This installation presents twenty-three works by Anne Ryan (American, 1889–1954). Ryan was a self-taught writer, painter, and printmaker who took up her preferred medium, collage, at the age of fifty-eight. Even though she died a mere six years later, she managed to create approximately four hundred collages, mostly diminutive in scale. Ryan's conversion to the medium was prompted by her 1948 visit to a New York exhibition of the work of the recently deceased German poet, sculptor, and collagist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948). She exclaimed to her daughter, Elizabeth McFadden, who donated most of the collages presented in this installation, "What he could do in such a small space. . . . How he transformed bits of paper and scraps of cloth!" Two relevant examples by Schwitters are also on view in the gallery.
A longtime resident of Greenwich Village, Ryan was acquainted with many artists of the New York School, including Tony Smith, Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman, but she was never tempted by the large-scale format or philosophical implications of their work. In her earliest collages, Ryan emulated those by Schwitters by including snippets of language or bits of discarded material, like sugar-cube wrappings from New York's famed Rumpelmayer's restaurant. In later work such quotidian elements were mostly abandoned in favor of a rigorously formal approach. Ryan collected a variety of fabrics, preferably worn, even tattered or frayed, and combined them with other ephemeral materials, such as cardboard, foil, or cellophane, into compact, subtly textured arrangements. She sometimes used the handmade rag papers made by Douglass Howell as supports for her collages and ultimately incorporated them into her compositions.