Reflections: Casey Lee on Gerard ter Borch

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We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short, personal reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, curator Casey Lee reminisces on learning to crochet and sew as she considers a 17th century drawing by Gerard ter Borch of a young girl making lace. To learn more about this work, visit: www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/285052/.

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.


Transcript

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short, personal reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. This week Casey Lee discusses a drawing by Gerard ter Borch.
CASEY LEE: Hi, I’m Casey Lee, curatorial assistant in the drawings department at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
With the chill in the air, which is maybe only cold to someone living in LA, I find myself spending more time inside and finding ways to keep my hands busy, either with a crochet hook and yarn, or needle and thread. Taking up different craft projects, I think about a drawing in our collection: A Lady and a Child Making Lace by Gerard ter Borch.
In this drawing, made when the artist was just twelve years old, the young Ter Borch captures an intimate moment between a woman and a young girl, maybe even the artist’s own step-mother and half-sister. They are seated with their backs to the viewer. The woman turns her head slightly, watching the young girl work at her side. The child is absorbed in her task, her little lap propping up a lacemaking pillow with bobbins that look like cat’s-tails keeping her threads in place.
The girl’s industry wonderfully reflects Ter Borch’s own artistic development. Ter Borch started learning how to draw from his father at around the age that children now enter kindergarten. In this drawing of the woman and girl, made when today’s child would be finishing elementary school, Ter Borch captures small and delightful details: he contrasted the smooth restraint of the woman’s hair combed under a cap with the child’s escaping ringlets, and he sensitively suggested the turn of the woman’s face by depicting just the tip of her nose and with a small flick of his brush, her eyelash. He did this all in the fairly unforgiving medium of ink, which is difficult to correct or erase. His father was clearly impressed, and wrote the date along the top, commemorating his son’s achievement.
When I think about this drawing, I think about how adults try to impart skills that will shape children as they grow: the patience they find to teach the young and the pride they feel when they watch them succeed. Like Ter Borch’s father, and the woman in this drawing, my parents and grandparents helped me gain skills that challenge my creativity and manual dexterity. When I was around the age of the girl in the drawing, I learned how to crochet under the gaze of my mother and grandmother. Whenever I feel isolated from them, I rely on the lessons they patiently taught me to help feel connected.
I take comfort in thinking about how – like loops in a chain – generations pass down their knowledge.
CUNO: To view Gerard ter Borch’s 1629 drawing A Lady and a Child Making Lace, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collection

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