Portrait painter Ellen Emmet Rand’s ‘Business of Bodies’ at UConn

Ellen Emmet Rand (1875-1941) was ahead of her time. She started a career in illustration when she was a teenager, then went to Paris to study.

Upon returning, she married and got work as a portrait painter. She spent weekdays in New York as the breadwinner to support her mother, sisters, sons and her husband, who stayed in Salisbury living an easy country life. In her lifetime, she painted 800 portraits.

An exhibit of portraits by Rand is at Benton Museum in Storrs. The museum has 41 Rand works in its collection, a gift from the painter’s three sons. The Dodd Center on campus also owns a large collection of Rand’s papers, donated by her granddaughter.

The exhibit is called “The Business of Bodies” to emphasize both Rand’s artistry and entrepreneurial acumen. Rand acted as her own promoter, record-keeper, accountant and haggler and kept detailed records of her transactions and her impressions of sitters.

“Her work as a businessperson was to sell bodies. She had to imagine what people imagined that they looked like, and paint in a way that captured the imaginary version but also was a realistic version,” says Alexis Boylan, curator of the show.

Rand was the first woman to paint an official presidential White House portrait (of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) but that painting is now lost. Her clientele included well-known names: Auchincloss, DuPont, Astor, Vanderbilt. But her most charming paintings are of lesser-known names.

Charlotte Haxall Noland, founder of Foxcroft School, is seen in riding clothes, whip in her hand and top hat by her side. Rand depicted Frederick MacMonnies, her mentor, painting a portrait. The work is a portrait of a working portraitist, created by a working portraitist.

A young woman, Jean Sargent, poses reluctantly. Rand’s papers state that the girl abandoned her sitting after one day, needing a body double to continue. The charming “Penelope” shows a baby in a bassinet, staring at the artist, his mother by his side, looking away doing needlework.

The most heartbreaking portrait shows Rand’s much-younger half-brother, sleeping peacefully as a rosy-cheeked toddler. As a young man, he took his own life.

The paintings are complemented in the galleries by period garments curated by Lynne Zacek Bassett.

Photographs of the civil rights movement by Danny Lyon

H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center:  Celebrating 50 Years of Service and Activism

October 25 – December 16, 2018

The Benton salutes UConn’s H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center upon its 50thanniversary with an exhibition of photographs by Danny Lyon. As staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1962 to 1964, Lyon documented the leading role of young people in the struggle for civil rights.

The SNCC was founded during the spring of 1960 on the campus of Shaw University in Raleigh, NC by a group of young activists who had spearheaded the sit-in movement that challenged racial segregation in public spaces across the south. The group quickly evolved from a protest organization coordinating sit-ins and Freedom Rides (bus trips to protest segregated bus terminals) into an association of grassroots organizers who promoted nonviolent direct action and registration of African-American voters by embedding themselves in rural communities, primarily in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi.

When Danny Lyon (born 1942), a white New Yorker, hitchhiked from Chicago to Cairo, IL in July 1962 to photograph demonstrators protesting at a segregated swimming pool, it was the summer before his senior year at the University of Chicago. The fledgling photographer met John Lewis, then SNCC field secretary and now a longtime member of the US House of Representatives, who encouraged Lyon to become more involved in the civil rights movement. Lyon traveled farther south that summer and made photographs in Albany, GA. Soon SNCC executive secretary James Forman recruited Lyon to become the organization’s official photographer.

Lyon’s photographs document signal events of the civil rights movement, such as the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. They also show lesser-known incidents, like the protest in Cairo, which fundamentally impacted local communities, even if they did not make the national news. The photographs are accompanied by Lyon’s own observations, which he published in a 1992 memoir, Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement.

Photo by Danny Lyon: A Toddle House in Atlanta has the distinction of being occupied during a sit-in by some of the most effective organizers in America when the SNCC staff and supporters take a break from a conference to demonstrate, 1963

Image Credit:
Danny Lyon (American, born 1942), A Toddle House in Atlanta has the distinction of being occupied during a sit-in by some of the most effective organizers in America when the SNCC staff and supporters take a break from a conference to demonstrate, 1963. Gelatin silver print, William Benton Museum of Art, Gift of Sheldron and Helen Seplowitz.

The Underground Press: Graphics of Outrage, Protest, and Provocation

Way back in the 20th Century, back before one small, viral meme could have more impact and influence than tons of Times op-eds, newspapers still mattered. But it was also a time of severely limited access to communication outlets. As A.J. Liebling noted: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Yet, during the youth counterculture movement from a half-century ago, presses were a pivotal part of bestowing power to the people. And as a reminder of that bygone era, “What’s the Alternative? Art and Outrage of the 1960s Underground Press” is currently at the University of Connecticut’s Benton Museum of Art.

