Platemark series two: History of Prints
Click here to access Episode 202 | the beginnings with link to audio:
[Transcript has been edited for clarity and flow]
Ann Shafer: Hi, welcome to Platemark series two, which is covering the history of Western printmaking. I'm Ann Shafer, your host, and I'm joined by my friend and colleague, Tru Ludwig, who is a teacher extraordinaire and a printmaker himself.
Tru Ludwig: Oh, shucks.
AS: So, this is episode two. Last time we talked about the class that we taught together at the Maryland Institute College of Art. 15 years in conjunction with my position at the Baltimore Museum of Art using the print collection there. And this time we're going to start talking about the basics of the history of prints. We're not going to get too far into specific people but talk about society and how it developed. And why it’s awesome and why we love it.
TL: And one thing to keep in mind is that, that this isn't the history of prints, it's a history of prints. The way I taught it was to a group of young artists at the Maryland Institute College of Art. So it is definitely geared towards makers. I'm not going to try to keep track of every jot and tittle, like those who might be at the Ivys or something like that. I try to keep my art history very real, down to earth. Probably far more colloquial than some, but it worked for our student artists, and they turned into pretty great students.
AS: Well, yeah, when you're not choosing art history as your mode and you’d rather be in your studio, creating. it's challenging to engage them. So you're walking up pretty fine line between straight-up history and colloquial speech, and bringing it down to a level that's not high in the clouds.
TL: This is most certainly true. And it cracks me up because most art students are like, “I'm not good with names” and that's okay, swell. And “I'm not good with dates.” Okay. I would always tell them that it was a way of making… art history needs to be useful to you, because most of them would blanche, if I said, well, at Maryland Institute, you're going to have to take five art history classes before you graduate. “Art history.” Yes, it is the language and history of what you do. And of course, they were full converts by the time we concluded.
AS: Of course, they were. All right. So before we get into it, we want to make clear as usual, our positionality as artists, friends, people, and speakers to the public. I identify as a cis-het white woman, and I use the pronouns she/her. We are recording this in Baltimore, Maryland. In fact, we're sitting in the same room, recording it. Same mic. Which is unusual. But we're sitting in the Purple Crayon Press in Charles Village, Baltimore, and it is the land of the Piscataway Conoy people.
TL: And I identify as a gay, white trans man and I use he/him pronouns. And I'm happy as I can be sitting here looking right at Ann as we talk.
AS: Sometimes being in the same space helps.
TL: Yes, indeed.
AS: All right. So remember everybody that we're talking about Western printmaking. We don't pretend to be able to tell you the history of Eastern printmaking. It's a whole other thing. It's its own thing. And, it goes back way farther than Western printmaking. So, we're going to jump in probably in Germany, I guess when we jump.
TL: Ish. About 1400, but indeed our friends on the far side of the planet figured out paper several centuries before we did, they were printing with blocks and printing language centuries before we were.
AS: Movable type.
TL: Moveable type. Yet the Diamond Sutra was from 800. So, we didn't get to it. I think we were too busy being at war with each other. You know, the period of the migrations, the Vikings, the Huns, and the Goths, and the Visigoths. It took a stable society, I think, to get their poop in a group, to be able to say “maybe we should pay attention to this too.”
AS: Organized religion and all that.
TL: Well, there is that.
AS: You'll find that there is a through-line of religion through the early part of the history of prints.
TL: And it is inescapable and it shouldn't be something that needs to be escaped because it was something that did keep the thin skin around civilization. It gave a structure that was tremendously useful and the Church was also a phenomenally important patron. And so, you can start blaming the 18th century and the air quotes, Enlightenment, on the lowering necessity of the Church as an organizing factor. And even the questioning of the need for a God. When we're starting out, it's really going to be an issue of the importance of the Church and how the print could be used as a mode of expression to help teach. Using images to teach people who couldn't read. Giving people a pocket protector of a Saint Christopher, let us say, a small print in their pocket to protect them from whatever disease might befall them on the road, since they had no idea what caused it. It was a very functional art form, really.
AS: Doesn't it align with the sort of breaking down of the serfdom society, where you have just the upper echelons who practice religion, and that there was an evening of access to religion?
TL: Absolutely. One of the things for me as an Iowa kid is that, I'm just such an egalitarian kind of person and I always buck authority and I always buck class structures. That's one of the things that made me fall in love with printmaking because it really was, and in some cases still is, the people's art. And it really can address people at every level of society. There is, even when we start in 1400, 1450 or so, the idea that certain kinds of prints were collected or rather owned by different calibers or classes of people. The upper echelon would probably want engravings and the lower classes would probably get woodcuts because…
AS: An uncolored one…
TL: Yes, because they were far more accessible and affordable.
AS: That's so fascinating to me that the engravings are the engravings, but the woodcuts have this range from finely hand colored to sort of not-so-great hand colored, to not colored at all so that there were there even more layers.
TL: Absolutely. And even within the history of prints, we've got the invention of techniques and how sometimes it's driven by need, sometimes by peculiar discoveries. But it's a fascinating social history is what it really is. And that's the beauty of the history of prints. It really does cut across political lines. It cuts across societal lines and class structures. And so each of the kinds of prints can serve different purposes. You could have something that would be a memento, or it could be a postcard from your trip, when you took the Grand Tour in the 18th century. Or it could be in the 19th century, when lithography was invented. My dear Honoré Daumier came up with caricatures and biting social commentary. Then there's screenprinting, which really took off in the 20th century, which just basically defies paint. It can be multi colors that could be an affordable way to have artwork, if you will.
AS: If you've listened to series one, you will have heard me say something about really being drawn to art history as the social, cultural history of the world and people in it. It's kind of funny, because printmaking is even more…
TL: It’s all of it.
TL: You get everything. It's not just Mr. Richie Rich could get a portrait painter. He could sit for a portrait painter and have this as a memento for his family. But the idea that the print serves all of these different kinds of possible functions. And the other part of it is that a print is going to be in your space and it reaches more than one person and it tends to be something that's handheld. So there's a much more intimate encounter with this thing, even if it was pasted to the wall or pasted in an album or on a post to announce something that was coming up in a city, it is still a far more accessible form of visual encounter. It, in many ways, defies the ability or inability to read. Visual communications, graphic communication. It is indeed graphic because if you make a dull image, why is anybody going to look at it? With print you can have all of that. And it is indeed in your space. The people's art. That's important to me.
Prints could be used for social reform. That's where Martin Luther could be seen as one of the people that really started that with the Reformation and translating the Bible into German, the people's language. Because they didn't want to listen to it in Latin. Or he had said, let's have it be for the people. And having images for this New Testament. Prints are, as I said, affordable. They could be quite potentially within the economic means of a more average person. And of course, the print is an educational tool. There still Lutheran schools out there because it was Luther that said, “Hey, everybody should be able to read and go into your closets and pray. You should be able to have access to the word of God through the Bible” and in prints, but also in the images that accompanied the Bible. It's a fascinating kind of a tool. And I appreciate that. The fact that it could be everywhere. It's not just a painting on a wall in one place that you go visit. Like when you go to the Prado and you go see Las Meninas or The Garden of Earthly Delights? They totally rock.
AS: I mean, it's an awesome painting, but there's something, I don't know if something happened with it.
Doesn't matter… It was underwhelming in person.
TL: I don't know about that. I was whelmed. Definitely whelmed. Then again sculptures, occupy our space too, and you could do a 360 around them. But the fact that prints could come out of their hiding spot, if they're in a book, or that you can revisit it again and again, like listening to a recording of something that you love. That it's there for you. That to me is amazing. And if you think about how was art history taught? Well, Winckelmann, the father of Western art history, he never went to Greece. He never went to Rome. He studied prints of the stuff from there. When I'm teaching this class, I have a slide of two portraits of Winckelmann. He's got prints sitting right beside him because that's how he learned it. They're portable museums.
AS: They are the paper museum.
TL: Yes. And that is a delightful thing to me.
AS: It's incredible, really, that society and things happening in society push print and print media, but it's also true that it goes the other way. They're completely entwined with each other.
