Collection Spotlight

April showers bring May flowers, did you also know they bring crows too? The migratory habits of the crow reveal that about 86 percent of North American crows travel a distance of at least 310 miles with most birds returning to the same breeding territory each year. This painting by Charles Burchfield shows a flock of crows adorning the tree top, as they pause amid their journey.

At first glance, April Rain and Crows appears to be a simple composition, but in reality, it is a careful study of calligraphic patterns, rhythm and sound. Burchfield’s study of Chinese scrolls likely inspired the calligraphic marks evident in the delicate foliage and slashes of spring rain. This early work was completed shortly after Burchfield left the Cleveland School of Art, when he was immersed in studying and painting nature. A rhythmic pattern can be seen in the curves and diagonal lines that make up the pattern of the branches. Above the composition’s midpoint, the rib-like projections of the thinner branches suggest the feathers of the crows that crown their tips. The greyish-purple sky creates the illusion of a rainy day and complements the green spring grass and wisps of yellow branches in the background.

Music had a major influence on the Burchfield’s aesthetic as he frequently sketched the abstract symbols he “saw” when listening to the music of composers Richard Wagner (1813-1883), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and Jean Sibelius (1865- 1957). Thought to have synesthesia, a neurological condition that results in a “crossing of the senses,” Burchfield heard music while simultaneously seeing swirls or patterns of color that he integrated into his works, earning him the designation as one of America’s most original watercolorists.

Charles Burchfield
American, 1893-1967
April Rain and Crows
1916, Watercolor and pencil
19.5x 11.375 in.

38.06

Valentine’s Day is the theme for this month’s Collections Spotlight. The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked some strategic but creative ways to celebrate: virtual dates, movie marathons and take-out dinners are popular options. Chance Meeting, created in 1941, by American artist Martin Lewis, reminds us of the serendipitous encounters that sometimes led to romance in days gone by. The artist created 143 prints from 1915-1945, many of them featuring relationships as their subject. The characters in the foreground of Chance Meeting linger outside a convenience store and though they stand several feet apart, their body language reveals their curiosity towards each other. The Bell Telephone phone booth symbol and advertisements disclose the era, especially the sign for five and ten cent newspapers. In the background on the left, another couple stands on the corner engaged in conversation.

The skyscrapers of New York inspired some printmakers, but Lewis preferred to lower his gaze to the sidewalks and portray anonymous people, like these couples, on the city streets. Watching the characters interact in Chance Meeting is an almost theatrical experience, and in fact, Lewis’s later work reflected his association with film noir, a term given to suspense films with scenes that took place at night. This mysterious encounter and the surroundings offer a historical record of New York City as well as an artistic interpretation. The image was among the presentation prints for the Society of American Etchers, an indication of how important the artist’s work was considered. In the 1950s, the market for Lewis’s prints declined and the artist died in obscurity in 1962. Since then a steady resurgence of his work has taken place culminating in an impressive catalogue raisonné, issued in 1995.

Now a celebrated printmaker and painter, Lewis applied his extraordinary skills as a draftsman to scenes of New York City and rural Connecticut, imbuing his work with a palpable sense of life, atmosphere and mood. He remained a devoted Realist artist who relied on his own observations to record, in his words, the “homely details of common everyday life.”

Martin Lewis | American, 1881-1962
Chance Meeting, 1941 Drypoint, 92.078

American artist George Gardner Symons was of midwestern descent and was associated with the Chicago and Pennsylvania schools of American Impressionism. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago as well as in Munich, Paris and London before beginning his painting career in the United States. He learned to paint en plein air during a stay at an artist colony in St. Ives in Cornwall, England. Known for his New England winter landscapes, especially snow scenes in the Berkshire Hills, Symons worked to create convincing shadows on snow. The covered bridge was a typical New England landscape motif for Symons, with the late afternoon sun creating deep purple shadows in the snowy woodland setting. The warm tones in the foreground give way to cooler shades receding to the bridge. The diagonal line created by the five large trees draws the viewer’s eye across the composition to the farmhouses in the background.

Symons would make several trips back to Cornwall throughout his career, but the lure of California was strong and in 1903 he purchased land in Arch Beach where he built a home-studio. He divided his time between Laguna Beach and the Northeast from that point forward. Symons won the Carnegie Prize at the National Academy of Design and was commissioned by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1914, to paint scenes of the Grand Canyon to be used in their advertisements.

George Gardner Symons

George Gardner Symons
American, 1861-1930
Covered Bridge, 1900-1920
Oil on canvas, 25.25 x 30 in.
78.01

John James Audubon’s highly detailed depictions of birds and wildlife often began as life-sized watercolor sketches created on location or from specimens that he collected in the wild. For these works he used the largest paper available, known at the time as double elephant in the printing trade. Marsh Tern (1827-1838) was created on this paper and later translated to a hand-colored engraving by well-known London engravers Robert Havell Jr. and William Lizars.

