Lessons in Engraving: Burin Studies

Stanley William Hayter. Burin Studies. 1943. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Paul Mann, Towson, Maryland, BMA 1979.365. © Estate of Stanley William Hayter / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Stanley William Hayter. Burin Studies. 1943. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Paul Mann, Towson, Maryland, BMA 1979.365. © Estate of Stanley William Hayter / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

One of my current projects is a large-scale exhibition focused on twentieth-century intaglio printmaker Stanley William Hayter (English, 1901-1988) and his print workshop called the Atelier 17. Hayter’s print workshop was a hotbed of collaboration and experimentation; it was his goal that artists would work together toward new discoveries. He downplayed his role as teacher and mentor, although it is clear that the workshop’s success owed a tremendous amount to his personal charisma. When a new artist arrived at the studio Hayter would put them through their paces before allowing them free access to the equipment. One of the first things was to accomplish a plate of burin studies. Given a copper plate, the nouveau would be instructed to make marks without regard to a planned image. This was a chance to become familiar with the technique and process. Hayter encouraged students to free their minds of preconceived imagery and just let the burin go where it might until they had become fully comfortable making marks. Because engraving is a difficult means of making an image—one pushes a diamond-shaped tool through the copper or zinc to create divets that will carry ink—it is important that one is at ease with it prior to investing time and energy in a large print.

Hayter, himself, engraved several of these sorts of studies, including the BMA’s sheet from 1943. In it graceful lines loop and intersect, barely indicating concrete forms. It really was supposed to be a freeform exercise tapping into one’s subconscious. He even advocated for creating engraved lines by feel rather than by sight. These ideas can be linked to Hayter’s interest in the surrealist practice of automatic drawing, in which one’s subconscious should be accessed thus producing stronger work.

Hayter was active at the Atelier until the end of his life in 1988, meaning scores of artists can claim some time with the master. One such artist is the master printer James Stroud, whose print shop, Center Street Studio, operates outside of Boston. In between his BFA and his MFA, Stroud studied with Hayter at the Atelier in Paris from 1980 to 1981. Stroud’s studies fill the plate as swirling lines that intersect over geometric forms in an orderly yet chaotic way. Stroud reported coming across the plate in his studio in 2014, many years after he engraved it. For fun, he printed a handful of impressions and liked the result. Knowing about the BMA’s upcoming Hayter exhibition, Stroud kindly offered an impression to the Museum, for which we are grateful.

James Stroud. Burin Studies. 1980, printed 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of the Artist, BMA 2014.100. © James Stroud

James Stroud. Burin Studies. 1980, printed 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of the Artist, BMA 2014.100. © James Stroud

Meditating on water

Gabriel Orozco. Darth Vader. 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alan and Carol Edelman Acquisition Fund, BMA 2014.114. © Gabriel Orozco

Gabriel Orozco. Darth Vader. 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alan and Carol Edelman Acquisition Fund, BMA 2014.114. © Gabriel Orozco

Gabriel Orozco, like Felix Gonzalez-Torres, is a master at revealing the poignancy of humble materials and the significance of seemingly casual encounters. Orozco’s photograph, Darth Vader, 2014, is a recent gift to the BMA’s collection. In it, the world looks back at us as we gaze into a mirror-smooth puddle that has collected in an overturned umbrella. The trees that are reflected in the water drop their leaves, sprinkling a bright visual confetti over the black umbrella and brown and grey pavement. The remarkable aspect of this deceptively simple composition lies in Orozco’s ability to notice exceptional details within a common scene and present them so that we can recognize beauty in the most inconspicuous elements of our daily lives. We learn to appreciate the potential for humor and playfulness in the everyday as well.  Here, Orozco’s title clues us into the menacing black helmet of a pop culture villain that can be deciphered in the otherwise delicate shapes of the puddle and umbrella.

As an image that transforms the image of water into a broader meditation, Orozco’s photograph speaks to Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (Water), 1995, one of the most beloved works in the BMA’s collection.  Gonzalez-Torres created a sensation of the luminosity, movement, and therapeutic qualities of water by focusing on another seemingly modest item—plastic beads more conventionally seen as a cheap and somewhat tacky way to curtain off doorways and portions of rooms.  Through the artist’s vision, these beads—repeated in a specific sequence of blue, clear and silver strands and elongated to fill the given doorway of an exhibition space—transform into a delightful, interactive experience. People are invited to walk through Gonzalez-Torres’s sculpture, touching the undulating surfaces, listening to the rustle of the swinging of strands, and being enveloped in the light glinting off each small colored sphere. The piece so engages the senses that one is at least momentarily “cleansed” of concerns and distractions, and reminded that such pleasurable and celebratory sensations can be found in common objects.

