Just a few days after the New Year, many of us are still dwelling on our resolutions and how we may become better versions of ourselves in 2024. For many, this involves “turning over a new leaf” — changing habits, introducing new ones, and starting fresh.
This process of remaking from a fresh start originates in older terminology for books — a leaf, or a single page of a book, would be turned over to reveal the page on the other side. Often blank, these pages were ripe for new creations, whether doodles, notes, or errant thoughts.
Sometimes, we discover our own new leaves at the Museum. On an artwork, the face or front of the canvas or paper is called the recto, while the back is entitled the verso. Every once in a while, it is our delight to “turn over a new leaf” and discover something on the verso. These verso drawings help us discover some of what the artist thinks and how they work. Some of these artworks in the collection include American artist Andrew Wyeth’s Swifts, which features a small watercolor on its verso of the upper dam at Brinton’s Mill, and Owen Gromme’s double-sided drawing Lake Michigan: Goldeneye, Oldsquaw, and Buffleheads, now on view in From Concept to Canvas.
Recently, the Museum acquired a work by local Wisconsin artist Karl Priebe (1914–1976). Upon its receipt, we discovered that the work not only presented a playful homage to the artist’s love of birding on its recto but also featured a nearly complete sketch of two delicate, almost alien figures in an embrace against a pink background on its verso. This delicately wrought drawing reminds us of the creativity that can be produced when we allow ourselves to confront the blank page of a new leaf.