Painting with Dust

By: Franny Brock, Ackland Graduate Intern 2017-18, Ackland Art Museum

Léon-Pascal de Glain, French, 1715-1775, Young Woman in a Blue Dress with Muff, 1745

As a specialist of eighteenth-century French art, my job has been particularly exciting and rewarding this semester because of the Ackland’s new exhibition, Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. This installation epitomizes so many of my research interests, including the work of women artists, collectors and collecting, drawing techniques, amateurism, and display of works on paper. Some of my favorite pieces in the exhibition—the ones that I keep returning to over and over again—are the pastel portraits. The velvety texture and rich colors of these works drew me in immediately, but their contradictory classification and contested status in the eighteenth century keeps me coming back for more.

From a curatorial perspective, chalk pastel is fascinating because it occupies a place somewhere between painting and drawing. In the eighteenth century, pastels were considered a form of painting, comparable to oil. In 1701, Joseph Vivien (1657–1734) was the first artist accepted to the French Académie as a “painter in pastel.” The vibrant colors, high degree of finish, and size of pastels make them similar to paintings. However, works in pastel are done on paper and are extremely fragile. Like drawings, pastels are light sensitive and need to be stored in the dark most of the time (which makes it even more thrilling that we have eight on view at the Ackland right now). Anyone who has worked with chalk pastels knows that keeping the medium adhered to the paper is also a problem. Pastel is crumbly and dusty; it wants to lift off its support, especially when moved or jostled. Many strategies for fixing pastel to paper were invented in the eighteenth century.

Chalk pastel is made of powdered pigment and a binder, such as gum arabic, then formed into sticks. These pastel sticks can be applied directly to paper as a dry medium or mixed with water and applied with a brush. Pastel became popular in eighteenth-century France, especially for portraiture, because of its ability to mimic the tones and texture of skin, hair, and clothing. Gault de Saint-Germain’s Portrait of a Boy demonstrates how different colors of pastel were blended or “stumped” (sometimes also called “sweetened”) to create the luminous skin of the young man’s face. The powdery surface of this work reflects diffuse light off the facets of tiny particles of pigment, creating a sense of white light and a velvety texture.

Anna Gault De Saint-Germain, Polish, c. 1760-1832, Portrait of a Boy, 1788

Although both men and women artists used pastel, the medium came to be considered “feminine” because it relied on surface attributes such as color and shading, rather than the more masculine-associated line and structure, to define subject matter. Social critics also linked pastel to women’s cosmetics because of its physical similarity to powered rouge. While there was wide popular appeal for pastels in eighteenth-century France, this comparison emphasized the perceived artificiality and delicacy of the medium in the minds of its critics.

The pastel works in Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment show a range of techniques, including blending and the use of mixed media, and because they were never varnished, these pieces have retained their original brilliance. I encourage you to take the opportunity to view these pastels before they return to the dark to rest.

 

Drawing at the Ackland

By: Kelly Chandrapal, Learning Resources Coordinator, Ackland Art Museum

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732-1806: “Standing Young Woman Seen from Behind.” Black chalk on off-white antique laid paper. 380 x 258 mm. The Horvitz Collection.

One of my favorite things about working at the Ackland Art Museum is helping UNC students and faculty look at drawings from our collection. Works on paper are highly sensitive to light and cannot be on view as often as paintings or sculpture. When classes or individuals want to use works on paper to further their research or studies, we can take drawings and prints out from storage and put them on display in our Print Study room for the duration of the class period. It’s pretty remarkable to view works up close, unobstructed by glass. The students are captivated, observing the variations in mark-making and the distinct characteristics of each artist’s hand. After seeing drawings from the Ackland’s collection, I am inspired to make a resolution to “draw more” this year.

Drawing is a way of seeing and thinking. It’s using your body and mind together to understand the world around you and visually articulate what you see. While we are often eager to take a photograph to capture our experiences, a camera comes between you and what you are looking at, distancing you from the art itself. Drawing requires you to slow down, look carefully, and connect with the work of art.

Here are some tips I recommend for drawing at the Ackland:

Get your materials ready. Bring your own sketchbook or borrow supplies from our front desk. To protect the works of art on display, pencils (regular or colored) and paper are the only art materials allowed in the galleries.

