Carrie Mae Smith’s paintings investigate objecthood and power dynamics of historical utilitarian forms. Smith trains a contemporary eye on objects that enjoyed regular use before becoming part of the museum’s rich Pennsylvania German collection. Smith’s portrayals evoke conventions of portraiture—Redware Plates, 1-9—or practices of collecting and archiving—Crockery, Small Crockery, and Hand Tool 1, Corn-husking Peg—or signify the intended functions of objects, as seen in Flax, Cockroach, and Candle. Her painterly interpretations—an outcome of her on-site curatorial selections from the museum’s vaults—commemorate these objects while examining how shifts in context destabilize assumptions about purpose and value. As these paintings suggest, museum collections can serve as inspiration for contemporary artists, leading to new works that engage, question, or critique institutions and practices that occasioned them.
Carrie Mae Smith is a multi-disciplinary visual artist, whose work is influenced by her background as a chef, farmer, and woodworker. She was a resident artist at R.A.I.R. in Northeast Philadelphia (2014) and a recipient of Barbara Deming Foundation and Ruth and Harold Chenven Foundation grants, as well as a Clowes Foundation fellow at the Vermont Studio Center. She has exhibited her work in San Francisco, Art Basel Miami, Philadelphia, New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, Texas, Indiana, and Zagreb, Croatia. She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of Delaware (2013) and a four-year certificate in painting and sculpture from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (2005). Smith lives and works in upstate New York, where she serves on the faculty at SUNY Oneonta.
Pennsylvania German Collection
The museum’s Pennsylvania German Collection (PAG), formerly known as the Ursinus College Pennsylvania Folklife Society Collection, was originally acquired by the college in the 1960s from the Pennsylvania Folklife Society, and includes Fraktur, broadsides, quilts, furniture, pottery, and utilitarian objects. In 1949, Alfred L. Shoemaker, J. William Frey, and Don Yoder established the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center, affiliated with Franklin and Marshall College, to study and preserve the folk culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The society’s renaming underscored expansive interests in folk culture, including cooking, folksong, religion, furniture and language. The society collected visual and material culture, and descriptions of folk customs, photographed buildings and farm practices, and recorded oral histories and folk music for preservation. Today, images and objects from the PAG are on long-term exhibition in Corson Hall and loan to area institutions, such as Historic Trappe and Peter Wentz Farmstead.
The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.