Founded by artist and educator Allan Edmunds, the Brandywine Workshop and Archives (BWA) in Philadelphia has established a robust legacy.
Since 1972, the workshop has provided space for and supported multiethnic artists in printmaking and other media arts through its artist residency program. Working with BWA staff, students, artists, and professors, the Harvard Art Museums acquired a “satellite collection” in 2018, comprised of over 80 prints made at Brandywine. This recent acquisition is highlighted in the exhibition Prints from the Brandywine Workshop and Archives: Creative Communities, on view through July 31, 2022. Just as the Brandywine Workshop fosters a collaborative environment in its printmaking projects, the exhibition also inspired new ways for museum staff to work together. We spoke to members of the team—including curators, fellows, and student interns—about the workshop, the museums’ creative solutions in planning the exhibition, and why the team’s process in developing this exhibition was unique.
Joining in the discussion were: Elizabeth Rudy, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Division of European and American Art; Sarah Kianovsky, Curator of the Collection, Division of Modern and Contemporary Art; Joelle Te Paske, Curatorial Graduate Student Intern; Jessica Ficken, Cunningham Curatorial Assistant for the Collection, Division of Modern and Contemporary Art; Natalia Àngeles Vieyra, Maher Curatorial Fellow of American Art; and Hannah Chew, Student Assistant, Division of Modern and Contemporary Art.
How did the idea for the exhibition begin?
Sarah Kianovsky: In the summer of 2020, Soyoung Lee [the museums’ chief curator] asked me if I’d be interested in co-curating an exhibition with prints curator Elizabeth Rudy that would highlight the collection of prints we’d recently acquired from Brandywine. I was delighted by the prospect of collaborating with Elizabeth—it would be the first time—so I accepted the offer immediately.
We first reviewed all the prints in the Brandywine collection and decided to have each artist represented by at least one work. We toyed with the idea of organizing them thematically but realized that would obscure the variety of expressions. At the center of Brandywine’s mission is to bring experiences in printmaking to a broad range of artists, especially those who might not have had access to or experience with this technology. We wanted to honor this intricate and vital network of relationships: between artist and workshop, between artist and artist, and between artist and community. Once we arrived at an object list, we thought about how to involve students and faculty in the project.
Elizabeth Rudy: I was excited to be invited by Soyoung to co-curate the exhibition with Sarah, who is such a critical thought partner and collaborator for my work with the contemporary print collection. In the initial phases of planning, we enjoyed numerous discussions with curatorial assistant Jessica Ficken, who was the project manager for the exhibition—about the BWA, offset lithography, and the artists represented in the museums’ collection of BWA prints. Our thinking and approach to the exhibition deepened and grew as our team expanded in the summer of 2021. We were joined by Hannah Chew through an internship with the Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program (SHARP) and Natalia Àngeles Vieyra, the Maher Curatorial Fellow of American Art in the Division of European and American Art. With them, we developed a specific approach to the wall labels for the exhibition, and we planned some of the public programs for the run of the exhibition. In the fall, graduate intern Joelle Te Paske became part of the team, and her contributions helped us finalize our plans for the wall labels and programming.
How do creative communities and collaboration play a role in the exhibition?
Hannah Chew: While in the SHARP program, I interviewed a number of artists featured in the exhibition. Through these conversations, a story about the community impact and the legacy of BWA began taking shape. Each interview gave us wonderful insight into BWA’s artist residency program and its lasting artistic influence.
We also developed a digital companion to the exhibition, which invites undergraduate students and other members of the Harvard community to respond to a work of their choice from the exhibition. The responses are meant to address the question of creative communities, the role of community members, and personal creative practices through a unique blend of written, visual, and audio contributions. The responses are available online and through a QR code in the galleries. We’re excited to feature these inspired works!
Joelle Te Paske: An unusual and remarkable aspect of the exhibition is that the wall labels were written by a wide range of people on campus and beyond. We have more than 25 contributors, including museum staff, graduate and undergraduate students, professors, and artists themselves. The work I selected to write a label for is John Biggers’s monumental triptych Family Ark, which is a multipart print densely packed with symbolism and religious imagery.
“We wanted to honor this intricate and vital network of relationships: between artist and workshop, between artist and artist, and between artist and community.”
Natalia Àngeles Vieyra: Allan Edmunds cultivated a really special atmosphere of collaboration between artists in residence, master printers, and members of the Philadelphia community at the BWA. So in developing the exhibition, we sought to incorporate a multiplicity of voices from our own “creative community” here on Harvard’s campus. In identifying our collaborators, we paired students, professors, curators, and museum staff with prints that complemented their own interests and expertise.
Can you walk us through the process of putting together the exhibition during the height of the pandemic?
Sarah Kianovsky: With an object list in hand, the next step was to develop the gallery layout, both to construct a narrative but also to confirm that the selected works of art would fit in the space and work well together. Starting in late 2020, it became possible for individual curators to make appointments to see works of art in the Art Study Center, but only one person could be in the room to maintain a safe distance from each other. We also weren’t allowed to visit on the same day—tricky when you are trying to collaborate!
For most of my first visit to the Art Study Center, I saw no one else, not even the art handlers who brought the work up from storage. I got to work laying the prints out in order, using racks and ledges to approximate gallery walls. By sheer chance, Elizabeth and I happened to be in the Art Study Center on the same day (she was working on another exhibition project). So when I was done, she peeked through the glass door, and with hand signals and phone calls, we made adjustments to the arrangement. This process allowed us to come up with a rough layout that we could share with Elie Glyn, assistant director for exhibitions, which he used to create mock-ups of the gallery walls.
Considering the size of the exhibition, we needed to give conservation technicians in the Straus Center as much time as we could to frame all the prints, so we used a similar process to select frame styles for each of them. A few months after that first Art Study Center visit, building occupancy increased enough that I was able to visit the Straus Center laboratory. I met with conservation technicians Adam Baker and Charlotte Karney and paper conservator Christina Taylor. With Elizabeth and Jessica Ficken joining us on Zoom, we were able to look at all the prints in the exhibition and choose the best frame for each print.
Jessica Ficken: Recently, I also worked with Hannah and Joelle to remeasure the 101 prints that comprise Sedrick Huckaby’s series The 99%–Highland Hills. Having exact measurements for each of these prints allowed us to come up with the best method for installing this large work. Before the exhibition opened, the artist installed this work in collaboration with a group of Harvard students!
What are some upcoming programs and events to look out for?
Hannah Chew: In addition to the digital companion, we also have been developing collaborative programs, working with the Brandywine Workshop, individual artists, the Harvard Art Museums Student Board, and other print workshops. Sedrick Huckaby and Allan Edmunds have already worked with Harvard students in a variety of workshops and programs since the exhibition opened. Natalia has also arranged for Harvard and RISD students to attend an educational event at AS220 Industries—an organization that offers affordable artist workspaces for printmaking and media arts based in Providence, Rhode Island.
Natalia Àngeles Vieyra: Our partnership with AS220 aims to give students a hands-on educational opportunity in printing. Led by a master printer, the lecture and printing demonstration will be a great way to engage students interested in the art making process. We are excited to work with them!
Prints from the Brandywine Workshop and Archives: Creative Communities is on view in the Special Exhibitions Gallery on Level 3 at the Harvard Art Museums through July 31, 2022.
Hannah Chew, student assistant in the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art, coordinated this discussion.