Are You Close Enough?
2013 is the Year of the Library at SMU. To celebrate, SMU Libraries are highlighting collections, resources, and places that are unique to our campus. As part of this, the Year of the Library Committee has put together a meta-exhibition titled, Are you Close Enough? SMU Libraries as Learning Spaces, which takes a closer look at how the curators and students used SMU libraries and collections to develop the exhibition, Post Chiaroscuro: Prints in Color after the Renaissance. The exhibition and meta-exhibition are on display in the Hawn Gallery of the Hamon Arts Library November 12—December 13, 2013.
This journal portrays the process by which both Post Chiaroscuro and Are You Close Enough were developed using library resources and implemented in library spaces.
Before an exhibition is set up--even before it is planned out--someone has an idea. For Post Chiaroscuro, that idea came from Dr. Lisa Pon, Associate Professor of Art History. Years ago, Dr. Pon had the idea to provide the opportunity for students to be involved in curating an exhibition, centered on the topic of and assignments for a course in art history. She has since implemented that idea several times here at SMU, with the help of Dr. Sam Ratcliffe, Head of Bywaters Special Collections.
Here is what Dr. Pon (LP) and Dr. Ratcliffe (SR) had to say about the origins of the process:
How did you get connected with each other?
SR: In Spring 2005, Dr. Pon asked me and Ellen Buie-Niewyk to speak to her class about BSC holdings that related to her courses in history of printmaking.
What gave you the idea for this exhibition?
LP: The first time I taught a course on the history of prints at SMU in 2005, Sam Ratcliffe introduced himself to me and we arranged for him to bring some Janet Turner material to my classroom. There was so much that requires such close and repeated viewings, it quickly became clear my class wouldn't be able to absorb everything in one class session. Hence the idea of a Hawn Gallery exhibition was born, allowing students access to the material anytime the library is open.
How did you come to the idea of making it a student-curated exhibition?
LP: I knew I wanted to have a looking assignment based on the exhibition, and Sam was generous enough to allow me to have a "phase two" installation that allowed me to put in students' own answers to the assignments as case labels and wall text. This year I'm very pleased that Samantha Robinson, a second-year master's student in Art History, has been serving as student curator. In that role, she's had the chance for hands-on learning: choosing where to hang pictures, making and installing labels, selecting student texts, giving gallery talks and leading student visits. My own undergraduate and graduate education included time spent looking and working in exhibitions in a teaching museum, which were formative experiences for me! I'm eager for my students to do the same.
How often have you done this project?
LP: This is the fourth exhibition I've curated or overseen in the Hawn Gallery since 2007. In addition, in 2008, an undergraduate class of mine wrote the wall text for an exhibition I guest curated at the Dallas Museum of Art.
How do you feel the students respond to taking part in the exhibition process?
LP: I think the students learn more effectively by the practical experience of being part of these exhibitions.
How has the concept changed since you began doing these exhibitions?
LP: This year we were able to secure loans from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in Houston, which has been phenomenally generous in sharing four works from their extremely rich collection. In 2012, the exhibition, "Renaissance High Tech," featured books from the DeGolyer Library as well as a number of Blaffer Foundation prints.
SR: We work more closely with Lisa and the students curator(s) every time we collaborate on an exhibition in conjunction with one of her classes (this is the fourth one). It's always a rewarding experience.
How has the library served your purpose in these exhibitions?
LP: SMU's library collections are full of treasures, and I've drawn on them in choosing material to be exhibited. These exhibitions are only one way the libraries have served my teaching: DeGolyer, Bywaters Special Collections, and Bridwell have also regularly hosted my classes for visits and even for exams in which my students discuss works they've not seen before.
The first steps in creating this exhibition required the selection of artifacts to include and determining the set-up of the display. In doing so, Dr. Pon and Samantha worked closely with Sam Ratcliffe, Head of Bywaters Special Collections, to gather printing matrices and corresponding prints from library collections.
As a team, the three of them decided how they should be arranged in display cases and where the cases should be placed in the gallery. They painstakingly measured the distances between cases, distances of cases from the walls, and height of frames from the floor. Behind the scenes, Samantha and Dr. Ratcliffe wrote descriptive biographies of the artists and developed tags to identify the objects. This also required precision cutting and mounting using specialized materials and tools.
The Year of the Library Committee was interested in highlighting the Hamon Arts Library in some way, and the Post Chiaroscuro exhibition proved to be an excellent opportunity to celebrate Hamon and the Year of the Library. As the ideas started flowing, what started as an opening reception hosted by the Year of the Library Committee quickly turned into an examination of the exhibition creation and installation process.
