Editor's note: The Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery and Cori Sherman North provided permission for Resource Library to publish the following essay included in the gallery guide for the exhibition The Colorful Worlds of Janet Turner and Norma Bassett Hall: Art from the Moffett Collection. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay and associated materials, please contact Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

The Colorful Worlds of Janet Turner and Norma Bassett Hall: Art from the Moffett Collection

By Cori Sherman North

 

Artists Janet Elizabeth Turner (1914-1988) and Norma Bassett Hall (1889-1957) both began their printmaking careers with the basic blockprint, but each pushed themselves and their medium to new technical heights over the course of successful careers, and both placed a high priority on teaching the next generation of printmakers. Turner created a printmaking department for Chico State College in northern California (now California State University, at Chico) and Hall, with long experience as an art teacher and workshop leader, established an art school for all ages in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her printmaker husband, Arthur William Hall (1889-1981). These two American women artists looked to the natural world and the landscape around them for inspiration, finding infinite sources of captivating subjects. This exhibition of the two artists presents sixty-two paintings and works on paper, including forty-nine pieces by Turner and thirteen from Hall.

Jim and Virginia Moffett of Kansas City have been collecting prints and paintings by these two artists as long as they have been enchanted by American art. Early in their collecting history, the Moffetts found the two women's work irresistible, and soon entertained thoughts of sharing the women's art with the public. Since then, the couple have continued their art collecting with the abiding idea that they are teachers themselves, educating audiences about the rich art legacies left to the region. They continue to acquire art works with particular exhibitions in mind. For this showing of Janet Turner and Norma Bassett Hall, the Moffetts saw each artist's brilliant color and finely-detailed compositions as naturally complementary while they planned for this uncommon pairing of the Missourian with the Oregon native.

The two artists shared many characteristics. Turner and Hall were determined to learn as much as humanly possible to gain skills, and each went to great lengths to gain knowledge of their craft. Both began with studies of Japanese color wood block printmaking early in their training, and both artists gravitated to screenprinting in later years of their careers. Assembling multiple screens for a color composition is far less physically taxing than cutting woodblocks and linoleum, and has the advantage in speed of preparation. Janet Turner was particularly experimental, combining different matrices in a single print design -- such as color screenprints with linoleum blocks as seen in Red Shouldered Hawk Family (1985) and Magpie in Almond Tree (1986). Turner first went to study the "silkscreen" process in New York with the president of the National Serigraph Society, Edward Landon, in 1949. A decade later, Turner herself held that position as she tutored others in screenprint methods.

Norma Bassett Hall's printmaking career began in 1925 when she and Arthur Hall traveled to Scotland to study Japanese printmaking methods from Mabel Royds (1874-1941) and etching from Ernest Lumsden (1883-1948), respectively. The color woodcut prints Hall produced after Royds' instruction, such as Gattieres--France (1928-29), were done using traditional Japanese methods of block cutting, of registering the multiple blocks, and employed water-based pigments mixed with rice flour on highly-absorbent paper. The artist used a bamboo pad to press and rub the back of the paper onto each of five to seven different color blocks to produce her harmonious compositions.[1] At that time, Norma Hall was also absorbing the teachings of American artist and popular interpreter of Asian design, Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922).

Turner began her career with a degree from Stanford University in Far Eastern history (1936) and traveled to Japan several times during her lifetime. Back in her hometown in 1937, the artist enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute to study painting under Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) and lithography with John DeMartelly (1903-1979). The undulating, rhythmic lines seen in Turner's work through the 1940s attest to her admiration of Benton's seemingly-easy style, and the two artists remained in touch long after Turner moved on to teach, first in Texas and then California. In the summer of 1954, Turner returned to Japan to visit the studios of contemporary printmakers Kiyoshi Saito (1907-1997), Shiko Munakata (1903-1975), Un'ichi Hiratsuka (1895-1997), and that of the Yoshida family. Her time training in the workshops as well as sharing her own methods led to two solo exhibitions of her prints in Tokyo by the end of that summer sojourn.

Teaching at Stephen F. Austin State College (now University) in Texas during the 1950s proved quite frustrating for Turner, despite professional recognition and growth through such awards as inclusion in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's survey, "American Painting Today--1950." She also got a 1952-53 Guggenheim Fellowship to experiment with combining linocut with screenprint techniques to depict flora and fauna of the Gulf shore along Texas and Louisiana. This is widely held to be the turning point in the artist's career, as she had the chance to focus on bird populations and devoted herself to composing scenes of wildlife and natural habitats. Turner's 5-block color linocut from her Texas period of 1947 through 1956, Guinea Fowl (1952), was a scathing commentary on the behaviour of her faculty colleagues. In conversation, she referred to this composition of an aggressive column of tight-knit birds pecking their way to the top of the order as, "The Climbing Conformists," rather than repeating its innocuous, descriptive title.

