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The Nature of William S. Rice: Arts and Crafts Painter and Printmaker

November 15, 2015 - April 3, 2016

 

The Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) is presenting The Nature of William S. Rice: Arts and Crafts Painter and Printmaker, which offers a rare glimpse into the private world of William S. Rice (1873-1963), an artist and avid naturalist known for his ability to refine nature to its simplest forms. Featuring over 50 watercolors and block prints, the works, some on public view for the first time, illuminate the techniques and approaches Rice used to singularly capture and depict the California landscape. (right: William S. Rice (1873-1963, Guardian of the Timberline, ca. 1924. Block printed in colors on paper, 12 1/8 x 14 3/8 inches. Collection of Roberta Rice Treseder. © Ellen Treseder Sexauer. Image courtesy of Roberta Rice Treseder)

After graduating from the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia, Rice studied under famed illustrator Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute. His illustrative sensibility was further developed as a staff artist at the Philadelphia Times before he was eventually lured to Northern California by the Arts and Crafts movement. There, he joined friend Frederick Meyer, who had established the California Guild of Arts and Crafts (today the California College of Arts). In an article in the Pennsylvania newspaper The Manheim Sentinel that Rice wrote in 1900, he described his arrival on the west coast: "We were in California at last, that wonderful country that I had read so much about and so often longed to see. The strange trees and shrubbery, the redwoods, cedars, pines and live oaks, and the wondrously blue skies were the undeniable proofs of that fact." This passion for the state infused his work, and as he continued to hone his practice, he took special interest in Japanese block prints and ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating world"), ultimately transforming the Japanese polychrome technique into graphic distillations of California's untrammeled scenery, favoring strong, stylized lines and planes of pure color.

Although particularly well known for his block prints and as author of two books for students on the process, he was also an accomplished watercolorist and often traveled to sketch on site in the peace of nature, or as he put it, in the "glorious woods," producing evanescent visions of Santa Cruz, Stockton, and Yosemite, among other sites. The Nature of William S. Rice: Arts and Crafts Painter and Printmaker sheds light on the artist's varied achievements, including several never- before-seen works capturing the pristine California landscape before urban development.

The Nature of William S. Rice: Arts and Crafts Painter and Printmaker is organized by the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

 

Introductory wall panel text

The Nature of William S. Rice: Arts and Crafts Painter and Printmaker
 
These watercolors and block prints of artist and naturalist William S. Rice, painter of the California landscape, are drawn from an intimate collection. The selected works, including objects shown for the first time, illuminate the artist's contrasting techniques and approaches to describing the splendor of the Golden State.
 
Born in 1873, Rice began his career at the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia. He further honed his skills as a staff artist for the Philadelphia Times, and around 1898 studied with illustrator Howard Pyle at the newly formed Drexel Institute.
 
Rice's friend and fellow artist Frederick Meyer lured him west to California in 1900, recruiting him to teach in Stockton's public schools. This move introduced Rice to the vastness of the Western landscape, which offered him lifelong inspiration. In 1910, Rice settled in Alameda County. He taught in the public schools in addition to summer classes at the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts), which Frederick Meyer founded in 1907.
 
The Bay Area was the regional center of the international Arts and Crafts Movement, a response to the era's cheaply manufactured goods. Affiliated artists promoted simplicity of expression as well as ideals of harmony with nature, sensibilities Rice shared. With his graphic approach, he figured prominently among noted early 20th-century California artists such as Gottardo Piazzoni, Armin Hansen, and Frances Gearhart.
 
Nature abounds in Rice's broad range of subjects. His scenic views give a lush and decorous treatment to golden hillsides, broad valleys, and coastal vistas. Alongside views of Yosemite and Carmel are still lifes featuring birds and flowers. The artist exhibited, published on printmaking, and taught until 1963.


Other wall panel texts

Block Prints
 
Traditional Japanese block prints and ukiyo-e imagery inform Rice's graphic style. In his printmaking, he transforms the 18th-century polychrome techniques of the Japanese "pictures of a floating world" into 20th-century distillations of California's untrammeled scenery. Akin to the manner of Japanese printmakers, his use of strong, stylized lines, and planes of pure color imbues each scene with clarity.
 
About her father's working method, daughter Roberta Rice Treseder recalls, "Printing was a delicate process and couldn't be interrupted. It had to be done all at once, when the ink was right and the temperature was good. Color had to be done by daylight­no night light. If it got late in the afternoon, then you had to quit. Dad's technique was generally [to] do just one print at a time, from start to finish."

Watercolors
 
Rice often traveled to sketch on-site in the peace of nature. Working directly from the scene, he captured the vivid colors and contours of subjects such as an aging tree, a rushing stream, or a craggy mountain. These elements the artist cherished as his "glorious woods." On occasion he also made studies of Stockton, Oakland, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Monterey, and Mission San Juan Capistrano.

(above: William S. Rice, Bert's Iris, c. 1920, Color block print,, 12 x 9 inches. Collection of Roberta Rice Treseder. © Ellen Treseder Sexauer. Image courtesy of Roberta Rice Treseder)

 

(above: William S. Rice, Parrot & Butterfly, c. 1925, Color block print, 12 x 9 inches. Collection of Roberta Rice Tresder. © Ellen Treseder Sexauer. Image courtesy of Roberta Rice Treseder)



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For a definition of wall panels, please see Definitions in Museums Explained.

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