Student Perspectives on the Art Collection

Articles

Permanent link for Mathias Alten's Connection to Furniture City on October 22, 2020

Student Perspective Provided By:

Erin Harshberger
Major: English and Education
Minor: Political Science
Class of 2021

In preparation for the exhibition MATHIAS J. ALTEN: AN AMERICAN ARTIST AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY that traveled to The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, September 20, 2020 through January 31, 2021, the #GVSU Art Gallery team, including staff and students, gathered stories and information about Alten's life and work that create a vivid portrait of the artist. Here, Erin Harshberger, GVSU class of 2021, reflects on Alten's role in the furniture industry of early 20th Century Grand Rapids and the lasting legacy of that period.

'Magazine Cover, Commonwealth, Cabinet Maker'
Mathias Alten
1921
Courtesy of Grand Valley State University Special Collections & University Archives

"In the early 1900s Grand Rapids was a leader in fine, handcrafted furniture production due to the availability of lumber and skilled immigrant workers settling in the city. There was a semi-annual furniture market that attracted wholesale buyers from across the country, which brought on the title “Furniture City”. At the time, cabinet makers were both workmen and merchants, so it’s likely that the man on the cover of this magazine is both. The timing of this project; researching the life and work of Mathias Alten, aligned with my move to the city of Grand Rapids. While exploring my new neighborhood I started to see connections between the history I was researching and my new city. There is an ice cream shop on Cherry Street called Furniture City Creamery that I innocuously visited on a break from writing about Alten, only to look up from my cone to see the title of the shop and be instantly reminded of him." Erin Harshberger

Learn more about Mathias Alten's work and life online at mathiasalten.com.


Permanent link for Mathias Alten's French Studies on October 15, 2020

Student Perspective Provided By:

Erin Harshberger
Major: English and Education
Minor: Political Science
Class of 2021

In preparation for the exhibition MATHIAS J. ALTEN: AN AMERICAN ARTIST AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY that traveled to The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, September 20, 2020 through January 31, 2021, the #GVSU Art Gallery team, including staff and students, gathered stories and information about Alten's life and work that create a vivid portrait of the artist. Here, Erin Harshberger, GVSU class of 2021,

shares her thoughts on a unique painting by Mathias Alten.

'French Studies'
Mathias Alten
Oil on board
1899
2004.440.1

"These four studies of hayfields and seashores painted in oil on a single panel were done on a trip to France. The trip was meant to broaden Mathias Alten’s exposure to and practice of new styles of painting. This is a look into Alten’s personal growth and the progress of his technique. I was really drawn in to this piece; something so imperfect and personal shared in a gallery is something I’ve never seen before. In these four quadrants there is evidence of Alten’s traditional training, in the intricate brush strokes of the golden grass on the bottom right. You can see stylistic growth from this time in France in the broad, long strokes that outline the pond on the top left. In the bottom left quadrant he uses thick dark gray strokes for the ship’s sails layered on top of each other, similar to the top right side where the colors of the landscape lay atop each other to create depth. 

Working on this project has required me to dive deeper into Alten’s finished pieces that are so highly esteemed; paintings that are more commonly seen in a gallery setting. It is unusual to display art in its preliminary stages. Alten probably thought this study would never be seen by anyone other than himself, but seeing it next to his finished pieces highlights how much effort goes into a finished painting." Erin Harshberger
 

Learn more about Mathias Alten's work and life online at mathiasalten.com.


Permanent link for Mathias Alten's Plein-Air Painting & Technology on October 8, 2020

Student Perspective Provided By:

Erin Harshberger
Major: English and Education
Minor: Political Science
Class of 2021

In preparation for the exhibition MATHIAS J. ALTEN: AN AMERICAN ARTIST AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY that traveled to The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, September 20, 2020 through January 31, 2021, the #GVSU Art Gallery team, including staff and students, gathered stories and information about Alten's life and work that create a vivid portrait of the artist. Erin Harshberger, GVSU class of 2021, learned about a technological breakthrough in painting tools in the early 1900s.