To Stir Us from Apathy

“What’s the Alternative?” is confrontational, as exemplified by the Chicago Seed‘s 1968 Democratic Convention cover story – a caricature of Mayor Daley and the police as pigs – and The Realist‘s star-and-striped, hammer-and-sickled “Fuck Communism” graphic that greets viewers at the entrance. Fittingly, these works have been curated by one of our country’s fiercest, most challenging political cartoonists, Dwayne “Mr. Fish” Booth. I’ve discussed Booth’s extensive familiarity with the history of graphic provocation in my Print feature here. For the exhibition, he drew from UConn’s extensive Alternative Press Collection, with recurring themes of war, racism, sexism, homophobia, evil Presidents, and all the other issues that we’re still struggling with 50 years later. Booth hopes the art stirs people out of their apathy and energizes them into activism. In fact, that is his alternative.

Featured Works

Images of political protest and radical resistance – from The East Village OtherThe Great Speckled Bird, and other late-1960s underground papers – provide inspiration and encouragement in these troubled times. However, the quality of art on display is uneven. On the one hand, another Seed cover – Lady Liberty as a skull head, set against a psychedelic split-fountain backdrop – evokes the visual and political spirit of its time. On the other, the best that can be said for an ineptly amateurish “people’s picture” cartoon cover for Boston’s Old Mole is that it vaguely recalls the classic 1911 Industrial Worker illustration, “Pyramid of Capitalist System.” In contrast, Georgia Straight ‘s “Wanted: Jesus” cover holds up well enough in comparison to its 1913 source by The Masses’ Art Young.

The Realist – a newsprint magazine that began publishing a couple of years before the 1960s – is also represented in the show, and appropriately so. Not only was this publication the direct precursor to, and foundation for, the underground press revolution, it was also aggressively courageous and cleverly outrageous throughout the decade. For a sampling of Realist cartoons, see my illustrated Print interview with editor Paul Krassner, here.

So if you’re in the New England area and haven’t yet seen “What’s the Alternative?” be aware that it closes this Sunday, October 14th. And even if you have, you might consider returning for a discussion of “Dangerous Art and Censorship” at the Benton this Friday evening, the 12th, with Mr. Fish as a featured speaker.

Mr. Fish Promotes Conversation

On Tuesday night, there were many attendees at the Benton Museum’s screening of “Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End,” followed by a Q&A session with Dwayne Booth, or Mr. Fish, himself and the director of the documentary, Pablo Bryant. The documentary follows Mr. Fish’s life through his career in cartooning, the struggle with getting his work published and how his work is used to promote a conversation in a political climate where current topics, such as religious extremity and warfare, are seen as too controversial to have a debate over.

Mr. Fish’s work is not for the faint of heart, as he often uses offensive images and profanity to connect with his audience. His work ranges from satirical drawings that may be taken in bite-sized chunks to photo-realistic pieces that cause the individual to think more about what is being said about the subject. One of his drawings features Jesus being depicted as a child that has nailed his hand to a dresser with the tagline, “Jesus as a young man learning carpentry.” Satirical cartoons such as these are the embers through which Mr. Fish wants to ignite a conversation amidst his audience in order to make them think about what exactly makes an image offensive.

“Right now, we live in a time where the contradictions of reality are such that only cartoons can really stab the heart,” Charles LeBel, a PhD student in Spanish under the Literature, Culture and Language program, said. “No one’s going to read a 40 page article that presents a reality as brutal and still allow it to be funny…We need breaths of laughing in stuff that we find disgusting.”

Following the screening of the documentary, Mr. Fish and Bryant interacted with the audience through a Q&A session where they discussed the making of the film and Mr. Fish’s reasoning behind the use of profanity and vulgar depictions of people or objects in his work. In one exhibition of his work, “MIND OVER BODY,” several prominent figures and celebrities have their heads drawn onto the nude bodies of women in suggestive poses.

“Nudity to me, again, is just a statement of fact. I don’t find it offensive, it actually exists as the natural state. So to say to look at something that is in the natural state is obscene has always been quite bizarre to me,” Mr. Fish said.

After the event ended, a first-semester accounting major Parker Pacekonis said, “the film was very thought-provoking and something that would be seen as very controversial…as Mr. Fish’s work is incredibly controversial” in order to bring about change to the world. He adds to this by saying that being a “cartoonist is kind of dying off, newspapers aren’t publishing it anymore and publications aren’t…putting it on their websites.”

When the aim of his work is to promote a conversation rather than promote change, how should another person try to spark a conversation through their own art?

“Speak truths that mean something to you, and don’t assume that you’re trying to change somebody’s mind,” Mr. Fish said. “Assume that you’re trying to connect to their heart.”