Felix Gonzalez Torres. "Untitled" (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez Torres Foundation

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. “Untitled” (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A.
May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

Tea (Roses) for Two

Childe Hassam American, 1859-1935 Roses in a Vase, 1890. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches. Helen and Abram Eisenberg Collection, BMA 1967.36.3

Childe Hassam. American, 1859-1935. Roses in a Vase, 1890. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches.
Helen and Abram Eisenberg Collection, BMA 1967.36.3

An elegant American impressionist still life by Childe Hassam and a stately oil lamp hand-painted by Celia Laighton Thaxter, now paired in the new American Wing at the Baltimore Museum of Art, signal a change in the way Americans thought about Nature. Each was created during the tumultuous period when—as the United States emerged as a major global economic power—our relationship to the landscape gradually changed.  In the decades preceding American Impressionism, enormous machine paintings of regal mountain vistas by Frederick Edwin Church, Thomas Moran, and others gave way to the commercial viability of the oil sketch and the dominance of closely observed local incident over large national themes. In the face of urban development and attendant pollution, Victorian families used green houses and terrariums to bring nature indoors for study and enjoyment. Objects of decorative art embellished with ornament drawn from nature reinforced engagement with the natural world.   Filled with “the flowers our grandmothers loved,” old-fashioned cottage gardens were planted as a Colonial Revival antidote to the fast pace of modern life. Away from home, Americans experienced nature through the founding of the national park system, the growth of natural history museums and botanic gardens, as well as expanding tourism, and an explosion of articles in the popular press.

Once deemed the most idiosyncratic watering-place in the Union, Appledore—among the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire—was the prototype for early 20th-century American summer art colonies. At the Shoals, Thaxter celebrated progressive art, music, and literature in a beautiful natural environment. Hassam was a tourist when he painted the tea roses in Thaxter’s parlor.  His freely brushed still life records the type of monochromatic bouquet she regularly gathered from the garden outside her cottage door. The 15 x 50-foot raised-bed plot became famous when she published An Island Garden (Boston, 1893). Gaining traction as an up-and-coming American impressionist, Hassam became one of Thaxter’s favorite artistic guests.  As his first muse she commissioned the young painter to illustrate her garden book with delicate landscapes and vignettes. A critic observed that Hassam’s paintings gave “the world which cannot get to Appledore Island an idea of the peculiar wealth of color which the marine atmosphere, or else some fairy spell of the place, lends to the [flowers] which grow in the poet’s garden.”

At first glance, Hassam’s luscious impression of somewhat blown roses in a glass vase seems an unlikely battle standard. He was just back from Europe and eager to tailor the lessons of French avant-garde art to his own purposes. His fragile bouquet, a finely tuned orchestration of yellows and greens set against a richly painted yet almost abstract background, hoists the banner of art for art’s sake, signaling firm commitment to light, color, texture, indeed all that makes painting beautiful. Hassam would spend his long career battling for beauty.

As a woman writer with an undependable husband, Celia Laighton Thaxter, too, had battles to fight. Hassam first met the poet and journalist in Boston when she sought watercolor lessons in the early 1880s. Obliged to supplement the income generated by the Laighton family’s seasonal hotel, Thaxter applied her skills to decorative china painting and book illumination, socially acceptable occupations for genteel women at the time. Proceeds from her artistry also supported her own widely recognized but poorly paid literary efforts. Graceful olive branches, her most distinctive pattern, decorate the parlor lamp now in the BMA’s collection. The Greek inscription is taken from Sophocles’s Oedipus at Colonus:  “watched by the eye of olive-guarding Zeus and by gray-eyed Athena.”

On Appledore Island poet and painter honed their powers of observation, keeping watch for a personal understanding of the natural world around them. Guided by the influential English art critic John Ruskin, whose ideas were discussed in the cultured atmosphere of the parlor, each artist carefully examined flowers to know them better, but avoided scientific analysis in favor of description that offered a pathway to imaginative sensibility. The careful scrutiny of nature served as a springboard for the imagination, triggering not only poetic language but also painted images that sidestep natural grandeur’s potential to overwhelm or baffle. As Thaxter’s lamp illuminates the concept of a carefully decorated, art- and flower-filled interior, Hassam’s suggestively abstract oil painting favors intimate personal experience, furthered by the relatively small scale of his work from the Isles of Shoals. Layers of pigment form a sensuous surface that takes on an abstract life of its own with colors still bold and fresh, offering us not so much a record of place as an intimation of spirit, communicating what it was to pause for a moment amidst such resplendent blossoms.

Celia Laighton Thaxter, decorator American, 1835-1894 Oil Lamp with Olive Branch Motif, c. 1881. Painted ceramic, metal, glass. H: 27 inches. Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Ellen Howard Bayard, Gift from the Estate of Mrs. Charles R. Weld, Bequest of Alice Worthington Ball, Bequest of Ellen Howard Bayard, Gift of Mrs. C.C. Felton, Bequest of John M. Glenn, Gift of J. Gilman D’Arcy Paul, Bequest of Philip B. Perlman, Gift of William D. G. Scarlett, Young Friends of the American Wing Fund, and Gift of Lydia Howard de Roth in memory of her sister, Nancy H. Deford Venable, BMA 2006.121

