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Life's Seasons
Sex and Showmanship

The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery normally features the work of living artists from local, national and international arenas but on occasion, the gallery focuses on work from the College of St. Catherine’s permanent collection; this is the case with the current exhibit Scantily Clad: Satire, Summer & Life’s Seasons, featuring the prints and drawings of Clara Mairs and Adolf Dehn. The works in this exhibition represent a fragment of two large gifts to The College of St. Catherine; the Dehn collection is a recent gift from the artist’s widow, Virginia Dehn, while the Mairs collection came to the college over 20 years ago from local art patron, Abbey Weed Grey.

Clara Mairs, born in Hastings Minnesota, January 5, 1878 is 17 years the senior of Adolf Dehn born November 22, 1895 in Waterville, MN. Both were schooled in the Twin Cities then moved east and finally to Europe. Mairs studied at the Saint Paul Institute and then the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and finally onto the Académie Julian in Paris. Dehn started at the Minneapolis School of Art, and moved to the Arts Student League in New York and finally onto Vienna, Paris and Berlin. Both artists traveled throughout Europe and were exposed to the modern art movements: Dada, Surrealism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Futurism, etc. Another modern art movement around the late 1920’s through the 30’s was American Regionalism, a style pioneered chiefly in the Midwest by three American artists, Grant Wood, John Stewart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton. The primary image that comes to mind when referring to American Regionalism is that of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, the painting of the farmer and his wife standing with a pitch fork in hand in front of their neo-Gothic farmhouse. Just as Dada and Surrealism were a response to the horrors and atrocities of WWI in Europe, American Regionalism became a response to a major demographic shift in the American society. At the end of the 19th C. there was a shift from an agrarian society to a swelling 20th C. urban society in the United States with millions of people experiencing a sense of dislocation. Regionalism pulled at the heartstrings of these “dislocated” Americans through descriptive and story-telling images of Midwest farmers, small-town bankers and ladies’-club members that were treated with both affection and humor (satire).

Though Mairs and Dehn defy tight typecasting there choice of subject matter and the stylistic handling of their work place them loosely under the “American Regionalist” umbrella. This exhibition is a selection of prints and drawings by both Mairs and Dehn that has at the center of attention women as subject/object. It was our intent to find some common themes and examine how these two artists approached their work. The exhibition, Scantily Clad: Satire, Summer and Life’s Seasons is a descriptor that attempts to encompass the vast variety of images being shown together. Dehn is heavy into “Satire” with his play on shapes, especially with the nuns’ habit. “Summer” references Mairs’ female bathers, while “Life’s Seasons” encompasses a broad category allowing for us to include a variety of work touching on the momentous, (i.e. birth, weddings, death) and the everyday (i.e. two women pushing baby buggies, a group of older women sitting around conversing, or a couple reading books in bed). Finally, Scantily Clad references both the showgirl series and Mairs bathers and is also a play on words referring to the general “tongue in cheek” humor generated by both artists. Though the focus is on the treatment of various women, the ultimate beauty lies in the work itself. Dehn’s lithographs are rich in composition and hauntingly beautiful in their veils of black ink. Whereas Mairs’ etchings have a delicate line that develop subject with simplicity and ease. Both artists successfully draw upon a wide range of printing techniques to express personal reflections on a variety of themes around women as subject/object.

This exhibition has received support through an “Arts and Humanities Collaborative Research Grant” from the College of St. Catherine. The selection of work, layout of the exhibition, and creation of text copy for the installation has all been a collaborative process between, Aimee Hoffman, College of St. Catherine art history major in her senior year and Kathleen M. Daniels, Gallery Director of the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery.

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