate these prints on three-week intervals to show a broader selection.

The portfolio’s introduction provides some context for the woodcuts:

"… Posada’s principal techniques for his larger works were engraving on type-metal and relief etching, by which he is principally known. His woodcuts are mostly small and mostly were made for vignettes. Almost all of the surviving blocks are published here for the first time since Posada’s day. Many either never have been published before or the original broadsides in which they appeared have been destroyed, as was their nature. Many are portraits; many are caricatures. Whereas in his larger works we are most often struck by Posada’s vigorous burin and monumental composition, in these woodcuts we see to best advantage his fine line, the work of a man who used his graver with consummate delicacy and skill … The plates were printed in Mexico by the House of Vanegas Arroyo, where they were purchased by the Taylor Museum. Herbert Bayer designed the cover and the title-page … [Jean] Charlot and Don Blas selected the original blocks, still owned by the firm, and Don Blas supplied, from the archives of the house and very probably from his own head, the little verses which, in traditional manner, accompany the plates. Many of these verses are known to have appeared in the original broadsides (though not always accompanying the same vignettes), and Don Blas tells us, in a special declaration, that he has left their popular and non-academic grammar alone, out of respect to their original form. While most of the verses are undoubtedly not those which inspired the original engraving of the associated block, they are in the same spirit. … Almost all of the verses are satiric; some are nonsense rhymes. For the benefit of non-Spanish readers … English translations … give some sense of their contexts. However, the originals depend for their wit on a double and even triple entendre and a play of words almost always impossible to render in translation."

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Preparation for an Exhibition: ¡Hombre!: José Guadalupe Posada

Written by Jodie Utter

This fall the Amon Carter Museum of American Art will present ¡Hombre!: José Guadalupe Posada, which includes over 50 prints made by Jose Posada (1852-1913) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death.

Posada was one of the key figures in the development of modern Mexican printmaking; his contribution to cultural imagery is unrivaled. He produced an estimated 15,000 different ephemeral prints that documented every facet of Mexican life. His images, especially his calaveras (skeletons) portrayed in everyday tasks, have become icons typically associated with images for the Mexican celebration Day of the Dead.

Because the prints were meant to be read and then discarded, they were printed on poor quality paper made of wood pulp and colored with inexpensive light-sensitive dyes, thus making them very susceptible to fading and deterioration. In addition, numerous prints slated for this exhibition had serious condition problems including large tears, losses, creases, staining, and many areas that had been mended with yellowed deteriorating tapes.

1.jpg2.jpgGran baile de calaveras, 1906, before treatment (left) and after treatment (right).

This print was badly faded and had many edge losses, creases, and tears. Paper conservator, Jodie Utter had to stabilize the print before it could be safely exhibited. In addition, tears were mended, losses were filled, and creases reduced. The deteriorating tape was removed, and the remaining yellowed adhesive dissolved using solvents.

3.jpgEl Cancionero Popular, Num. 18, 1910, pre-wetted before bathing.

This print was bathed to reduce staining. The print must be pre-wetted and relaxed before it is immersed in the bath water, otherwise it will wet up unevenly and cause physical stress to the already weakened paper. I use alkaline (above pH 7) water in the bath. The raised pH rinses away discoloration products in the paper and hydrates the cellulose molecular chains in the paper. The print is placed in subsequent baths until the water runs clear. Further treatment is carried out, like mending of tears, once the print has dried.

4.jpgEl Cancionero Popular, Num. 18, 1910, during treatment, bath water with yellow staining rinsing out of print.

Repairs are made using toned Kozo fiber paper. (Kozo fiber from the mulberry plant has long fibers which make very strong thin conservation-grade paper.) The repair paper is cut slightly larger than the tear or loss, then secured using a reversible adhesive; once dry, the repairs will be trimmed and be virtually invisible.

Many of the prints had old strips of tape still attached to them. As the tape ages, the adhesive oxidizes and penetrates the paper, causing semi-translucent staining. If the adhesive in these areas are not removed, the paper will become brittle and break apart. The removal of adhesive involves solvents and suction.

5.jpgCalaveras de Gaudillos de Silla Presidencial, ca. 1890-1913, using solvent to dissolve oxidized tape.

Solvent is applied drop by drop while suction is applied to the back of the print. The suction moves the mixture of solvent and adhesive quickly through the paper onto a cotton blotter and out of the object.

6.jpg7.jpgCalavera de los carros de la limpia, 1890-1913, detail image of adhesive staining before removal (left) and after solvent and suction (right).

Treatment takes an average of 6 hours a print; but once completed the print will be safe to exhibit and to store. Because works of art on paper, especially this collection of prints, are extremely light sensitive they can be displayed only a few months and then must spend several years in storage before they are exhibited again. This is done to slow the inevitable deterioration process. Many of these prints haven’t been on exhibit since the 1970s, so take this opportunity to come see the wonderful prints of Jose Posada!

Richard Misrach Visits Library Reading Room

We had the honor of hosting Richard Misrach and his wife, Myriam, in the reading room yesterday. Along with making sure that the library's collection of about twenty books by and about the artist were signed, we cajoled him into taking a peek into the library's clipping file that we've been building since early in his career. It's not often that we witness a living artist thumbing through the past as recorded in the flotsam and jetsam contained in these files in the form of gallery invitations, reproductions, exhibition checklists, and the like, but it was exciting to offer this, as I quipped, "trip down amnesia lane." Mr. Misrach seemed delighted to revisit some of this material, and his response underscores the importance of these collections as encapsulated records of an artist's life.

misrachlookingatbiofile_0.jpgRichard Misrach, John Rohrbach, and Myriam Misrach

Accounting for American Art

Beyond an art object's aesthetic qualities are the story of its creator and history. The museum is fortunate to have an archives where these pieces of information can be found. A fine example is the Roman Bronze Works Archive, which contains the entire foundry records of the premier art bronze foundry in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. This foundry cast many of the sculptures being done by artists of the period, including most of those in the museum's collections. The image below is taken from the foundry's accounting ledger for the works they cast for Frederic Remington.

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The archive is open to researchers seeking information about their sculptures, and we are delighted to field queries. Send your questions to archivist@cartermuseum.org.

World-Class University, Meet World-Class Museum

The museum rolls out the purple carpet on Thursday, September 26, 3-7 p.m. for "World-Class University, Meet World-Class Museum," an open-house event just for TCU students.

World-Class University, Meet World-Class Museum

Research Library Saturday Hours Resume September 7

The Research Library resumes its Saturday hours beginning September 7. Please stop by this stunning and contemplative space to learn more about the museum's art collection or to research any topic related to American art, photography, and history. The librarian on duty will be happy to guide your research from 11 am-4 pm.

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Welcome Home

The Amon Carter staff were very excited to welcome a new acquisition of a major, full-length painting by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). The work, titled Edwin Booth from 1890, is a portrait of the great 19th-century Shakespearean actor, Edwin Booth (1833–1893).

ACMAA director Andrew Walker introduces a new acquisition.

John Singer Sargent, Edwin Booth, 1890

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Come visit the museum and see this important piece of American art for yourself. Admission is always free.