TL: Absolutely. It’s sort of like a Caduceus. They just kind of weave in and out, back and forth. And sometimes I think print can push things forward and sometimes the need for a new way to communicate can push print forward. All of those things—and I may have said it in the first episode—when you're looking at an image… I ask my students to sit with an image and look at it for a long period of time, and not passively. Be an active looker, because if you're looking at a fireplace, those flames are dancing, they're changing all the time, and there's always the opportunity for new discoveries. So, with that, it's the people's art. And then we have to try and figure stuff out about people and the virtually impossible task of how to imagine this image in its place and in its time.
The idea of this icon that is made by someone while that someone is an artist. Well, what are the restrictions or the motivations for that artist? And there's a huge difference because an artist in the Middle Ages who was doing a prescribed image, such as an icon or the Virgin Mary holding the infant baby Jesus, this is a recipe that still holds even today. I have one upstairs, by the way, that is the same exact version as something was painted a thousand years ago. But, in each of the two cases with the print, the change of an artist from an artisan to our conception of an artist, that it's art, because I say it's art, or I can paint what I need to paint or create what I need, is also a way of thinking about what is the audience that that work that this individual is making, who are the patrons, who's going to buy this, or who is going to refuse to buy it?
What is the audience? Who are those people that the artist is trying to reach? And what is it that the artist is looking at? Where is that person getting their ideas? How are they extending those or obliterating them or mocking them? Because some of the best prints from Lutheran times are the cartoons about the Reformation or the Counter Reformation. They're actually quite scurrilous and shocking. To the point where there's even some of nuns and you lift the little garment on the nun. Oh yeah. They're interactive. And there's naughtiness underneath…
AS: Oh. A flap of paper that you lift.
AS: Oh, hell.
TL: Or Luther as a wolf in sheep's clothing and you lift up his robes and there are his little wolf legs sticking down. This idea of what is the print in its own context and at least being somewhat sensitive to how that image was intended and also realize that people are very clever. There've been centerfolds in books since the 15th century, generally they were maps as opposed to Playboy bunnies. Isn't that magazine dead now?
AS: Oh, that's a good question.
TL: So, one of the lines from Linda Hults’ amazing book that we mentioned before… She'd said that printmaking is the only form of fine art that can be both an artistic and a commercial mode of expression. Commercial mode of expression. Well, that idea of, if you're going to make one, you're going to be making more because prints depend on multiples. You've got a matrix, whether it's carved or etched or drawn onto a litho stone. But the idea is to pull more than one. Maybe it's because I always root for the underdog because printmaking is always considered the ugly stepchild of fine art paintings. Because it's linked to popular audiences. Because it can be functional. Because it could be used for advertising or political cartoons or reproductions of other artists’ work. Or even illustrations, which of course opens up a whole other can of worms…
AS: That’s a whole other chapter.
TL: Because there's still a gulf between fine artists and illustrators. If you were to go to Maryland Institute College of Art, we'd see plenty of discussion on that. Or maybe now it's the elephant in the room that we're not discussing.
AS: Oh, maybe. That is the difference between having an assignment to illustrate something, draw something versus...
TL: For a client.
AS: Right. Versus your own self-generated brainchild.
TL: So I guess you could say that Cranach might've been an illustrator.
AS: Lucas Cranach?
TL: Because he did like 50 portraits of Luther, for sure, in paint, and then certainly had done a number of images of him in print to spread his idea. If you think of Luther in the same way as Frederick Douglass, who was the most photographed person of the 19th century. I find that fascinating. It's the same thing with Luther being visibly available, prints make that possible.
AS: I think that the thing that's hard for art-viewer people like us today is that when we view prints in general, unless you really are a collector and are lucky, that we see them behind glass on a wall of a museum. And so the utility of it is a thing that you can't really experience.
TL: Unless maybe you're in a library that's got some wonderful first editions.
AS: But you still won't stick it in your coat pocket and take a walk over the Alps.
TL: Indeed. The Alps. We'll get to know the importance of the Alps. Actually, I was watching a Rick Steves special this past weekend and realizing that barrier between Northern Europe and Southern Europe. You look at what it took to climb those Alps. That's going to be a situation as to why ideas traveled perhaps a little bit more slowly in the 15th century than they might've later on, because you're still doing that on foot or in a horse drawn something or other. It's just the facts of that…
AS: It’s not like there’s a 7-11 on every corner as you go.
TL: Absolutely. Right. Oh, and then the other idea, as you had said, Ann, about illustrations as being something that you were doing for a client. Well, okay. But then I always come up with a self-defense that the Sistine ceiling is an illustration. So Pope Julius said, I want this.
AS: Any commissioned painting would be.
TL: Oh, absolutely. So we could get real snotty about it. And some people do. There's also those who would say, well, it's too associated with craft.
AS: Oh, dirty word.
TL: Listen, when I was starting out, there was a particular professor who was like, “well, your work is just so illustrative.” Okay. It is. That's fine with me. But the other thing about printmaking is that it requires craft… craftsmanship. Okay, craftspersonship, whatever. But it requires a certain amount of technical skill and knowledge. Printmaking is definitely not something you take up on a whim like, Hey, I think I'm going to become an engraver. Doesn't happen. Because it's the most unforgiving kind of a mode of carving an image into a copper plate, or what have you…
AS: Right. The spontaneity of creation is tempered.
TL: I always say it's really delayed gratification. Because you have an idea in your head. Then you come up with a drawing, somehow put it onto a plate—and it has to be in reverse—and you either carve it or etch it in reverse because once it goes to the press, it comes up right reading. Well, that means in this incredible time-consuming process that there's a huge delay between impulse and the final result. So the craft of that is imperative and impeccable, if it's well done.
AS: Do you think that's contributed to it's being questioned as the craft piece?
TL: See, that's the problem for me because craftsmanship, I expect that of my students.
AS: It’s the default, right? It should be.
TL: Right. It should be. Indeed, for mastering your craft. And we can have a whole conversation about the idea of mastering something, but… Well, okay. Craft. What about it? Well, it's oh, that's a craft. It's not an art. Well, okay. So I had a coworker at Maryland Institute whose job it was to teach, I don't know, students how to use Moodle or some other stupid computer thing with a yappy name. Moodle? Really? This is a college. Can we call it something else?
AS: It’s catchy. You remember it.
TL: It offends me. But at any rate, this pleasant fellow walked up to me and I'm staring at the copier. He goes, “Tru, what's a difference between art and craft?” I stood there and stuff's going through a copier, and I looked at him and said, “arrogance.” A maker is a maker is a maker. I mean, if you're making potholders, that's one thing. But some of the most brilliant things that are ever made could be denigrated as craft. And so I think we have to get rid of some of that kind of chauvinism, too.
AS: Well, there’s the utilitarian piece of craft. If you can put a dividing line between something that's used and something that’s purely aesthetic...
TL: They used to call them applied arts. And then it became decorative arts. Well, now wait a minute in Ann's world, the museum world, “that's just so decorative.” Again, perjorative. So, terminology can be a problem. But the idea of the impulse and then the final product. Well, let's say we go back to the Renaissance when the whole print shop concept was starting out. It astonished me at first to find out there was a division of labor. The person called the Reiser, the artist, would have had the idea. And let's say that they did a drawing on paper and that drawing would have been transferred to a woodblock or glued to it. And then another person would come along, and they would carve it. That's what they do. So that person was called the Formschneider, the form cutter, literally. And they're the people that would carve away the extraneous wood and leave just the lines of the drawing there, raised so that they could be inked for printing. And then he'd hand that off to another person who would ink up that block and put it on the press. That person is called the Drucker. He’s the guy who pulls it through the press.
AS: Are there any women?
TL: Could be, you know, there's some new stuff out there, but it's not like you're going to see it in…
AS: Probably daughters.
TL: Oh, of course. I'm sure it's like, here you can druck and you can…
AS: You can set the paper on the press.
TL: Seriously. But honestly, we just don't know enough yet. And like many of those woodcuts, maybe it was just so common and got so used that everybody's forgotten it. But there, there was an article about women's hands making prints that came out not too long ago that I probably should ferret out. At any rate. So, let's say that your Reiser has come up with the image and your Formschneider's cut it. And your Drucker has pulled it. Now you've got this piece of paper with an image on it. Ooh, isn't that cool. Now, Mr. Client, Mrs. Client, you've got a print. Do you like this? Yes. I love it. Well do you want it like this or…
AS: Do you want a hand colored?
