Bard Graduate Center MA students can apply for travel funding to help support trips for qualifying paper research. Hear from three of our MA students who traveled over the winter break to Italy and France.

Clara Puton, MA student

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Museo del Tessuto’s courtyard, formerly the Campolmi Textile Mill
Renaissance and Renaissance reproduction lace from the Suardi School.
A Renaissance embroidery reframed in contemporary fabric by the Suardi School.

In January 2019, I travelled to Venice, Florence, and their hinterlands to conduct research for my Master’s Qualifying Paper (QP), Lacing a Nation: Renaissance Lace Revivalism in Post-Unification Italy. The QP explores how Renaissance lace revivalism in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Italy functioned as a form of mimetic craft. More specifically, my research asks how revival lacework is implicated in a cultural nationalist agenda; how a socially-feminized craft practice produces and reproduces gender and class structures; and how a women’s textile craft is interwoven with fashioning a body politic.

With support from Bard Graduate Center and the Bonnie Cashin Fund, I conducted archival and collections research in various museum and libraries such as the Palazzo Mocenigo Museum and Centre for Studies of the History of Textiles and Costumes and the Museo del Merletto (formerly the Burano Lace School). While in Florence, I journeyed to the Museo del Tessuto in Prato, where I was greeted by Daniela Degl’Innocenti, the museum’s conservator. The convergence of Italian history and Italian textile history is evident in the very site of the Museo del Tessuto, which was a site of active textile production from the early fourteenth century until 1994 (most recently as the Campolmi Textile Mill).

In collections storage, Daniela showed me objects from the Suardi Collection, which is comprised of more than 1500 Renaissance and Renaissance revival laces and embroideries, and other textiles. The collection is named after Countess Antonia Ponti Suardi (1860-1938) who founded the Suardi School in the late nineteenth century. In addition to reproducing Renaissance laces, Italian women enrolled at the School reframed Renaissance embroideries in contemporary fabrics. Daniela showed me examples of both, some of which still have their original sale tags and prices. My Italian sojourn has left me with an abundance of material to interpret and incorporate into my Qualifying Paper. My visit to the Museo del Tessuto is one such example, which provided a first-hand encounter with the legacy of Italian women’s Renaissance revival textile work.

Dylan Brekka, MA student

Dylan Brekka at the Petit Palais, Paris, studying Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt (1876) by Georges Clairin (1843–1919).

My recent trip to Paris, France for research into the topic of my QP – George Clairin’s Portrait de Sarah Bernhardt, proved to be incredibly educational and fruitful. During the course of my days spent in the city, I had the opportunity to visit the collections of several museums and archives including the Comédie Française, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Petit Palais. In particular, it was the archives at the Musée d’Orsay that proved to be the most useful in the formulation of my QP. At the museum, I was able to look at the files held on Georges Clairin, Sarah Bernhardt, as well as Carolus-Duran, who painted a portrait housed at the museum that I have used as a comparative piece in my writing. I was very pleased to find out that the Musée d’Orsay has an entire file on the images painted by Georges Clairin of Sarah Bernhardt. While the portrait I am researching is certainly his most famous example, it is only one of many he created throughout the years.

The Musée d’Orsay’s archives contained information on every known image he paintedthat may have featured the actress, including pieces that were sold at auction over the past fifty years, which are now housed in private collections. This particular file contained information on a pair of allegorical images painted by Clairin soon after the image I am researching, depicting Bernhardt in the same dress she wore in her portrait. Additionally, I learned of two later paintings of the actress, one self-portrait and another by the artist Bastien LePage, that show Bernhardt wearing a similar style of dress as the one she wore in the Clairin portrait. If I had not gained access to this archive, it is likely I never would have learned about these images, as they all have been in private collections for the past several decades and have not been digitized in any way.

And, of course, this trip allowed me to finally visit the portrait itself. After almost a year of research, I was beyond thrilled to see her in person.

Christianne Teague, MA student

In January, I travelled to Aotearoa New Zealand to conduct research for my QP, which focused on the use of pounamu—a type of jade exclusive to Aotearoa New Zealand—in works by contemporary jewelers. My goal was to meet with and potentially interview key jewelry makers, gallery directors and museum professionals, as well as to access objects and ephemera in order to gain a more cohesive view of the attitudes towards working in pounamu.

I split my time fairly evenly between Auckland and Wellington. In Auckland, I was able to view historical examples of Maori work in pounamu for the first time in person at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. I also visited Fingers, the oldest contemporary jewelry gallery in the world, where I was allowed access to their archives and library.

I had numerous meetings with people such as Kim Paton, director of Objectspace, a publically-funded craft, design and architecture gallery, and artist and activist Rosanna Raymund, curator of the 2008 Pasifika Styles exhibit at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. alked with Warwick Freeman and John Edgar, both founding members of the contemporary jewelry movement in New Zealand. The meetings took place in their studios, allowing me unparalleled access to the tools and materials they have used to create their works and the insight into the use of pounamu by both artists was essential to my QP.

My time in Auckland was equally fruitful. Jewelry artists Neke Moa, Grace Yu Piper and Jack Gollop, all artists featured in my QP, graciously agreed to interviews. I had several meetings with other jewelry artists including Joe Sheehan, John Sheehan, Peter Deckers, and Renee Pearson. These meetings still helped me to flesh out the many complicated and often conflicting views of working in the politically charged material of pounamu.

Of course, just being in Aotearoa New Zealand itself was hugely inspirational. Pounamu is deeply intertwined with the landscape and peoples of the country. While I was aware of that on an intellectual level, seeing all these things in person allowed me to develop a more emotional understanding and awareness of the sensitivity of my topic.