History of Prints class creates curatorial project on display at Sheldon
calendar icon08 Feb 2019 user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen
Lincoln, Neb.--Students in Hixson-Lied Professor of Art History Alison Stewart’s fall History of Prints class created a curatorial project, comparing Rozeal’s contemporary “El Oso Me Pregunto” print with a series of 17th century prints by Wenceslaus Hollar.
The project is on display through March 17 at Sheldon Museum of Art in an exhibition titled “From Lace to Chains: The Making of a Print.”
The 10 students in the class selected one old master print (pre-1850) and one modern (post-1850) print from Sheldon’s collection, each created with different techniques and for different purposes.
After several weeks of discussion, the students selected the series of prints by Hollar and the contemporary Rozeal print, which shared a focus on fashion trends of the day. Thinking about the cultural significance of dress and style—be it the prominence of lace in the seventeenth century prints by Hollar or the gold chain that wraps around the figure in Rozeal’s contemporary print—helped students situate these prints within the contexts of their production and reception, according to the exhibition’s introduction.
Students selected an aspect of one of the prints to do further research. Ashley Owens, a second-year graduate student in art history from Sanford, North Carolina, researched the patronage of the Hollar print.
“I worked with the understanding that Thomas Howard was the patron and how his patronage corresponded to the print,” Owens said. “He seems to have mostly worked in bringing Hollar from the continent into England and housing him there in his house. But the print itself was likely done by a publisher. A lot of people just think Thomas Howard commissioned the print, but it’s not that straightforward.”
It fit with her own research.
“I picked patronage because I work with early modern England, and that was something I had studied before,” Owens said. “I keep seeing Thomas Howard’s name pop up, so I wanted to research that a bit more.”
Emma Vinchur, a senior art history major from Omaha, Nebraska, studied the historical context of Hollar’s prints. She found it to be a valuable experience to work with Sheldon on this project.
“I think the most valuable experience is the collaborative effort that went into it with working with the museum and their collection, and getting to actually view prints,” Vinchur said. “I can’t say ‘hands-on’ because we weren’t allowed to touch them, but to see them outside of a frame. You could get in with a magnifying glass and actually see the line work, and there’s no glass between you. The print curator came in and spoke to us about the acquisitions of prints and how they came to be in Sheldon’s collection. That’s invaluable information, especially if you’re someone like me who is an art history major and wants to go into that work.”
The modern print by Rozeal was one of two recent acquisitions for Sheldon, which the museum’s student advisory board helped select and purchase last year with funds from the Olga N. Sheldon Acquisitions Trust.
“The modern print is from a very unique artist named Rozeal, who combines Japanese symbolism from the ukiyo-e prints, and then she combines it with hip-hop culture, so it’s something you’ve never seen before,” Vinchur said. “And it’s a big print—poster sized—compared to the Hollar prints, which are very tiny.”
Owens said it’s an interesting exhibition for visitors to Sheldon.
“They should expect kind of a simple display with both of the prints on the same wall,, and then some discussion on how they compare,” she said. “It’s an interesting exhibit, I feel.”
Stewart hopes the research that the students learn in the class is beneficial to them.
“I hope they get some experience dealing with museums, and that they can see a project brought to fruition,” she said. “I want them to learn research tools in art history. I take them to the library to meet Richard Graham, one of the art and art history librarians who gives them a tour, so they learn the physical facilities and they learn the databases. I want them to learn that they have to footnote their ideas. Those are all important aspects of doing research today, knowing the tools, knowing how to document.”
Stewart said Sheldon’s Carrie L. Morgan, curator of academic programs, was helpful in pushing the students further in their research.
“Carrie Morgan was very good at telling us to research further, to keep on going, and then a lot of this information came out,” Stewart said. “But there are a lot of questions that she and that we asked about these prints. You can post all kinds of questions for old works, and you might not necessarily find the answers because the information doesn’t necessarily exist. What we were trying to do is to compare the prints and look at them as printed works of art.”
Vinchur said having Sheldon on campus is a valuable resource for all students.
“Having a museum on a university campus that you can visit whenever you want whether or not you’re studying the arts is such an accessible way to access a world that can seem so distant, which is the art world,” she said. “Sheldon does a great job of incorporating their exhibitions to make them relatable.”
Working with the prints in this class was valuable.
“Number one, for me, was to be able to look at the prints and spend time with them and get two inches away from a print and be able to see the individual line work,” Vinchur said. “Being able to be in the same room as a Rembrandt impression is something really quite magical. And the fact that Sheldon has a variety of prints and the different test prints, being able to see an actual process is unique. With a painting, unless you use infrared technology, you can’t see the layers. But with printing, you have to do test prints over and over again to make sure you are getting what you want. There’s something quite fantastic about, even though these may be artists who are long dead, to be able to almost kind of have a remnant of them being there.”
Seeing a print in person is important, according to Stewart.
“We teach with slides, and slides have a specific size because they are projected on a wall,” she said. “The projector and the slides are intermediaries. We want the students to see the art directly. I tell my students all the time to travel whenever you can. Go to the Joslyn. Go to the Sheldon. Go to the Des Moines Art Center. Go to Kansas City for the Nelson-Atkins Museum. Go to St. Louis or Chicago. Go to any museum you possibly can because then you see texture, you see size, you see paint strokes—you see what they really look like. Slides aren’t telling you the whole truth, so it’s really good to have the Sheldon on campus.”