In his notes on the Marsh Tern, Audubon commented:

The bird did not extend its migrations eastward along the shores beyond New England; which will be understood by those who know its rocky shores afford them no place to obtain food. But, from what I know of the extraordinary power of flight of this bird, I am not at all surprised at its being found in Europe, any more than I should be to find it cosmopolitan.

Audubon was inspired by the natural world, especially the birds and quadrupeds of North America, which he chronicled during his lifetime. Born in Les Cayes, Haiti (formerly Saint Domingue), Audubon’s family moved to France when he was four-years-old and he began sketching the birds and wildlife of France as a teenager. He later studied drawing in Paris. In 1803, at the age of eighteen, he was sent to Pennsylvania to manage his father’s estate. After a series of failed business ventures, Audubon went bankrupt and his only remaining possessions included his clothes, a gun and his bird drawings.

After a short engagement as a taxidermist for the Cincinnati Museum from 1819 to 1820, Audubon set his sights on publishing his bird drawings. In London he found a publisher for his four-volume series of life-sized bird portraits, The Birds of America. The expansive volume was the culmination of Audubon’s life’s work as a naturalist and artist, having depicted every North American bird species in 435 plates. After its publication, Audubon returned to the United States in 1831 as its most accomplished naturalist.

John James Audubon, 1785-1851, active in New York and France
Marsh Tern, 1827-1828
Hand-colored engraving with aquatint

80.57

American sculptor Donna Dodson’s Hippo Goddess, in the permanent collection of The Art Complex Museum, was created in 2013. Made from locust wood, the sculpture was included in the Wood as Muse exhibit that Dodson co-curated with Andy Moerlein at the ACM in 2017.

Dodson has been carving images out of wood for nearly 20 years. Her sculptures explore feminine beauty and evoke humor and playfulness as well as grace, power and emotional strength. Her unique vision celebrates the mystical relationship between animals and the human spirit that have existed since ancient times. Her figures are almost always female and range in size from the intimate to the monumental. Hippo Goddess “stands with her mouth wide open as if releasing her inner demons through an agonizing cry,” according to Dodson.

The artist stylizes each piece to enhance the girl, woman, princess, queen or goddess taking inspiration from ancient iconography and mythological imagery. “Because there were no icons of women in the church that I grew up in, my vision is to create them in wood. The natural grain of the wood interacts with the form and shape of her sculptures in a descriptive way, suggesting [body parts] or garments and fabric textures,” said Dodson.

Dodson has been honored with solo shows nationwide since her first exhibit entitled “Mermaids,” at the New Bedford Museum of Art in 2016. She has won grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the New Hampshire Guild of Woodworkers and the George Sugarman Foundation. Dodson is a graduate of Wellesley College.

Donna Dodson
Hippo Goddess, 2013
Locust wood

2017.32

In 1936, Life Magazine named American artist Charles Burchfield one of America’s ten greatest painters. During his career he completed several major bodies of work that brought him widespread acclaim, including expressive watercolors (1916-1920s, after he left Cleveland School of Art), Regionalist cityscapes and industrial scenes (1920s-1930s), and from the mid-‘40s on, his works resurrected his earlier expressionistic style of painting nature.

Young Elm is an example of a later work and although it doesn’t fit neatly into the aforementioned categories, it is representative of Burchfield’s return to nature painting. He initially adopted watercolor as his primary medium, as it was “pliable and quick” and suitable for working en plein air. Its fluidity also softened the artist’s often-staccato signature brushstrokes. In some cases, Burchfield literally expanded his paintings by attaching blank strips of paper to the borders to enhance his images.

In World War I the artist served as sergeant in the Camouflage Corps, creating camouflage artillery pieces.  From 1921 to 1929, he worked as a wallpaper designer for M.H. Birge and Sons Wallpaper in Buffalo, New York. These jobs along with his interest in the transcendentalist movement and the travel journals of John James Audubon (1785-1851), with whom he closely identified, heavily influenced his approach to painting and contributed to his uniqueness as an artist.

Charles Burchfield
American, 1893-1967
Young Elm, 1937
Watercolor, 19.5 x 11.37 in.

78.05

American artist Thomas Moran, who was born in England, is best remembered for his idealized views of the American West. In 1871, he was invited to chronicle Ferdinand Hayden’s Geological Survey Expedition to the Yellowstone territory. Moran was greatly inspired by the landscape of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone and his paintings helped influence the United States Congress to designate the region as a National Park (1872).