TL: Correct. Well, that's going to cost you a little bit more and we're going to have to paint that sheet. And that's the Briefmaler, the person that paints on the sheet of paper. So, they could do it. They could either do it through a stencil, which would mean things don't always match up. Or they could do each sheet separately. And, for instance, the Baltimore Museum of Art has two versions of Dürer’s Ecce Homo. Here's Christ Presented to the People. And in black and white, of course, it's stunning and lovely and wonderful, but for the Fox TV folks that needed it in color, or maybe the people that could afford it, it was hand colored. They took the time to color in some bricks green and some blocks not green. The cloak got to be blue. And then there was some gilded little tidbits here and there. But the worst part was all a little driblets of blood. So, it was really vivid…
TL: Totally. And of course, I'm sure the client adored having their magnificently colored sheet, but as a purist who carves, the idea of, of covering up some of those lines that you've carved in. The opacity of what you're brushing on could mar… I would bet you cash money that Dürer was like, don't you get that near my image. Because he was the master of making things gray. There's an on switch and an off switch when you do relief printing, particularly there's the white of the paper and the black of the ink on it. And Dürer was such a complete artist and could seem to make gray exist in a world that was only a black line or a white line. It's just the way he designed and drew his images. I can't imagine that he would have just… It would be like putting ketchup on a really, really good steak. It's just not done, but hey, you can't necessarily tell an audience what’s proper.
AS: That's true. I completely forgot until you said opacity, but there was white paint on the turban of one of the characters and you could hardly see the lines underneath. And it totally changed the composition.
TL: Of course, it totally raised the price because it’s in color and it took more time. So even that idea of the division of labor was something that was a standard part of the workshops of woodcutters or even the printers of engravings, and then subsequently etchings and the other forms of printmaking as they came along in the centuries. And it wasn't a person like myself, who does it from idea to finish print. I just always thought it was that way.
AS: Right. But in those early woodcuts, there's the artist who had the… So who's the artist quote unquote? So the person in my mind, the person with the idea, the conception of the imagery, counts as the artist, but they're rarely signed until Dürer or maybe Meckenem.
TL: Starting to put those, those initials… like Schongauer would have put his M.S. on there or Master E.S. His first name wasn't Master and his last name wasn't E.S. It was that his initials would be in there because as artists got more and more capable, they wanted their materials to be recognizable. So, Dürer has his marvelous D lurking under this A. That's his logo, his monogram. And eventually there are artists like Marcantonio Raimondi who was copying Dürer’s prints down in Venice, who was literally copying Dürer’s logo. And Dürer goes before the Venetian Senate and says, “Hey, make him stop.” And so the Venetian Senate, because this is the first issue of intellectual property, says, “okay, Marcantonio, don't put Dürer’s initials on it anymore.”
AS: And that's it.
TL: And he just kept making them and selling them because, hey, it works. So, there all the marvelously muddied parts of the river of life in the history of prints.
AS: I love that that historians have not been able to figure out who Master E.S. was or Master of the Playing Cards or whoever, the House Book, whatever.
TL: Ok, master, master. Ann, go through the master thing. You just go ahead on and tell the folks about what you have to think about that.
AS: Recognizing that words carry baggage… I work part-time as a realtor and the realtor world has stopped using master bedroom as a defining term. They're using words like primary bedroom or owner's bedroom. And so they're trying to not use the term master because it can be aligned with the idea of a master on a plantation, mastering over slaves. So in the case of art, and printmaking in particular, the master printers sometimes will… Ben will refer to them as collaborative printmakers, but the term master really is referring to mastering a thing and not mastering over people.
TL: Indeed, indeed. Right. So Ann and I, while I'm working…
AS: We went round and round about it.
TL: We did. I'm working on a project right now and how do you want to be listed? Master printer, and Ann said some people using collaborative printmaker. I am not collaborating. I'm teaching these people how to do it. They're using my skills because I got a master of fine arts and I have a master's degree in art history. And so mastery. We assume that Master E.S. was a guy, that he'd mastered… Are we going to say mistress? Yes. Oh, good Lord. That would be so naughty.
AS: Well, see how much baggage terms carry?
TL: So actor/actress. Right now, everybody's as actor.
AS: I appreciate that.
TL: Well, I do too. So the issue of mastering a craft, well, I am a master printer, apparently.
AS: You are.
TL: So, I'm fine with that because I wasn't collaborating with these folks on what it was they wanted. They needed something. They didn't know how to do it. I showed them how to do it. And I did it with and for them. So that is a different thing than collaboratively doing it. It's a mess. At any rate, I wanted us to throw that out there. Let's pick on another thing. There are purists who would say that the only printmakers would be—with my Iowa French accent--peintre-graveurs. The painter-engravers. There are a lot of artists across time that were great painters, but who also made prints. Even Cezanne, even though I think he's a little bit snoozy, was—I mean, I know he's wickedly important—but even he made prints. Matisse, painter.
AS: He made many prints.
TL: Great stuff. Ruben's, on the other hand, is a 17th century brilliant painter, had his paintings turned into prints. Well, the peintre-graveur, the painter engraver, is the artist who produces original prints. Things that come out of their own mind versus the reproductive printmakers. So reproductive printmakers are those that are going to reproduce paintings, let's say. Like a Rubens painting so that it exists as something that could be bought in multiples. Rubens would be painting altarpieces that could be 11 to 15 feet high. Those aren't going to quite fit in on your living room wall.
So we've got somebody like Vorsterman, Lucas Vorsterman, who was this amazing engraver and could translate the kind of brush work and color on hair or the satin of a gown or the trees, into a black-and-white set of marks, dashes, curves, what have you. And it was brilliant and turning some massive thing in brilliant color into a sheet that was maybe 11 by 15 inches. That's an amazing skill, but they're duplicating the works of others. So after the artists. Even the ones that are duplicating sculptures. Like the discovery of the Laocoön… It's so exciting. Well, they didn't invent the Laocoön. They didn't carve the marble, but they made the print of it.
Those are reproductive printmakers versus the autographic printmakers, the painter-engravers, like Goya, who was both painter and engraver, but he made three insanely important series that are the heart and soul of one of our big sessions at the Baltimore Museum. We call them autographic printmakers because you can see their mark, you can see their handwriting, their drawing, literally on the plate. It's as spontaneous as a sketch on paper.
AS: The reproductive printmakers perfected a system of reproducing various textures—like flesh or satin--with a pattern, a specific pattern that could be a replicated by other printmakers who were also trying to do the same kind of thing. So there's this whole vocabulary of mark-making that's very regimented within these reproductive prints. It's just fascinating.
TL: The whole concept of the dot and lozenge. This idea of creating a set of diamonds that would, that would create a light and shadow. And if you put a dot in the middle of each of those diamonds, that creates a different kind of light and shadow that you could see from five feet way and think, Ooh, that's really convincing. But up close, ooh, that’s a reproductive engraving.
AS: And if you alter the width of the diamonds, you can affect the volumetric-ness…
TL: Like the cross contour, like a topographical map, the quality of a thigh, or a breast.
AS: That's one of my favorite things to do is to zero in very, very closely on the reproductive prints, because it's astonishing, the line work.
TL: Sometimes they're just the most beautiful, two by two-inch abstractions.
AS: Like that mustache on that one.
TL: Just the idea of a print, a handheld object on a piece of paper, to me, that's exciting. And Ann lived in a world where everything's under mats and it's in a museum, but once upon a time you would have this image of St. Dorothy or Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, or Saint Sebastian, who was the patron saint of people with the plague. These were things that could protect you. And they would get used. And some of these early prints can be the size of almost the smallest, a credit card
AS: Like a passport.
TL: And literally that saint was in your pocket to protect you. It's kind of like in your passport now you might have that list of shots. (COVID shots, get your vaccinations today.) But you would have that to protect you, and sometimes we can talk about prints being bound in volumes because they're phenomenally important. It's the way that an artist could make their name. For instance, that whole biography of artists that van Dyke made. Anthony van Dyke. That's the one you're thinking about. That gorgeous Anthony van Dyck portrait. He's looking at us with his wonderful wild hair and he's got this magnificent mustache, almost kind of a handlebar. And he's got this little squibbit of a beard, which by the way, is called a van Dyke, and it's all hand etched and it's from his hand. It's autographic. But then van Dyke, whose ego must have been as big as that press over there, handed it off to an engraver and said, now put me on a pedestal and he did! So it's this gorgeously engraved pedestal. And it's got all the florid writing and it says, van Dyke is this and that. And that's the frontispiece for an entire volume of all of his images of artists across time. And that was at a time where the artist's role in society is actually starting to elevate, as opposed to being just some anonymous craftsperson. It's really being able to stand up saying, this is what I am, and this is what I do, and these are the people that we should be respecting.
