Tuesday, May 3, 2022

C.A. Seward: Artist and Draughtsman by Carole Gardner, et al.

Middle America’s printmaker extraordinaire
Born on a ranch in sparsely populated central Kansas, Coy Avon Seward (1884-1939) grew up to become one of his home state’s most accomplished artists, achieving national and international acclaim. Printmaking was his medium of expertise, and he also worked professionally in the printing and graphic arts industries. Not only was Seward a founding member of the Prairie Print Makers, he was the guiding force behind the organization’s formation and its operations over the first decade of its existence. Seward exhibited his lithographs, etchings, and block prints in America and Europe and received many awards for his work. The book C.A. Seward: Artist and Draughtsman was published by the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas as the catalogue to their exhibition of Seward’s prints in 2010.

The book contains two biographical essays on Seward. The first is written by three of his grandchildren: Carole Gardner, Barbara Thompson, and David Thompson. Barbara Thompson, under the name of Barbara Thompson O’Neill, previously wrote the book The Prairie Print Makers, which although brief is probably the best available overview of that group’s history and a beautiful little book to boot. I don’t know if she is a professional art historian, but she writes like a good one. Seward’s three grandchildren have compiled a very comprehensive chronicle of the artist’s career that also shows revealing insights into his generous and enthusiastic character. Seward was not only a great artist but also very active in many arts organizations, staging print exhibitions, and teaching and promoting other artists. Reading about his career in the early 20th century makes one nostalgic for the days when representational landscapes were better appreciated and successful careers were built on talent, hard work, and goodwill among fellow artists.

The second essay is by Spencer Museum curator Kate Mayer. Unfortunately, much of her chapter repeats what was in the first essay. That’s not a criticism of her writing but rather the fault of whoever edited the book. More attention should have been paid to avoiding redundancy.

Among the appendices is a catalog raisonné of all of Seward’s prints, though it is brief and only states the most basic data like title, date, and size. Not all of his 171 prints are pictured in the book, but more than 150 of them are. The most (and perhaps only) disappointing aspect of Seward’s superb body of work is that he only made a dozen block prints. From those few examples (including the gorgeous book cover), it is evident that he was a master of the linocut, at least in regards to landscapes. One can only wish that he had made more of these beautiful relief prints, but he preferred lithography and etching, and excelled at both.

The Spencer Museum of Art consistently produces books of very fine quality, and this publication is no exception. Seward’s prints look fabulous in these pages, and any fan of his work should seek out this book, which can be viewed for free online at the Spencer Museum’s issuu site. The prevailing history of art in America tends to stress that all worthwhile accomplishments were made within the creative spheres of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. However, there is a whole other history of exceptional artists who excelled in every corner of America, particularly during the heyday of regional realism. Seward is one such lesser-known modern master, and this lovely and well-executed book is a testament to the fact that talented artists on the Great Plains could compete with their big-city brethren.
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Prints by C.A. Seward

Mountains and Desert, lithograph, 1929

Land of Mystery, linoleum cut1930

Washerwoman’s Alley, etching, 1932

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