Thursday, May 17, 2012

Work: American Images, 1900–1950

This exhibition was on view from January 8–March 18, 2007 at the Kresge Art Museum, It is now available online. Claire Leighton was an equally prolific wood engraver and writer/illustrator about the technique. Her 1932 book, Wood Engraving and Woodcuts, was largely responsible for the 1930s revival of wood engraving. Sympathetic to leftist politics, Leighton often depicted heroic, strong workers engaged in centuries-old activities. Hers is a nostalgic point of view, rather than one showing the realities of increasing mechanization and economic depression.


Landing, one of Leighton’s best-known wood engravings, demonstrates why she influenced subsequent generations of American printmakers. Here the viewer is caught up in the effective perspective of the diagonally-placed logs, their swirling patterns echoed in the snow-covered hills. She also captures the sense of chill in the air and teamwork.

Architectural Cadences

While visiting Europe in 1908-09, Sheeler discovered the architectonic painting structure in the frescoes by Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca and in the work of Paul Cézanne. Their effect can be seen in the clear structure of Sheeler’s paintings and the architectural imagery of his urban and factory subjects, including skyscrapers, bridges, docks, and chimney stacks. Architectural Cadences demonstrates this perfectly with its overlapping geometric planes of varying degrees of transparency.

The look of double exposure in this print is not accidental. Sheeler had a second career as a professional photographer. During the 1920s, he photographed for Vogue, documented the Ford River Rouge Plant, and made a photo-essay on Chartres Cathedral. Many of his paintings were based on photos and the two media influenced and enhanced each other.

U.S.S. Columbia Under Construction at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, NJ

John Taylor Arms produced over 440 prints, many of them as complex as this one. An artist, author and architect, he volunteered to create four prints illustrating vessels for the Bureau of Ships during World War II. After making detailed drawings and photographs at the shipyard, he spent hundreds of hours working the plates, drawing directly on them with sewing needles to achieve the densely packed lines.

This is among his most technically accomplished prints. Here he successfully captures the might and scale of the 610 feet long, 10,000 ton cruiser that served in the first major offensive campaign against the Japanese on the Pacific front.