Select a work of art that interests you. What do you find interesting about it? Maybe it’s the texture of a carved sculpture, the movement expressed through a figure’s body, or an intricate pattern. Draw the part of the work excites you most.

Get comfortable. Grab a gallery stool from our coat room, find a bench or sit on the floor. Find a spot away from foot traffic, where you can focus.

Look closely at the work of art. Drawing from observation is more about looking than drawing. The lines you draw should be more about what your eyes are telling you, rather than how you think the drawing should look. Look back and forth frequently between the artwork and your paper and let your hand follow where your eyes take you. If you like a challenge, take it one step further, and draw without looking at your paper, creating what’s called a blind contour drawing.

Make lots of marks. Drawings are interesting because you get to see the lines, even the ones that are not exactly right. When starting out, make light, quick marks, applying little pressure to the paper. Practice making shorter lines and more lines. As you go along, experiment with different lengths, thicknesses, and speeds of mark-making.

Have confidence! Everyone can draw – it’s all about having the confidence to do it. Remember, you are not trying to make a perfect copy, instead you are trying to capture what you see. Relax, have fun, and enjoy the experience.

Learn from the masters. Come see drawings on view in our current exhibition Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. Featuring a variety of media – red chalk, graphite, washes, ink – the drawings highlight the artistic style of some of the most prominent artists of the period.

Other ways to draw at the Ackland:

  • Borrow a Close-Looking Kit from our front desk to take with you as you wander. Use the family-friendly materials and Art Cards to explore the art in different ways.
  • Come for a Drawing in the Galleries session, happening on the second Saturday of every month. Sessions are free and all skill levels are welcome.

The Study Gallery

By: Elizabeth Manekin

As is true in lots of encyclopedic collections, much of the artwork in the Ackland was never intended to be in a museum. Made for religious rituals, mass markets, burial sites, and banquet tables, it lives in harmony alongside works that were intended for gallery walls. We collect and combine the gamut as “Art.”

Sammy Baloji Culture Congolese, African, “Kalamata, chief of the Luba against watercolor by Dardenne” 2011:
medium archival digital photograph on Hahnemuhle Paper. 2016.6.

Perhaps my favorite part of my job is teaching and learning about these diverse objects from multiple perspectives. Teaching in the galleries, I regularly engage in lively discussion with students and faculty; in the Study Gallery, I get to put some of those conversations on the wall.

The artwork in the Study Gallery aligns with course objectives from all corners of the University, and its organization often eschews the traditional display categories of country or chronology. I work closely with faculty to determine which works of art will enhance their course and its learning goals. The art might illuminate a cultural context, or push students to consider a familiar concept from a new perspective. Works of art may develop new competencies, of empathy or visual literacy for example, or might be a platform for further research, reflection, and creative response. With two eight-week installations per semester, there’s always something new to see and consider on view.

This semester is no exception. In our first rotation, for example, graduate students in the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program visited the Ackland’s Study Gallery on multiple occasions as they investigated experiential learning. Students examined the different experiences depicted in the artwork and reflected upon their own experiences of looking at and talking about art. As students looked repeatedly, they evaluate the concepts that define experiential learning and how they relate to their work in the classroom.

Also on view were works for the Art History courses “Introduction to Architecture” and “Art and Sports,” which presented multiple representations of building and athletes, respectively. Students in a Renaissance history course used works of art on view in the Study Gallery to learn to read visual and material primary sources. A Women’s and Gender Studies class analyzed photography and thought

about issues of identity. Graduate students in musicology explored the influence of Russian refugees on global artistic production in the wake of the Revolution in 1917. This last course coincided with a graduate-organized conference, and their scholarship was accessible in the gallery.

Egon Schiele, Austrian, “Church and Houses at Modling, near Vienna,” 1918: black chalk and gouache. 58.1.238

Anyone of these Study Gallery installations is engaging on its own, but I also love the challenge of figuring out the ways in which these separate courses are in dialogue with one another. This semester, the theme of how we form identities, as individuals and as nations, is an undercurrent. In what ways do both the buildings around us and the sports teams we root for shape our sense of self in relation to the world outside? How do we draw the boundaries of “otherness”? What are the roots of our faith in reason and logic? What role do we play in shaping our own identities? These are big, difficult questions, helped along by the experience of looking closely at what is sometimes a small and specific thing. For all visitors, the Study Gallery is a window into the classrooms at Carolina and an invitation to ask these questions on your own.

