Category Archives: Spencer Museum of Art

“Violet Persian Set with Red Lip Wraps” by Dale Chihuly

Photo: Spencer Museum of Contemporary Art

Where: Spencer Museum of Contemporary Art, Lawrence, Kansas

Its “exuberant extravagance” is why it’s so popular, says Susan Earle, Spencer curator of European and American art, and it would be difficult to disagree.

Dale Chihuly’s Violet Persian with Red Lip Wraps is composed of 20 individual pieces that have to be carefully set together each time the object is displayed.  It was crafted in Chihuly’s Seattle studio in 1990 by his regular team of glassblowers.  After its debut at the Leedy Voulkos Gallery in Kansas City, the Spencer Museum purchased it for its permanent collection – its first Chihuly.

“Violet” is part of the “Persian” series, which was inspired by a painting he had seen in Venice.  Chihuly has said that the Persian series was developed from Roman, Byzantine and Islamic glass-making traditions.  Design-wise, they are usually marked by stripes and a contrasting border the artist calls a “lip wrap.”

“It uses color in wonderful ways, drawing you in to the complexity of its form and ideas,” says Earle.  “I like the piece because it is so rich and exuberant.”

Chihuly was educated at the Rhode Island School of Design and was awarded a Fulbright grant to study glass in Venice.  A pioneer in the studio glass movement, he founded the Pilchuck School of Glassmaking near Seattle in 1970.


“Le Discret” by Joseph Ducreux

Where: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.  

Le Discret

Photo: Spencer Museum of Art

In Joseph Ducreux’s 18th century oil painting, “Le Discret,” the subject cautions the viewer to be discreet.  Or has the subject – Ducreux himself – transgressed and wants you to keep his secret?

“This painting is extremely popular with our visitors,” says Susan Earle, the Spencer’s curator for European and American art.  “The man’s gesture exhorts us to be quiet, or, perhaps, not to tell anyone what he might be doing.  The sense that the painting speaks directly to visitors makes people respond to it immediately.”

“Le Discret” is part of a series that Ducreux created to convey different human emotions, all of them self-portraits.  He was interested in human physiognomy and how emotions could be portrayed on the face and through gesture.

“Physiognomic studies, as these were called, were popular in the late 18th century as part of a greater understanding of human expression and connections with science and the Enlightenment,” says Earle.

Ducreux was a French artist who served as a court painter to the King and Queen of England prior to the French Revolution.  Fearful for his life because of his position, he fled to London only to return to Paris a short time later where he lived out his life among the company of other artists.

Contact the Spencer for more information.

“Dinner Conversation with Nancy” by Roger Shimomura

Where: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.  

~ photo courtesy of the Spencer Museum

Nancy must have been some kind of woman to have inspired Roger Shimomura to have painted and named this painting for her. By all accounts, she was.

Shimomura painted “Dinner Conversation With Nancy” in 1983 as an untitled work, but later re-named it after the death of his good friend and Lawrence arts patron, Nancy Anne Zimmerman.  He donated it in her memory to the Spencer Museum of Art in 1988.

The painting portrays a jumble of images that seem to tumble together and float on top of each other.  And while there are figures peeking through in several places, there does not seem to be any ground plane or standard “figure/ground” relationship that would make the elements cohere into a narrative, or even into a readable space, says Susan Earle, Spencer curator.

“Normal concepts of space are defied,” she says.

Visitors are drawn to the painting because of the density of the images, the colors and the fact that many of the images are recognizable in pop culture, she says.

“It is a great example of the ways in which the artist works with existing styles and idioms, such as pop art from the 1960s,” says Earle.  “He incorporates elements of pop art, but also goes beyond it.”

Shimomura is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of KU’s Visual Arts Department.  His paintings and prints address sociopolitical issues of ethnicity and have often been inspired by the diaries kept by his late immigrant grandmother. He was born in Seattle, Washington and spent two early years away from his home in Minidoka, Idaho, one of 10 concentration camps for Japanese Americans during WWII.

Learn more about the Spencer Museum of Art.