Your Favorite Things: Emma Kessler and a Māori Weaving Peg

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Unknown Maori artist, New Zealand. Weaving Peg. Wood and haliotis shell. Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2010.21

Your Favorite Things is a regular feature on our blog where students, staff, and patrons of the museum talk about their favorite objects in the museum’s collection. Today Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas discusses her favorite object, a Māori Weaving Pin.

Since I was a kid I’ve always loved museums. I love learning about other cultures through the objects they’ve created.

I first visited the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University on a campus visit while trying to decide where I wanted to attend graduate school. It is safe to say I was impressed with the collection and I was blown away by the objects in the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery of the Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

To be upfront, my graduate focus is on the art of Polynesia, and I happily admit that my opinions are completely biased, but as far as I am concerned the Polynesian collection is the best in the museum.

My favorite object is a beautiful and unfinished Māori Weaving Peg from Aotearoa (New Zealand). I go back to this object over and over again. I never walk past it without stopping at least for a moment, and if I have a visitor with me I always point it out. Among the Māori, weaving was historically a sacred act carried out by women, and there was great care, attention, and power put into the necessary tools.

emma-portrait
Emma Kessler

I love the history and unique qualities of this object. While it is certainly not the only example of a carved weaving peg, it is one of the most elaborate. The crispness of the carving is the result of metal tools that had only been introduced relatively recently when the weaving peg was created in the 18th century. Its use of interlocking figures, a characteristic of Māori carving, means there is always something new to see and more to look at. I never get bored when spending time with this object.

However, my favorite thing about this weaving peg is the fact that it is unfinished. In a purely visual way, this allows one to see and get a better understanding of how the peg was made. The figures at the bottom have been roughly outlined but are nowhere near the completed intricacy of the figures above them. Through a cultural lens this unfinished quality becomes even more interesting. Every part of the carving process included chants and prayers, imbuing the object with mana, or sacred power, and creating an intense connection between the object and the carver. When the peg’s carver was unable to finish it (perhaps because of illness or death) another carver would not be able to complete it, as the continuity of the ritual had been broken.

Because of objects and histories like this one, the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery has become my favorite space on the IU campus. For me, it is a place to think, reflect, learn, and enjoy.

If you would like to tell us about your favorite object in the museum’s collection contact us at iuam@indiana.edu

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

Your Favorite Things: Rebecca Hinton and Bernardo Strozzi’s St. Dorothy

strozziImage (click to enlarge): Bernardo Strozzi (Italian, 1581-1644). St. Dorothy, 1615-20. Oil on canvas. Eskenazi Museum of Art 80.12

Welcome to Your Favorite Things, our ongoing series where students, community members, and staff of the museum discuss their favorite works from the museum’s collection. Today, Rebecca Hinton, a security guard here at the museum, discusses, St. Dorothy, a large oil painting by Bernardo Strozzi that can be found in the Gealt Gallery in Gallery of the Art of the Western World on the first floor of the museum. 

Full disclaimer: I do not have a favorite artwork in our museum, any more than I have a favorite film, food, or color. How do people do that? After all, to play favorites is to bring a built-in lens to anything that you are trying to appreciate: it limits the potential for joy, and limits what you actually see. However, I’ll try to play along, just this once. As an art museum security guard, I actually have extensive time to live with and savor our collection, in a way that even other members of our staff are not really able to do. And one of the pieces that I find exquisite, that is moving, that has presence and emotional impact, is Bernardo Strozzi’s St. Dorothy.