Moran and his family moved to New York City that same year, and the artist joined the ranks of the National Academy of Design, the American Watercolor Society and the New York Etching Club. Six years later, Moran visited the rural village of East Hampton, Long Island, which reminded him of his native home in the English countryside. He made several visits to East Hampton and purchased land in the center of town on which to build a summer home and studio. Inspired by the local scenery, he painted its beaches, marshes, houses and fields, a departure from his majestic views of the American West. Moran’s Long Island pictures, including Near Easthampton, NY, were smaller and more nostalgic and pastoral in nature, harkening back to John Constable’s (1776-1837) influence, early in his career.

Thomas Moran
American, 1837-1926
Near Easthampton, Long Island, NY, 1878
Oil on canvas, 10 x 12 in.

80.264

American artist Armin Landeck married in 1927, just after graduating from Columbia University in New York with an architectural degree. He and his new bride spent a year and a half honeymooning in Europe, and during this time spent abroad Landeck drew and etched plates. Unable to find a job with an architectural firm when he returned to the U.S., Landeck focused on printmaking. In 1931 he began teaching at the Brearley School, an all-girls preparatory school in New York City designed to provide young women with the same education as young men. He would remain a professor for the pioneering institution until his retirement in 1958. Landeck met prominent 20th century printmaker William Stanley Hayter in 1940 and was invited to his workshop Atelier 17, an influential printmaking workshop that was at the center of modern printmaking in America. There Landeck learned engraving and etching processes, which would later become his preferred method of working.

The artist’s family donated these significant works to the museum in 2003, and since being acquired Landeck’s prints have provided interesting exhibition opportunities. The museum is always grateful for gifts of artwork from the community.

Armin Landeck
United States, 1904-1984
Self-Portrait in a Shaving Mirror, 1942
Etching, ink on paper

2003.23

Armin Landeck
United States, 1904-1984
Delmonico’s Roof (large plate), 1960
Copper engraving, ink on paper

2003.24

Armin Landeck
United States, 1904-1984
Engraver’s Tools, 1974
Etching, ink on paper

2003.19

Typified by shallow depths with wide openings, summer tea bowls allow the drinker’s tea to cool on hot days. Kimura Morikazu made this summer tea bowl, which bears a precise and delicate imprint of a leaf against rich tenmoku glaze. The potter Kimura, specializes in tenmoku, a Chinese-style iron-glazed stoneware characterized by its dark color and distinct and varied effects.

Tenmoku tea bowls are inextricably associated with the Japanese tea ceremony, and like the ritual of drinking tea, the type of pottery dates back to China. Tenmoku ware has been produced as early as the Chinese Song dynasty (960-1276). In Japan’s middle ages, tenmoku tea bowls were imported by Japanese priests visiting China. By the end of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) the custom of drinking tea had spread among the Japanese people, which subsequently increased the popularity of tenmoku tea bowls. This encouraged Japanese potters to meet growing demands and make tenmoku ware themselves. A sustained interest in this variety of wares, by both dedicated artists and admiring consumers, has ensured tenmoku is continuously produced centuries later.

The tenmoku glaze on this summer tea bowl, is dark and opulent, but its textural effects are subtle, complementing the impression of the leaf, which Kimura was able to capture in detail.  To make said impression, a leaf was actually laid on the glazed tea bowl before firing. Because the leaves curl in the kiln, this is a more difficult technique than one would think.

Kimura Morikazu
Japan, b. 1921
Tea Bowl with Leaf Motif, 1972
Stoneware with tenmoku glaze

Contemporary realist painter, George Nick has lived in the Boston area and painted its architecture and urban scenes since 1969. He taught at the Massachusetts College of Art for over 30 years. Nick studied with Edwin Dickinson (1891-1978) at the Brooklyn Museum’s Art School and Art Student’s League in New York in the late 1950s. Enthusiastic about his instruction, Nick adopted Dickinson’s methods including the careful study of nature, working outdoors and learning to paint intuitively. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Yale University Art School in 1963, along with classmates Chuck Close, Janet Fish and Richard Serra.

Working exclusively from observation, Nick favors architectural and industrial subjects, which he renders in large scale, as with Maynard Spring. To create these works, Nick drives around Boston in an old green van that he converted into a studio on wheels, working directly on the street when he discovers a suitable subject. Inspired by the work of Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Nick often begins his paintings with a blue-colored wash or under painting, creating a preliminary drawing with charcoal, which can be easily erased. The artist prefers to paint on location, as working from a studio seems static. Nick is adamant about following two rules when working: to paint exclusively from observation and to finish a work in one session contributing to the immediacy of the experience. Blurring the line between realism and expressionism, Nick has described his painting style as intuitive and inventive with its quick and large brushstrokes. Crisscrossing greater Boston and all of New England, Nick travels in search of inspirational subjects, from Charlestown to as far away as the mountains of Northern Vermont. Nick has exhibited at The Art Complex Museum, which led to the museum acquiring this painting for its permanent collection.

