See new exhibitions, including “Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art” on view thru May 6th at Florence Griswold Museum.
“Handwritten letters are a performance on paper,” states Mary Savig, curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art and organizer of the exhibition Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. The Museum is the only northeast venue for this traveling exhibition. Savig’s selection reveals the beauty and intimacy of the craft of letter writing. From casually jotted notes to elaborately decorated epistles, Pen to Paper explores the handwriting of celebrated artists such as Alexander Calder, Mary Cassatt, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Eakins, Howard Finster, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, Claes Oldenburg, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, and many others.
In the accompanying exhibition, P.S.: Letters from the Lyme Art Colony, the Museum uses selections from its collection of artists’ letters to explore the world of the Lyme Art Colony. During the heyday of the Colony, letter writing was an important tool used by Florence Griswold and visiting artists to communicate and confirm their travel plans. Once artists arrived at the Griswold boardinghouse, corresponding by mail was an important part of colony life—when artists wrote to family back home as well as to art world contacts. In these letters, handwriting can conjure mood, time, and place and offer insight into the person behind the pen. In some early letters in the exhibition, artists contemplate their professional futures, and correspondence from later in their lives reflects the enduring bonds they formed as part of the Lyme Colony. A selection of paintings will hang alongside artists’ letters.
Also featured in the exhibition is the novelty book, The Ghosts of My Friends, filled with signatures by Miss Florence and members of the art colony. “Ghost” signatures took the popularity of collecting friends’ autographs to another level. The glossy paper on which the signatures were written with a loaded fountain pen and full of flourish was folded, creating a Rorschach-like inkblot. One might see faces, bodies, animals, spirits, and monsters in their friend’s handwriting sample, which turn simple names into spontaneous works of art.