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Lunder Conservation Center: Revealing A Drawing Through Preservation
September 18, 2014


William H. Johnson

William H. Johnson drawing discovered on the back on one of his artworks undergoing conservation.

In our Lunder Conservation Center, our fellow, Im Chan, has been working for months assessing and treating a group of prints and drawings by William H. Johnson. Ms. Chan removes any potentially damaging materials that were added after the artist finished the piece. With Johnson's Boy's Sunday Trip, the drawing was previously adhered to an acidic paperboard backing (an acidic backing can result in a deterioration of the artwork).

When she began removing the backing, she discovered a surprise on the work's verso (back side): a previously unknown drawing. We're not yet sure what the purpose of this drawing was. Perhaps it was an early draft of a new mural. Future research remains to be done.

Posted by Chris on September 18, 2014 in American Art Here, Conservation at American Art
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Artist Lilly Martin Spencer
September 16, 2014


Erin Benz interned at American Art's Luce Foundation Center this summer. While here, she took the time to write about one of her favorite artists in our collection, Lilly Martin Spencer.

Lilly Martin Spencer

Lilly Martin Spencer's We Both Must Fade (Mrs. Fithian)

I first became interested in the painter, Lilly Martin Spencer, when I learned about her in my sophomore art history class. Amongst the many mid-nineteenth century male artists who we were learning about Spencer was one of the only female artists we studied. Immediately, I became intrigued as to how a woman was able to succeed in a predominately male field while being a mother and wife at the same time. Her paintings also interested me as they were beautifully detailed, yet frequently included a comical aspect which, combined, made viewing her paintings fun. Spencer's painting, We Both Must Fade (Mrs. Fithian) is on display here at American Art and always catches my eye when I wander past it. The beautiful fabric and exquisite details make me stop and take in this painting's magnificence.

Lilly Martin Spencer was born in England in 1822 and immigrated to the United States ten years later. Spencer was unique as she was a female painter who lived off of her work and was the sole provider for her family. Her husband, Benjamin Spencer, did not have a job and mainly helped his wife as a business manager. In order to make a living off of her paintings, Spencer decided to paint popular genre scenes that would sell better than her previous allegorical paintings. By taking her everyday experiences from home, she was able to move from her old subject matter to her new. With thirteen children, Spencer had to balance making a living and being a mother at a time when women's jobs were clearly domestic while their husbands worked. Though genre painting eventually fell out of fashion, Spencer is still considered one of America's greatest genre painters.

See! From those priceless jewels in her bower,
The queenly Beauty turns her neck away,
And Eyes that pale not 'neath the diamond's ray,
Muse in their loveliness on one sweet flower—
Whose bloom alas! Has reach'd its fated hour.

Thomas C. Latto
Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Spencer's 1869 painting, We Both Must Fade (Mrs. Fithian), can be seen on the second floor of the museum. In it, Spencer depicts a beautiful young woman surrounded by jewels and clothed in layers of expensive blue fabric. Great detail is given to the design of the dress and, at 6 feet tall, commands the viewer's attention while showing off Spencer's great skill. Though the subject appears to be wealthy and have many suitors (as the jewels appear to suggest), Spencer implies that her beauty is only temporary and will eventually disappear. As the flower is her hand wilts, she too will eventually succumb to life's ultimate price: time.

Posted by Bridget on September 16, 2014 in American Art Here
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Luce Artist Talks: Emily Francisco
September 12, 2014


Emily Francisco

Emily Francisco's The Trans-Harmonium: A Listening Station, 2011-12, Interactive Sculptural Music Device, Dimensions Vary (roughly 70" x 36" x 36"). Image courtesy of the Artist.

You've heard of landscapes and cityscapes, but how about soundscapes? DC-based artist Emily Francisco creates these immersive audio environments and she'll talk about her recent work when she kicks off the Luce Foundation Center's fall Artist Talks series this Sunday, September 14 at 1:30 p.m. Francisco's pieces are especially interesting because, while they involve destruction, they're not in and of themselves destructive. Rather, Francisco takes everyday objects—like pianos, nutcrackers, and radios, and constructs entirely new pieces and experiences from them. The Trans-harmonium: A Listening Station is a keyboard that's wired to dozens of radiosbut doesn't play musical notes. Instead, it broadcasts from a different radio station each time a key is pushed.

