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.
Gran 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.
El 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.
El 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.
Calaveras 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.
Calavera 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!
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.
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.
The archive is open to researchers seeking information about their sculptures, and we are delighted to field queries. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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).
Come visit the museum and see this important piece of American art for yourself. Admission is always free.
Thomas Eakins was born on this day in 1844. Swimming is considered an American masterpiece and the pinnacle of his work as a realist painter and teacher. The painting was originally purchased from the artist's widow by the Friends of Art in Fort Worth, who gave it to the city's Art Association as a worthy addition to its public art gallery.
Thomas Eakins (18414-1916)
oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchased by the Friends of Art, Fort Worth Art Association, 1925; acquired by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 1990, from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through grants and donations from the Amon G. Carter Foundation, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, the Anne Burnett and Charles Tandy Foundation, Capital Cities/ABC Foundation, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The R. D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Foundation and the people of Fort Worth.
It might surprise some of our readers to learn that the research library has a large collection of yearbooks from the United States Department of Agriculture. We were recently taking a closer look at this set to determine how it compared to other library holdings in the area. While we discovered that the the Cowgirl Museum and TCU have good coverage of this title, we are the only collection that offers the earliest report of the newly-christened department covering the year 1862. In this report Congress lays out its charge:
Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there is hereby established at the seat of government of the United States a Department of Agriculture, the general designs and duties of which shall be to acquire and to diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of that word, and to procure, propagate, and distribute among the people new and valuable seeds and plants.
The department's first commissioner, Isaac Newton, waxes about agriculture's importance to the moral fiber of the nation and its countrymen, invoking some of the tenets of the Jeffersonian yeoman farmer ideal:
I hardly deem it necessary to attempt to convince our intelligent countryman of the vast importance of such a department, inasmuch as whatever improves the condition and the character of the farmer feeds the life-springs of national character, wealth, and power ... Agricultural pursuits tend to moderate and tranquilize the false ambition of nations, to heal sectional animosities, and afford a noble arena for honorable rivalry. The acquisition of comparatively slow, but sure, wealth, drawn from and reinvested in the soil, develops health of body, independence and simplicity of life, and love of country; while the rapid accumulation of wealth, not by production, but by trade and speculation, is unnatural and unhealthful. It attracts men to cities and tempts to wild investments. It too often unsettles moral principles, and substitutes selfishness for patriotism.
Newton further quotes a supporter of the Homestead Act of 1862 regarding the necessity of attracting immigrants to till the soil, filling the void of so many Americans lost in the ongoing Civil War:
Every acre of our fertile soil is a mine which only waits the contact of labor to yield its treasures, and every acre is opened to that fruitful contact by the homestead act. When the opportunity ... shall be understood by the working millions of Europe, it cannot be doubted that great numbers will seek American homes in order to avail themselves of the great advantages ... Every working man who comes betters the condition of the country as well as his own.
The 1862 yearbook also features a preamble of plates highlighting the agricultural riches of the nation:
In fact our copy of the report for 1864 features its own real plant life: we discovered five specimens sandwiched within its pages. Working with the Amanda Neill, Director of the Herbarium at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, we learned that all five specimens are examples of nasturtium. Since we do not know when or where the specimens were gathered, they have very little scientific value.
We cannot always squeeze everything we want into the galleries, and some objects are not easily displayed on the walls. The research library is exhibiting several items that could not be fit into the We the People: Picturing American Identity exhibition, yet enhance the show in interesting ways.
One exhibition looks at the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as depicted in mass media print sources of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Another showcases the work of contemporary photographer Doug Rickard, who takes photographs of images of depressed parts of the nation from Google Street View as they appear on his computer monitor. A New American Picture comments on race and class, privacy and surveillance, and the tradition of street photography while asking the larger question of how this kind of digital image making relates to American identity.
The Emancipation of the Negroes, January 1863, the Past and the Future
In: Harper's Weekly (Jan. 24, 1863)
The research library, with the help of volunteer assistance, recently finished barcoding all the books in the main part of the stacks. Close to 50,000 items had to be examined, and items without a barcode got one attached. This process not only facilitates electronic checkout to staff, but it also helped us inventory the collection. Kudos to Mary Jane Harbison, Library Technical Services Coordinator, for shepherding this monumental project.
The photo below of volunteer Phyllis Evans, chief barcoder, shows relief or perhaps shock that she has crossed the finish line!