Celia Laighton Thaxter, decorator, American, 1835-1894. Oil Lamp with Olive Branch Motif, c. 1881. Painted ceramic, metal, glass. H: 27 inches. Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Ellen Howard Bayard, Gift from the Estate of Mrs. Charles R. Weld, Bequest of Alice Worthington Ball, Bequest of Ellen Howard Bayard, Gift of Mrs. C.C. Felton, Bequest of John M. Glenn, Gift of J. Gilman D’Arcy Paul, Bequest of Philip B. Perlman, Gift of William D. G. Scarlett, Young Friends of the American Wing Fund, and Gift of Lydia Howard de Roth in memory of her sister, Nancy H. Deford Venable, BMA 2006.121

Thoughts on Visibility in Juan Logan’s Ghost and John Hesselius’s Charles Calvert and His Slave

Juan Logan. Ghost. 2009. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2010 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2010.11.1-6 © Juan Logan

A few weeks back, I was exploring the Prints, Drawing & Photographs vaults and came across one of the prints from Juan Logan’s Ghost series (2009). I was completely taken by the depth and mystery of the image – totally up my alley visually – and yet, unsure of the subject matter. I was in hurry and mentally filed away the work as something to revisit. A bit later, I stumbled across the piece again, and Ann Shafer, Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, mentioned to me that the images are ghostings of shackles. Yes, shackles – for necks, arms and feet. In learning this, the piece got a bit deeper and a bit darker.

It is no secret that slavery haunts us. Recent events in Baltimore and across the country have brought race to the forefront of American minds, but race has always been an issue at the fore and at the very foundation of America.

John Hesselius. Charles Calvert and His Slave. 1761. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Alfred R. and Henry G. Riggs, in Memory of General Lawrason Riggs, BMA 1941.4

John Hesselius. Charles Calvert and His Slave. 1761. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Alfred R. and Henry G. Riggs, in Memory of General Lawrason Riggs, BMA 1941.4

It makes sense to me to pair Ghost with a painting currently on view in the American Wing of the BMA. John Hesselius’s 1761 canvas Charles Calvert and His Slave depicts Charles Calvert, third baron of Baltimore, at the age of five with another boy kneeling at his right – his slave. I cringe when I see this painting, as I’m sure many of our visitors do. Yet with proper contextualization, it is important to have the painting on view as a reminder of America’s history, and as a reminder of why race and racism is as prevalent a topic today as it has ever been.

The painting also raises the question of whose histories we preserve. Living quite near Calvert Street, which nearly spans the length of the city, I very quickly caught on to “Calvert” as a familiar name after my move to Baltimore. Yet, next to Ghost, Charles Calvert and His Slave can take on a new context and a new gravity. When considering this pair, it is fruitful to think about the concealment at work in both images and how each artist employs this concealment to his advantage. Although Hesselius has foregrounded the young Charles Calvert, when paired with Logan’s work, we are forced to think beyond the boy in his head-to-toe pink clothes to the other boy who has very much been “othered”. We do not know his story. We hold onto a small detail, he holds a drum while the boy Calvert holds the sticks.

Ghost, on the other hand, withholds information through its abstract imagery. To create the series of prints which comprise Ghost, Logan has spray-painted over physical shackles placed on a surface and used the “ghost” image left behind as the basis for his etched polymer plates. This process results in the abstract silvery shapes of the image. The series draws you in and then with new knowledge of its origin the image and its title takes on new meaning.

248 years passed between the time that Hesselius and Logan each created these works and the ghost of American slavery looms still. Yet, it is encouraging to me that collections can challenge us to give these pressing issues thought and much deserved conversation. Through my experience at museums and my time so far at the BMA, I am learning more and more that collection and ownership are tricky concepts, ones that are important to revisit thoughtfully and frequently.

Talking life and the sociological imagination with jude Lombardi

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jude Lombardi will be presenting her film Gentrification (k)NOT Movie on March 19th as a part of the BMA’s Open Hours Program.

The Gentrification (k)NOT Movie was born out of conversations jude had at the Station North Arts Café with owner Kevin Brown, who has been working in Station North for years. In 2002, Station North Arts District became the first designated arts district in Maryland. jude and Kevin felt the need to explore what was happening in the neighborhood which housed MICA and a burgeoning art scene, as well as changes happening all over the world in cities, often through arts-driven by development. Her film is meant to provoke questions about change and transformations: What is healthy neighborhood change? What is lost when a place is redeveloped? How might we prevent gentrification from happening during revitalization of a neighborhood?

I spoke with her about home and place and teaching, the parts that make a life. Hope you can join us at the BMA on March 19th for the screening and conversation.

What is home to you?
Home is where I live when I am not out in the world. It is a safe, warm, loving space that every human being deserves to experience on a daily bases. My home is in Baltimore and has been since my birth.

Can you tell me a bit about your classes when you teach sociology?
When I taught sociology, the scientific study of one’s own society and all that this entails (I know, that’s a lot), my favorite activity was encouraging students to develop a “sociological imagination.” The term “sociological imagination,” one of the most popular terms in sociology, was invented by C. Wright Mills (1959). He wrote a book on the topic by the same name. A sociological imagination is a way of looking at how one views the world, oneself, and their society. It’s about exploring one’s own biography within a historical context, nested in traditions, beliefs and other cultural artifacts. It makes a distinction between [when is] a “personal trouble” and “public issue[s],” and how they might intersect.

