I’m a super fan of intaglio printmaking—intaglio refers to printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface and the incised line or sunken area holds the ink—and I always wanted to do a series of shows on techniques, starting with, of course, intaglio. (Sorry folks, lithography would be last; well, maybe screenprinting.) Stanley William Hayter was a great practitioner of intaglio printmaking, as were all of the artists who worked with him at Atelier 17. Many of them established or ran university printmaking departments, including Gabor Peterdi, who taught at Yale from 1960 to 1986. One of Peterdi’s students was Peter Milton, who must stand as one of the great intaglio printmakers of the latter part of the 20th century.
The BMA has a handful of Milton’s prints. One of the most spectacular, Interiors IV: Hotel Paradise Café (1987), is mindblowing for students in MICA professor Tru Ludwig's History of Prints classes. Upon its unveiling one would hear choruses of “wow!” along with mutters of “it’s so not fair.” Its intricacies have both inspired and depressed young printmakers. Tru and I are both fans and when we had the opportunity to hear Milton speak at Jane Haslem’s Washington, D.C., gallery, we jumped at the chance to meet him. After the talk we approached and he and Tru bonded over everything from techniques to history to all the esoteric details that appear in his prints. It was also there that I spied one of his drawings for his series The Aspern Papers, which I eventually acquired for the BMA—more on that in another post. During their conversation, Peter told Tru that he considered the copper plates to be the most beautiful things he makes. The lightbulb went off and the next thing we knew, Tru and I were working together with James Archer Abbott, then director of Evergreen Museum and Library, to curate an exhibition of Milton’s plates, prints, and preparatory drawings.
Several trips were made to Milton’s New Hampshire studio and home, where we were welcomed by Peter and his lovely wife, Edith. There we got to interview him, see where the magic happens, and select the plates and other works to be included in the show. To my mind, Milton’s Interiors series is his most important. We included five of the seven plates from that series including The Train from Munich (1995), which focuses on Edith’s 1939 departure from Germany as one of 10,000 children sent on a Kindertransport train taking unaccompanied Jewish children to the United Kingdom for the duration of the war. [Edith and her sister lived with a British family for seven years and she eventually published an excellent memoir about that time called Tiger in the Attic (a NYT review is here: https://bit.ly/MiltonTigerinAttic).] The Train from Munich graces the cover of the catalogue produced for the Evergreen show and it is written about in depth therein. The link to the PDF catalogue is here: https://bit.ly/MiltonCatalogue.
Working on the show, I think Tru had the most fun job. He was the muscle responsible for polishing the copper plates. This is no easy task and takes patience and perseverance. In the end, we both agree with Peter. The copper plates are stunningly beautiful and reveal things, objects, and moments that are easily missed in the printed versions. It was an honor to work with this titan of printmaking. And, we owe one last thank you to Jim Abbott for letting us make a dream come true.
Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.