Rebecca1Image: Rebecca Hinton with St. Dorothy

A monumental figure is gracefully seated in the darkness, patiently awaiting your approach. Your eye falls to her sandaled foot, which gingerly nudges itself out of the blackness. Above this foot is a swirl of darkness and beautiful fabrics: blue, yellow, pink, and filmy white seem to fly about her figure like startled birds, only to vanish into the void beyond. Her right arm appears to be resting on an unseen chair – the most beautiful hand curves downward, long fingers gently holding a tendril of that restless fabric, moving about her figure. In her other arm she cradles a child-angel, who holds a rose against his breast. The faces of both figures are pale and flushed. Unnaturally flushed? Is St. Dorothy unwell, or is she already not quite of this world? Either way the blush in the cheeks of both figures is evocative of the petals of the rose in the child’s hands. The child’s gaze is focused somewhere beyond, but St. Dorothy’s gaze is steady, her face turned fully toward the viewer. She has the aspect of a good listener, and of someone who knows the world and its sorrows. Her expression and the child’s are both full of pathos, but St. Dorothy’s is particularly complex. Her face is made exquisite by the traces of sadness and pain in her expression, but she is also steady, composed, and resolute. She is both monumentally there (she fills the entire canvas), but fleeting. She has decided to briefly, gingerly, emerge out of that darkness, for the sake of the viewer. She is here. She is listening.

Like the best Madonnas, St. Dorothy gazes down at the viewer with a knowing look, full of compassion. I have always found it interesting how often male saints are depicted as looking up, aspiring toward heaven, whereas Mary and the female saints are more likely to be looking down at the spectator. It seems to me that these ladies are already with God, and their energies are focused on others. They are coming from another place, and they are here to help. Second disclaimer: I was a Religious Studies major back in college. In Catholicism, Mary acts as an intercessor, a bridge between mortals and heaven. Female saints like Dorothy often seem to be portrayed in the same way. According to the accounts of her life, Dorothy was persecuted, tortured, and killed for her faith. Before she was beheaded, she told the mob gathered about her that she looked forward to going to a place that knew no winter. A man in the crowd named Theophilus attempted to ridicule her by requesting a basket of roses and apples from heaven. Dorothy earnestly promised to fulfill that request. That winter an angel in the guise of a small boy brought the roses and the apples. Theophilus converted to Christianity, and in turn was also martyred.

The story is full of pain, but also the beauty of hope. The promise of fruit and flowers, the promise in the dead of winter that spring, full of life and fecundity, will return, is ancient, deep, and good (and found across religions). It is a simple miracle, but that makes it all the more poignant and powerful. The painting is symbolically rich. The mysterious darkness from which St. Dorothy emerges – is it God? The Unknown? Death?—I’ve always loved the play of light and dark: the dappled light under a tree, or in an Impressionist painting, the curious play of positive and negative space in a silhouette, or in the exquisitely carved crescent shapes of an Alamblak Peoples’ War and Hunting Spirit Figure, or in the intricate designs of a lime spatula handle (both of which can be found in our third floor gallery). Light and dark, the known and the unknown, at play or fighting for dominance, is powerful, provocative, stimulating. What isn’t being revealed? Are we ever really content to accept the view presented to us? Like St. Dorothy, Strozzi was no stranger to pain and suffering. He left the monastery to care for his ailing mother, and he had to take painting commissions in order to make ends meet. I am both intrigued and impressed by Strozzi: painter, monk, and caregiver, all in one life. He seemed to have a good sense of priorities, and a foot in both the sacred and secular realms. Anyone who could paint a face like St. Dorothy’s, or that beautiful hand, curling in toward the darkness…I hope you come and visit her, and our other treasures someday soon, and I hope you find them as stimulating and as nourishing as I do.

If you would like to talk about your favorite work at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, write to us at iuam@indiana.edu

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

Your Favorite Things: Lydia Schmitt and Pablo Picasso’s The Studio

lydia3Lydia Schmitt and Pablo Picasso’s The Studio

This is the second installment of a new series in which students, community members, and staff share their favorite works at the IU Art Museum. This week’s feature is by Lydia Schmitt, a freshman at IU Bloomington majoring in Arts Management with minors in Art History and English. Lydia selected Pablo Picasso’s oil painting The Studio (1934), which is on permanent display in the museum’s first floor Gallery of the Art of the Western World. Here is what she had to say:

I vividly remember the first time I saw it. It was welcome week of my freshman year and my friends and I had spent the whole day exploring IU’s campus when I finally convinced them to go to the art museum with me. I was pumped to see what the museum had and they were excited for the air conditioning.