AS: Well, they're named in these portraits. I mean, that's the switch, right? Once they have their own name… interestingly on those prints, it does say, by this person or published by this person, after a picture by this person, so everybody is now identified.
TL: In the address, that's what it's called, the address. So you'll have the delineavit. Okay. So Anthony van Dyke delineavit, he's the guy that drew it. And then so-and-so sculpsit--he's the guy that sculpted it, literally carved it into the plate, and then there'll be, it was published here, and it becomes the pedigree of this image. So by 1640, you've got all of this going on and 240 years before you were a nobody that was just sort of carving into a piece of wood.
AS: You weren’t anybody and forgotten to time.
TL: Being able to raise your own status in society, I think that's an amazing thing that prints could do too, because if you think about it, Dürer was doing it. Dürer died in 1527, after he'd kind of hit it big, let's say by 1498 to of the end of his life, he would have his images with his moniker and think about it, if he's traveling up to the Netherlands from his home base in Nuremberg, Germany, and he trades prints with a guy named Lucas van Leyden and his prints stay up there. That's his website. They're out there. For instance, the Antonio Pollaiuolo, Battle of Ten Nude Men, it's a remarkable engraving, it’s the only one Pollaiuolo ever made. He’s done this Battle of Ten Nude Men hacking and slashing at each other with hatchets and swords. And they're arrayed across the background, it’s a sorghum field, curiously with a placket that says Antonius Pollaiuolo made this because he's showing off. But the idea was also that it was a perfect teaching aid. And sometimes you'll find that they are folded in quarters and that an artist might have bought this print. And it was a guide to how to render the human figure. Because below the Alps, the Italians knew how to do this. The folks above the Alps…
AS: It was too cold to be nude.
TL: So they were all wearing drapery until…
AS: That’s why they're so much better at portraying drapery.
TL: Drapery, and snow. But the idea that they are again, portable museums or guidebooks, that one print can teach many different kinds of skills. So, in one respect, printmaking could also teach you things about architecture, painting, sculpture, all of those things.
AS: Botanical, medical.
TL: Herbals, all of them. Oh my God, Vesalius on the fabric of human body, 1543. First time he does all of these dissections—it's published in Basel, Switzerland, by the way, because dissection was still forbidden by the Church, and of course Andreas Vesalius had taken and Latinized his name so that it sounds very doctorly—but the very first real serious anatomical volume was published in 1543. Same time that Copernicus is saying this idea of advancing science through print. That's one time seeing prints and books, man, that'll be a life changer.
AS: And maps?
TL: Oh my God. Maps, absolutely.
AS: Topographical views of towns.
TL: It's just amazing to think about. Let’s say in the Nuremberg Chronicle, which was the very first real history of the world that was published. Let's say what's the most important book that we should publish. Well, let's do the Bible. Thank you, Mr. Gutenberg. So that's like 1455. The next big tome of world history is Liber Chronicarum. Also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, because it was published in Nuremberg, curiously by the press that was run by Albrecht Dürer’s godfather Anton Koberger, it always helps to be taught a little bit in your relative’s workshop.
AS: I think that’s how it works.
AS: That's how all those early women printmakers made anything was because their Dad’s had a workshop.
TL: Because they were there. Take this, fix this, fix this, cook this, do that, and change the baby.
AS: And where’s lunch?
TL: And my beer, thank you very much. Because it’s safer than water. That sounds pretty good to me. I think it starts with God the father blessing, and it literally is the history of the world. It starts with the Creation: “In the beginning there was… he creates it and he separates light from dark and he creates Adam and then he creates Eve and it goes on and then are all these chapters on the Kings and Queens of the biblical era. And then they all become Kings and Queens of the medieval era until the present day, 1493. And the last seven pages are left blank. Because you could fill in your own family history there. And because, of course, the world was going to end in 1500, just like Y2K. However, the thing that's interesting is that there are all of these different views of cities, right? Well, there are cities that people had visited, like Venice, and then there are other cities like Damascus that they hadn't been to yet. So they'd have a picture of a city, which was incredibly 15th century, and they would use the same picture of a city for one of those cities that you hadn't visited before, because hey, it's a city. So, but in many ways, these maps of places that you've been, they can teach you tons?
AS: You can get that volume hand colored too. The copy of the National Gallery in Washington is hand colored.
TL: And there's was a copy at the Peabody Library where you could sit and turn the pages yourself, and it wasn't hand colored. And the other cool thing… Was on the title page. There are these little sketches in the lower part where you could put your family's initials and the date you bought it. And, of course, these books were published bespoke. You would buy a stack of pages. And you take your stack of pages and you'd take it and say, I want it bound in pig skin between these boards and it could be done that way. Or you say, no, I just want it done in leather or paper boards, whatever…
AS: And it's thick.
TL: It's about three inches thick.
AS: It's a big book. Generous in size.
TL: In a way it's also cool because it's published in Fraktur, which looks like the Germanic way of printing a book. Gutenberg had made that decision, because to print the Bible they used the Fraktur, which just looks like hand lettering. He used the hand-lettering-style type because they wanted this book to look as much like a handwritten Bible, even though it had been printed with moveable type, so that it still seemed real, valued.
AS: Like an illuminated manuscript.
TL: And some of those, even in the first Bible, they would have the initial letter would be there. The capital letter that begins an entire verse would be larger to be illuminated. And there's several reasons for that, because it was a way in, an entrance point onto the page, also was a way to shed more light onto the text because usually in a capital letter, there would be some characters that are doing whatever is being done in that following verse.
AS: It would elevate the value.
TL: Absolutely. So the books are an incredibly important way… Well, the incunabula—books before 1501, because incunabula is a Latin word for cradle, as in the cradle of printing and printing was the best. And they really were the best. They were printed on the best rag paper with the best handmade ink. And it was the best design. I mean, they really are spectacular. But by the 19th century, books were so widespread, they were using paper that had been made from wood pulp. And that's why, if you were lucky enough to pick up a 19th century book, it's going to fall apart in your hands because the acid of the woodpile is it's…
AS: They are really terrifying.
TL: Yes, and even though there will be brilliant illustrations in there by Doré or whomever… But that also tells you again about consumption by a larger number of people—bring the cost down. So, all of those things are aspects of the history of prints that…
AS: Everything is intertwined.
TL: Mighty tasty. So you get politics and you get religion and you get social satire and you get caricature and you get propaganda and you get all of that in a way that art history itself doesn't give it to you, if it's architecture, painting. sculpture. Prints are like boots on the ground kinds of art history. And I really appreciate that a great deal. I just think it's a much more accurate window into what might've been happening. And admittedly, we don't know what size and shape the window was. We don't know how clean or dirty it is.
AS: We don't know what we're missing.
TL: We have to scrub off our own chauvinism or our own ideas. And the other thing that you can get that was wonderful with prints, that many times they were in series like a Life of the Virgin or the Passion of Christ or a calendar or playing cards, or even tracing the idea of the alphabet. Beause there was no U, it was just a V, and there was no J, there was an I. And then you got W (doo-bluh-vay) in German. It's a double V. It's not a double U. This idea of a work of art that is produced in multiple impressions, many times over, and they're pulled from an inked surface, and they can be distributed far and wide, or it could be made very expensively. But it really is something that you can have in your hands and look at it and enjoy it and pull it out and savor it and learn lessons from time to time. It could be a biblical passage. It could be a lesson in mercy, like Rembrandt's Hundred Gilder print.
AS: It could lessons from Aesop’s Fables or Erasmus…
TL: Then you don't even need to have all of the book learning or have to read Latin. That you could pick apart and take the time to pick apart the lesson because it's all in there. I think we're so conditioned to just consume images and not really realize how many magnificent little tidbits are in there. For instance, Hogarth, William Hogarth in the 18th century. Okay. Actually in retrospect, Hogarth is an artist that I kind of respect a lot because he was a good painter. He would come up with these series, like Marriage à la Mode. You should marry for love, not for money, but he was also a brilliant engraver. So he came up with The Harlot's Progress, which is a cycle of 6 prints that show little Moll Hackabout coming to London from the countryside. And she's met by a procuress who's going to… It's like being met at the Port Authority or getting off the bus and being turned into a life of sex trafficking.