Not only is developing a sociological imagination about the biographical in a historical context, it is about exploring the “social” structures, or not so “social” structures that we co-construct and maintain through our language, beliefs and actions. It’s about living in a milieu–a system–and how the elements of that system might orient how one thinks, perceives and acts. It’s about understanding one’s self and our relations with “others,” not necessarily like us

As one person states in the Gentrification (k)NOT Movie, “How you view gentrification depends on where you sit.” That is, one’s position and positioning in the society in which they live affects one’s life choices and life chances.

Finally, when developing a sociological imagination, one’s sense of responsibility and ability for generating a society they desire emerges. Including how one’s thoughts, wants and actions might make a difference that makes a difference (human agency). It is a model for exploring and designing the constraints and possibilities for generating a society one desires to be an element of. (Interview with Lombardi, Sociological Imagination)

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How is this connected to understanding gentrification?
Today, gentrification is happening worldwide–locally, nationally and globally. It is a public issue.

Once I developed a sociological imagination I had little choice but to work in ways that improve the society I live in. That is one reason why I became a social worker, then a therapist, then a professor and then, a filmmaker. The films I make are about people trying to make a difference in the society in which they live.

The word gentrification was originally designed by British sociologist Ruth Glass to point at a particular dynamic that emerges when a “gentry” of people move into a neighborhood (1964). It was meant to connote a process by which during the revitalization of a neighborhood the residents who live there–through no fault of their own–can no longer afford to live there and are eventually displaced.

What I noticed was in our daily discourse the term gentrification had lost its original meaning. As I say in the movie, “If you think it means one thing and I think it means another than how do we design revitalization in ways that prevent it–gentrification–from happening?”

My intentions when making the movie were to explore the meaning of the term ‘gentrification’, to educate people about its original meaning and to offer possible ways for designing the revitalization and development of our neighborhoods so that people are not displaced from their homes.

What might a healthy change to a neighborhood look like?
The Gentrification (k)NOT Movie explores a variety of elements for creating healthy neighborhoods. In the movie I quote former Baltimore City Health Commissioner Peter Bellenson, MD, citing four basics for generating a healthy neighborhood: decent schools, decent housing, access to a living wage–work, and health. Mindy Fullilove MD, talks about the importance of generating social networks for sustaining healthy neighborhoods. She also offers a distinction between healthcare and disease management, arguing that 90% of our money goes to disease management while only 10% goes toward healthcare. Thus putting the cart before the horse.

Fullilove is the author of Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It.  ‘Rootshock’ is a term she adapted from gardening, which describes the loss of one’s personal ecosystem when our networks are destroyed and displacement happens.

 What is a city of the future?
I cannot say what a city of the future looks like. What I can say is what I desire. What I desire is space where there is participation by all when making decisions and designing our city.  Be aware when there is participation by all conflict will emerge, it is natural. It is how we deal with our conflict today (violence) that is unnatural. So this requires, among other things, our ability and a desire to participate in deep conversations embracing our conflicts as opportunities for generating something new.

What is one of your favorite spots in Baltimore?
One of my favorite spots in Baltimore is the Stadium Place, home to over 400 senior citizens of mixed income. It is an affordable housing community that emerged where the historical Memorial Stadium was once located. Stadium Place is featured in the Gentrification (k)NOT Movie as a prototype for revitalization without gentrification. Stadium Place sits in the middle of a historically diverse set of neighborhoods known as Waverly, Homestead, Edner Gardens, Montebello and Coldstream. All of which were — by order of the mayor –involved in the planning and re-development of this huge piece of land now known as Stadium Place.

How did this happen? What were the elements that allowed for this community to come into being without displacing any of its neighbors or neighborhoods?  For more information about Stadium Place and its history, come see the Gentrification (kNOT) Movie.

Judith (jude) Lombardi, LCSW-C, Ph.D. is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Social Work (1981) and a social worker who went back to graduate school, then taught college-level Sociology for over a decade. She now makes documentary movies about people doing what people do. 

Gentrification k(NOT): A Film Screening and Conversation about Displacement in Baltimore is on at the BMA on March 19, 2016 @ 1:00 pm, as part of the BMA’s monthly Open Hours program.

