Juniata College puts Picasso lithographs on display

Museum owns rare series of portraits

Courtesy photo / “Picasso’s Imaginary Portraits,” from the museum’s permanent collection, will show through March 3.

HUNTINGDON — In a rare show for Central Pennsylvania, an entire series of 29 original lithographs that Pablo Picasso created late in his life is now on display at the Juniata College Museum of Art.

“Picasso’s Imaginary Portraits,” from the museum’s permanent collection, will show through March 3.

“The story is that he had art supplies delivered to his home, and when he unpacked them, there were all these sheets of corrugated cardboard as packing material, and he was unable to leave the blank surfaces alone,” said Jennifer Streb, associate professor of art history and the museum curator. “He started painting on them.”

Considered the founder of modern art, Picasso was 87 at the time — four years before he died in 1973 — and had come to experiment with a variety of techniques, Streb said. He painted the 29 portraits using gouache — a type of opaque watercolor paint — and then worked with a master printmaker to turn them into lithographs.

Only 500 copies of the portfolio were made before the lithograph stones were destroyed so no more could be produced. Half went to France, the artist’s adopted homeland, and the rest scattered across the globe, she said.

The late Jefford Oller, who came from an early family of industrialists and philanthropists in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, was an avid art collector and acquired a set. When he died in the mid-1970s, his widow, Anne, now deceased, donated it to Juniata College, which the Oller family had supported for years.

A few years ago, museum officials found records describing the portfolio, so they started looking around for the lithographs.

“They were scattered around campus, on display in different offices,” Streb said.

Museum director Kathryn Blake rounded them all up last summer and started working on an exhibition.

“It gave us a chance to put on view a unique object that we had recently ‘discovered’ in our collection,” she wrote in an email interview. “It’s a portfolio of images — individual sheets — so some of the sheets had been distributed across campus. Bringing them back together in one space lets us see Picasso’s way of working and thinking, how he plays with colors and shapes and the human face.”

But they still don’t know who those humans might be.

“We don’t know who the people (in the lithographs) are,” Streb said. “Some have a resemblance to Shakespeare, Balzac or people Picasso might have known. Or maybe it’s some commentary. Some resemble imagery that he used early in his career, so we were thinking back on his early career. But we can’t find where he commented on them.”

Juniata officials also saw an opportunity to provide a teaching lesson for students in different areas, including museum studies and museum education. It became part of the museum’s ongoing “Mining the Museum” collaboration that encourages professors and students to work together like a team “in the professional world,” Streb said.

“Museum work is highly collaborative,” said Blake. “It’s about problem-solving together, recognizing different roles and responsibilities in the exhibition process. (Students) … had to come to consensus, sometimes defer to others’ expertise, and negotiate. As teachers, we learned as much from the process as the students, hopefully. We need to constantly revise how we can best prepare students for work after college.”

Andrea Zilch, a history/museum studies student from Mount Union, praised the opportunity to get hands-on experience with artwork from someone like Picasso.

“It was a wonderful experience getting to work closely with such rare pieces that have a global history, but are also from our permanent collection,” she said. “It’s not typical for a small museum to have some of Picasso’s original work.”

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.

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If you go

What: “Picasso’s Imaginary Portraits”

Where: Juniata College Museum of Art, northwest corner of 17th and Moore streets, Huntingdon

When: Through March 3, 2 to 8 p.m. Monday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Check website for special closures at holidays and semester break

Admission: Free and open to the public

More Info: (814) 641-3505 or www.Juniata.edu/museum

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