'Summer Landscape with Split Rail Fence'
Mathias Alten
Oil on canvas
circa 1913
2019.54.4

"While researching information about West Michigan painter Mathias Alten’s process I discovered some interesting facts about the development of portable painting tools in the 1800s. In 1841 the tin tube was invented allowing painters to take their materials out into the environment with them for the first time. This was revolutionary, before this invention painters had to mix their paints themselves in the field, using pigment and oily animal fats. They stored them in pig bladders that were tied on the end and would pop them to access the paint, but the bladders couldn’t be resealed. Just as important to the process was the creation of the box easel; a portable box that carries a canvas, has space for all the desired tools, and when opened, holds the canvas like an easel. This was the beginning of en plein-air painting, which is the act of painting a landscape outdoors, on site. This bit of information was particularly fun to research, because the concept of the paint tube seems so simple now—I had never given a second to the need for these things before." Erin Harshberger

Learn more about Mathias Alten's work and life online at mathiasalten.com.


Permanent link for Mathias Alten's "The Grand River" on October 1, 2020

Student Perspective Provided By:

Che Robinson
Major: Art History
Class of 2021

In preparation for the exhibition MATHIAS J. ALTEN: AN AMERICAN ARTIST AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY that traveled to The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, September 20, 2020 through January 31, 2021, the #GVSU Art Gallery team, including staff and students, gathered stories and information about Alten's life and work that create a vivid portrait of the artist. Che Robinson, GVSU class of 2021, was particularly interested in this painting...

'The Grand River'
Mathias Alten
Oil on canvas laid on board
1904
2006.200.1

"While I was looking through old photographs of Grand Rapids I stumbled across images of men and women sitting in boats on flooded streets. I was immediately interested since I recognized many of the streets as ones that I drove down everyday. I eventually learned that in March of 1904 the Grand River flooded, reaching a record breaking 19.6 feet and causing 2 million dollars in damages (45 million when adjusted for inflation) to homes and businesses in West Grand Rapids. 

In his painting The Grand River, Mathias Alten depicts the river as moody and vaguely threatening. Smoke drifts up into the sky from industrial buildings which dot the opposite bank. The sky itself is a murky yellow, loose brushwork gives it a swirling movement that is reflected in the river below. The view of the river itself is blocked by skeletal black bushes that stretch out over most of the composition, blocking the viewer from access to the river. Alten painted this image in 1904, perhaps reflecting the recent devastation." Che Robinson

Learn more about Mathias Alten's work and life online at mathiasalten.com.


Permanent link for Mathias Alten's Portraits of Women on September 17, 2020

Student Perspective Provided By:

Che Robinson
Major: Art History
Class of 2021

In preparation for the exhibition MATHIAS J. ALTEN: AN AMERICAN ARTIST AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY that traveled to The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, September 20, 2020 through January 31, 2021, the #GVSU Art Gallery team, including staff and students, gathered stories and information about Alten's life and work that create a vivid portrait of the artist. Che Robinson, GVSU class of 2021, was particularly interested in these paintings...

'Nude with Amaryllis'
Mathias Alten
Oil on canvas
1935 – 1936
1999.509.1

"This was one of my favorite labels to research. I saw this piece in the Gordon Gallery and had wondered what the Grand Rapids community thought about a married man painting nude women in the 1930s. I found the answer to my question unexpectedly while reading through old newspapers that had been digitized by the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Years before he painted this piece, in 1906, the Grand Rapids Herald printed an in-depth story detailing salacious rumors that Alten had employed a local woman to pose nude for him and his class. I expected to find antiquated views of the female body, but Alten surprised me. In the paper he is quoted as defending the modeling profession as an important part of the artistic process:

 'Grand Rapids is the hardest city I ever saw in which to get a suitable model... there is a decided aversion to posing in the nude… [Women] will not take up the work for fear the finger of scorn will be pointed at them for once having been a model for some great painter. Such a view is not only narrow, it is sinful...it is for the sake of art and art alone, and as such, is sacred to anyone who has any artistic instinct. I respect my models as truly as I do any good woman and so do my students.'" - Che Robinson

Portrait of Camelia Alten Demmon
Mathias Alten
Oil on canvas
1924
2000.305.1

In preparation for the exhibition MATHIAS J. ALTEN: AN AMERICAN ARTIST AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY that traveled to The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, September 20, 2020 through January 31, 2021, the #GVSU Art Gallery team, including staff and students, gathered stories and information about Alten's life and work that create a vivid portrait of the artist. Che Robinson, GVSU class of 2021, was particularly interested in this painting...

