“The Fine Art of Printmaking”

The Fine Art of Printmaking

Susan Soriente, LUX Center for the Arts Historical Collections Curator

View in Gladys M. Lux Print Collection: September 3, 2015 through January 5, 2016

The Development of Printmaking

The first known engravings were done by prehistoric cave dwellers who cut designs into stones, bones and cave walls. Stencils of hand prints on cave walls are eerie remnants from the first known print artists. The duplication of engraved images began some 3,000 years ago when Sumerian craftsmen engraved designs on stone cylinder seals. Printing was not considered an art form; rather it was a medium of communication. Academics think that the Chinese produced a primitive form of print, the rubbing, as far back as the 2nd century CE. The Japanese made the first authenticated prints, wood-block rubbings of Buddhist charms, in the late-middle eighth century CE.

There are various speculative ideas about the origin of artists’ printmaking in Europe. Some believe that armor makers in the 1500s wanted a record of their decorative metal work so they inked their designs and pressed paper onto the images to save them. Others believe printmaking had a directly artistic beginning. Whatever its start, print making has been a boon to those of limited means who appreciate and desire to own art.

Traditionally oil paintings, water colors, and sculptures were the province of the wealthy elites. Status and cost made artwork unavailable or unaffordable for the majority of people but the advent of artists’ prints offered for purchase at very reasonable prices changed that. Their sale expanded and enhanced the art market for buyers and artists. Developments in printmaking and the increase in prints mirrored the emerging middle class in the 1800s through the 1900s as it grew in Europe and the Americas.

In 1934, a group named the Associated American Artists or AAA was begun in the United States to foster art appreciation and ownership. It selected up and coming artists to make prints in a limited edition of 250 to offer to their members. AAA catalogs were mailed monthly to members to choose prints to purchase, eliminating the need to travel to large cities to see and select artwork. This successful venture of mail order prints provided an outlet for art patrons of modest means across the United States and helped struggling artists too. Ms. Gladys Lux was a member of this group and many pieces in her collection came from the AAA.

The popularity of prints inspired artists to experiment and devise new techniques in printmaking. The six main types of prints are highlighted in The Fine Art of Printmaking exhibition with divisions within some types to demonstrate specific techniques. Two of the types are etchings and engravings which are “intaglio” (pronounced in-tal-yoh) prints and are printed from metal plates with incised images. A third is the lithograph which is a print made from an image drawn on a hard surface. These prints are called “planographic”. Woodcuts and wood engravings are “relief” prints—the image is taken from the original surface of the wood that remains after carving the woodblock. The sixth type of printmaking in this exhibit is serigraph or silkscreen print which are images printed from screened stencils.

Among artists included in the exhibition are four—Alexander Archipenko, Mervin Jules, Chaim Koppelman, and Richard Florsheim whose works were offerings from Associated American Artists.  Also in the exhibit are well known artists such as Francisco Goya, Henri de Toulous-Lautrec, Gene Kloss, and Andō Hiroshige. The Fine Art of Printmaking exhibition is designed to illustrate the main types of prints and educate viewers about the different types of printmaking. It may be seen in the second floor Gladys Lux Historical Gallery at the LUX Center for the Arts from September 3, 2015 through January 5, 2016.