I could hardly contain my excitement as we explored the different galleries. We passed different pieces, each of us trying to recall facts we had learned in art history classes. I remember thinking it couldn’t get any better, and then I saw it. We were rounding the end of the first floor exhibit and as my friends and I were joking about Marcel Duchamp’s urinal (Duchamp’s famous Readymade statue, The Fountain), I caught a glimpse. I couldn’t even believe it. A Picasso? Here? I made a beeline for it.

I stood in front of The Studio mouth agape while my friends quickly followed behind me. A choir of “I don’t see it” ascended. “Well look at this, and this, and look at how these connect to make this,” I explained while frantically gesturing with my arms trying to make them get it. After every explanation I tried to give, I kept seeing new parts of the painting connect. It was like building a puzzle. I was mystified and would have been able to sit there the rest of the day just figuring it out and piecing it together.

Months later, and I am still entranced by Picasso’s The Studio. What an amazing blessing it is to have such impressive pieces here at Indiana University’s art museum. I frequently visit the museum just to sit and stare at this painting. It’s like visiting an old friend but I’m still able to learn something new about it every time.

Many thanks to Lydia for her contribution. If you would like to share your favorite work, please contact Abe Morris, the IU Art Museum’s Manager of Public Relations and Marketing, at: abamorri@iu.edu

Your Favorite Things: Sasha Sokolchik and Mountain Landscape with Travelers

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This is the first installment of a new series where students, community members, and staff share their favorite works at the IU Art Museum. This week’s feature is by Alexandra “Sasha” Sokolchik, a freshman at Indiana University Bloomington majoring in Economic Consulting. Sasha selected Mountain Landscape with Travelers, a large oil painting on canvas, attributed to Jan Hackaert (Netherlandish, 1628-in or after 1685), and Adriaen van de Velde (Netherlandish, 1636-1672), located in the museum’s first floor Gallery of the Art of the Western World. Here is what Sasha had to say:

What I love most about this painting is how small it makes me feel. Not insignificant, but rather, all of my problems become so trivial, so irrelevant.  My world expands and I am reminded of the bigger painting all around me. I will not be here in a hundred years and I cannot say with certainty how much longer our world will look the way it does today, how long these trees will stay rooted, or these mountains unbroken, but I do know that life will continue no matter the form it decides to take.

I am brought back to reality every time I take in Mountain Landscape with Travelers, remembering that this life is about simplicity. Without bounds, it is everlasting yet I find myself caught up in every day monotony at times. Without a constant mnemonic I casually forget about the fact that I am simply human. A human, just as the millions before me and the millions after me. It serves as a reminder that I should not carry burden on my shoulder and simply live to expand my knowledge and happiness.

I always wonder where the traveler sitting on the side of the dirt road has come from. What is in that bag that he tosses over his shoulder and carries with him along his adventures? What are his thoughts as he sits turned to the lake and mountains under the shade of a tree? More exciting than that; where is this man headed? My future, like his, is up in the air waiting for the wind to blow it in the right direction.

I am excited for whatever my compass needle decides to show but for now, I know that the IU Art Museum will always have a place for me to come ponder and reflect. It is always comforting when a book seems to have been written about you, or a song sung about your life; but through a painting, the text is written into every brush stroke and the song is sung with every color, bringing out those emotions with an entirely new intensity. These are just my sentiments though and I am only a simple observer sitting at the top of a hill by the side of a dirt road.

Many thanks to Sasha for her contribution. Stay tuned for more stories in “Your Favorite Things.” If you would like to contribute to the series, contact Abe Morris the IU Art Museum’s Manager of Public Relations and Marketing at: abamorri@iu.edu