Friday, September 27, 2013

tulsa wichita road trip

Ten members visited the Gilgrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 22 this past summer. They listened to Joni Kinsey PhD, Professor of American art history from the University of Iowa. She presented "Thomas Moran, Louis Prang and the Chromo Controversy." She was the author of Thomas Moran's West: Chromolithography, High Art, and Popular Taste (2006, University Press of Kansas).  Some points from the talk follow.
     Chromolithography was originally developed to enable printmakers to produce images of the texture and richness of oil paintings. Some of the most important artists of the period, including Jasper Cropsey, William Harnett, and Frederick Church, had their paintings reproduced using this complex medium. This is one of the most successful such projects, with chromolithographer William Dreser, using many layers of color, being able to closely follow the appearance of the original painting. (Joni Kinsey
Yellowstone, Tower Falls
(double click on images to see enlarged)

      “Thomas Moran, Louis Prang and the Chromo Controversy” explores a fascinating series of fifteen color reproductions of Moran’s watercolors that L. Prang and Co. of Boston published in 1876. Renowned today as the finest examples of chromolithography ever produced, in the 1870s these prints were at the center of a heated controversy about the impact of reproductions on popular taste.  This lecture explored the origins, marketing, reception, and ultimately tragic fate of these remarkable pictures. (Joni Kinsey)
       These are considered the finest example of Chromolithographs. They were the first full-color images of the west in their time. They combined book art and commercial work. Chromo – the ability to produce a print with “natural colors” was a revolution in the printing process. They were four color (red, yellow, blue, black). A “Chromist”  was the person who used their eye to separate the four colors and plan the number of litho stones that were needed to render the final print. From 44 to 60 stones PER PRINT were used to produce the final print. Prang produced “progressive proof print” books to educate the public regarding this process. Over time, it should be noted, blues fade and whites yellow.  (Joni Kinsey)
Yellowstone, Gardiners River
Now to the conflict....  The art critics of the time (Clarence Cook in particular) claimed the “democratization of art” eroded the 'proper right taste in art.' Class conflict ensued in that 'elites' saw Prang's operation as “making mere reproductions, fakes, this was a 'sham' on the public, that these successful illusions were a threat to real art.” The word “Chromo” became synonymous with: tasteless, false, reproduced, lacking in high moral value, society on the road to ruin. Like false diamonds, fake hair or false teeth, they were but an attempt to make something disgusting 'pretty.' [Keep in mind the 'Ash Can School of the time and its controversy.] (Joni Kinsey)

It is always informative to see field work next to final works. Seeing the commissioned watercolors next to the field work and the final chromo made the trip well worth it!!  robin gross

The exhibit certainly helped underscore the fact that Moran was busy and did much more than large Western Landscapes. For those of us that are Hudson River School fans the museum also had on display paintings by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill and Moran's monumental "Shoshone Falls on the Snake River."  john mallery

More thoughts on reproductions and modern day Giclee prints-----
Ruthie Osa: I heard this concern at the lecture and thought it was still compelling. I sell Giclees of my work and occasionally so has Doug. We NEVER sell them as anything but reproductions - like a poster. The quality is very good and somewhat lightfast and long lasting. That makes them a lovely and desirable print to put on the wall - but NOT a collector item. We price them accordingly. 
         A multi-color litho is quite an undertaking for a master print maker. The quality is very important and in the right hands is an amazing work of craftsmanship. But in the situation they were describing in Tusla, the original painting is the work of art - the litho a tremendous work of a team of craftsmen. From the artist's experience, no new creative process is happening - it is skillful reproduction.
Karl Marxhausen: So, if I understand you correctly, Ruthie, the multi-color litho, the chromolitho, was produced by a team of craftsmen, to create a skillful reproduction, but that does not make it an "original work of art."