I invite you to come to the Ackland’s second-floor Study Gallery. Look closely and think big. Pick up a syllabus. Discuss issues with a friend. The Study Gallery is for everyone!

Meet the Staff: Debbie Pulley

Debbie Pulley is the Ackland Art Museum’s Security Supervisor.

How long have you been at the Ackland?
I started at the Ackland in August 1990.

What brought you to the Ackland?
I had been working for Northern Telecom Security for about six years, and I wanted to do something different in the security field. I applied for both a detention officer job at the Durham County Sheriff’s Office and a position with UNC Security at the Ackland Art Museum. Both offered me a job, and my husband said I should take the UNC Security position. I’m so happy I did!

What do you do at the Ackland?
As the Security Supervisor, I’m on-call 24 hours. I’m responsible for training the security staff, protecting the Ackland’s collection, and assisting the visitors. I also train the Museum’s work study gallery assistants, make sure operating policies and procedures are implemented and followed by all personnel at all times, and monitor the Museum’s closed-circuit television (CCTV) system.

What is a memorable Ackland experience?
In August of 1990, the Museum staff was moving back into the building following a three-year closure for renovations. On December 2, 1990, I got to see the reopening party for the newly redesigned Ackland Art Museum. Then-director Charles Millard and Chancellor Paul Hardin were on-hand to receive ‘Welcome Back’ posters from children as we opened the doors (see photo). What an evening!

What is your favorite thing about working at the Ackland?
Seeing our growing collection. I also love working with university and K-12 students, as well as meeting visitors from all over the world.

SEE. MORE. ART.: What is your favorite arts experience in the Triangle?
I love DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center).

Editor’s Note: Debbie Pulley was chosen as the UNC Department of Public Safety’s 2016 Employee of the Year. UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken presented Pulley with the recognition at the department’s annual awards ceremony Friday, June 17, 2016.  Pulley—who was also recognized for 25 years of service to the agency—was cited for the fresh passion she brings to her job every day as well as for leading by example and her kindness to her team, museum staff, and visitors to the Ackland.

Meet the Staff: Scott Hankins

SCOTT HANKINS is the Ackland Art Museum’s registrar.

6846ef81-7b1b-413e-9f58-cfca56fd55cfHow long have you been at the Ackland?
I’ve been at the Ackland for 10 years.

What brought you to the Ackland?
In 2005, Rebecca and I found ourselves tired of New Jersey and began looking at different opportunities. Rebecca took a chance and applied for a development job at UNC. When she got the interview we decided to make a weekend trip to come to North Carolina for the first time and explore. We feel in love with North Carolina and decided this is where we wanted to be. Then when the position of Assistant Registrar opened here, I applied and the rest is history. There were two things that initially attracted me to the Ackland. First, was the planned expansion. At the time I was working at the Newark Museum and they were working on the beginnings of an expansion project. I really wanted to work at a museum doing an expansion and get the experience that comes with it. So seeing the Ackland doing the same thing was attractive. The second thing was that it was part of a University. I was really interested to see how a museum worked within a University structure and how it integrated with the education mission of the University.

What do you do at the Ackland?
I’m the Registrar, I manage the collection.

What is a memorable Ackland experience?
There are so many, how to choose. One of my favorite moments was hanging Jim Hodges, You (the flower curtain in More Love). I really enjoyed installing More Love in general, but there was just something about that moment.

What is your favorite thing about working at the Ackland?
I work with amazing people and great art.

SEE. MORE. ART.: What is your favorite arts experience in the Triangle?
The Georges Rousse installations in Durham. We had just moved here and it was this really cool public art moment. I remember walking around downtown Durham with Rebecca and seeing the different installations. It was very cool.

Uzzle Buzz: Mustang Girl

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Marie Li is a student at Columbia University majoring in Art History and Business Management. During the summer of 2016, she was communications intern at the Ackland Art Museum.