In these six scenes, you see the downfall of Moll and how she's now making her money sleeping with rich men who were climbing out windows. And she eventually dies of venereal disease and her child who was born with a crippled leg. It's just… It really shows all of these terrible things, and it was a lesson, and it was a small opera. Hogarth followed that series up with The Rake's Progress, which showed what happened to this young man who'd misbehaved and was whoring and had been drinking. He ends up in an insane asylum in Bedlam.
And once Hogarth had come up with these images—and he had engraved his own images and they're selling well—he gets pissed because somebody starts copying them. He thinks “I'm not doing this again until y'all pass some kind of a copyright law.” And it was William Hogarth, the artist printmaker, who did push forward on the copyright law that became law in England. And that's why he finally published his Marriage à la Mode, because then it couldn't be copied because it was cum privilege, it was copyrighted. It was printmaking that made that necessary. I think that's fascinating. It’s the 18th century, how to tell the story. Series are wonderful things.
AS: It just expands your possibilities.
TL: Or Audubon's Birds of North America, that's actually a cycle. It's not just, oh, cool, it's a turkey. It's actually part of 400 some images. So we got all of that.
AS: Printmaking, it rocks.
TL: And it wasn't until Whistler was like, “we’ve got to make sure that people really understand. We're going to limit these editions and we're going to come up with a system of editioning things. And we're going to say that there's 50 in this edition. And when this edition, when I finished having 50 images printed of this, I'm going to cancel the plate.” And it's really hard to see this sometimes, but he… There's a wonderful example of… I would show a class where he's scored, right through.
TL: Scored right through the plate. And that means that no more images can be printed from it.
AS: That's a question that I get from people who are just learning about prints and printmaking: the limited edition. People ask: “Do we know how many Hogarth made or Rembrandt made?” And the truth is, we don't. But at a certain point—thank you, Whistler—it becomes a thing.
TL: Then because of the whole etching revival and they'd all went, “you know, that guy Rembrandt (a couple hundred years earlier), he really had it going on.” And they're figuring this out. But it's the rise of the middle class. It's a rise of gallerists and art makers. All of this kind of visual literacy, that is now a part of the 19th-century world, they start limiting the editions of things. And again, printmaking is pushing the boundaries on that, which I find ultimately fascinating. There are other times, of course. There are no limited editions of let's say Posada’s prints. Because during the Mexican revolution, at the beginning of the 20th century, the idea was to make 20,000 images and get them out there on cheap paper. Because this was the way to help the people rise up. Again, you get all of these different ways of understanding, seeing, owning. And the whole world of print now is so peculiarly rarefied. You and Ben discussed that whole concept of value. One of the things that we can always say to our students in History of Prints was: what you should do with each other before you graduate is trade. Because if you trade with some of your friends now, in 20 years, some of y'all will still be making art and some of you will have really turned into something. And you'll go, oh, I have some of his work. An early work by Josh Bales or… That's exciting stuff. I do have some of those.
AS: That's the nice thing about the multiples. You can leave an impression behind for your professor.
TL: Thank you very much. So, um, what else would you like to cover today?
AS: I think, I mean… We we've hit 50-ish minutes, so I think we probably can wrap up.
TL: I think we should. And then next time we'll talk to you folks about—if you stick with the program, which I think you might enjoy—which prints are made, what way. So we'll start off with woodcut, and then we'll go into intaglio and what that means. And we talk about lithography, which comes about 1798, but becomes a big deal in the 19th century. And then there was even a whole bunch of chauvinism about that, because it was too new and too awful. And then I started realizing, that's just like me and how I'm behaving with the whole digital revolution. I should pull my head out of my backside. And, nevermind... And then when go into screenprinting, silkscreens, serigraphy, depending on what name you want to give it. I think that's for another day. Just understanding the wide range of what prints can do and can be and can teach.
AS: And how they're completely integral in the social, cultural milieu. The entire history of Western printmaking.
TL: Pretty much. I mean, shoot, even Gauguin did his prints and he did Noa Noa and he illustrated his own book of poetry. So did William Blake.
AS: Didn't they… some of them decided that prints were a great way to make money in between their paintings selling.
TL: Absolutely. And I think in many ways we know more about Rembrandt because of his prints and well, and frankly, I think Goya is a superior printmaker to painter.
AS: Some of the paintings are amazing.
TL: Some of them are. We'll get there. We'll talk about that. But in the meantime, enjoy the fact that you're in for the history of everything tasty. Yeah, that's it. History of Prints. Yum-ola.
AS: Thanks for listening to Platemark series two the history of Western printmaking. I'm Ann Shafer, your host and editor for this series. And I'd like to send a special shout out to Michael Diamond for letting us use his original composition as our theme music. We welcome questions and hope you will rate us and leave a review. That will help us spread the word. And you could share it with your sphere of influence too. We'd appreciate it.
And we'll see you next time.
Platemark series two History of Prints
Producer and host: Ann Shafer
Co-host: Tru Ludwig
Theme music: Michael Diamond
Show notes and website: platemarkpodcast.com
©2021 Ann Shafer
Click here to access episode page with link to audio:
Episode 201 | Introduction
[Transcript has been edited for clarity and flow]
Ann Shafer: Welcome to series two of Platemark, a podcast about art and ideas. My name is Ann Shafer and I'm your host. For series two, we're changing tacks a little bit on Platemark. Last time we were doing big ideas about art and the value of it and roles of the curator and all sorts of things like that. This time we are doing the history of prints. So, I'm sitting in the press room of the Purple Crayon Press with my best bud Tru, an amazing not only artist, but also art historian and professor extraordinaire.
Tru Ludwig: Gosh.
AS: Say hello.
AS: This all stems from Tru teaching a class at the Maryland Institute College of Art, the History of Prints. And we at the museum helped him do that by hosting the class in our print study room for multiple visits over the course of the semester. So I always say, well, I taught with Tru, but really the truth is I held up the prints and Tru taught.
TL: But we were always, I don't know. I want to think that we were kind of… By the end, we were the Heckle and Jeckle comedy hour in a meaningful way. Because keeping students alert for three hours was always a thing in a warm room. But it is also deeply committed and wildly thought provoking. And we always seem to give them more than they ever expect.
AS: Well, that's true. That was the best part about the class, watching the light bulbs go off in their brains. Because we were teaching art studio people, not art historians. So they were young artists at the art school in Baltimore, Maryland.
But before we jump in, I just want to make sure that we identify our positionality, that we report in that we're not trying to be experts on anything. We don't represent the Maryland Institute College of Art, in no way, nor the Baltimore Museum of Art, where I was a member of the staff at that point, but am no longer. So for clarity's sake, just to make sure everyone knows where we're coming from, I identify as a cis-het white woman, and I use the pronouns she/her. We're recording this in Baltimore, Maryland, the land of the Piscataway Conoy people. And Tru.
TL: I’m Tru Ludwig. I'm a gay white trans man and I use the pronouns he/him.
AS: All right. So this intro episode is really to set the stage. So we're not going to go into any specific, well we might talk about a favorite or two very briefly, but this is really to share with the listeners why we're doing it and where we're coming from and how we got here, really, because it was quite a journey.
TL: It was only a 15-year journey.
AS: It was a 15-year journey
TL: It was an unexpected journey to begin with. Ann and I met early on, but it was very strange to realize that my best friend is someone that I was intimidated by when I very first met them in a setting that is very stern and proper. And we ended up making sure that over 400 students had their brains completely rattled and shattered and tried to make sure that they were moved, excited, motivated, that their thoughts were provoked. And Ann was completely on board with that. It was not, in no way was it a dry experience.
AS: Yeah. So if you've listened to a series one of Platemark, you know that one of my and my cohost Ben's big things was trying to dispel this idea of the ivory tower, of the curator sitting in their scholarly nook with no people around. And the idea that the imposing marble edifice of the museum hopefully will be dispellable, that we will make it sound welcoming enough for you to walk through the door. And the print room was really a great way to get that done with young students from various local schools. We had students come through from not only MICA, but also Johns Hopkins and Goucher College and Loyola University, and even some of the high schools. Often it was their first visit to a print room for these students. And I always thought of the print room as the second front door of the museum.
