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American Prints from the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts Permanent Collection


The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown presents an exhibition of American Prints from the Museum's Permanent Collection in the Bowman Gallery through January 11, 2004. Spanning the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this collection of prints explores various printing techniques as well as many different artistic styles. (right: William Robinson Leigh, Foul Rope)

Many of the works were executed between 1920 and 1950, a pivotal era in this country's history and reflects a renewed interest in developing an American style by depicting scenes of national culture and social issues. In times plagued with war, drought and the financial collapse of the Great Depression, the American mood backed away from foreign interest and began to focus more attention on the problems at home. Poverty, unemployment and homelessness became themes of Social Realism as artists living in urban areas such as New York City and Boston were confronted with these issues in their everyday lives.

The Midwest and other rural regions of the country were suffering their own problems. Crop failure, environmental crisis and drought collided with the nation's economic ruin and artists based in agricultural areas began to focus their themes on local images. The Regionalists depicted landscapes, farming scenes and the activities of countryside residents and their images of the heartland of our country came to define America.

Works by Social Realists of the time, Raphael Soyer, Benjamin Messick and Federico Castellon, reflect the oppressive, downtrodden atmosphere of city life. Works by Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, the artists who formed the nucleus of American Regionalism, are also included. Although their styles differed from one another, each focused on the uniqueness of life in their individual areas. (left: Grant Wood, Shriner's Quartet)

In addition to landscapes, urban scenes, portraits and figure studies, the show will include Sara by Morris Henry Hobbs, Annie Seated by James Abbott McNeil Whistler, donated by Mr. & Mrs. Alfred T. Morris, East Providence, Rhode Island, Museum Visitor by Lawrence B. Smith and Avenue of the Allies by Childe Hassam, a gift of Mr. William Macbeth, New York, New York.

Hassam was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the son of a wealthy Boston merchant. His formal art training began in Boston under I. M. Gaugengrige. After working as a wood engraver and illustrator, he continued his studies at the Academie Julian in Paris under Boulanger and Lefebvre. During his stay in France, Hassam fell under the influence of the Impressionists. Upon returning from Europe in 1889, he settled in New York and continued to work both as a painter and an illustrator, doing most of his work in the New England area. He became a member of the National Academy of Design in 1902 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1920. Hassam was a founding member of "The Ten," a group of Boston and New York painters who rebelled against the prevailing art and promoted their Impressionistic works, giving birth to the American Impressionist Movement. (left: Julius J. Lankes, Winter Twilight)

Other noted artists will include Berkeley County, West Virginia native, William Robinson Leigh, brothers Thomas and Peter Moran, Joseph Pennell and an early work by Jackson Pollack, on loan from the collection of Spence & Cinda Perry of Hagerstown, Maryland.

Pennell was born into an old Philadelphia Quaker family on the fourth of July, a date he chose in the absence of any records. His formal studies began in Germantown and then the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he studied etching with James L. Claghorn. Pennell also attended the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art, but was let go because he led a student revolt. In 1880, Pennell set out to find his own studio and his talent as an illustrator was recognized immediately and he became self-sufficient almost overnight. Pennell contributed more to the art of illustration than any other artist and produced more than 900 etchings and mezzotints and more than 600 lithographs.


From the exhibit's gallery guide:


Printing Processes

In the graphic arts the printmaking process is divided into three major categories: Intaglio, Planographic and Relief printing.

Intaglio printing includes all metal-plate engraving and etching processes in which the printing areas are recessed: line engraving, etching, drypoint, soft-ground etching, aquatint, crayon manner, photogravure and collagraph. Intaglio plates are printed by inking the plate and then wiping the plate surface clean, leaving the ink only in the etched or engraved depressions. The ink is then transferred to damp paper by running the plate and the paper through an Etching Press.

The term planographic was devised to categorize lithography, in which proofs are pulled from a flat surface (hence the name planography, "flat writing") rather than from indented or relief areas of a plate. Lithography stones are printed by sensitizing the flat surface of the stone by chemical means so that the ink takes on the design areas only and is repelled by the black areas. The ink is then transferred to damp paper by running the plate and the paper through a Litho-Press. (right: Thomas Moran: A Tower of Cortes, Mexico, 1883)

Relief printing includes all those printing processes in which all nonprinting areas of the block or plate are carved, engraved or etched away, leaving only the lines and areas to be printed. Relief printing includes: woodcut, wood engraving, line and halftone photoengraving, mezzotint, anastatic printing, stipple engraving, linocut and relief cut. A relief block or plate is inked with a brayer or a dabber and the impression is made by these relief areas as the ink is transferred to the paper, either by hand or in a press.

In relief and planographic processes, monochromatic and color prints are produced in the same manner except in color the prints are made from a series of blocks or stones, one for each basic color printed. The color blocks or stones are keyed (lined-up) with the keystone (masterstone) having register marks on the "key." Lithography and woodcut are well suited to multicolor printing. Intaglio plates are almost always printed in black and white, although single-color intaglio prints (i.e., a colored ink, either blue or brown, is used instead of black) are sometimes made. The only metal plate techniques widely used for color printing are aquatint and mezzotint, both of which emphasize tonal masses rather than line.


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Resource Library Magazine

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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