When I was very young, my mother brought me to the UMFA. In this alone I was lucky, to have a mother who would do such a thing in the first place, and to have such ready access to a place like the UMFA, but I was about to get even luckier: I was about to see Natacha.
You met Natacha in an earlier blog post. Natacha Rambova was a Utah native, a ballerina, a fashion designer, a silent film star. Natacha was all of these things, but to me she was just the woman on the stairs. It’s what I’d begun to call her in my head, and I looked forward to visiting her each time I came to the UMFA. I would look for her around every corner—even though I knew where she was—as if she could be anywhere. As if she could be wandering around, looking for me, too.
(Portrait of Natacha Rambova, Paul Joanowitch, 1925)
Why did I love Natacha? This puzzles me still. As a very young girl, perhaps just figuring out what a woman could be, I was drawn in by Natacha’s absolutely undeniable beauty. She had a lovely dress, she had a perfect little nose, and, perhaps just as exciting, she was quite obviously somewhere. Was it a gala? A ball? I’d heard of these things. Was it—oh, even better—that she was simply descending her own stairs on the way to dinner? And would I ever be that lovely, or have an occasion to descend such a staircase? I was almost jealous when I learned that the image of Natacha Rambova is one of the most viewed items in our digital collection. You mean, she wasn’t just mine?
Now, what likely amounts to about twenty years later, I work here at the UMFA. Part of my duties includes maintaining this blog. This is my best means of an introduction to you. Hi.
Twenty years later, Natacha is taking a break, sleeping somewhere in our basement. Without her to distract me, the world of the museum has opened up. Now what catches my eye is Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Nets.” Now what catches my eye is Sylvia Plimack Mangold’s “Floor with Laundry #1.” Though in many ways I am still figuring out what a woman—a person— can be, my view is bigger, and objects like these now get to be a part of it. Objects a woman has made. Pearls and a staircase and the dirty hands that likely come from creating.
(Floor with Laundry #1, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, 1970)
Twenty years later I still have not yet had an occasion to wear a gown, or descend a staircase such as Natacha’s (well, sure, at a historical site and in jeans, perhaps, but that was never what I had in mind). And I will never have her nose. But I do try, like the real Natacha Rambova did, and like Sylvia Plimack Mangold does, to make things. And wandering the halls of the UMFA is the perfect place to be reminded of that kind of power.
How does the UMFA inspire you?