It Works on Paper: Behind the Scenes in the Carter's Photo Lab

With the immediacy of camera phones that send multimedia messages and post photos directly to Flickr and Facebook, it’s easy to take digital images for granted these days. When you see images of artworks on a museum’s website, you don’t necessarily think about all the work that went into getting that image (and the accompanying metadata) out there for you to see.

We’ve just passed the halfway point in our NEA grant-funded works on paper digitization project and have thousands of images to show for all of our hard work, which is remarkable because each artwork must be very carefully moved out of storage, shot by the Carter’s photography assistant, and returned to storage. The images are processed and metadata is embedded in each file”¦and all of this happens after the works have been thoroughly cataloged and measured.

Our photography assistant, Rachel, has been trained to handle artworks and makes the day-to-day decisions about the best ways to shoot works on paper whose medium, dimensions, and other needs vary widely across the collection.

Here, Rachel is shooting a Civil War mezzotint from the Carter’s prints collection. She’s using a special camera and studio setup for larger objects in the collection.

Photography assistant Rachel shoots a large print

And here is the fruit of her labor, an accurate reproduction of the print. Not only will this image end up on the Carter’s website, it will also be used internally by staff from several departments and made available for educational programs and museum publications.

 Pickett's Charge, mezzotint, 1872
John Sartain (1808-1897), after Peter Rothermel (1812 or 1817-1895), The Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett's Charge, mezzotint, 1872, Gift of Edward L. Mattil

Know Before You Go: Modern Art

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “modern art?” Multi-colored Marilyns? Blocks of color? These are wonderful examples of the ism that is modern, but our recent special exhibition (and the Carter’s great collection of modern paintings and sculptures) has broadened my horizons. Here are some ideas on how to learn more about modern art before you visit the Carter.

For an informative read on the modern movement, try Why a Painting is Like a Pizza: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art, by Nancy Heller. This easy-to-digest book helps you use analytical skills you already have to “read” modern art and enjoy it. This book is available from the Fort Worth Public Library or through your local book retailer.

Here are some links to sites about artists in this exhibition and in our permanent collection:
Alexander Calder Foundation
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Edward Hopper Scrapbook from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Stuart Davis

Robert McChesney, Variations, 1946, Transparent and opaque watercolor over graphite on paper, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Electra Carlin
Robert McChesney (1913-2008)
Variations, 1946
Transparent and opaque watercolor over graphite on paper
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Electra Carlin

American Moderns on Paper review

Star-Telegram art critic Gaile Robinson writes of the Carter's new special exhibition: "Museumgoers are rarely treated to works on paper shows, and this is an opportunity to see more than 100 pieces by a who's who of America's most famous artists of the past century."

Read what else she had to say about American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

Inside American Moderns on Paper

This Week in the Arts has posted a great podcast interview with Elizabeth Kornhauser, curator of the exhibition American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, which is now open at the Carter. She provides a lot of great background information about the artists in the show, how exhibitions are organized, and why these works are rarely seen by the public.

American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art will be on view in the Carter's special exhibition galleries February 27-May 30, after which it travels to the Portland Museum of Art in Maine and back home to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.

Edited to add: you can also read a great review of this exhibition in the Star-Telegram.

Photo of the Week (with bonus drawing!): Texas Independence

Today is Texas Independence Day, which celebrates the signing of Texas's declaration of independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. While a convention was gathered in Washington-on-the-Brazos to write the declaration of independence, the two-week long Battle of the Alamo was taking place in San Antonio. Although the battle was a victory for Mexico, it rallied a tremendous amount of support for the Texian army and "Remember the Alamo!" became its battle cry.

This week we have two images of the Alamo, created a century apart. You'll notice the Alamo building, which was partially demolished after the battle, is in really bad shape in the drawing by Edward Everett, who came to Texas in the 1840s to fight in the U.S.-Mexican War. It was then renovated by the time Laura Gilpin took the photo below, a hundred years later.

Edward Everett (1818-1903), Ruins of the Church of the Alamo, San Antonio de Béxar, transparent and opaque watercolor and ink on paper, 1847
Gift of Mrs. Anne Burnett Tandy in memory of her father Thomas Lloyd Burnett, 1870-1938

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979), The Alamo, Source of Texas History, gelatin silver print, 1947
© 1979 Amon Carter Museum, Bequest of the artist

Library New Books!

Each month the library posts a report listing all the books we have cataloged in the previous month. These reports constitute mainly new items entering the library’s collection. The report for February 2010 went out today, and you can access it here.

Seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting bluebonnets...?

Not having grown up in Texas, when I first joined the Carter team I did not realize the significance of Julian Onderdonk’s painting A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas. A reproduction of it was hanging in my office when I arrived, and I was not impressed. It was only after the Gallery Teachers and I decided to use it on a tour that I began to appreciate the painting’s aesthetic qualities as well as its importance to the state of Texas.