‘What’s The Alternative?” At Benton In Storrs

The new exhibit at The William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs is not for children. There are dozens of images of nudity, sexuality, adult language and violence, including one unforgettably horrifying photo of a soldier in Southeast Asia with half of his head blown off.

This imagery was necessary, however, for political commentators in the 60s and 70s. Using photos, text and original artworks, they expressed outrage over a variety of societal issues: women’s and gay rights; the Vietnam war; government, church and corporate overreach; or just free-floating existential dread.

The Benton’s Fall opening receptions blends the bold and beautiful

Art is nothing without complexity.

You can draw multifaceted conclusions from even the simplest painting. A haiku can reduce one to tears, if done well. Last night’s opening reception at the Benton was no different. The two main fall season showcases opened to a sparkling and diverse crowd. One room contained scores of imaginative work from The University of Connecticut (UConn) faculty, while the other was composed of relics from the Vietnam War counterculture era. The Benton was able to mesh these two wildly different exhibits into an event I won’t forget.

The main room was lined wall to wall with art created by UConn professors. Some of my favorite works were made by Frank Noelker, an associate professor of art and quite a gifted photographer. His selected works were all of beautiful cattle. That’s it. Simplicity can be perfection. I couldn’t tell if they were the bovine that I’ve met near Horsebarn Hill, but they were beautiful nonetheless. I’m a sucker for cows, what can I say. As I walked around the room, I was accompanied by the consistent beat of 1960s folk songs performed by a live band, representing the alternative half of the evening.

The faculty art shown last night wasn’t all graceful like Professor Noelker’s cows. An artist named “Fred,” standing in for assistant professor of printmaking John O’Donnell (who couldn’t make it due to a prior arrangement), performed the latter’s performance art piece called “Rad Dudes.” Fred walked up to the stand dressed up as their character, “Skateboard Scott,” who looked like they could be the bassist in a ‘90s ska band. “Scott” noted, “‘Rad Dudes’ is a performance intended to walk the imaginary line that separates art and entertainment. This performance is intended to reduce a performance to three core components: spectacle, intimacy and the importance of receiving and opening a gift.”  Two minutes later, I experienced all three of these qualities when Skateboard Scott themself walked up to me and other members in the audience and handed us packaged “Rad Dudes” cards from the early 1990s, all while singing some song about how rad he is. Art is great.

Art can also be provocative, and that was showcased in the exhibit, “What’s the Alternative? Art and Outrage of the 1960s Underground Press.” This exhibit was covered superbly by my colleague Alexis Taylor earlier this semester (, but I was lucky enough to have a conversation with political cartoonist and artist Dwayne “Mr. Fish” Booth, the curator of “What’s the Alternative.” I asked Booth if art exhibits like his curation are especially important in our tense political climate.

“Absolutely.” Booth responded. “It’s exhibits like this that give people permission to speak with this kind of language. It demonstrates the thrill of radicalism. A lot of the stuff that we’re looking at in this exhibit are jokes and very inappropriate ways to engage with political conversation.”

Anne D’Alleva, the Dean of UConn’s School of Fine Arts, peppered in a prudent message for the dozens of undergraduates who braved the monsoon to experience the opening.

“This is your place. The Benton is yours. It belongs to you, and to enrich your lives. You are always welcome here, your ideas are always welcome here, and your presence is always welcome here,” D’Alleva said.

Both exhibits will remain at the Benton until October 14 – they are not to be missed.

View Article Here.

Benton Exhibition doesn’t shy away from controversy

“F*** COMMUNISM.” These are the first words of the Benton Museum of Art’s new exhibition “What’s the Alternative? Art and Outrage of the 1960’s Underground Press.” With these words visible through the doors leading up to the exhibition, the Benton clearly isn’t shying away from anything.

“What’s the Alternative?” features cartoons, illustrations, photographs and paintings that “warn against public impassivity in the face of political oppression, war, systemic racism and censorship of free speech during the mid-twentieth century,” according to the Benton’s website.

The exhibition draws from works from the Alternative Press Collection at the UConn Archives and Special Collections and was curated by cartoonist Dwayne Booth.

“Everything in here is provocative in different ways,” Zoe Eklund, a first semester theater studies major, said. “Whether it’s provocative because someone might be uncomfortable with sex and they see something sexual, or it’s provocative because someone doesn’t like to hear about cops being talked about badly and then there’s literally a a head of a cop on a pig.”

These inflammatory topics aren’t just for shock value. They’re meant to add to the greater conversation of the importance of truth, ignorance and apathy happening in the world of politics and media.

“There’s a lot of things that are meant to get a reaction from people but it’s also meant to make you think,” Eklund said. “It’s not just specifically for a reaction, it’s also for a purpose. I mean that’s making a statement, putting a head of a cop on a pig.”