"Camelia Alten is Alten’s second daughter. Born in 1899 she lived in Grand Rapids until her death in 1999. This portrait was painted by Alten in 1924 just after her wedding. Here she is depicted as the very idea of the “Modern Woman”. She stands tall and confident, wearing the fashionable flapper style of clothing that was still considered quite risque at the time. She had also just attended college at Michigan State Normal College (Now Eastern University), representing the growing trend of women pursuing a higher education. 

While researching Camelia I was able to read a copy of her diary from 1917 that has been preserved by the Grand Valley State University Special Collections. In the diary she is just about to finish up high school. I felt an affinity for her while reading about her everyday life studying for finals, going to the movies with friends and learning how to drive the new family car. All of the things she wrote about felt familiar to my own teenage experience, even though mine had happened almost 100 years later." -Che Robinson

Learn more about Mathias Alten's work and life online at mathiasalten.com.

 


Permanent link for Ben Hinmon's "Women With Child" on August 20, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Women With Child 
Ben Hinmon
Reproduction Print 
Circa 2010
2011.86.1
https://artgallery.gvsu.edu/Detail/objects/11454

"Ben Hinmon is the great, great, great, great-grandson of chief Pontiac and Interim Director of the 7th Generation program of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Mount Pleasant, MI. The Chippewa tribe, also known as Ojibwa, is a part of the Obwandiyag, meaning the Three Fires Confederacy which includes the Chippewa (aka Ojibwa), Odawa (aka Ottawa) and the Potawatomi tribes. 

In this painting by Hinmon, I see three mothers; a human mother, a loon mother and an otter mother, each protecting their babies. They are all connected by a central sun that surrounds the main figure and branches off into two smaller red and yellow sun-like turtles that ultimately connect the minds of the loon, otter, and human mother. This reminds me of the connectivity Indigenous people have with nature and the connectivity all mothers have with each other, whether human or animal. 

I wonder why Hinmon didn’t include eyes or facial features on the human figures like he did on the animals? I began to research Indigenous legends and spiritual meanings attached to excluding a face. Unable to find anything specific, I began to think about the power a faceless figure can have. By excluding eyes or other facial features the artist strips away the identity of the figure itself. Maybe by excluding the face of the Anishinaabe Kwe (Indigenous woman) in this painting Hinmon is referring to the unknown identities of the Indigenous people that were forced from their homes by European colonizers." - Megan Daniels 

 


Permanent link for Herschell Turner's "Old Blues Singer" on August 6, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Old Blues Singer
Herschell Turner 
Oil on Canvas 
1980 - 1990
2001.LO18.1 
https://artgallery.gvsu.edu/Detail/objects/4676 

"Herschell Turner grew up in Grand Rapids, MI in the 1950s and 60s. He experienced first-hand the Jim Crow racism of pre-civil-rights America. In July 1967, riots broke out on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids in response to the poverty, high unemployment, lack of affordable housing, and strained police relations in the area. These followed similar protests happening across the United States in larger cities like Detroit. At the time, Turner was serving as Director of the Baxter Community Center and he opened the center to the community to meet with police and other officials to discuss shared solutions to those issues. 

Turner draws from his personal experiences and his dedication to social justice and universal human rights in his artwork by portraying Black culture and the experiences of Black people. He highlights how those experiences differ from more commonly portrayed white experiences. For example, in his painting “Old Blues Singer,” you may recognize the color scheme and subject of this painting as reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.” In Turner’s painting however, a Black man is the main subject. The painting’s title, “Old Blues Singer'' focuses our attention on the idea of the blues rather than just the guitar. With this title, I think Turner wanted to not only share an element of the Black experience but also highlight another aspect of Black culture and history; blues music, a musical genre that originated in the Deep South from African musical traditions.

Turner's artwork causes me to reflect on the lack of representation of the Black community and experience in the visual arts. I’m interested in learning more about Black artists, history and culture as I continue to educate myself and become a better ally to the Black Lives Matter movement." - Megan Daniels

 


Permanent link for Douglas Gilbert's Photographs of Ivanhoe Donaldson on July 20, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Erin Harshberger
Major: English and Education
Minor: Political Science
Class of 2021

'Ivanhoe Donaldson (For Look Magazine)'
Douglas Gilbert
Photographic print
1965
2018.48.1984 -- 2018.48.2036

In July 2020, Erin was asked to research Ivanhoe Donaldson, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement who championed voting rights for Black Americans and was involved in several high profile political campaigns in the 1960s and 70s. The GVSU Art Collection includes over 50 black and white documentary photographs of Donaldson taken by Douglas Gilbert. In 1965, on assignment for Look Magazine, Gilbert photographed Donaldson in Georgia leading up to the Georgia House of Representatives election as he lead the campaign for Julian Bond--one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center, who went on to serve 25 years in Georgia’s state legislature, and later served as chairman of the NAACP. 