Julian Onderdonk, A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, 1918, Oil on canvas, Ruth Carter Stevenson Acquisitions Endowment, In honor of Lady Bird Johnson

Julian Onderdonk (1882–1922)
A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, 1918
Oil on canvas
Ruth Carter Stevenson Acquisitions Endowment, In honor of Lady Bird Johnson

Students from Texas are so familiar with these little blue flowers that most of the time they don’t even need to look at the label to figure out what we are looking at. In fact, when we situate students in front of this painting they can hardly wait to start talking! I apprise students of my non-Texas-native status and they are thrilled to tell me why this flower is so important to the state (for those of you who don’t know bluebonnets are the official state flower of Texas. A springtime Texas tradition is to take photographs of kids and pets nestled among the bluebonnets.). They also warn me not to pick bluebonnets in the wild (a commonly held belief is that it is illegal to pick wild bluebonnets in the state of Texas). Once we establish what we are looking at (field of bluebonnets), where we are (just outside of San Antonio, Texas), what season it is (bluebonnets bloom in the spring), we begin our multi-sensory approach to experiencing this work of art.

As the students and I begin our imaginary trek on the path that cuts through this field of bluebonnets, I ask them to stop and take look around to tell me what they see. The value in stopping and just looking is apparent when students begin to describe their bluebonnet surroundings. They notice (of course) the bluebonnets, but then they take in the tall, gangly trees on the left with the green tufts of leaves and contrast them with the delicate, wispy trees on the right that are just starting to blossom with the slimmest white buds. They explore the scene a little more and discover the hills in the background as their eyes begin to look upward to the sky. Students often remark that in a painting so full of blue that it’s hard to tell where the bluebonnets end and the sky begins.

We move on to our next sense as we are standing on the path. I ask the students to close their eyes, inhale deeply, and tell me what they think they would smell. Fresh air, rain, dirt, and the country are all frequent answers. My favorite has to be “it would smell like when you pull towels out of the dryer and stick your face in them.” Yes, this field of bluebonnets would smell exactly like a face-full of clean towels.

This seemingly silent scene seems to spring to life when I ask students to listen for sounds. We frequently hear birds chirping and tweeting high up in the trees. As soon as one student mentions that we might hear a bee, one by one each student begins to buzz until we have a gallery that would make a beekeeper smile. Every once in a while we encounter a snake on our walk. Slowly the students start hissing and suddenly one snake becomes a nest of snakes as we talk about all of them slithering through the bluebonnets. Students like to point out that we probably wouldn’t see the snakes in the tall bluebonnets, but we would hear them.

We stop again on the path and this time I ask the students to pretend to take off their shoes. As we take a few barefoot steps I want them to describe what they feel underneath their feet. This is their chance to practice using texture words: hard, rough, gritty, bumpy, course, dusty, rocky, and dry. Next I ask them to imagine that it had rained earlier in the day and to take a few steps. Now the fun texture words enter into our conversation: squishy, soggy, muddy, sticky, gooey, jelly-like, and slippery.

As we near the end of our walk through the bluebonnets I can always tell that they students are wondering what I am going to have them taste. Rather than having them eat a bluebonnet, I tell them that we are going to have a picnic and they get to pick what they would like to pack in their picnic baskets. After a little encouragement, students are very excited to talk about their food choices. Sometimes their lunches are inspired by the bluebonnets and include grape jelly sandwiches, purple Gatorade, blue raspberry Jolly Ranchers candy, blueberry pie, red grapes, berry Fruit Roll Ups, and grape soda. Other times students are truly thinking with their stomachs and say they would pack chocolate cake, hamburgers, nachos (with jalapenos), sandwiches, fruit, cookies, Happy Meals, and their mom’s meatballs. One of my favorite taste-related responses was from a student who requested to have a pizza delivered to our field of bluebonnets. I don’t think pizza would taste quite as good anywhere else.

As you look at and think about A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas, I invite you to use the same multi-sensory approach as we use with students. Where do your eyes take you in this work of art? What does the country-side smell like to you? If you listen closely, what do you hear? Run your fingers along the delicate tops of the flowers; how does it feel? Finally, what meal would you eat in this glorious field of bluebonnets?

Photo of the Week: Presidential Portrait (in Snow!)

Since George Washington died several years before the first photograph was taken, we obviously have no photographic images of our first president. But here we have the next best thing: a unique portrait in a medium we here in Fort Worth have become rather familiar with lately.

unknown artist, George Washington, 1913, autochrome
Unknown artist, Geo. Washington 12/10/13, autochrome, 1913

Photo of the Week: Civil Rights in 1960

This past Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins and the opening of the new International Civil Rights Center & Museum at the site of the sit-ins, a former Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro.

The Greensboro sit-ins quickly launched similar non-violent protests across North Carolina and a number of student civil rights groups, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC, whose first leader was future Washington D.C. mayor Marion Berry, organized voter registration drives all over the rural South and played an important role in the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr’s "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered.

This photograph shows SNCC members training to respond to the physical dangers of their work. The photographer, James Karales, was a photojournalist originally from Ohio who worked for Look magazine and shot many key events in the Civil Rights Movement.

James Karales, Passive Resistance Training, SNCC, gelatin silver print, 1960
James Karales (1930-2002), Passive Resistance Training, SNCC, gelatin silver print, 1960, ©2002 Monica Karales

New Program Alert!

The Carter offers a new program, Crafting from the Collection, this evening from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Associate Registrar Jana Hill (one of the many creative artisans on our staff and a regular contributor to the Carter's blog) will lead a stimulating evening of dialogue and inspiration amidst great examples of American art. Who knows where the evening will lead you!