Art of the Month Club: Mary Kenny

The Williams College Museum of Art is excited to introduce a new regular feature to our blog, the Art of the Month Club. Each month we invite someone special to write about a work from our collection. We look forward to engaging with a variety of people through this new feature. Find your own favorite WCMA artwork by searching our collection database. You never know, we may invite you to be the next Art of the Month Club member. Today, please welcome, Mary Kenny, Print & Graphics Manager at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973), Woman in Striped Blouse, 1949, color lithograph on paper, Anonymous gift. (62.37) Copy Right Holder: Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Before the curtain goes up on WTF’s productions, audience members are handed a program. Somewhere between the Artistic Director’s welcome letter and the listing of Donors, there are 8 pages specific to the show that give audience members both basic information and a greater context for the production. Typically, at the core of the program, the dramaturgical spread is a collaborative effort between my department, Print & Graphics, and the Literary Department to contextualize the play in a visual, historical, and emotional way.

We recently created the layout for these pages in relation to Far From Heaven, a new musical based on Todd Hayne’s film, which takes place in 1950s Connecticut. The story seeks to give a voice to characters limited by the stereotypical context of a prominent American time-period. We decided to begin our research with images from Douglas Sirk’s films, also known as “weepies,” and magazine advertisements from the era. These images spoke to us in an almost absurd way; doe-eyed women emotionally embracing handsome Rock Hudson-type, clean-cut men coming home from the office and sitting down to dinner with their perfect families, and pristine pearl-clad housewives endorsing the latest household sensation. Everything is perfect.

With all of this swimming through my head; I searched the WCMA archives for art created in the 1950s, expecting to find something similar to these stereotypical images. Picasso’s Woman in Striped Blouse instantly jumped off the page. It seemed to illuminate the cultural gap between reality and idealism. In a Google Image Search, the prominent depiction of the 1950s American woman was ripe with perfection. However, Picasso’s painting reminded me that women can be delineated in a multitude of ways. To me, Picasso offers a refreshing view: a passionate impressionistic depiction of what it feels like to be a woman. He doesn’t add an artificial gleam in her eye, but rather draws an ambivalent mouth. Her colors are bold and vibrant, her body drawn with broad strokes and abstract shapes. Much like Far From Heaven, Picasso’s piece explores all of the unexpressed elements of a woman, commonly neglected by advertisements, popular culture, and movies of the 1950s.

Mary Kenny
Print & Graphics Manager
Williamstown Theatre Festival


Above image: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973), Woman in Striped Blouse, 1949, color lithograph on paper, Anonymous gift. (62.37) Reproduction, including downloading of Pablo Picasso works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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