Essay Printmaking

Essay Printmaking-49
Between the fall of 1951 and spring of 1952, Alice Trumbull Mason (1904–1971) independently coordinated a traveling show of abstract etchings she produced in the mid-1940s at Atelier 17, the avant-garde printmaking workshop located in New York City between 19 (fig. Mason sent unsolicited letters to university galleries and regional art centers describing her show, comprised of nineteen etchings featuring biomorphic shapes, soft-ground textures, and embossed surfaces, such as To justify her credentials to these unknown correspondents, Mason cited awards from annuals at the Philadelphia Print Club (1946) and the Society of American Graphic Artists (1948) and listed major institutions which owned her prints like the Brooklyn Museum of Art (BKM), Museum of Modern Art (Mo MA), Library of Congress (LOC), and New York Public Library (NYPL). After confirming the first venue at the University of Wyoming, then a major hub for modernist art education, she booked five other locations for the show (fig. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Print Club of Philadelphia Permanent Collection, 1946-38-1. Alice Trumbull Mason, Interference of Closed Forms (1945) Engraving and etching (soft ground) with gouging.

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This analysis will suggest that two factors primarily contribute to why making prints at Atelier 17 served as a breakthrough for women artists' careers.

First, prints are highly mobile—nothing more than lightweight, thin sheets of paper.

For example, the Society of American Etchers conceded in 1947 to open membership to artists of all aesthetic persuasions who practiced printmaking techniques besides etching.

Dorothy Noyes Arms, wife of John Taylor Arms who served as the organization's longtime president, noted poetically that the renamed Society of American Etchers, Gravers, Lithographers and Woodcutters, “rose phoenixlike from the ashes of the old.” These various special sections covered trends and exhibitions in the printmaking world and reviewed new print publications. Sheet: 42.8 x 61 cm (16 7/8 x 24 in.) Yale University Art Gallery, Anonymous Purchase Fund, 1977.10.7 Image courtesy Yale University Art Gallery Art courtesy of the Estate of the Artist and The Susan Teller Gallery, NY, NY.

Mason's experiences as a painter were not isolated; there was little market or critical support for women artists' paintings and sculptures.

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Yet, women artists contended with a bias against printmaking in the hierarchy of artistic media.

The number in the location bubble represents the number of prints shown at each venue.

A seventh point in New York City represents a solo show of Mason's woodcuts at Wittenborn Gallery in 1952.

Multiple impressions of the same edition could be sent to venues across America and the world, allowing women's prints to be shown in several places simultaneously.

Second, women were highly motivated to develop a dynamic artistic network through their activities as printmakers.

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