Some thoughts on prints of still lifes

Theodor Matham (Dutch, 1605/6-1676). Vanitas. 1622. Engraving, Sheet (cut within platemark): 225 x 136 mm. (8 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.) Garrett Collection, BMA 1946.112.3424

Theodor Matham (Dutch, 1605/6-1676). Vanitas. 1622. Engraving, Sheet (cut within platemark): 225 x 136 mm. (8 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.) Garrett Collection, BMA 1946.112.3424

The still life is not as common a subject in the early history of printmaking as one might think.  I was reminded of this fact while helping Sona Johnston, then Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, make print selections for The Art of Still Life from The Baltimore Museum of Art, an exhibition that traveled to museums around Maryland in 2007 and 2010.  There were few examples of seventeenth-century still life prints in the BMA’s collection, though happily we did find Theodor Matham’s 1622 engraving Vanitas.  Here, in the composition’s foreground, one sees an assortment of carefully arranged and meticulously rendered objects, including a book of music and several instruments.  The prominent location of the plaque at center, showing the word “Vanitas” topped by a winged skull, reminds us that music, like all earthly enjoyments, offers only fleeting pleasure in the face of our mortality.

Given the relative rarity of seventeenth-century still life prints, it was with great excitement that in 2011 the Museum acquired Wenceslaus Hollar’s Murex haustellum from an untitled series of 38 shells etched by the Bohemian artist in c. 1646.  Unlike Matham, who placed his shells in an elaborate and iconographically significant setting, Hollar presents all his shells in the same straightforward fashion.  By isolating the shells against plain backgrounds, Hollar draws attention to their intrinsic beauty, focusing on their distinctive silhouettes and textures.  Each shell is to scale, with every bump and ridge on its exterior rendered in minute detail; one imagines the artist scrutinizing and marveling at the murex haustellum while slowly rotating it in his hand. Hollar’s etchings lack accompanying text, distinguishing them from scientific illustrations of the time, prints in which the imagery would be supplemented with the Latin name of each specimen, if not other relevant scientific information and a plate number.

Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607-1677). Murex haustellum, c. 1646. Etching, Sheet: 100 x 139 mm. (3 15/16 x 5 1/2 in.) Plate: 98 x 137 mm. (3 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.). John Dorsey and Robert W. Armacost Bequest Fund, and purchased as the gift of the Print, Drawing & Photograph Society, BMA 2011.120

Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607-1677). Murex haustellum, c. 1646. Etching, Sheet: 100 x 139 mm. (3 15/16 x 5 1/2 in.) Plate: 98 x 137 mm. (3 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.). John Dorsey and Robert W. Armacost Bequest Fund, and purchased as the gift of the Print, Drawing & Photograph Society, BMA 2011.120

Although the murex haustellum is readily available today, it was a rarity in the seventeenth century.  Brought to Europe via maritime trade, such shells were collected both as exotic objects and scientific curiosities.  They were considered exemplary items to include in the compendium of knowledge known as a wunderkammer (“hall of wonders”), of which Baltimoreans are fortunate to have a recreation at The Walters Art Museum; there is also the wunderkammer-inspired installation An Archaeology of Knowledge by the contemporary American artist Mark Dion at the Brody Learning Commons at The Johns Hopkins University. As we know from a 1656 inventory of his collection, the Dutch artist Rembrandt owned shells, one of which most likely served as a model for the singular etching and drypoint The Shell (1650).  In etching his series of shells, it seems that Hollar worked from a particular collection, though whose it was we do not know.

Hollar’s and Rembrandt’s shell etchings lead us to one other still life print: a 2002 etching by the contemporary French printmaker Erik Desmazières entitled Register and Shells that is a promised gift to the Museum.  Desmazières is an artist who is steeped in the history of printmaking—he is a regular visitor to the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris—and over the course of his long career has explored various art historical themes in his work (including the wunderkammer).  In Register and Shells, we see a piece of coral and two shells placed on and adjacent to a well-worn tome, their inclusion paying homage to the exquisitely etched creations of his seventeenth-century predecessors.

Erik Desmazières (French, born Morocco 1948) Register and Shells 2002 Etching Collection of Nancy Patz, Baltimore: Promised gift to The Baltimore Museum of Art

Erik Desmazières (French, born Morocco 1948). Register and Shells. 2002. Etching Collection of Nancy Patz, Baltimore: Promised gift to The Baltimore Museum of Art

Engraving the Master Engravers

Stanley William Hayter. Untitled. 1936. From the portfolio "Fraternity". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sidney Hollander, Baltimore, BMA 1996.8.3. © Estate of Stanley William Hayter / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Stanley William Hayter. Untitled. 1936. From the portfolio “Fraternity”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sidney Hollander, Baltimore, BMA 1996.8.3. © Estate of Stanley William Hayter / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

One of my current projects is a large-scale exhibition focused on twentieth-century intaglio printmaker Stanley William Hayter (English, 1901-1988) and his print workshop called the Atelier 17. The exhibition is scheduled to be on view at the BMA in the winter/spring of 2018. Several artworks slated for inclusion in the Hayter exhibition would have been great fits for New Arrivals: Gifts of Art for a New Century (February 7 – May 8, 2016)—an exhibition highlighting recent gifts to the Museum paired with objects already in the collection—but issues of light exposure prevent inclusion in both projects. In the spirit of pairings that are not in New Arrivals, we want to highlight a few favorites.

Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 was a nexus of printmaking in its three iterations. It was founded in Paris in 1927 and remained there until Hayter fled German-occupied Paris in 1939. Hayter set up the workshop in New York City by 1940 where it flourished until 1955. By 1950 Hayter returned to Paris, leaving the New York shop in the hands of several directors, and reopened a branch of the Atelier there, where it still exists today as the Atelier Contrepoint some 27 years after Hayter’s death. Between 1926 and now, thousands of printmakers have worked at the studio and many in turn have founded university printmaking departments and print workshops across the United States, and around the world. Members of the Hayter artistic family tree are everywhere.**

The Atelier 17 is remarkable for three technical advances in intaglio printmaking. Hayter revived the arcane art form of copper engraving, formerly used as a formulaic means of reproducing paintings by famous artists, and used it to express deep emotions in swirling, taut lines. The studio developed a technique called softground etching in which fabrics, netting, paper, and other objects are pressed into a soft, waxy ground on the copper plate, leaving behind their texture that gets etched into the copper producing interesting tones and patterns. Lastly, Hayter and a group of artists developed a method of printing in colors using a single plate (traditional color etchings require a separate copper plate for each color) called simultaneous color printing or multi-viscosity printing.

Whereas some artists adopted simultaneous color printing as their own, or the use of fabrics pressed into softground to create textures, others embraced Hayter’s first love, engraving. Evan Lindquist is a contemporary artist using engraving as his medium of choice. His tie to Hayter is through Lindquist’s graduate studies at the University of Iowa, where Mauricio Lasansky had founded the printmaking department in the late 1940s (Lasansky worked with Hayter at the New York Atelier 17 in the early 1940s). Lindquist has created a series of elegantly engraved portraits of art history’s well-known engravers like Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, Hendrik Goltzius, William Blake, Hayter, and others. In his engraving, SW Hayter Engraves War, Lindquist portrays Hayter as an intense, powerful figure out of whose burin (his engraving tool) come motifs referring to the Spanish Civil War.

That Lindquist portrays this titan of printmaking creating a print in support of victims of a crazy war, and not as a teacher, is telling. Hayter and a group of artists created two portfolios, Solidarity (1938) and Fraternity (1939), that were fundraisers for the child victims of the Spanish Civil War. The Museum is fortunate to have the complete portfolio of Fraternity, which contains prints by Hayter along with John Buckland Wright, Dalla Husband, Josef Hecht, Wassily Kandinsky, Roderick Mead, Joan Miró, Dolf Reiser, and Luis Vargas. In Hayter’s plate, a nude male stands at a doorway while an airplane flies overhead. One can’t help but think of Guernica, the small Spanish village that was bombed in April 1937, killing vast numbers of civilian men, women, and children.

Occurrences like Guernica motivated many artists to create work in protest, mostly famously Picasso, and Hayter was no different. He was a passionate humanist who used art to express his profound discomfort with the darkness that befell humanity during the first half of the twentieth century. That the symbols and marks of the war are spitting out vigorously from Hayter’s burin in Lindquist’s portrait is a perfect homage.

Evan Lindquist. SW Hayter Engraves War. 2015. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of an Anonymous Donor, BMA 2015.173. © 2015, Evan Lindquist / VAGA, NY

Evan Lindquist. SW Hayter Engraves War. 2015. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of an Anonymous Donor, BMA 2015.173. © 2015, Evan Lindquist / VAGA, NY

**As part of the BMA’s exhibition, we are creating an online Hayter family tree. Artists will be encouraged to trace their connection back to Hayter, add themselves to the lineage, and establish their “H” number.

A local icon

When I first moved to Baltimore from Chicago, the questions most often posed by friends were regarding John Waters and the depiction of Baltimore in his films. At the time, the references were lost on me, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that the renowned director, celebrated for campy and at times raunchy films set in his hometown, is synonymous with the city.

Prior to the BMA’s Campaign for Art, the Museum’s collection included just one work by Waters. Dorothy Malone’s Collar, a photomontage from 1996, is a quintessential example of Waters’ early foray into appropriation art. The work, which resembles a horizontal photo strip, begins with an image of an eponymous title screen followed by nine stills of actress Dorothy Malone sporting her signature upturned collar. The artist obtained each image by scouring hours of film, pausing the movie, and taking a picture of the frozen scene on his television screen. The format proved a natural means for Waters to share his sharp observation, wit, and love of film with an expanded audience.

John Waters. John Jr.. 2009. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, BMA 2010.13. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery

John Waters. John Jr.. 2009. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, BMA 2010.13. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery

In 2010, contemporary photography collectors Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker gave the Museum John Jr., 2009. Once again, Waters found inspiration in another artist’s work. The source is a pastel portrait by a respected Baltimore portraitist who was commissioned by Waters’ parents to capture the artist as a boy. Waters took a picture of the pastel and manipulated it ever so slightly by using Photoshop to add a hint of the trademark pencil mustache that he has worn for most of his adult life. Through this simple gesture the artist unites his juvenile and mature selves. Considering the resulting image, it is just as easy to imagine that Waters was a precocious child as it is to see that the child in him lives on.

