Pence Gallery: Exhibit showcases Art Nouveau postcards

By From page A3 | January 02, 2013

"Woman in Egyptian Costume," by an unknown artist, dates back to about 1900. It is from the collection of Robert Nevramont. Courtesy photo

"Woman in Egyptian Costume," by an unknown artist, dates back to about 1900. It is from the collection of Robert Nevramont. Courtesy photo

The Pence Gallery’s current exhibit, “Art Nouveau Postcards,” resulted from a chance encounter with one of our Pence members. Davis resident Robert Nevramont dropped by one day, and as we chatted, he mentioned his interest in collecting old postcards. My ears perked up.

“Just how many do you have?” I asked. When he responded, “About 1,200, give or take,” I knew I had to know more about this collection, centering largely on Art Nouveau postcards from the late 19th to the early 20th century. His exquisite collection is a treasure, and he’s graciously sharing a selection of it with the public through Feb. 1.

This era in Europe and America was marked by a style, popularly called Art Nouveau, that touched every corner of design — from public buildings and metro signs to clothing and jewelry. Sinuous lines, floral motifs and an interest in handcrafted materials were hallmarks of this style.

Nevramont’s postcards include some of the best-known artists working in Europe, such as Alphonse Mucha, Raphael Kirchner and photographer Henry Ryland. Some of these artists used the postcard format as an inexpensive means of distributing their graphic art to the public, some only created designs exclusively for postcards. The collection also includes some great artistic advertisements for products such as special tonics and pipes, that would be frowned upon today, but are such great records of social trends of that era.

So often women figure prominently as subjects of the postcards, especially attired in costumes from a different culture. My favorite, “Woman in Egyptian Costume,” captures the strong profile of a graceful lady — reminding me that Egyptomania took over Europe during the 19th century, following Napolean’s Egyptian campaign. In fact, the connection to history is part of Nevramont’s rationale for collecting these tiny cards.

“Postcards provide are great sources of historical documentation, with cards produced from all over the world,” he says. “They are an important historical document and family keepsakes.”

Nevramont comes from a family of collectors, with his grandmother’s collection of stamps and postcards forming the beginning of his own. He is a wealth of information about the printing and social use of postcards as well, and has agreed to share special cards with the public during a talk on Friday, Jan. 18, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Pence Gallery, 212 D St. in downtown Davis.

This is a free talk and no RSVP is necessary.

One interesting part of postcards are the messages handwritten on the back, and Nevramont will share some of these with us and other favorite cards.


In the main gallery, “Our Stories: Judith Lowry’s Artistic Reflections on Native California” continues through Jan. 27. Lowry’s large narrative paintings are rooted in her heritage as a member of the Maidu, Hamawi Pit River and Washoe tribes, and are connected to engaging oral histories.

One of the most dramatic paintings, “Obedient Wives,” explains a cautionary tale of how unquestioning obedience by three blind owl wives toward their husband (a cunning rat with a habit for tricking his dinner into the fire), will not end well. To find out the ending to this legend, come into the gallery to figure out this rat’s fate.

Lowry will return to read her children’s book, “Home to Medicine Mountain,” on Saturday, Jan. 19, from 2 to 4 p.m. Three of the moving illustrations from this story are included in our exhibit. The book, written by Chiori Santiago and illustrated by Lowry, retells the experience that Lowry’s father and uncle had as young boys, when they ran away from Indian board school and returned home to attend the Bear Dance.

Children will create their own drawing in a book format, about an important family event that they want to remember following the reading, with artist Juli Ann Blanco.

To attend, RSVP to 530-758-3370 by Jan. 18. The cost is $6 each, or $4 for members. Parents are free if they are not participating.

— Natalie Nelson is executive director and curator of the Pence Gallery. Her column is published monthly.

Natalie Nelson

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