Every year, as the sweet summer air creeps up on North Carolina with dragging feet, I am galvanized. Not by the thought of long days, crisp evenings, and cool drinks, but by the tantalizing promise of possibility. Like many other Americans, I commit myself anew to eating healthier, venturing outdoors, and exercising more often. And like it or not, this regiment centers on running outside (as opposed to on a treadmill, within an air-conditioned gym), and forcing my lungs to muddle and struggle through the dense, unforgiving humidity.

I discovered on a personal tour of his collection that, like me, Burk Uzzle also partakes in the occasional morning run. Unlike me, however, he brings his camera. And it was on one of these runs that Uzzle captured the “Mustang Girl,” in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Mustang Girl, St. Petersburg, FL, 2001, 2001; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.52.

Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Uncertainty and Risk

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Nic Brown is an assistant professor of English at Clemson University. He is the author of the novels In Every Way, Doubles, and Floodmarkers, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Garden & Gun, and the Harvard Review, among many other publications.

I interviewed Burk Uzzle a few months back for a profile in Garden & Gun. I had quite a bit left over from that interview that I couldn’t use because of space and editorial needs. Much of it stayed with me. In fact, some of it concerns Uzzle’s belief in art flourishing outside of editorial guidelines. In that spirit, I’m happy to now have the space here with the Ackland to continue writing and thinking about him. –NB

When Burk Uzzle was twenty-one, he was married, had two sons, and was living in Atlanta with his family trying to make ends meet by taking photographs. The family was so poor that in place of a dining table they ate off a board that they had closed in a window, making it stick out straight.

A year later Life hired him as a staff photographer and had him move to Chicago. Uzzle was so accustomed to poverty that he directly checked into the Chicago YMCA. When his editor heard, he immediately moved Uzzle into a hotel with an expense account. One of Uzzle’s first assignments was to fly to South Dakota to shoot a blizzard, but he didn’t own a warm enough jacket, so upon arrival he bought a huge shearling one, only to then have to fly to some tropical locale for his next assignment, still wearing his shearling jacket.

After only a few years with Life, Uzzle quit to hitchhike across the country in hopes of taking photos that captured the experience. Life hired him again when he returned, on the strength of his work. Soon he quit again.

“I never really liked taking orders from editors,” he says. “I would decline assignments so I could do what I thought I should do.”

At Woodstock, which Uzzle initially visited out of curiously but ended up getting stuck at because of the New York State Thruway getting closed, he found many of his photographer friends in the press pit in front of the stage. “You’re wasting your time down here,” Uzzle told them. He had quickly come to realize that the real pictures of interest weren’t of Joan Baez or Canned Heat on stage, but of the skinny-dippers in the ponds, of the young people trying to stay warm in the fields. While his friends followed the orders of their editors and stayed put in the press pit, Uzzle borrowed film from them, walked up the hill, and captured on it images that have become so iconic that when we now think about this turning point in the country’s history, we see in our mind a Burk Uzzle photo.

Ackland_2008.3.5, 1/12/12, 1:58 PM, 8C, 3882x4647 (33+0), 50%, Custom, 1/20 s, R49.1, G23.3, B33.1

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Wheels With Legs, 1983; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.6

The point is, Uzzle has lived his life with an almost daredevil belief in art, eschewing financial stability and comfort for a single-minded trust in the work itself. “I’ve always lived for the picture,” he says. It seems terrifying.

And yet he’s still doing it.

Not long ago, Uzzle spent a year shooting 8×10 film while putting 350,000 miles on his old Chevy van, driving around, just looking for the picture. “I zig-zagged across the country, developing film in Motel 6 bathrooms,” he says. He was doing this not on payroll, not on assignment, but just looking for pictures. This from a guy who used to be president of Magnum Photos, who has lived long enough and richly enough that he can recall personal lessons received from his friend Henri Cartier-Bresson. I don’t know about you, but seems to me most people in Uzzle’s position would probably be sitting in an endowed chair at some university somewhere taking pictures of the view out their window. As Uzzle puts it, though, “most of my life has been spent driving around the country in a van.”