TL: Which is actually quite a gift. I think so many people don't realize what a resource is there for them in the same way that they don't realize that they could schedule a visit to the Library of Congress print & drawing room. I try to make sure that the students would understand it. So it's a complete and thorough-going resource, that you could ask for a very specific image and sit with it for a while, or to realize that the 65,000 objects in the print collection could be things that would take you to the next level of being a young artist, a young maker.
AS: And I think it bears repeating, because I know you've heard me say it before, that museums across the country have print study rooms for the purpose of hosting people like you who want to come in and look at prints of your choosing. So, if you are writing a paper on the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse, you can make an appointment and somebody will pull them out for you and you can investigate them very thoroughly, just you and the piece of paper and someone helping you.
TL: It's simply an email to, or even a phone call to the print room in any city. And that's, again, that's an issue of History of Prints was just really taking the, all of the obstacles out of a person's way to make them realize that there's nothing that stands between you and the artwork, except your fear or your lack of motivation or the things that holds you back. Because Ann got to know the students just as, almost as well as I did. At one point, we ended up giving them name tags because we were going to be spending a fair amount of time together. And it became easier every semester with those 20 students. It became by the end of the semester a small family. I mean, just a group of people who could stand close together looking at objects, but also really depend on each other to bring insights. One of my favorite things was to get the group to say Oh!. The big reveal, which was something that Ann and I tended to get very good at in terms of timing. Timing is very important.
AS: It’s theater, really.
TL: …when you're presenting theater. Absolutely it is theater. And one wouldn't think that in a rarefied space, in a museum, then it's kind of like a hushed library and everyone must be so solemn, but I'm one of these people that, oh, this might annoy some, but I'm kind of apt to say that the only person that can ruin art history for somebody as an art historian. And I always try to keep it real and keep it as jargon-free as humanly possible and… See at the Maryland Institute, you have one class a week. So it's two hours and 45 minutes long. So you have to keep a group of students focused and on point. And this is oftentimes a group of people who will frankly tell you, “I have attention deficit.” Well, okay. So how can we keep this group of people focused, excited, and have them stay the course, literally. I tell them on the first day, I'm your personal trainer and we're going to teach you stamina, by God. And it works out, you know, it really does because by the end of the course, they've found something that they've totally meshed with, an artist who rocks their world, a set of images that give them a wellspring to pull from in terms of their own studio output. That's what this course was about from my point of view.
AS: Right. All of this is why Tru and I get along so well because we have this shared goal of demystifying the jargon, allowing for close looking, which is critical to develop your eye. There were a lot of simpatico moments in the way we approach students and art. So maybe we should roll back and describe the class, right? So it's one semester, it's the history of Western prints. We make that very clear: Western printmaking.
TL: Although Japanese prints sneak in there simply because when they were introduced into France or into Europe in the early 1860s, it was such a thrill, a shock, a whole new wave of aesthetic modes of thinking, working, and seeing, that it had a pronounced effect. I’ve come to realize that modernism, prints, any images of the modern era so much depend on that sparseness that, that cleanliness of the Japanese print design. So they obviously had an impact, but that's the only time I would really bring anything from outside the West. Yes, I admit it, Europe because that's how this course started. And in fact, in the way, Ann, wouldn’t you say the collection it’s pretty much that, at least in terms of its history. In terms of the works that are collected, there tends to be older male makers.
AS: There will be women involved in the story, but they are few and far between in the early part of the chronology, which begins sort of 1400. All right. So the class was a combination of coursework in a lecture hall, but it was majority visits to other institutions, right?
TL: At the end, it was. Now to preface this whole thing, I was told in maybe October of 2004, “we got you History of Prints.” And I thought, well, this is strange. Because I’d been teaching printmaking in the printmaking department. And I taught art history. And I used to think, gosh, someday I want to take History of Prints someplace. And then the chair of the department at the time walked up and said, “we got you History of Prints.” And it was going to start in January and I thought, oh, and I had never had History of Prints. I just knew I loved them and I made them.
AS: And there are so few schools that offer a History of Prints class at all. I didn't have one.
TL: Oh, heavens no. When you start realizing how fundamental they are to visual communication, how they were to digital, mass information of their age, it should be at least a part of every… as opposed to two or three slides in your Renaissance to 1855 survey class. However, it was something that Maryland Institute had because we've always had a really strong affinity with the Baltimore Museum of Art. We're only 1.3 miles apart. I'm just saying that because the students had to get from MICA up to the BMA. And even that was an issue because they had to learn how to form little pods and get themselves together in cars or ride their bikes. All of which of course now is strictly forbidden. Anyway. “We got you history of prints and you, we got you four visits.” Okay. And I, as I say, I had never had this. So I had two weeks to prepare. Once the other semester had ended, I locked myself into the George Peabody Library for eight hours a day and read and read and read Linda Hults’ History of the Print in the Western World, which I,
AS: I have to stop and say Linda Hults was a professor, when she wrote the textbook, at the College of Wooster, which is my alma mater.
TL: And it was published in the University of Wisconsin Press, and I'm a Midwesterner. So I actually went to St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota, you betcha. However, I literally had to lock myself into this space and read everything that was in this one book, because at the time, back in, what was that, 2005, December 2004, 2005. It was the only real encyclopedic print history and it was published in 1996. Consequently, the images of contemporary prints ended at around 1990. At any rate, it was terrifying. And I had to meet Ann's predecessor and work with her, Jenny Fleming, who was absolutely wonderful. But at the time, the bulk of the collection of the Baltimore Museum's collection of prints was kept on these nice file cards in cabinets, card catalogs, they were so pretty, but you opened them up and you're picking through, and some of them are in this form of how their information is entered.
AS: And, and some of them are handwritten. Some of the older ones are handwritten still.
TL: Jenny basically said, well, here's some prints that I think would probably be useful to you. And she's pretty much handed me a list of what may have been used by others before her. And I essentially took those and added a few to that. And so we had our four visits. The class that semester was lectures and only four BMA visits. Let's see, for each of the visits I required a personal reflection. That's one thing that made this class different was that I expected to have a thousand-word reflection on each of the visits because I wanted the students to actually process what they were seeing, how it affected what they were doing or to reflect on what the situation was for the printmakers of the time or what motivated this particular printmaker. So there was one of those for each of the visits, there was a midterm exam, which ultimately became, rather than just some terrifying identification thing, it became a vocabulary exam because there was a lot of terminology. If you actually use it, the terminology became very, very useful. There was a written visual analysis, which was where the student would have by that point in the semester discovered something that just rocked their world. And they were going to get to sit with that print at the Baltimore Museum of Art and draw it for an hour and then do a visual analysis. But there's no better way that to learn something than to spend actual time looking at it. Looking at how the lines swell and taper, or how the light shifts through the print and what did the artist do to make that happen. And how does that start to work on your mind as you're putting together the images that are being laid there in front of you and put that together into a thousand words, a visual analysis. Which I actually came to call love letters because really, visual analysis sounds really tedious. A love letter indicates that you've fallen in love with an image. That you spent an hour caressing every line and nuance with their eyes. And then that would be a wonderful paper. Of course, they would contact the associate curator and say, I need to see X print. And they would make the time to sit with that print. And it was a revelation, I think, even for you to watch student do that.
AS: Yeah, it was interesting. We tried to bundle the students up, you know, four or five at a time because it started eating time like you can't believe during your week.
TL: Because you had to be in the room, present with them because they're there with the 3, 4, 500-year-old piece of paper.
AS: The staff has to supervise visitors at all times. So somebody needed to be there, but watching the students draw with pencil a reproductive engraving or the Claude Milan spiral line, that single line from the nose outward to create the face of Jesus Christ. I mean, it was fascinating to watch how they would either try and do the whole thing or zero in on one section and really dig into the line work. And I mean, I probably might've, in another world, been an artist. So it was fun. It was fun for me to watch
TL: You are an artist. We are all artists in our own way. I mean when you put together an exhibition, that's your own artistry. And then the final for that course was to either reproduce as faithfully as possible a print. Or you could choose three prints that rocked your world and combine them into an artwork that you yourself had made up, but be able to show your peers that they had used a trace of a Jacques Callot, a little bit of a Daumier, and a Käthe Kollwitz to come up with this new image, which attacks a social problem. I've used some of each of their magic, or, you know, whether it's the choice of subject or the way that they used the line or the technique that you use and whether it was a carving or a lithograph, or what have you. And that means that by the end of the course, the student has been shopping for mentors, as I would say, throughout the entire semester. And the stakes were pretty high because, you know, if you're going to spend time making a final project that's twenty-five percent of your grade. That's one motivation, but it's also by then you really care about what you're doing. It's not just information, it's knowledge, it's belief, it's an entire different sensibility. And so I like to think that we really changed the way people would think and consume art.
