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Behind the Scenes of Homegrown

During my time serving as a research intern at the museum, I had the opportunity to work on the exhibition Homegrown: The School of the Art Institute in the Permanent Collection, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). I began working on Homegrown in January, collaborating closely with curator Mark Pascale in the Department of Prints and Drawings. My specialization is in early-twentieth-century American art, so I focused on the decades between 1900 to 1950 and ultimately wrote labels for all the works in the show. My first step was to become familiar with the artists-alumni of SAIC in our holdings and once the checklist was finalized, I researched all the artists and works in the exhibition. 

The most challenging aspect of planning the exhibition was determining who should be included. In formulating the checklist, Mark and I tried to be as inclusive as possible, while still reflecting the best of each era. Our goal was to showcase artists whose works had not been viewed in a long time or had never been exhibited. Some better-known alumni, such as Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and Georgia O'Keeffe, are already well-represented throughout the galleries, so we decided to display works by lesser known artists, such as Marvin Dorwart Cone, Margo Hoff, and Miyoko Ito. 

One of the highlights of Homegrown is the twenty self-portraits (see two examples above) created by Ivan Albright, generously lent by the Department of American Art. Albright, known for his ghoulish paintings Picture of Dorian Gray and That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door), completed these self-portraits prior to his death in 1983. Although they depict the artist as he ages and his health deteriorates, they are a testament to Albright's artistic virtuosity and fascination with death and decomposition. The paintings are hung as a group, but spaced so that one can have an individual moment with each work, with Ivan sometimes looking directly back at you. Albright’s self-portraits have not been exhibited in almost 20 years, so they are a must-see for any Albright fan.


During my time as an intern, I had the opportunity to tour the department’s in-house conservation lab and see a few of the works being conserved. Some of the works just needed tears mended, whereas Adrian Troy’s print The Produce Market originally had pieces of tape applied to the edges, which were ultimately harming the work. Conservator Kim Nichols was able to carefully remove the pieces of tape and did an amazing job bringing the print back to life. Above you can see The Produce Market both before and after treatment. 

In the case of Gustave Baumann’s woodblocks for his print Apple Blossoms, Mark and I worked with Kim to establish the sequence of colors that corresponded to the original blocks. Kim was then able to confirm this printing order under the microscope.

On a final note, one of my favorite works from Homegrown is Paula Gerard’s 1938 lithograph Art ConsciousArt Conscious teases the museum world and its patrons. Taking the viewpoint of the work of art hanging on the wall, three fashionable women gaze at an object, each displaying different reactions: enjoyment, disgust, indifference. Within her print, Gerard comments that while many museum-goers attempt to appear polished and distinguished, we all have an emotional response to looking at a work of art. In the case of the three women, their emotions somewhat undercut their attempts to be "cultured." This visceral human response is true today as it was in 1938. Knowing that the person next to you might not have the same reaction to a work of art is an interesting social experiment and part of why people enjoy visiting museums.

Ultimately, Homegrown has something for everyone, and the art included marks the triumphs of SAIC and the artists who studied here. I hope that you all see the show and find something new to enjoy.

—Joe Semkiu, Curatorial Research Assistant, Department of Prints and Drawings.

Image Credits:

Ivan Albright, American, 1897–1981. Self-Portrait (No. 4), 1981. Charcoal, lithographic crayon, and pencil on hardboard. Gift of Mrs. Ivan Albright, 1985.420.

Ivan Albright, American, 1897–1983. Self–Portrait (No. 8), October 5–12, 1982. Oil and graphite on hardboard. Gift of Mrs. Ivan Albright, 1985.424.

Adrian Troy, American, born England, 1901–1977. The Produce Market, 1935/1940. Woodcut in black on ivory Japanese paper. Restricted gift of an Anonymous Donor, 1940.1279.

Gustave Baumann, American 1881–1971. Apple Blossoms, 1917. Color woodcut on tan laid paper. The William Gold Hibbard Memorial, 1923.542.

Paula Gerard, American, 1907–1991.  Art Conscious, 1938. Lithograph in black on cream wove paper. Estate of Paula Gerard, 1992.1519.