Inspired by a Mapping Cultures project to create a digitally enhanced exhibit at the Crow Collection of Asian Art museum titled Taking Shape: Perspectives on Asian Bronzes, committee member Sara Outhier suggested providing enhanced content for the Post Chiaroscuro exhibition. Taking Shape was a collaboration between a course at Austin College, the Crow museum, and organizations in Nepal and China that brought together the students' research and experiences with technology and historical artifacts.
She had this to say about her inspiration for the project and its development:
"When the Year of the Library Committee was initially searching for a way to celebrate the Hamon Arts Library as part of the Year of the Library, it was obvious that partnering with the Post Chiaroscuro exhibition would be an excellent opportunity to highlight the Mildred Hawn Exhibition Gallery and Bywaters Special Collections; all we needed was a concept to build on. We realized that by documenting the class in action—through video, photography, and observation—we could illuminate the ways in which a class was interacting with SMU Libraries and collections.
"Earlier in 2013, I had attended a reception at the Crow Collection of Asian Art celebrating Mapping Cultures, a Digital Humanities initiative of Austin College and the Crow Collection. There were many aspects of the project that fascinated me, but I was particularly struck by the way in which the students and museum staff employed technology to create an immersive experience that augmented a physical exhibition with a digital web exhibition of images, text, audio, and video. As it turned out, we had staff on the committee with the right combination of knowledge and talents to create a similar digital component to the planned Post Chiaroscuro exhibition. Since this digital component was about the exhibition, including physical components actually placed outside of the gallery space, we began calling it a meta-exhibition, and the term kind of stuck."
The Are You Close Enough? SMU Libraries as Learning Spaces meta-exhibition links to digital collections in the library and additional content about the artifacts. As the idea grew, interest turned to capturing the process of creating the Post Chiaroscuro exhibition, including a close-up view of installation, a look at how the curator and History of Western Printmaking, 1400-1750 class used the libraries' resources, and the opportunity for visitors to the gallery to be immersed in the experience of being a student in the class.
Because part of the History of Western Printmaking, 1400-1750 coursework was to develop the informational captions for the exhibition, the first phase of installation only included the artifacts themselves. Samantha, Dr. Ratcliffe, and Dr. Pon worked together to decide how many cases were needed, the arrangement of the cases and hangings around the room, and the arrangement of artifacts in each case. Over the course of several days, the group worked to put everything in its place, meticulously measuring walls, frames, and cases to ensure perfect placement.
Also involved in the first phase of this process were the professional art installers from 360 Art Services, L.L.C. They were hired to deliver and install several prints on loan from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation. These prints are part of the Foundation's collections at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Upon completion of the students' looking assignment, Dr. Pon and Samantha worked together to select the student responses that best exemplified the answer to each question in a style of writing that was concise and potentially captivating to an audience. When the responses were chosen, the students were asked to consider several revisions. The revised versions were turned into the captions that gallery visitors saw in the cases and on the walls, and the text of those is available for the virtual audience on the guided tour pages. The second phase of the installation included the addition of these captions and the adjustment of the objects in the cases to accommodate the new content.
Photographs in the Flickr set, Are You Close Enough? Post Chiaroscuro Installation Installation, show in great detail the process of installing this exhibition, from setting artifacts in a case to measuring the exact placement of a hook for a frame.
In order to become familiar with printmaking techniques, the History of Western Printmaking, 1400-1750 course was no different than most other courses in that it met regularly in a classroom with Dr. Pon. However, in order to examine actual prints using the techniques they discussed in class and to gain experience in knowing how and where to look for clues about those techniques, Dr. Pon brought the class to several libraries on the SMU campus. The unique collections of prints and printing matrices at these libraries were invaluable to the study of such techniques by the students.
The Bridwell Library serves the Perkins School of Theology, and provides the SMU campus and community with collections in theology and religious studies. The library's Special Collections and Archives include a wealth of material that is of great value to research in those fields.
Eric White, Curator of Special Collections, pulled together a selection of prints from the Bridwell collections that were representative of the printing techniques studied in the course. Dr. Pon's class met at Bridwell for guided examination of the prints. Dr. Pon asked questions of the students that related to their previous lectures and readings. She also modeled the actions she expected the students to take in examining prints by asking a specific set of standard questions and pointing out the characteristics that students were expected to look for to find the answers. In addition, Dr. Pon even modeled the respect she expected the students to show for the prints and for the library staff, by directly asking Dr. White for permission to open protective sleeves and touch the prints.