AS: Well, I think the whole class was you weaving this incredibly fascinating tale about visual culture and how it intertwines with history and not just of artistic creation, so that there was this… I think, I know I learned a shit-ton from listening to you however many, 14 times I guess, through, although I have to say there were moments that I, every semester I would miss a piece of the lecture because I was busy shuffling something. So I would miss the one bit on Max Klinger or something. I was like, oh, DANG! I missed it again!
TL: So here's the deal. So Jenny Fleming… So the first semester, it was four visits, and then at the end of that semester, I'm both sweaty and relieved and it was a pretty good experience, although, completely terrifying. And Jenny said, “well, I'll be leaving now,” because she’d gotten a job in another place and all hail and farewell to you, Jenny. I'm sure you're very happy and doing a good job at your new place. And then they had somebody else that was brought in and they were only part-time and it was this person called Ann Shafer. I'd never clapped eyes on them. And Ann was part-time and said, “Well, I could give you two visits.” Okay, thank you very much.
AS: Well, at that point, the department was down to me as a part-timer trying to hold together the class schedule and some of the various small things that would come through as gifts or something while they were looking for a curator to be the head of the department. So it was me and the assistant in the department, only. There were two of us, which is not a lot.
TL: No, not at all. It's usually there's, it's a good bit. And eventually of course, you also had a fabulous intern that would have been pulled from a prior semester of History of Prints. That’s how you got Ben.
AS: Eventually I smartened up and Tru helped me source interns to help me during whichever semester it was that we were teaching History of Prints. And it was usually somebody from the prior class of History of Prints, so they had every motivation to look at everything again. They came in and they would pull everything. And we're talking about between 80 and a hundred prints per visit.
TL: Okay. Ultimately it was that, I will admit it
AS: They pulled everything, and put everything away, but they got to look at everything a second time.
TL: When we first started this, you know, when you ask to go to most print rooms, the max they'll probably pull out for you might be 15, 20 at the max, which was how Ann sweetly started. Because if I recall correctly, you also said you didn't know where the hell anything was.
AS: You know, a lot of the prints were not yet in the database. So as I started finding everything that Tru was requesting, I would start entering them in the system if they weren't already in it. And I would definitely locate them. Because most things weren't located either. So it took me hours to find everything.
TL: And eventually there was this magnificent series of images, easily accessible in TMS. What was it, The Museum System?
AS: Yeah. I started taking snapshots with my phone of all the prints and adding them to the record so that we could pull these lists that would have little thumbnails, which is super helpful. The ins and outs of cataloguing a print collection.
TL: But also the list, I would have to say that, that one of the things I delight in is the really worthwhile handouts I would give to my students. Not only a list of everything they're seeing, but then they could ultimately get a printout of what they saw with the little thumbnails that Ann had done. So in every aspect of this course, if you think about it, we pretty much dreamed up and improved it across those 15 years.
AS: Yes we did.
TL: So the second time there were two visits and lectures in the classroom. Then the next semester I was like, oh, could maybe we go up to four visits, and Ann was a good sport. And so we did. And then eventually as Ann and I got to be much more simpatico. And then you would be so sneaky and I’d say, what's this? And you’d say, well , it was in the box next to it.
AS: So here's what happened. So if you've listened to the first series of Platemark, and the episode in which I talk about becoming a curator, I had backed into it through a watercolor painting because I was a painting person initially. So I backed into the print world and I didn't, I wasn't, I mean, I could identify a technique and I could catalog them, but I wasn't a “print” person. It wasn't like, oh my God, this is the coolest thing ever. So,
TL: And of course now it is.
AS: Yes, it absolutely is. We're going to get you in if it kills us doing it.
TL: I don't think, I think you'll find that you have a whole new life.
AS: As I was going along, trying to find all of the works that you wanted for your classes and the works that other professors wanted for their classes, I started what we called box surfing. I would look through the entire box as I was finding whatever it was I was looking for. And then I started keeping lists of cool topics, like great eyeglasses in Old Master prints or smoke from a cigarette. Lists of things that could become a show.
TL: Magnificent clouds.
AS: So I did have a good cloud list. Yeah. There was games, sports, night scenes, all sorts of stuff. Cycles, calendars, or wars. Yeah.
TL: Periodically then you'd also pull something aside and put it in a special spot, which was the Trudi drawer.
AS: Well, right. So as I was doing all of this other stuff, if I found something that I was like, oh my gosh, you really have to see this, I would put it in a drawer. And then Tru would come up every couple of weeks and we would go through all of these crazy, weird prints.
TL: We spent a lot of time together looking at, we really looked carefully a lot of prints, especially in those early years. I had no idea that you didn't...
AS: I was pretending. I faked it till I made it.
TL: Well. Yeah. I mean, we just look at, say like, I, oh, look at the… And Ann’s like, hmm, apparently just drinking it all in. But it was great fun because obviously…
AS: It was an education for both of us.
TL: I was having such fun and I felt very special having this cache of wonderfulness being brought out. And then we'd look at something and snicker and oooh and be compelled to figure out if it needed to be slipped into the History of Prints. There are other times though, that you would just have found something adjacent, like I would be talking about a Buhot, who is a magnificent artist and we'll have to talk about him in a later as well. But she would have snuck in a couple of others prints and I'm like, oh.
AS: A couple of extra Buhots because there they were.
TL: When you have somebody that's doing a monotype situation and you can show how many different ways you could do variations on a theme, this is a guy that could do that. And that's the kind of thing that you know you can also use to inspire students. So the stacks of prints tended to get a little thicker each time we taught the class.
AS: It was my own fault.
TL: Well, yeah, you totally spoiled me. And then eventually it's like, I gotta do this right. Because Ann's going to expect this and it was…
TL: Oh yeah, totally. I think I just kept trying to take it to the next, next, next level. It's like having your personal trainer, except then you didn't realize you're personally training the other trainer. That's really one of the reasons why we just totally meshed on all of this stuff.
TL: And Ann’s investment in things like the subject matter and getting totally enraptured with it, or simply looking at the students and watching them. I know for a fact that you being what I would have called the print Santa… I'd find out from a certain student what they really loved. How they would say “I would really like to see, uh, such and such,” let's say. And I’d say, “Ann, could we get out Six’s Bridge for this student?” And that would be Six’s Bridge by Rembrandt, which actually, I don't know if you knew this, but for that particular student turned into her final project, which they called Howard's Bridge.
AS: Oh, right.
TL: So the Howard Street bridge is a big deal. It's the bridge you cross from the Maryland Institute to get up to the BMA. And so she had staged this entire print, her final, to look like Rembrandt's Six's Bridge, but brought it into the 21st century. It was etched quite well.
AS: I had forgotten that.
TL: Yeah. And it's those kinds of things. Remember Zach's final was the huge restatement of a Goltzius figure. One of the four Disgracers, only now he's got him doing hip-hop dancing, which was just as clever as it could be, but also very smart in ways of bumping up two ideas.
AS: Well, some of the final projects where, I mean, the printmaker majors obviously had a leg up on other people who were scrambling around. And you would say, “find someone who knows what they're doing and ask them to help you.” And some people would attempt etching for the first time.
TL: And sometimes, I mean, that was again the small-town-ness of it, because at first it was only printmakers that took that class. And eventually people from other departments managed to sneak in. Illustrators, sometimes some painters. Do you remember Will Kauffman's final? Oh my God. It was exquisite. He did a restatement of Albrecht Dürer’s the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, except as a painter, he was using black velvet and he used bleach.
AS: It was crazy good.
TL: Oh my gosh. I would give my left arm to have that.
AS: It was sadly unique. Because sometimes they would leave an impression for you as well.
TL: Let's see. That was something I ended up doing.
AS: That was great.