George Nick
American
Maynard Spring, 2011
Oil on linen, 40 x 30 in.

2012.03

The lithograph by Thomas Hart Benton, Little Fisherman, depicts a young boy wearing a straw hat while preparing his bamboo fishing pole to catch fish, an activity that many children enjoy doing with their father’s, especially on Father’s Day. The boy’s elongated, stylized hands and feet are typical features of Benton’s figures.

Thomas Hart Benton was one of the key interpreters of American life from the late 1920s through the mid-twentieth century, having created more than four thousand paintings and lithographs. Benton loved to trek through the back roads of the country and create pencil sketches of rural areas and the people who lived in them. Fishing was a favorite pastime of country life. His compositions celebrate America’s land, history, people and beauty.

Thomas Hart Benton
American, 1889-1975
The Little Fisherman, 1967
Lithograph

50.30

Many of us find comfort in a cup of tea and, in many cases, this sensation may derive, not just from the contents of the cup, but from the cup itself.

A vessel’s well-matched functionality and appearance might offer its user a sense of ease and contentment, in turn revealing the object’s inherent beauty. “Yo-no-bi,” meaning “beauty through use,” is all about this concept, and it’s a driving notion in Mingei tradition.

The Japanese folk art movement, Mingei, was developed by philosopher Yanagi Sōetsu in the late 1920s and 30s. Influenced by the preceding Arts and Crafts movement in the West, Mingei similarly countered its country’s rapid industrialization and preferred handmade goods over mass-produced ones, revering their balance of form and function. Alongside Yanagi, potters Hamada Shōji and Kawai Kanjirō were key figures in the Mingei movement. They put theory into practice by deliberately producing wares with Mingei in mind and, by advocating the movement’s values over the course of their careers, they helped ensure Mingei’s enduring tradition.

Hamada Shōji
Japan, 1894-1978
Tea Bowl, 1971
Clay and glaze

72.223

Kawai Kanjirō
Japan, 1890-1966
Bottle-Shaped Vase, Showa period ca.1961-66
Stoneware and three-color glaze

73.346

Current events have affected just about every aspect of our lives, including our perception of time. We experience time subjectively, thus we rely on clocks for an objective measurement. Today, they’re hardly ever out of reach, but they were once a luxury.

In early Shaker communities, watches and clocks were seldom used. Sunrise and sunset were the principal timekeepers and, in order to meet the needs of their industrious and community-focused lifestyle, bells were typically rung to summon community members from sleep, to meals and to meetings. Shaker timepieces, while relatively uncommon, were still produced and the Youngs family of craftsmen were the primary producers of those made at Watervliet, New York. The Dwarf Tall Clock in the museum’s permanent collection is a premier example.

Before joining the sect in 1792, Benjamin Youngs, Sr. (1736-1818) learned his trade from his father, a Connecticut clockmaker. At Watervliet, Benjamin Youngs, Sr. continued his craft and, with the help of a joiner, the clockmaker’s mechanics were housed in cases that incorporated characteristic attributes of Shaker furniture. A reflection of the Shaker’s values, these attributes include simplicity and practicality. This piece features movements by Youngs and, it’s believed, the case may have been made by his nephew, Brother Freegift Wells. Though narrow and stately, the clock is only four feet and six inches tall, hence the “Dwarf Tall Clock” name.

Benjamin Youngs, Sr.
United States (1736-1818)
Dwarf Tall Clock, 1814, Watervliet, New York Shaker Community
Cherry case, pine back, glass, brass works and pendulum

30.29

A notable student of Hamada Shoji, Shimaoka Tatsuzō, built his own studio and kiln in Mashiko and succeeded his mentor in representing the town and its pottery. In 1996, he was designated a “Living National Treasure” in Japan. Shimaoka frequently employed a technique called mishma, derivative of traditional Korean Yi dynasty ceramics. By pressing rope-like cords into leather-hard clay, the potter would create patterns of ridged texture, which could then be emphasized through the application of slip. The technique is also autobiographically significant in that Shimaoka was the son of a cord-maker.

Writing of Shimaoka’s work, English potter and scholar Bernard Leach proclaimed:

“The shapes are good, the patterns modest, there is no desire to be different rather than true, which is so common today. They give me a feeling of quiet faithfulness…”

Shimaoka Tatsuzō
Japan, (1919-2007)
Vase, 1998, Stoneware and salt glaze with rope pattern inlay
Gift of Pucker Gallery in honor of Carl Belz,
(former director emeritus of the Rose Art Museum)

98.04