It was this library interaction that inspired the title of the Year of the Library's meta-exhibition, Are You Close Enough? I observed Dr. Pon and her students during their visit to Bridwell, and noticed that "are you close enough?" was a question that Dr. Pon repeatedly asked her students to ensure that they were taking the initiative to look closely at the prints. It was also a question that embodied the concept of the committee's look at the use of the libraries and their collections in the learning process.
In the same manner, Dr. Pon and her students visited the DeGolyer Library to examine more prints. The DeGolyer Library serves the SMU campus as a special collections repository in a variety of areas of study. On this day Dr. Joseph Monteyne, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of British Colombia, was visiting the class.
Anne Petersen, Curator of Photographs, brought out several prints and books for the students to examine. I once again observed the group as they interacted with the prints under the guidance of Dr. Pon.
Photographs in the Flickr set, Are You Close Enough? DeGolyer Library, show Dr. Pon and the students interacting with the prints and very closely examining how they were created.
A large part of the work for Post Chiaroscuro and Are You Close Enough centers in and around the spaces and collections at the Hamon Arts Library. Hamon serves the students and faculty of the Meadows School of the Arts, providing print, audio, and video collections for study. The artifacts in the physical exhibition are part of the Bywaters Special Collections, housed in the Hamon Arts Library.
The product of the work put into Post Chiaroscuro and Are You Close Enough can be seen in the Hawn Gallery, with the installation of the printing matrices and impressions of Octavio Medellin and Janet E. Turner, all of which are part of the collections at Hamon. Dr. Pon and Samantha worked with Sam to select artifacts, write and create informational panels and captions, and develop the display in the gallery. Dr. Pon and Samantha also incorporated materials from the Hamon general collection into the looking assignment.
One class period was devoted to spending time in the Hawn Gallery working on the looking assignment. Samantha gave an introduction to the assignment and a quick tour of the gallery to the students to get them oriented to the process and get them familiar with the expectations for the assignment. She explained that the work they do to answer the questions would become part of the exhibition as captions for the artifacts, making the students into active curators. The students spent the remainder of the time examining the artifacts to find the answers to the questions before a quick debriefing by Samantha.
Sara and I spent time observing the students as they interacted with the Post Chiaroscuro exhibition. Photographs in the Flickr set, Are You Close Enough? Hamon Arts Library, Looking Assignment, show Samantha and the students examining the artifacts.
The class met again in the Hawn Gallery after their assignments were complete to discuss their findings. Photographs in the Flickr set, Are You Close Enough? Hamon Arts Library, Assignment Discussion, show Dr. Pon and the students in the gallery during this discussion.
Located in the Hamon Arts Library, Bywaters Special Collections holds many unique and rare materials in all areas of the arts, many related to or from the collections of artists who spent time in Texas.
The visit to Bywaters Special Collections actually happened after the completion of the looking assignment. Because of that, this experience was vastly different from the other library visits in that the students were now very well versed in the printing techniques and more confident in their examination of artifacts. Sam Ratcliffe, Head of Bywaters Special Collections, pulled out printing matrices and impressions of another work by Janet E. Turner, Calf Auction Lot. As in the set of matrices and impressions featured in the Post Chiaroscuro exhibition, Ms. Turner created a series of impressions in various levels of completion.
Photographs in the Flickr set, Are You Close Enough? Bywaters Special Collections, show Dr. Pon and the students working with Sam Ratcliffe in Bywaters Special Collections workroom.
The Meadows Museum of Art is located on the SMU campus, and serves the campus and the international community through collections and exhibitions of significance. A large portion of the collection is dedicated to Spanish art.
A seminar room in the Meadows Museum of Art was the main classroom for the History of Western Printmaking, 1400-1750, where they met twice a week for lectures. I had the great fortune to observe the class in their own element, sitting in on a class at the museum. In this instance, they were treated to a lecture titled, José de Ribera and Printmaking, by special guest Alexandra Letvin. Alexandra is a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University who is spending the year at SMU serving as the Meadows/Kress/Prado Fellow at the Meadows Museum of Art.
In addition to the lecture, which featured several works available in the Meadows Museum of Art collections, the students were able to examine the prints in person, going through their standard exercise of determining the printing technique, and discussing their findings.
This was a much different setting than the other observations I did. This was a room that was familiar to the students, and therefore seemed more comfortable. They also had the assignment behind them, so at this point it was a matter of applying the knowledge they had already used. I enjoyed the opportunity to see them at work, and also to hear Alexandra Letvin's lecture.