This is Erin's reflection on Gilbert's photographs and Donaldson's legacy...

"With a national election right around the corner and primaries well underway, news outlets have been sharing footage of giant lines, stretching multiple blocks outside voting places in many states. Individual voters share that they've had to wait upwards of five hours just to get inside their polling place. Voter suppression has never been completely resolved in our country, decades after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. Some states continue to make gradual progress through reforms that push for voting by mail (absentee ballots). Similar to Donaldson’s work, the Black Lives Matter movement used their platform to elevate Black candidates running for office. Most notably, Charles Booker in the race for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat in Kentucky currently held Republican Mitch McConnell. Booker's campaign gained unprecedented momentum in its final weeks due to his unabashed support of protests and calls for reform.

Throughout the past month, I’ve been walking in protests throughout our city of Grand Rapids with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has given me space to reflect and feel deeply with my community. In our current state of pandemic, there has been a tendency for writers to reach for the positive silver lining at the end of their articles; as if a line in black ink at the end of a New York Times article will be the quote that propels us through what feels like the longest year of our lives. The hard truth is that the reality and discomfort of this struggle has long preceded this moment. Others, more knowledgable than I, have fought for Civil Rights for Black Americans for a long time, in wave after wave of resurgence, voices begging to be heard as they crash against the immovable shore. If there would be a silver lining in this story, it would be that people keep marching. Stories like Ivanhoe Donaldson's continue to echo and inspire; more Charles Bookers will continue to run for office—and will eventually win. People who are committed to change continue to fight against evil and injustice and maybe this 'longest year ever' will actually produce growth and change. That idea feels hopeful to me." - Erin Harshberger

 


Permanent link for Contribute Your Perspective! on June 22, 2020

GVSU students are invited to submit their thoughts on an artwork (or series of artworks) from the Collection. Perhaps you've noticed a particularly compelling painting in your res hall? Or maybe you can't stop looking at the sculpture outside your classroom? Or you've browsed the online Art Collection and found a series of artworks that speak to you! Gather your thoughts, type up 200-300 words and submit your perspective to be published here, on the Student Perspectives on the Art Collection blog! 

Some prompts to get you started writing...

  • Does this artwork remind you of a story you read, a game you played, a moment from your childhood, or some other personal narrative?
  • What do you think this artwork is about? What is the artist trying to say?
  • Does this artwork connect to something you're learning in class?

Permanent link for Artists Responding to Crisis: George Vihos on June 9, 2020

Student Perspective provided by:
Megan Daniels
Major: Studio Art
Minor: Public & Nonprofit Administration
Class of 2023

Tribute To Oklahoma City Children
George Vihos
Oil Crayons and Photo Imaging on Canvas
2002
2010.90.1

"The thick black lines and white parrot silhouettes that pull your eye toward the center of the composition are what first drew me to George Viho’s mixed media drawing. I didn't know the historical importance of the subject matter until I read the title; 'Tribute to Oklahoma City Children.' After reading the title, my perspective and understanding of the work changed. Vihos’s reaction to the tragedy that took place on April 19th, 1995 is expressed in an abstract realist style that includes collaged images of the Alfred P. Murrah Building after the bomb was detonated and small faceless figures with outstretched arms. These images combined with Viho’s use of desaturated dark colors and surrounding red halo-like glow remind me of wounds and bloodshed, providing me with a heightened emotional understanding of and reaction to the Oklahoma City Bombing. 19 children who were in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building’s daycare center lost their lives that day. Vihos pays tribute to each child by including 19 white parrot silhouettes, with a subtle red outline. These parrots possibly symbolize angels or suggest the innocence and fragility of children. The background and thick black lines remind me of a city grid, and reach outward in all directions just like the damage caused by the bomb, which extended to more than 300 surrounding buildings. Having a creative outlet in times of crisis or tragedy can be an effective way to cope and share different human responses to life changing events. Tragedy is intertwined with the arts and can help both artists and viewers cope with and understand the impact of tragedy, just as this artwork did for me." Megan Daniels

You can see more artwork by George Vihos by visiting the GVSU Online Art Collection.



Page last modified October 22, 2020