By Houghton Kinsman

I was really excited to host Sketch Night for the first time this month. It is one of the less cerebral, less academic programs that fall under my job description. Whilst I thoroughly enjoy burying myself in theory and art history, it’s important to switch gears and do something different. Working in this way helps me see programming as a process and sparks new ideas. Plus, my colleagues in the Education department often waxed lyrically about how much fun it was to see everyone interact and explore the museum through various sketching activities. One even proffered that I come out of “teaching retirement” to run one of the sketching stations — which I must admit, I strongly considered!

I have enjoyed thinking about how to translate an energy and atmosphere that I have heard so much about from the physical museum space to our digital Thursday Nights In series. Over the course of April, the series has become the catalyst for a number of clever digital program adaptions that include a convivial exploration of our Silent Film Series with curator Kristi Cortez, an interactive CrockerCon virtual experience, and a heartfelt interview with co-founder Eben Burgoon, as well as, and perhaps the star of the show, a digital Global Rhythms concert from Jessica Fichot. It’s been a busy, exciting, scary, and fulfilling month, and to round it out we present our first live Thursday Nights In program, Sketch Night: The Splendor of Germany.

In my quest to contextualize this program, I reached out to Crocker curator William Breazeale, who put together the exhibition The Splendor of Germany: 18th Century Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum. Below, William tells me little more about the show and the Crocker’s collection of German drawings. Our brief, but interesting, interview has been edited for clarity.

Johann Christian Klengel, A Family at a Table, n.d. Pen and black ink, brush and brownish-gray washes and white opaque watercolor on blue laid paper, 7 1/2 x 6 7/16 in. Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection.

HK| The Crocker has one of the oldest and finest collections of 18th-century German drawings in the US, could you tell us more about the collection: how it was started, what are some of the highlights, and why it is so special?

WB| The Crocker's collection of 18th-century German drawings represents the coming together of several factors. During the Crocker family's trip to Europe in 1869-71, they kept an address in Dresden, though traveling more widely throughout Germany and Europe. Given the composition of the paintings collection, we know they had a special interest in German art, and this is reflected in the drawings collection as well. Their taste in drawings, as opposed to in paintings, inclined to earlier centuries. The 18th century German drawings include everything from Baroque altarpiece designs to proto-Romantic landscapes, from biting satires to the sensitive portrait by Johann Gottlieb Prestel you are working with tonight.

What is the premise of the exhibition Splendor of Germany: 18th Century Drawings From the Crocker Art Museum? Does it follow a particular narrative or grouping of themes?

The exhibition has several motivations: to highlight the quality of an extremely fine collection, to look closely at the world of artists in 18th-century Germany — so different from that of the Romantics directly after, and to contribute to English-language scholarship about it. There are two main sections of the exhibition. The first is Human nature, which includes portraiture, religion, daily life, literature, all the things that make us human, even satire. The second is German nature, which looks at the period — and the collection's — great strength in landscape. In this latter section, we can trace various regions of Germany, various generations of artists learning from each other, and often, very different landscapes by the same artist.

Anton Raphael Mengs, The Death of Dido, n.d. Pen and brown and dark brown inks, brush and brown washes over black chalk on cream laid paper, 18 1/2 x 15 3/8 in. Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection.

Are there any interesting behind-the-scenes highlights from when you were putting the exhibition together that you can share with us?

I was very lucky to work on the catalogue with Anke Fröhlich-Schauseil, a German specialist who has written on many of the artists in our collection. She was inspired by the idea of the show, and we worked well together. My great challenge was to finish all my own contribution several months early so I would have time to translate hers! It was fun though, and I hope people like the result.

To Wear or Not Wear Pants

As William mentioned above, our inspiration for Sketch Night: The Splendor of Germany is Johann Gottlieb Prestel’s Self Portrait, pictured below. Self portraits have an important position in art history, but with new social circumstances bring new opportunities to reimagine traditional modes of artmaking. As we all shelter-in-place and spend more time in front of our screens looking at ourselves on Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Webex, it feels pertinent to turn this experience into a more creative (and arguably, enjoyable) act.

Prestel, himself, was well aware of how advancements in technology can influence the way we create art. William says of the artist, “Prestel was a printmaker, in fact his career was based on new printmaking techniques. Interestingly he specialized in techniques to reproduce drawings — aquatint for wash drawings, crayon manner for black or red chalk.”

Johann Gottlieb Prestel (German, 1739–1808) Self Portrait, n.d. Black chalk, brush and black ink and gray washes, and touches of white chalk on blue laid paper, 12 1/4 in. x 8 7/8 in. Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection.

Virtual meetings have got many of us thinking about our image in different ways, whether it be our appearance on webcam, what virtual background to use, “to wear pants or not to wear pants”, all while sheltering-in-place has starved us of social interaction. Let’s use this drawing experience to view these acts and circumstances in new ways.

Before starting the program, take a moment to consider what your understanding of a self portrait is and then imagine what it could be. Then draw it. Find a comfortable space to setup, call a few friends or family members, grab some materials — paper, pencils, markers, charcoal, graphite, kneaded and/or regular erasers, or your tablet and electronic pencils — will do. Then, tune in at 6 PM on our Facebook or YouTube page for a live sketching, self portrait demonstration led by Public Programs Coordinator Breannah Gammon. I will join Breannah, who returns to her teaching roots to lead this event, and keep tabs on the comment section — so don’t forget to check in and chat and share your progress pictures with us on social media.

I should note here that working with colleagues like William and Breannah makes programs richer and more nuanced — as each brings a particular skillset to enliven an abstract idea. As a public programmer, I believe wholeheartedly in collaboration and this is fundamentally what Sketch Night is all about. This virtual event has brought together our production team, “The Brians”, from the Marketing department, Breannah, Michelle Steen, Manager of Public Programs, Volunteer Coordinator Risa Burmich, William from Curatorial and most importantly you, our thoughtful and supportive audience.

Director of Education Stacey Shelnut-Hendrick often talks about the Crocker as Sacramento’s “living room” — a place where people can visit, stay a while, be comfortable, and learn. These days you are probably experiencing the Museum from your living room and I hope that with Sketch Night it becomes a momentary, collaborative (and hopefully not too messy or crammed) space for personal expression.

One last thing: Below are a number of gifs that highlight different artistic techniques. I haven't quite figured out what to do with them, but they came out nice and I want to share them. Also, since we can't be in the galleries, together, I've also rounded some some exhibition highlights, which you can view HERE.

Top Image: Sketch Night at the Crocker, 2017. Photo by Bob McCaw.

About the Author: Houghton Kinsman works as the Adult Education Coordinator at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California. He holds a Master of Fine Art in Art from the University of Cape Town, South Africa and has previously served as assistant to the Curator of Education at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. His writings have appeared in Art Africa, Contemporary And, Dazed and Confused, Frieze, and Artthrob.