Sara Outhier visited the class as well, and had this to say about her experience:
"When I observed the students as they examined a selection of prints from the collections of the Meadows Museum, I was particularly impressed by their ability to evaluate the prints as objects. Dr. Pon asked them to pick one print from the group which they would chose for their own theoretical museum. With some guidance from Dr. Pon, the consensus was that a certain print that was in the best condition would be the smartest acquisition. These students exhibited the ability think critically and defend their decision."
Photographs in the Flickr set, Are You Close Enough? Meadows Museum of Art, show Dr. Pon and the students examining prints at the Meadows Museum of Art.
In order to provide for all of the enhanced content, it was necessary for the Year of the Library Committee to develop a solid approach to collecting the necessary information. As the representative from the Hamon Arts Library to the committee, Sara Outhier became the point person to liaise between the committee, Hamon, and Dr. Pon. Michelle Hahn, a member of the committee and a librarian with Hamon connections, worked with Sara on the development of the project.
We decided to spend some time photographing related events, such as the installation of the Post Chiaroscuro exhibition and a few class sessions of History of Western Printmaking, 1400-1750 (ARHS 3364) as they utilized the collections of the SMU Libraries and the Meadows Museum. At any event in the lifecycle of Post Chiaroscuro or of Dr. Pon's class, we were there to observe, film, and photograph the action—the installation of the exhibition, the class examining prints, gallery talks by Dr. Pon and Samantha Robinson, etc. While we were collecting the body of content, we started discussing how to present this material physically and digitally. We also decided to cultivate an immersive experience for gallery visitors where they would have the opportunity to walk through the gallery on a guided tour. Each stop on the tour would provide the questions asked in the class' looking assignment and provide educational content to help visitors answer the questions themselves.
To facilitate these activities and present the results in a way that would be meaningful for the viewer, we utilized several online resources. All of the photographs are housed, organized, and described digitally using Flickr, an an "online photo management and sharing application". By employing its capabilities, we were able to organize the photos in sets by event or location. In this way, we are able to collocate images in ways that can be linked to specific parts of the meta-exhibition, and to provide a stream of a general collection of the photos for a large-format digital display on the monitor newly installed outside of the gallery in the Hamon Arts Library lobby. All of the video content is housed on YouTube, making it available to be embedded in the website easily and without excessive mobile data usage. Also, web links were provided wherever possible to digitized versions of the artifacts in the Central University Libraries Digital Collections.
The "immersive experience" concept went through many permutations before arriving on the most feasible implementation. This was the part of the project where we had the most potential to exploit newer technologies, and we hoped to do so as an example of how virtual exhibitions could be used in the future. No framework existed in the Central University Libraries for exactly the sort of digital exhibition we were planning, so the Libraries staff were learning as we went, employing technologies and strategies commonly used in Digital Humanities projects. In creating our meta-exhibition, we each experimented with technology, software, web design, and platforms for sharing multimedia that we had never used before, and established that framework for digital exhibitions that we hope can be used again.
We also decided that this was a way in which the students could actively participate in the curation of the meta-exhibition as well. The students in ARHS 3364 had twelve questions to answer related to the Post Chiaroscuro exhibition, most of which required a short essay, no more than 100 words. Our goals were to create a way for gallery visitors to know the questions that were asked, and provide ways for visitors to learn enough about the artifacts to determine the answer. We developed a series of audio and video clips that capture the students discussing what they have learned about printing techniques. In this way, we were able to engage the students and showcase their efforts throughout the semester. This also would eliminate the need for visitors to have prior knowledge of printing techniques, as well as the need to type a great deal on a small device.
In addition, visitors to the gallery and to the website have access to digitized versions of many of the matrices and impressions in the physical exhibition. By following links embedded in images, QR codes, Tiny URLs, and listed on the website, visitors may get much closer to the objects via the Central University Libraries Digital Collections where it is possible to zoom in on high-resolution images and learn more about each. These methods for connecting to our digital enhancements inside the gallery space require visitors to have a web-enabled mobile device—e.g., a cell phone or a tablet—and so our intrepid Web Designer Beth Andresen created a mobile-optimized website for the meta-exhibition using a responsive web design template. Michelle Hahn, who attended and photographed many of the events depicted in Are You Close Enough?, created the outline for each page of the website and wrote much of the website text.
The time had come for the students of History of Western Printmaking, 1400-1750 (ARHS 3364) to turn in their looking assignments. The class met in the Hawn Gallery of the Hamon Arts Library to go over the assignment answers with Dr. Pon. Throughout the class session, Dr. Pon spoke about the techniques used in creating the matrices and making the prints, and asked a lot of questions of the students.
