Monday, March 26, 2012

The Prairie Print Makers by Barbara Thompson O’Neill, George C. Foreman, and Howard W. Ellington

A fine tribute to Kansas’s greatest artists
This beautiful little volume, a slim 60 pages, may be the best book available on the Prairie Print Makers. Officially formed in 1930, this confederation of print makers was founded by ten Kansas artists: C. A. Seward, Birger Sandzén, Leo Courtney, Charles M. Capps, Lloyd C. Foltz, Herschel C. Logan, Clarence Hotvedt, Edmund M. Kopietz, Arthur W. Hall, and Norma Bassett Hall. The book begins with an introduction describing the formation, mission, and activities of the group, along with a brief synopsis of its history. This is followed by short biographies of the ten founding artists. Most of the founders started out as graphic artists working for print shops in Wichita or Topeka, with the notable exception of Sandzén, an art professor born and educated in Sweden who became one of the greatest artists ever to call Kansas home. The art that the Prairie Print Makers produced was of a regional realist style. They worked in all print media: woodcut, linocut, etching, aquatint, drypoint, lithography, and even serigraphy in the later years. Their by-laws stated that art produced for the organization should be derived from nature, thus landscapes of Kansas were prevalent, but many of the artists also had connections to the Taos, New Mexico art scene, so southwestern imagery was also common. Eventually the group grew to include artists from all over the U.S. and even Canada, including Luigi Lucioni, Stow Wengenroth, Clare Leighton, and Maynard Dixon. The book does not discuss these later members in detail, only lists their names, but it does include about a dozen images from artists outside the original ten.

This brief 9 x 12" saddle-stitched booklet is well designed and printed in two colors, black and tan, on high quality paper. The 72 illustrations are reproduced big and beautiful in black and white, with some duotones. (Norma Bassett Hall was the only founding member to print extensively in color.) This book was published by a gallery in Wichita, and for that reason is probably intended to serve more as a collector’s guide than a biography of the group. Thus the accounts of the artists are entirely positive with copious details of their accomplishments, sometimes reading more like resumés than biographies, but they are penned in a sufficiently lively style that genuinely inspires enthusiasm for these artists and their accomplishments.

The Prairie Print Makers produced some of the finest art ever to come out of the American midwest. They deserve a full-length scholarly monograph with 200 full-page illustrations. Until we get that, this is the best reference on the subject. The authors did an admirable job with this book. It is a valued volume in my collection.

Birger Sandzén, Smokey River, lithograph, 12 x 18"

Herschel C. Logan, Fodder in the Shock, blockprint, 5 x 7"

Charles M. Capps, Moonlit Mills, aquatint etching, 7.5 x 9.5"

For more information on the Prairie Print Makers, and more images of their work, see the web site of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas in Lawrence:

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