John Waters. Kiddie Flamingos. 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund; gift of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art; Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund; and purchased as the gift of an Anonymous Donor, BMA 2015.85. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery

John Waters. Kiddie Flamingos. 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund; gift of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art; Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund; and purchased as the gift of an Anonymous Donor, BMA 2015.85. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery

In 2015 a donation from the BMA’s Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art facilitated the acquisition of one of Waters’ most recent works, Kiddie Flamingos, 2014. Like Dorothy Malone’s Collar and John Jr., the work grew out of another artwork—the artist’s notorious film Pink Flamingos, 1972. The movie, which put Waters on the map as “The Pope of Trash,” quickly became a cult classic and continues to shock viewers. In Kiddie Flamingos, children perform a table reading of Waters’ adaptation of Pink Flamingos for a general audience. Seated in front of a backdrop featuring a trailer home, the kids wear clothing, wigs, and accessories that evoke the unforgettable characters of the original film. Waters’ distinctive voice delivers stage directions off camera while the children earnestly perform their roles in this remake of the battle for the title of “the filthiest people alive.” Those who have seen the original film will recognize that, though purged of its obscenity, the new script artfully alludes to the indelible scenes that make Pink Flamingos scandalous to this day.

John Waters’ reputation precedes him and in many circles he is regarded as the face of Baltimore. It is a fitting tribute to the local icon that two of his works joined the BMA’s collection through the Museum’s Campaign for Art.

John Jr. is on view through May 8, 2016 in New Arrivals: Maryland Artists.
Kiddie Flamingos will be running on a continuous loop in the Museum’s Black Box from September 21, 2016 to January 22, 2017.

 

An evolution in embroidery

Abraham Banishing Hagar and Ishmael. c. 1650. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier; Gift of Mrs. H.P. Bray; Gift of Mrs. Charles Collier; Gift of Mrs. Symington Dorsey; Gift of Mrs. J. Edward Duker; Gift of Maria Lovell Eaton and Mrs. Charles R. Weld, from the Estate of Mary M. Eaton; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel L. Hendler; Gift of Mrs. Gerald W. Johnson; Gift of Mrs. F.A. Korff; Gift of Ruth Young Lachman; Gift of Eleanor B. Leitch; Gift of Sara B. Lipscomb; Gift of Cornelius Ruxton Love, Jr.; Gift of Henry A. Ludwig; Gift of Fanny Lyon; Gift of Mrs. Florence Milliken; Gift of Mrs. Frank Primrose; Gift of Mrs. Jesse Rider; Gift of Mrs. Ralph K. Robertson; Gift of Mrs. C. Rogulih; Gift of Mrs. Dudley Shoemaker; and Gift of Louisa Gilmore Riach Wade, BMA 1998.528

Abraham Banishing Hagar and Ishmael. c. 1650. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier; Gift of Mrs. H.P. Bray; Gift of Mrs. Charles Collier; Gift of Mrs. Symington Dorsey; Gift of Mrs. J. Edward Duker; Gift of Maria Lovell Eaton and Mrs. Charles R. Weld, from the Estate of Mary M. Eaton; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel L. Hendler; Gift of Mrs. Gerald W. Johnson; Gift of Mrs. F.A. Korff; Gift of Ruth Young Lachman; Gift of Eleanor B. Leitch; Gift of Sara B. Lipscomb; Gift of Cornelius Ruxton Love, Jr.; Gift of Henry A. Ludwig; Gift of Fanny Lyon; Gift of Mrs. Florence Milliken; Gift of Mrs. Frank Primrose; Gift of Mrs. Jesse Rider; Gift of Mrs. Ralph K. Robertson; Gift of Mrs. C. Rogulih; Gift of Mrs. Dudley Shoemaker; and Gift of Louisa Gilmore Riach Wade, BMA 1998.528

From the Renaissance through the early 19th century and beyond, young women of high social position in England were well schooled in the needle arts. From a very young age they began making marking samplers—stitching simple letters in cross stitch on linen–progressing to increasingly elaborate work as they aged. With large houses to furnish, high born women often turned their embroidery skills toward the production of domestic articles such as book covers, pillows, boxes, and cushions. Biblical stories frequently provided the subject matter for these endeavors. This cushion cover, a rare surviving example of exceptional quality and condition from the 17th century, features the story of Abraham banishing his son Ishmael along with his mother Hagar.

Hagar, the handmaiden of Abraham’s seemingly barren wife Sarah, bore Abraham a son, Ishmael, as Sarah’s proxy. After Sarah herself gave birth to a son, Isaac, she required that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away in order to secure her son’s position as Abraham’s sole heir. The needlework portrays Abraham bidding farewell to Hagar and Ishmael as Sarah and Isaac look on from a tent. In a secondary scene Hagar and Ishmael are about to perish from thirst when an angel appears to show her a source of water and promise deliverance.