In your opinion, do you think the craftsmen were trying to "cash in" on Thomas Moran's success? Creating a hype around the value of the reproduction?
Ruthie Osa: Absolutely. These craftsmen were amazing at their craft! But it was the POPULARITY OF THE PAINTING that created any market for the lithos. Reproductions play a very important part in art appreciation and education. They are valuable. Have you ever seen the original Mona Lisa? - I haven't seen the originals of many of my favorite paintings - but still have "experienced" them through the gift of reproductions. However, when I do get the chance to see the original, the reproductions always pale by comparison.
Karl Marxhausen: Are you also saying that the value of the reproduction could never be as great as the original painting? Not the same sum of money?
Ruthie Osa:  Again, that is exactly what I am saying. Reproductions are important - but not of great monetary value. Without them, the masses would miss the experience of fine art at large. And when reproductions are affordable, the masses can "own" the pictures they love. Unfortunately, this hurts the lower end original art market. The public tends to buy reproductions at a very low cost rather than supporting the lesser known artists by buying their lower cost artwork. (email Sept 7, 2013)
Curtis Smith: I was amazed how much work went into making a chromolithograph. 
My impression is that Giclee is best quality of mass production/a high quality poster arena. A strange range to be sure. Cost fits in this same range. Double the cost of a cheap poster but half the cost of signed numbered litho or etching by the same artist. (email Sept 5, 2013)
The Gilcrease Museum did not allow photography any kind, so no pics from within. Here is a pic of the group trying to figure out where to eat.   
Good eats at Caz's Chowhouse
This was the Print Society's first road trip with an overnighter. We set the bar high. Two spectacular exhibits taken in. And executed without a hitch.    robin gross
     On Sunday the group drove up from Oklahoma to Kansas to view Prints and Print Makers in Wichita, 1916-1946: C.A. Seward and Friends" at the Wichita Art Museum. That exhibition gave tribute to Wichita artist C.A. Seward (1884-1939). Seward helped establish Wichita as an important national center for print making in the 1920s through 1940s. The exhibition was guest curated by Barbara Thompson, granddaughter of C.A. Seward.

Annette LeZotte was our museum contact.
She gave us a 'high lights' of the
Barbara Thompson presentation. 

     In her book, "In the Middle of America: Printmaking & Print Exhibitions," Thompson provides a visual history of printmaking in Wichita, which began with Walter Vincent and C.A. Seward in the early 20th century. Individually, they created print advertising and logo design for local businesses, including Coleman and Mentholatum. The two commercial art innovators joined forces when Seward became the art director at Western Lithograph, allowing him to pursue printmaking as his life's work.

     Seward's prints were accepted nationally, and even internationally, in exhibits in Paris, London and Florence. The Smithsonian selected 60 of his prints for a solo exhibition in 1931, and he was honored with a dozen solo exhibits over the next 10 years.

     Seward was a gifted artist, but it was his work as an advocate for the arts that set him apart from other artists of the time. He organized a Wichita-based print exhibition that became recognized nationally, and he formed the beloved Prairie Print Makers.

    This full-color exhibition catalog is very well done. It not only provides education on the printmaking history of our town, but it also honors Wichita's supportive arts community through their art of print collecting. (Review by Beth Golay, courtesy of Watermark Books,, and Wichita Art Museum Store,, accessed Sept. 27, 2013)

The prints on display at the Wichita Art Museum were wonderful. Learning more about the "network" of print makers was exciting. Seeing Prairie Print Makers that were also members of other societies in other geographic locations was intriguing.  john mallery
(To see list of Prairie Print Maker members CLICK on, accessed Sept 12, 2013) 
It underscored the fact that even with good photographs - even of black and white art, the camera cannot capture the true "look and feel" of the original work. john mallery 
I could barely take my eyes off of the John Taylor work. It was technically amazing.  robin gross 
Gene Kloss -- her dry points are better than warm dark chocolate. robin gross
    At WAM we were treated like Royalty - a private room for lunch, a private presentation and an opportunity to see the Herschel Logan works. Very fun.   john mallery   
    In the non public area of the museum, we were taken to view their expensive Herschel Logan collection that hangs in their office area.  robin gross

Also having the opportunity to see works from the Museum's permanent collection was an added bonus - there were works by Thomas Eakins, George Bellows, Walt Kuhn, John Stuart Curry, Winslow Homer, Arthur Dove, George Grosz, Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt - to name a few.   john mallery

The group drove back to Kansas City, Missouri later that Sunday, June 23. Home sweet home.

Photos by John Mallery and Robin Gross.Thanks to Ruthie and Doug Osa, David & Roxie McGee, John and Paula Mallery, Beth Lurey, Curtis and Judy Smith, and Robin Gross for their comments.

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