The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College will present the exhibition “Esmé Thompson: The Alchemy of Design” from April 9 through May 29, 2011. Thompson is an accomplished artist who has taught in Dartmouth’s Studio Art Department for more than three decades. The exhibition focuses on her creative practice over the last 10 years and includes paintings, collages, and a work in glazed ceramic, all of which reflect her interest in organic and inorganic repetition. Thompson will present the exhibition’s opening lecture on Friday, April 15, at 5:30 p.m. with a reception to follow in the Kim Gallery.
Professor Esmé Thompson stands in front of her piece, Djellaba. (photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)
“I hope that this exhibition demonstrates the influence of the decorative traditions in my work and how I have come to find meaning in complexity,” says Thompson. “In this work, I juxtapose patterns that are derived from many sources—drawings, photographs, fabric, paintings, architecture. Through the organization of the space of the painting, I emphasize connection, integration, and relationship of the parts to the whole, revealing the links that connect ornamental iconography to the structures of the natural world, hinting at the integration of all life.”
The Hood’s exhibition, generously supported by Kate and Yaz Krehbiel, ’91, Thayer ’92, and the Bernard R. Siskind 1955 Fund, is a tribute to Thompson’s 32-year career as a professor at Dartmouth.
Thompson received her B.A. in English from Whitworth College before earning an M.A. in painting from the University of Iowa and an M.F.A. in painting from Yale University. Her career as a painter has included a wide range of exhibitions across the nation, and, in 1993, she received an Honorary Master of Arts from Dartmouth College.
Esmé Thompson, Liggia I, 2003, acrylic on canvas. Collection of the artist.
“I love the interaction in a classroom because teaching art is not teaching rules about how to make a drawing, for example,” said Thompson of her time at Dartmouth. “It’s about understanding how we see and how we understand the visual world and about how we create a language for that understanding. And in a sense those perceptions are unique for every person, so we can all learn from each other.”
Thompson is currently working on two new series, both inspired by her recent trip to Morocco and interest in the decorative traditions of Zillij ceramics and Berber carpet weaving. The work Tit’ n-tescourt in the Hood’s exhibition is the first collage in the series based on Berber patterns. These new works are a continuation of Thompson’s interest in the decorative arts and traditions.
“My work developed out of the craft and pattern movement in the 1970s that brought traditional activities commonly associated with women and the home into the contemporary art arena,” said Thompson. “Over time, my interest in the ornamental qualities of such work has grown, and I have included that iconography in my work.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by medieval literature scholar and University of Texas at Austin Professor Marjorie Curry Woods and ceramicist, artist, and Pennsylvania State University Professor Liz Quackenbush. It also includes an interview with Thompson by former Hood Director Brian Kennedy. Both the exhibition and the opening lecture are free and open to the public. More information about the exhibition is available online.