The design of the cushion cover was derived from a printed source–an engraving in Gerard de Jode’s Thesaurus Sacrarum Historiarum Veteris Testamenti published in Antwerp in 1585. While the subject is disturbing, the addition of numerous plants and animals in the background, rendered with characteristic disregard to scale, creates a naïve, whimsical landscape that belies the dark nature of the story. The excellence of this embroidery is shown in the exquisite fineness of the tent stitching, the skill exhibited in the use of multicolored silk threads for shading, and the fluidity of line achieved.  The original silver and gold metallic bobbin lace provides an elegant and expensive finish.

Artist unknown. Needlework Picture: The Sacrifice of Isaac. Early 19th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Textile Acquisition Fund, BMA 2009.140

Artist unknown. Needlework Picture: The Sacrifice of Isaac. Early 19th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Textile Acquisition Fund, BMA 2009.140

Abraham and his son Isaac were also the subject of girlhood embroideries in the late 18th and early 19th century as seen in this excellent example, “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” which is also probably English. Characteristic of these fashionable silk pictures, this example was worked in silk threads on a silk ground with painted hands, faces, and background. Here, Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering. He prepares to do so, but is prevented at the last minute by an angel, who tells him that God has relented and Isaac may live.

This beautifully conceived, expertly painted, and expertly embroidered scene may have been drafted by a professional artist for the embroiderer. The needlework in this piece shows a variety of stitches and materials used to achieve textural diversity: straight stitches in silk threads used to present the costume of Abraham with fringe, knotted stitches in silk depict the tress, and stitches in wool render the ram’s wooly fleece.

Comparing the two embroideries reveals great contrast between 17th and early 19th century norms. One shows an unrealistic landscape crowded with flora and fauna in varying scale, with characters dressed in contemporary garb and no interest in realism; the other portrays a realistic landscape with emphasis on the individuals, the action, and the detail of the costume.

Embroidery of such scenes provided an opportunity to teach moral precepts to young women along with needle skills. One wonders, however, what moral or message the embroiderer took from these stories. Did she feel the injustice of Hagar’s position? Did she find Abraham’s decision to favor Isaac over Ishmael and expel him into the wilderness cruel? Did she believe Sarah’s ruthless demands against Hagar and Ishmael were justified because they were made in defense of her own son’s interests? Was she shocked at the intention of Abraham to kill his own son? If she were faced in the future with the choice of protecting her child or her husband, which would she choose? How well equipped were the young women stitching these stories to put them into a context that would prove meaningful to their own lives?

 

Considering the “Fold” with Tauba Auerbach and John Singleton Copley

 

Tauba Auerbach. Plate Distortion II. 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.198. © Tauba Auerbach

Tauba Auerbach. Plate Distortion II. 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.198. © Tauba Auerbach

Tauba Auerbach’s Plate Distortion II came in to the BMA collection in 2012, and it captured my attention on my very first visit to the Museum, when it was on view in On Paper: Spin, Crinkle, Pluck. Its abstract folds reminded me of an art student’s favorite still life exercise: piles on piles of dramatically lit fabric.

Throughout her work, Auerbach nods to many technical and historical themes, and in Plate Distortion II she references a centuries-long tradition of western portraiture in which clothing and drapery are rendered in marvelous detail in order to fulfill the sitter’s desire to appear wealthy and fashionable and the artist’s desire to show off technical ability. John Singleton Copley’s Mrs. Joseph Hooper (1770-1771) is an apt example of this tradition.

John Singleton Copley. Mrs. Joseph Hooper. 1770‑1771. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Dr. Morton K. Blaustein, Barbara B. Hirschhorn, and Elizabeth B. Roswell, in Memory of Jacob and Hilda K. Blaustein, BMA 1981.74

John Singleton Copley. Mrs. Joseph Hooper. 1770‑1771. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Dr. Morton K. Blaustein, Barbara B. Hirschhorn, and Elizabeth B. Roswell, in Memory of Jacob and Hilda K. Blaustein, BMA 1981.74

Studying Mrs. Joseph Hooper closely, my eyes bounce from her fair skin, dark braid and the flow of her dress dropping back to the cloth draped behind her all carefully rendered in space using perspective. Copley was a prominent portrait painter working in the American colonies during the 18th century. While working in America, Copley’s career benefited from having access to prints, particularly reproductions of old masters and 18th century English portraits. These references provided Copley with the poses and motifs to help cater to the aspirations of his American patrons.

Much as Copley’s study of prints—including the depiction of drapery—helped him to formulate his distinctive style, Auerbach’s work with the printers of Paulson-Bott Press in Berkley, CA, prompted her to explore—and push the boundaries of—the technical possibilities of printmaking. Plate Distortion II doesn’t just represent the idea of “fold”, but the work is created by the physical impression of a folded object. Auerbach worked with Paulson-Bott Press to etch copper foil, which had been crumpled by the artist. When etched and flattened the foil holds a record of its folded shape. (For more on the process used to make this print, check out Ben Levy’s video on Plate Distortion II.)

Auerbach’s work sits in the space just between the peaks and valley’s of the etched copper and the flatness of the paper. Plate Distortion II takes all of this surface speculation into account, as Auerbach considers the shift of modern and contemporary artists to investigate the image surface over the 20th and 21st centuries.