Also during this session, Year of the Library Committee member, Tyeson Seale, spent some time filming the class as they went through the exhibit with Dr. Pon and discussed the answers to the looking assignment. Here, Dr. Pon discusses the purpose and process of the assignment with the class:
Having visited multiple sessions of this class, I have definitely learned a great deal about printing techniques. Even more intriguing, though, has been the opportunity to watch the students grow in their knowledge of the material, and become more comfortable with the inquiry and discovery process. When the class met at the Bridwell Library, very few students were eager to answer questions, as the information and process was quite new. By the time they reached the point when the assignment was complete and they were meeting in the Hawn Gallery, they were a very different group! It was easy to tell that they had spent a lot of time studying various prints and processes with Dr. Pon, and now had practice examining printing techniques. Class discussion was much more lively, and participation was high.
Some photographs in the Flickr set, Are You Close Enough? Hamon Arts Library, show Dr. Pon and the students discussing the matrices and impressions in the Hawn Gallery after the completion of their looking assignment.
Content coming soon.
Interview with Samantha Robinson, Student Curator
by Sara Outhier and Michelle Hahn, with Samantha Robinson
Michelle and I sat down with Samantha Robinson, second year M.A. student in Art History and curator of the Post Chiaroscuro exhibition to get her thoughts on the experience.
What is unique about this exhibition?
How did you become involved as the student curator?
Can you describe the process of creating the exhibition and implementing your vision?
How did you help to develop the looking assignment?
What part of the process was the most surprising?
How has the library served your purpose in this exhibition?
How will this experience prepare you for your future?
What has been your favorite part of putting this all together?
by Michelle Hahn, with Dr. Lisa Pon, Dr. Sam Ratcliffe, Samantha Robinson, Sara Outhier, and the students of History of Western Printmaking, 1400-1750
What has been your favorite part of putting this all together?
Dr. Lisa Pon: An exhibition begins as an idea, and there's always a moment during installation when I look around and see that, yes, it's going to work, it'll look great and help people learn. I love that moment. Sometimes I'm there when someone comes in for the first time, and I get to see them stop, really look, and think. That moment is even better!
Dr. Sam Ratcliffe: Working with Dr. Pon and Samantha and seeing the students respond so positively to the works by Janet Turner and Octavio Medellin. Having known Octavio, I know that he would be very gratified for his work to be used in this way. I've learned that, when incorporated after some advance planning and thought, technology can definitely be a significant complement to an exhibition.
Samantha Robinson: I think that the most exciting part was the installation. Although it took several weeks and Sam and I would hit obstacles and find ways around them, it was so gratifying to see the objects in the gallery space. I also learned a lot about collaborating with another curator. Sam Ratcliffe obviously has a wealth of knowledge about these objects and the artists that created them, and also has installed several exhibits in the Mildred Hawn Exhibition Gallery. I learned a lot from him about his way of working and also learned ways that I would do things differently. But, I think learning how to collaborate with someone and how to take away best practices from their working habits is very important.
Sara Outhier: Working with such wonderful partners is what has made creating this meta-exhibition so gratifying for me. Dr. Lisa Pon, Dr. Sam Ratcliffe, and Samantha Robinson have been incredibly generous and accommodating, and I greatly appreciate the access they have given us so that we could examine their processes. Samantha in particular has been great to work with; as a collaborator, she could not have been more professional and gracious. The members of the Libraries staff have also been wonderful collaborators. Beth Andresen, Michelle Hahn, and Tyeson Seale have been dependable and responsive throughout this project, and Jolene de Verges, Director of the Hamon Arts Library, has been instrumental in expediting the physical components of Are You Close Enough? In addition to working with people whose talents and skills I admire, I have really enjoyed the material aspects of creating the digital exhibition. Similar to the way in which Dr. Pon's class is examining prints as objects and not just works of art, the process of collecting and presenting the digital content has been really exciting. Assuming everything is working correctly, visitors shouldn't even notice all of the working parts that make up the finished product, and that is my ultimate goal for this project.
ARHS 3364: The students had this to say about their experience in creating content and participating as curators for the exhibition
Myself: For me, the most fascinating thing has been observing people in their elements. I've seen a master teacher, a graduate student, a whole group of undergraduates, a curator, professional art installers, a librarian, and a videographer at work. I find it inspiring to see how all of these people do their thing, how they interact with each other, and what they are able to create. To me, that is what a library is all about: bringing people together to learn from the available resources, to help each other grow in their understanding, and to create new information.