Francisco earned her MFA from American University last year and just concluded her appointment as Artist in Residence at Artistphere in Rosslyn, Virginia, this April. Her latest show, Something Slightly Familiar, will run at CulturalDC's Flashpoint Gallery from September 12 through October 11, 2014.

In American Art's Luce Artists Talks series, local artists discuss a work on view in the museum and why it resonates with them. Talks begin at 1:30 p.m. Presented in collaboration with CulturalDC.

Posted by Bridget on September 12, 2014 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Throwback Thursday: Han's Hofmann's Fermented Soil
September 11, 2014


It's Throwback Thursday! And we at Eye Level have decided it's a great opportunity to bring back some of our interesting posts from the past. American Art has been publishing our blog since September 2005 (that's an eternity in Internet years) and some of our posts are as current now as the day we first posted them. Today, we feature a version of Howard's February 2008 post on Hans Hofmann's painting, Fermented Soil. You can see Fermented Soil on American Art's 3rd Floor, North Wing.

Hans Hofmann's Fermented Soil

Hans Hofmann's Fermented Soil

Fermented Soil by Hans Hofmann contains such fresh joy and vigor it is hard to believe it was painted by a man in his mid-eighties. It swings like a jazz sextet.  Hofmann was right in the swim of what was going on in painting at that moment, and Color Field painting would have been impossible without his contribution.

Fermented Soil achieves the layers of poetry that Hofmann was in search of throughout his career. In fact, Hofmann would sometimes use a line from German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, as a title. The famous push-pull that he emphasized in his teaching can be seen in this painting; the insistence on tension in composition achieved through the handling of paint and juxtaposition of color, like the interplay of notes or chords in music. In all those improvised strokes there is an assurance that can only come through the blood memory of painting for more than six decades.  The color is pure Hofmann and comes from the many landscapes, figure studies, and still lifes he painted.  His paint seems as edible as fruit.

Born in Germany, Hofmann first came to America in 1930 as a mature artist.  He taught many students who would become important painters, including Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, and Lee Krasner. There is an implicit connection through Krasner to Jackson Pollock, who was her husband. Art critic Clement Greenberg would often visit Hofmann’s studio, and dialogues between the two men played a role in developing Greenberg’s thoughts on art.

Hofmann’s earlier work is marked by many influences, from Seurat and postimpressionism to Picasso and Matisse. When Hofmann was in his seventies and eighties and was able to stop teaching, his work came to fullest flower. His contact with the New York School enabled this Zen-like jump to a new plateau, where his lifetime of disciplined work and teaching allowed him to paint with the flow of a jazz improvisationist. 

Posted by Jeff on September 11, 2014 in American Art Here, Throwback Thursday
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From Public Library to Public Gallery, Marvin Beerbohm's Automotive Industry Mural is Reinstalled
September 9, 2014


Marvin Beerbohm

Lunder paintings conservator, Amber Kerr treats Marvin Beerbohm's mural Automotive Industry.

The polished machinery featured in Marvin Beerbohm's Automotive Industry will be shimmering a little brighter now that the mural has been treated by the American Art Museum's paintings conservator, Amber Kerr.

The mural, which was previously located in Detroit's Public Library, was recently installed in the museum's first floor, Experience America, galleries and is now on view. Our paintings conservator was also on view during the mural's cleaning, as the artwork's large size required an in-situ treatment.

Working under the watchful gaze of the public is nothing new for our conservation staff, whose daily activity is continually on display in the museum's Lunder Conservation Center, which is located on the third and fourth floors of the museum. Commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and painted in 1940, the artwork needed some cleaning and touching up. The skilled hands of our conservator worked quickly and the treatment of this expansive canvas was completed in less than two weeks.

Posted by Chris on September 9, 2014 in Conservation at American Art, Picture This
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