Artwork hung in a museum is, in a way, like reading the history of war. We see the outcome as inevitable. Here is the art hanging right here, it was meant to be here; here is the winner of this war, they were always going to win. But of course, as people will tell you who lived through wars, the outcome is never foretold. So it is with art. In Uzzle’s life, as he was shooting many of the photos in this exhibition, what he probably saw in his future was less a vision of his name on a museum wall, and more a vision of his dinner resting atop a board closed into a window.

What I’m getting at is something we hear about often – the struggle of the artist. Uncertainty and risk. Burk Uzzle has spent a life taking the biggest risks, putting all of his chips on the table. So take a look. He’s spent years now cashing them in. The payoff has been developed, matted, and framed. It’s like we all know the best poker player in town, and not only is he still playing, he always shares his winnings.

–Nic Brown, August 10, 2016

Uzzle Buzz: “American Culture Studies at its Best”

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Townsend Ludington is Boshamer Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, of American Studies and English at UNC-Chapel Hill.

All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle, which opened at the Ackland Art Museum on June 24th, is one of the most provocative exhibitions the Museum has offered during the many years I have had the pleasure to live in Chapel Hill and teach at the university. “Provocative” in no way meaning salacious, but because—along with the fine catalogue of Uzzle’s photographs and an insightful essay by Professor Patricia Leighton—we learn so much about the art of photography.

Acland_2008.3.48, 7/23/14, 9:28 AM, 8C, 3476x4042 (552+1085), 58%, Feb'13, 1/25 s, R53.9, G26.0, B35.1

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Family and Friends, Daytona Beach, FL, 1997, 1997. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.48. © Burk Uzzle.

Uzzle rightly considers himself both artist and photographer; no one would challenge him. All 42 of the works on view display the visual acuity of a greatly talented professional; each has a narrative about some aspect of American life during the turbulent years 1968-2014. Ordered chronologically, the first photographs take us back into such monumental moments as the death of Martin Luther King and its aftermath; Woodstock; the Peace movement, and then—like Uzzle himself, it would seem—into a more elegiac mood in the last photographs.

But always there are counterpoints: that of young friends and raw sexuality in Family and Friends, Daytona Beach, FL, 1997 immediately preceding the pastoral, Huck Finn qualities of River Bank Dive, Georgia, 2001. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Collection Connection

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Carolyn Allmendinger is Director of Academic Programs at the Ackland Art Museum.

Barn with Deer, 2009   Roe Deer in the Snow

When the Ackland’s acquisitions committee discusses the reasons to add a work of art to the collection, one of the things we consider is how our audiences might engage with that work. In the case of Barn with Deer, we knew that we wanted to include it in the exhibition All About America. In addition, we remembered that one of our Ackland Student Guides had designed a gallery tour called “The Art of the Hunt.” Barn with Deer, we thought, would be a great addition to that tour if she wanted to offer an encore performance. Thematically, it goes particularly well with Gustave Courbet’s painting, Roe Deer in the Snow, on view in the Museum’s collection galleries. Both Uzzle’s and Courbet’s works depicted rustic winter scenes in which deer figured prominently – in Courbet’s painting they are just off of the composition’s center and Uzzle’s a deer skin with head attached is at the lower left. Continue reading

Meet the Staff: Joel VanderKamp

JOEL VANDERKAMP is a preparator at the Ackland Art Museum.

5cde0142-46c2-4a78-92d2-dcb1ef3ca16aHow long have you been at the Ackland?
I began in August of 2013

What brought you to the Ackland?
The Ackland is at the intersection of my community and my work experience. I followed my wife to Chapel Hill and spent the first few years of my relocation commuting to the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro. I have a fairly broad art handling experience and have found that I really enjoy working with encyclopedic collections. When the opportunity arose to work with the Ackland’s collection and programming I jumped at it.

What do you do at the Ackland?
I am a preparator. That means a lot of different things depending on the museum. The primary role of the preparator is to handle the art, be it for exhibition, storage, shipping, documentation, etc. At the Ackland the preparator also creates/supports the design and construction of the exhibition spaces, display cases, signage and lighting. Because the Ackland has a diverse collection and is relatively small in scale my responsibilities are quite various.

Continue reading