Brandon Barzola, a first-semester English major, pointed out how the exhibition focuses on “reforming how we think about certain things in a society… sort of like breaking the stigma.”

The exhibit uses art to consider socialization and how this impacts politics and media.

Barzola pointed to an illustration of various beloved Disney characters doing explicit, violent and controversial things.

“It goes back to the idea of how political we get, but these are just childhood characters that were always shaped in this perfect way for us and now this artist is just showing that these characters are just as human. We’re all subject to these acts. No one is truly innocent,” Barzola said.

By including this piece the exhibition points out how art and media can be used to train people how to behave and interact, but also to explore how those lessons can be harmful or manipulated for political gain.

There’s another clear advantage to having this conversation in a museum and not in a political science class that is often undervalued, according to the exhibit

This exhibit showed that cartoons in and of themselves are overlooked as frivolous or unimpactful when in reality political cartoons are a staple of western history and journalism. Their uncomplicated style leaves room for an almost stealthy intellectual debate.

The illustration of a woman with the words “our history has been stolen from us, our heroes died in childbirth, our geniuses were never taught to read or write” resonated with Zoe Terwilliger, a third-semester physiology and neurobiology major and a gallery attendant at the Benton.

“It has a brief message but it’s so powerful and has a lot of meaning,” Terwilliger said. “They don’t have to say it’s women. They just show the art and that’s kind of the whole idea of the exhibit is that cartoon is one of the most effective ways to share ideas.”

Eklund noticed this advantage, as well. “Over complicating things gives too much room for people to find loopholes and little ways to argue their point for something that would be really wrong in nature,” Eklund said. “But when you just throw it right out there in a sentence or a piece, you make it blatantly evident how wrong it is. Being about to throw it out like that and be like, ‘You can’t tell me that that’s not horrible is a really quick way to bring people back to reality’ is the benefit of having these conversations through different mediums.

Furthermore, Eklund provided a great example of why where you discuss relevant political issues matters too.

“With the picture of the children that were killed by war, I said that’s absolutely horrible, but I wasn’t even shocked to see that because it’s such a reality of the world and that’s another thing that can make you think,” Eklund said. “Seeing it in a newspaper is one thing but if you’re seeing it in a different setting like an art museum then you’re like, it’s really weird that I’m not having a reaction to that.”

Terwillger pointed out that this conversation. Racism, sexism, homophobia, yellow journalism, censorship, hated presidents – this isn’t new – but the ways that they impact people and how we combat them are. What’s the Alternative? urges people not to be apathetic or shy away from the conversation out of the fear of being wrong.

View Article Here.

Photographs of the civil rights movement by Danny Lyon

H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center:  Celebrating 50 Years of Service and Activism
October 25 – December 16, 2018

The Benton salutes UConn’s H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center upon its fiftieth anniversary with an exhibition of photographs by Danny Lyon. As staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1962 to 1964, Lyon documented the leading role of students in the struggle for civil rights.

Photo by Danny Lyon: A Toddle House in Atlanta has the distinction of being occupied during a sit-in by some of the most effective organizers in America when the SNCC staff and supporters take a break from a conference to demonstrate, 1963

Image Credit:

Danny Lyon (American, born 1942), A Toddle House in Atlanta has the distinction of being occupied during a sit-in by some of the most effective organizers in America when the SNCC staff and supporters take a break from a conference to demonstrate, 1963. Gelatin silver print, William Benton Museum of Art, Gift of Sheldron and Helen Seplowitz.

52nd Annual Studio Art Faculty Exhibition

August 30, 2018 to October 14, 2018

Opening Reception:  Thursday, September 6, 2018, 4:30 – 7pm

This annual exhibition features new work by the exceptional artists who teach studio art in UConn’s Department of Art and Art History, School of Fine Arts. The variety of media featured reflects the diverse academic concentrations offered by the department, including graphic design, illustration/animation, painting, printmaking, photography/video, and sculpture/ceramics.

Featured artists: 
Frank Noelker, Associate Professor of Photography
Laurie Sloan, Associate Professor of Printmaking

FREE and open to the public. RSVP recommended: 860.486.4520
Check our calendar for more information on these programs.

Artist Talk
Tuesday, September 25, 3:30-4:30pm
Laurie Sloan, Associate Professor of Printmaking, will discuss her work in the Studio Art Faculty Exhibition.  


Object Study Sessions

Only a small percentage of the Benton’s permanent collection is on display at any given time.  Faculty may request objects from storage for class meetings at the Benton.  Plan your visit by searching our online database and use the request form to schedule a study session.  Advance notice of at least four weeks is recommended. Contact Amanda Douberley, Assistant Curator/Academic Liaison, for more information.


Image Credits: Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954), Joan (The Tabloid), 1931. Etching. Gift of Helen
Benton Boley.