Museum Sightlines Tour explores dreams with art

Photo by Petegorsky/Gipe  "Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharaoh's Butler" by Crign Hendrick Volmarign was featured in the tour.

Photo by Petegorsky/Gipe

"Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharaoh's Butler" by Crign Hendrick Volmarign was featured in the tour.


This weekend the Mount Holyoke Art Museum displayed a collection of pieces depicting the confusing yet entrancing state of dreams. The tour, “Dream States: Exploring the Subconscious,” was curated by Katia Kiefaber ’17 and showcased four pieces, each representing a different meaning of the word “dream.” 

An art museum advisory board fellow at the Mount Holyoke Art Museum, Kiefaber used the tour to explore the unfamiliarities of the subconscious. As a psychology major, Kiefaber is invested in the question, “why do we dream?” 

The first piece, titled “Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharaoh’s Butler,” was painted in 1631 by Dutch artist Crijn Hendricks Volmarijn. Volmarijn’s painting explores the unknown territory of the subconscious. Positioned in dim light, the painting depicts prisoners awaiting to hear their fates, which Joseph can see in his dreams. The painting captures the moment when a butler is told he will leave prison, while a baker is told he will be hung. The striking contrast of emotion on the men’s faces left many on the tour startled and speechless.  

“American Dream” is the second piece created by Raymond Jennings Saunders which criticizes the hypocrisy of the American Dream. The piece is divided horizontally by a bold red line. Above the line, an old newspaper ad shows a couple and a headline that asks, “How could she know he wasn’t a millionaire’s son?” According to the painting’s summary, clown cheeks are painted on the couple to emphasize the “consumer culture” of the American dream. The ad contrasts with the open gray space below the red line. According to Kiefaber, Saunders employs the red line to depict the divide between the lives of African Americans and the media’s representation of life in the United States. Liz Castle ’21 felt that Saunders’ 1968 piece still resonates deeply with present-day society. When asked how this painting would differ if it represented society now, she said, “I think the red divide should be bigger.”

The third piece, titled “Masindi,”  was created by Mount Holyoke alumna Jane Hammond ’72 in 2006. The piece’s description, written by Adele Gelperin ’19, explained that Hammond was inspired by a dream to create a giant map of Uganda with flying butterflies positioned over the region. Gelperin appreciated the visually stunning map of Uganda because it shows “butterflies, not bombs descend[ing].” 

The final piece of the tour was Frederic Leighton’s sculpture “The Sluggard.” Sculpted in 1882, the piece depicts a model yawning and stretching. Kiefaber explained that the sculpture was conceived when a model yawned in Leighton’s studio. Leighton was instantly struck by the model’s body language and began creating the sculpture. Deborah Korboe ’21 laughed as she said, “I can relate to this guy… he looks a lot like me waking up.” 

Kiefaber curated a tour showing the variation of dreams, both in the human subconscious and in everyday existence. Student guide Ivy Armstrong ’17 will organize the next Sightline tour, titled “Celestial Bodies,” at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 14.