Curator’s Corner

Learn more about the collections and exhibitions at Stark Museum of Art from our Curator, Sarah E. Boehme, Ph.D. Find companion content on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

September 22, 2023

The weaver used the natural colors of the wool along with indigo dye for the blue.  The design features jagged stripes and wide borders of geometric shapes.  This blanket is on view through early December in the Lobby exhibit of the Stark Museum of Art.  It is exhibited with Diné (Navajo) textiles, providing comparisons between the traditions in the Southwest. 

September 17, 2023

Although Gaspard left Russia to live in the United States, he drew upon his experiences from his homeland.   In Russia, he had portrayed peasants and ethnic groups. In New Mexico, he found inspiration in the native peoples of the Southwest.  “To the Christmas Dance” is a variation on a composition he often used. A procession, probably of Apache people,  winds its way among snowdrifts through a towering forest.  This painting is currently on view in the Stark Museum of Art’s Gallery 3 through early December.  Come and see Gaspard’s masterful use of pastels in creating this image. 

Leon Gaspard’s American-born wife also was an immigrant to the United States, due to laws affecting women.  Eugenie Evlyn Gasper (yes, that is the correct spelling of her maiden name) was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey, so she was a U.S. citizen.  She traveled to Paris, perhaps to study.  There she met Leon, who had come to the French city to study art and begin his career as a painter.  They married in Paris in 1908.  That marriage meant that Evlyn lost her American citizenship.  Under the United States’ Expatriation Act of 1907, American-born women who married non-citizens were stripped of their citizenship. It was assumed they would be citizens of their husbands’ countries.  Leon Gaspard was wounded during World War I in France, and the couple decided to move to the United States.  In 1915, Evlyn traveled alone back to the United States, probably to find a home for the couple.  As a non-citizen, she had to be processed like other European immigrants who came to America seeking a refuge from the problems in Europe and/or a better life.  Leon Gaspard traveled to the United States a few months later.  Evlyn and Leon Gaspard eventually became naturalized citizens of the United States in 1925.  (For documentation on the immigration story of the Gaspards and other background on Leon’s life and art, see “Leon Schulman Gaspard:  The Real Story,” by Elena Ivanova, Mascot Books, 1923.)

September 13, 2023

The painting “Ourselves and Taos Neighbors” by Ernest L. Blumenschein is currently on loan to the Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, New Mexico, through January 28, 2024.   The Harwood requested it for their special exhibition, Harwood Museum of Art Centennial.  In 2023, the Harwood Museum of Art of the University of New Mexico is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. Their exhibition traces the history of the museum and collections, along with its relationship to the Taos community.

“Ourselves and Taos Neighbors”is a group portrait including many persons important to the history of the Harwood Museum.  The seated woman, second figure from the left in the painting, is Elizabeth “Lucy” Case Harwood.  She established the Harwood Foundation that would become the Museum.   The artist painted his self-portrait in the foreground of the work; he wears a red sweater.  Blumenschein was also important to the founding of the Harwood Museum.  According to the Harwood’s Executive Director Juniper Leherissey, “Blumenschein sat on the Harwood’s first art committee in 1925, exhibited during their first public art exhibition in 1926, and was included in the first list of artists that were approached to begin a permanent collection at the Harwood. Additionally, Blumenschein led critiques for the Summer Field School of Art in 1952.”  Blumenschein’s group portrait includes other artists whose works are in the collection of the Harwood, such as J.H. Sharp, Walter Ufer, and Victor Higgins.  The painting features other cultural leaders, such as Mabel Dodge Luhan, “a benefactor who generously supported the Harwood Museum from its conception onward.”   

If you are in Taos, New Mexico, be sure and see “Ourselves and Taos Neighbors” at the Harwood Museum. 

Ernest Leonard Blumenschein (1874 – 1960), Ourselves and Taos Neighbors, c. 1940, oil on canvas
41 × 50 inches, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas, Partial Bequest of H.J. Lutcher Stark, 1965 and Partial Gift of Nelda C. Stark, 1973,31.30.12.A

September 4, 2023

The Steuben Glass bowl “Washington” is part of the series “The United States in Crystal.”  Steuben Glass produced a set of bowls to symbolize the nation.  Bowls for each of the fifty states portray an image related to the history, culture, or geography of each state.  A central bowl symbolizes the nation as a whole.  Artist Sidney Waugh designed the engraving for each bowl.  Steuben Glass provided a written explanation of the subject of the Washington bowl.  “One of Washington’s great contributions to the economy of the United States is her lumber industry which centers in Shelton, near the head of Puget Sound, and employs more men than any other industry in the state.”

In planning the series of “The United State in Crystal, Steuben Glass sought aid in developing the subjects for each state.  The company worked with The Institute of Early American History and Culture, an independent research organization that is located in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Today the organization’s name is the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg sponsor it.  The Institute did research on the states for the Steuben series.  A researcher probably suggested the theme of lumbering as the topic for the Washington bowl.   

To portray the lumber industry, Waugh produced a design featuring Paul Bunyan, a character from popular folklore.  Waugh depicted Bunyan as a giant, dominating the space.   He dwarfs the pine trees and a mountain in the distance.  “Paul Bunyan is the mythical hero of the lumber camps and hundreds of tales are told of his prowess.”  Paul Bunyan may have been an odd choice to symbolize the state of Washington.  The folklore about Bunyan often comes from the Midwest rather than the Far West of Washington state.  The text from Steuben acknowledged the Midwest region’s association with tales about Bunyan.  “This legendary giant felled whole forests at a stroke, and with the help of his ox, ‘Babe,’ scooped out the Great Lakes and dug the Mississippi River.” 

Yet, the text justified the link with Bunyan.  The Steuben Glass text concluded, “Paul Bunyan makes his home at any place where great trees grow and men go out to subdue the forest.  At present he is said to be living in the state of Washington.”   The emphasis on subduing the forest and the focus on male actors reflect concepts of historical significance prevalent in mid-twentieth century America.  Today, the stories might be more inclusive. 

The series “The United States in Crystal” is on view in Hallway 2 of the Stark Museum of Art.  Additional examples of Steuben Glass are on view in the exhibit “Steuben Glass:  Stories Engraved in Crystal” in the Stark Museum’s Hallway 3.  There viewers can other works with engraving designs by Sidney Waugh.