Graphite-Inspired Exhibit Sparks Studies of Local Connections to Pencil and Paper
Honoring one of the most well-known, well-loved, and well-used art-making materials known to man, the Springfield Museums’ exhibit Leaving Our Mark: In Celebration of the Pencil spotlights the graphite-based tool with which most great artworks begin. Filled with numerous works created with graphite on paper, the exhibit brings to light the role that graphite plays (and has played) in the art world, paying homage to this basic yet incredibly versatile utensil. By visiting the exhibit, families can learn about the use of graphite as an artistic medium and view works that explore its potential. Families can also explore the history of western Massachusetts by using pencil and paper as a catalyst for learning!
On view from now through March 27th of 2016, Leaving Our Mark is made up of 62 pieces of artwork, carefully curated by local artist Steve Wilda. Though made using what can sometimes be thought of as the most basic of materials, the works included in the exhibit speak to the true potential of graphite in art-making and include rich detail within complex images. Visitors to the exhibit can even leave their own mark with graphite, adding their own graphite-based works to the exhibit’s Community Drawing Wall.
Originally used for marking sheep to show ownership, graphite became a material for drawing and writing during the 1500’s, when a large deposit was discovered in England. Following this discovery, graphite evolved in its use (and its manufacture into more sophisticated drawing tools) – evidence of which can be seen within the exhibit.
In addition to exploring the artistic potential afforded to artists by graphite, families can explore the role that pencils and paper have played in local history – beginning with one of the country’s earliest mining operations. In Sturbridge, families can visit Tantiusques, site of a graphite mine originally used by the Nipmuc people as a means of obtaining materials for ceremonial paints. Purchased (perhaps questionably so) by John Winthrop, Jr. of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1644, the site became one of New England’s first mining operations and was used to extract graphite, as well as lead and iron, until 1902. Today, the site is owned by the Trustees of Reservations and is home to a 1.5-mile wooded trail, a hike through which reveals much evidence of the area’s mining-filled past. Visitors can explore mine cuts, ditches, and tailing piles leftover from the heyday of graphite mining in Sturbridge, and can even find foundations of a house and barn that once belonged to a 19th century mine worker.
In Dalton, families can explore the material upon which graphite makes its mark: paper. The Crane Museum of Papermaking chronicles not only the history of papermaking techniques, but the specific history of Crane & Co., makers of fine, durable papers for nearly two centuries. Filling two large rooms of the company’s 1844 Old Stone Mill, the museum is located on the edge of the Housatonic River – once the driving force behind the company’s operation. Visitors to the museum can peruse displays detailing the history of papermaking in the United States, from the Revolutionary War until the present. Families can also view a scale model of the vat house included in Crane’s very first mill, and can learn about the special techniques used by the company and the special uses that Crane paper has found, including currency and stock certificates.
Exploring Tantiusques and the Crane Museum of Papermaking adds a community-based element to studies of graphite-based art, and provides children with the opportunity to learn experientially about the roots of the two materials used in pencil-and-paper art-making. Additionally, examinations of local ties to the history of paper and graphite can help to illustrate the evolution that these materials (and the art made with them) have undergone during the past few centuries – the changes have happened quite rapidly, and the results are fascinating!