Turner left Texas to earn a doctorate degree in art education from Columbia University. She completed her dissertation on woodblock printmaking instruction (degree awarded 1960) as she took up the post at Chico State in 1959. Over the thirty years the artist taught there and established the printmaking department, for her pupils, Professor Janet Turner, "...set the example of being a successful working artist, inspired students with her massive print collection, encouraged and guided students and also had the ability to subtly push students out of their working boundaries and try new things."[2] In 1978 Turner took a sabbatical and got funding to do a series of instructional films on printmaking techniques, so that her students could have the benefit of watching her work at any time and as often as they needed to see the processes. In the twenty-three videotapes made, Turner demonstrated everything from basic design to embossing to planning color separations, to reduction methods of block carving, and producing a multi-media print. Today, her legacy to generations of young printmakers lies in the Turner Gallery on the Chico campus that houses her 2,000-piece print collection, along with the annual "Janet Turner National Print Competition" for up-and-coming printmakers around the country.

Turner is remembered as a dynamic environmental activist in the Chico community, and many of her designs were created to support the cause. Her combination linoleum block and screenprint, Quail Amid Wild Grapes (1966), raised awareness and funds for saving part of the 4,000-acre Bidwell Park's natural habitats. When local planning advocated the clearing of vines and underbrush in the lower park, Turner reminded Chico residents of the crucial relationship between quail and brush for survival. She was a life member of the Audubon Society and always had an affinity for portraying birds in exquisite detail. The artist's Wintering Snow Geese (1968) captures the majestic, visual sweep of a migratory flock in flight. The print also served as a warning against the practice of burning rice crop stubble and encroaching upon open spaces, which were destroying the birds' haven in the northern Sacramento Valley region.

Janet Turner kept up a grueling exhibition schedule, sending her work all around the country as well as overseas virtually every month of her professional career. She never married or raised a family, but spent all her efforts carving her own blocks, inking her own plates, and "stopping out" screen stencils for pulling her own impressions off her press, deep into the night.

Norma Bassett Hall followed much the same life path, but had a printmaking colleague in her spouse, Arthur Hall. Bassett had met the Oklahoman Hall when they were students at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1915. The two married in 1922, some time after Hall finished military service in World War I while Norma taught in small private schools as well as public high schools. After their European tour learning printmaking techniques, the Halls settled in the Flint Hills of Central Kansas in 1927. In the Wichita region they found a dynamic community of artists, and together, eleven of them were charter members of the Prairie Print Makers. This print society was formed in December of 1930, at the home studio of Swedish-American artist Birger Sandzén in nearby Lindsborg. The society continued as a thriving national organization until 1966, and both Halls contributed for many years, as evidenced by Norma's 5-color wood block of 1943, La Gaude--France, which was the Prairie Print Maker's gift print of that year.

Although they kept up their personal ties to Kansas, the Halls did not remain in the state. They first bought acres of woodland in Virginia in 1936, and fell in love with the landscape. However, opportunities arose, and the couple made the decision to relocate to sunny New Mexico in 1944, buying a home in Santa Fe. By the early 40s, Japanese paper became impossible to obtain. This helped spur Norma Hall on to explore possibilities in screenprinting, and the artist soon found a reasonable alternative to wood block. In 1950 the Halls bought a studio home near the village of Alcalde, in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico. There, the artists founded the Rancho del Rio Summer School of Art, which was successful enough the Halls did not have to worry about employment during the winter months. The lifestyle they created was described by friends as, "...an artist's dream of something any artist would covet." [3]


1 Joby Patterson, Norma Bassett Hall: Catalogue Raisonné of the Block Prints and Serigraphs (Portland, OR: Pomegranate, 2014), 156.

2 Paula Busch, quoted in the exhibition brochure, "Janet Turner: Mentor/Artist/Educator," Janet Turner Gallery, California State University at Chico, October 1 - November 1, 1998.

3 Patterson, 98.


Credit lines for images in the gallery guide

Janet E. Turner, Wintering Snow Geese, 1968, linocut/screenprint, 14 1/2 x 34 1/4 in.

Janet E. Turner, Magpie in Almond Tree, 1986, screenprint, 14 x 13 3/4 in.

Janet Turner, Guinea Fowl, 1952, linocut, 16 3/4 x 10 1/2 in.

Norma B. Hall, Haying in Vermont, 1936, woodcut, 9 x 12 in

Norma B. Hall. Aspen and Spruce, 1949, 11 x 13 in.


About the author

Cori Sherman North is Curator at the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery. Ms. North curated the exhibition The Colorful Worlds of Janet Turner and Norma Bassett Hall: Art from the Moffett Collection, held at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art from November 15, 2014 through January 11, 2015 and at the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery, February 1 through April 19, 2015.


Resource Library editor's notes:

The above essay was published in Resource Library on May 12, 2015 with permission of the author and Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery, which was granted to TFAO on May 12, 2015. Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Cori Sherman North for her help concerning permission for publishing the above essay.

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