TL: If it was a print, then they had to pull three. I mean, why make a print? If you're going to make a print, the idea to my way of thinking—I am absolutely no monotypist. I don't make singular impressions. I make multiples. That's why I do prints because if you're going to say something, you better know what you think about it. I know there are those that want to show how cute and lovely the world is and they do kittens and sailboats and it's lovely for them. But for me, it's going to be more an issue of creation, or a take on consumerism or a restatement of stained glass windows from the medieval era and how it would have been interpreted in the 20th century with 20th century characters. But the idea was that if you're going to make prints that you needed to pull an edition. Why make a copper plate and pull one etching? That’s asinine. Make at least three impressions, one for your instructor, one for the curator at the BMA, and one for yourself. And if you're really smart, you pull a larger edition because you've made something really worthwhile for yourself. So if it was a non-print major, they—let's say it was an illustrator—they could create an image that was based on prints. But it could be done digitally. I'm saying that with a twisted face because I'm a very analog person, although I'm trying to reduce my chauvinism towards the digital realm. And particularly after this last year on Zoom, we couldn't have made it, no way, no way at all. Teaching art history on Zoom is one thing, trying to teach drawing on Zoom? It’s a whole other creature, but by golly, we got it done. And the students were wonderful.
AS: You had a great crew last year.
TL: Each time, each night, I was very fortunate that way. But Maryland Institute brings in students that if they're quiet and seem like they're lax when you first meet them, by God, they're not going to be when we're done. But the idea was to have multiple so that Ann would end up with some pretty swanky prints a couple of times.
TL: Right. Some people who've actually turned into some people, right?
AS: Yes, that's true.
TL: And then there was that one guy who ended up becoming an intern, who ended up becoming the curatorial assistant, who you're now doing podcasts with.
AS: That's correct.
TL: And that was this guy, Ben Levy, that I'd been teaching, who I'd had in Renaissance through 1855. And I had him in History of Prints.
AS: Yes. He was our student first.
TL: So it goes around when it comes around and it's a beautiful thing.
AS: I don’t think we ever said that in series one, when Ben and I were yakking about all sorts of stuff, we never said he started out as a student of mine.
TL: Nope. Nope. I knew Ben from the time he was a freshman.
AS: I know
TL: They grow up so fast. And now he’s getting his PhD.
AS: We did good.
TL: Well, I definitely did some grooming and raising of this championship scholar, too.
AS: We've learned a lot from each other.
TL: All three of us have traveled together. Ann and I have traveled a lot.
AS: That's true too.
TL: So I don't know. Where are we in our conversation?
AS: Before we leave this topic of the final project, I wanted to mention that there were non-printmakers who made some really wacky final projects. We had videos…
TL: Oh my God, twice. Restatements of Käthe Kollwitz, different ones. Really stunning ways of using the light and the drama and the angle and the composition of my spirit animal, Ann calls her my Patronus, because of course Harry Potter. But the idea of how magically masterfully this woman created scenes that are very filmic in spite of the fact that the series that these were drawn from was done in 1907, 1908. But to have in widely differing semesters two different videographers do to different Käthe Kollwitzs. Wonderful stuff. Talk about the one you adored. The one that was done by a graphic design guy.
AS: You didn’t like than one as much as me?
TL: I was watching you get all gaga because you understood it far more readily than I did. There was the concept of the edition. Go ahead.
AS: There was a young guy who created a website and his focus was on the limited edition. So when you went to the website, you established the edition size. You could put in the number 10 or whatever, and every time you went back to the website, on the 11th visit it no longer existed for that user.
TL: And it magically continued. Very clever and beautifully demonstrated that day.
AS: It was great.
TL: We've we had graphic designers that learned how to do screenprints. In that particular class, there was a young man who had done a Lichtenstein and then he'd also switched it up because he realized he could switch layers. We had people who were fiber majors make tapestries. There were several books over the years.
AS: Oh yeah. There were books. And then remember, there was the two that teamed up together that were sculptors.
TL: Oh my goodness. So a sculpture major and a graphic design major got together. And the thing that had blown them away was Leonard Baskin’s life-sized figure of the Hydrogen Man. And it's an astonishing work completed in 1952, if I remember correctly. It's hand printed on Shoji paper, he had carved it into a big piece of plywood. But this idea of the disintegrating human after an atomic bomb, it's riveting image. Well, the two of these people got together and they didn't know about the signature of the wood, they got a piece of plywood. The signature is the grain of the wood and how it shows, appears in a print. They made a half size, really good reduction of this print. They carved it, it's huge. They printed it by hand at least three times. And honestly, that was, must've been close to 10 years ago and it's in my office. It's a stunning restatement. I just didn't know the level of commitment to the course and to themselves and to learning what it takes. Those kinds of things were just magnificent. And if I thought about it and looked over the list, we've got some greatest hits. But, just to know that you didn't have to be a printmaker, you could have been a Joe average guy, let's say, you still have to sit for an hour with a print and draw it and write about it. Which is something I have the music students that I teach at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. I teach art history there to the musicians. I tell them to listen with their eyes and they start to realize how beautifully art history and music history mesh because line and shape and color and texture and space are both used in music and in visual arts. And they have to write two love letters in the semester, which means they've had to have gone to a museum twice, which in some cases has never happened for them. They’d say “We have to draw for an hour. I can't draw.” I said, “Yeah, well, I can't play clarinet, but I still have to try and figure out how it's done.” And it's amazing to see how they really wrestle with it. But what it has taught them is how things were placed. They start to notice why is that sphere at that angle, or why does the light come in from this angle? And, it leads them to a higher level of perception. Prints don't have to be from printmakers even though, I mean… Well, we call it print porn sometimes because it's just so darn fabulous. But you know, for the non-art major, it could be a wonderful thing too, because it is the birth of visual communication and, you know, meaning what you say when you put it out there.
AS: Well, and I think that that is the reason why the class resonated. I mean, it got oversubscribed many, many, many times. We had to turn people away from it. We had 30…
TL: Oh God, that terrible semester when we had 30.
AS: We had 30-something people trying to look at an Albrecht Dürer that was four by five inches. It was a little nutso. They just would eat it up.
TL: Yup. And, you know, eventually—I don't know if we ever got to the point where I said, Ann, can we go to five sessions? In the end it was six sessions. And so eventually it was less in the classroom lecturing, or maybe before lectures throughout the semester to just to set the stage historically. Then I would have them go to the Baltimore Museum of Art six times. And interspersed in there, they would go to something like the George Peabody Library, which is the, one of the most beautiful things on the face of the planet. Seven stories of books. Cast-iron filagree. It was built in 1878. It's part of the whole Peabody Conservatory of Music, which is part of the Johns Hopkins University now.
AS: Which is worth visiting. And, or if not that, looking it up.
TL: Oh, you must, at least Google it. It's a cathedral of books. It's one of my favorite things. But I know it's taking us off the history of prints, but we go to the George Peabody Library because prints in books are wonderful things too. For instance, John Milton's Paradise Lost. It was illustrated by,
AS: John Martin.
TL: John Martin. And seeing the prints in the books as illustrations and these exquisite mezzotints, and then “I can touch those?” “Yes, they're books. With books, you can touch them.” The point was to realize that print is everywhere, real prints. It was like the scene in Beauty and the Beast, when the beast opens up the library for Beauty and she goes, Ahhhhh. Well, it was like that. You know, when Paul Espinosa would open up the doors to the Peabody Library and there's seven stories of beautiful books. Now this was a non-lending library. You'd have to use them in the space. And their rare book room. Ooooh.
AS: They have some great volumes.
TL: Many of the artists that we'll talk about, some of them will have some prints and books there, which students can pretty much just sit with them. Touch the page. So we take them to the George Peabody Library or the Evergreen Museum and Library, which has an exquisite collection. So you need to visit Baltimore because it's the city that reads and it's a city built on great libraries. And two of the most beautiful are right here in Baltimore, Maryland.
AS: The interesting thing about the Evergreen Museum and Library, which is part of Johns Hopkins University, as well as the Peabody, is that the collection of rare books there is from the Garrett family. And when the sons split up the collection, the books went to Evergreen, but all of the prints, 20,000 of them, went to the Baltimore Museum of Art.
TL: Garrett was the founder of the B&O railroad.
TL: He was one of the first kind of robber barons, but they were also culturally savvy and really did add to the life of the community. I mean, absolutely everything you would talk about white privilege in its time.
AS: For sure.
TL: You talk about conspicuous consumption. The difference between Martin Luther's September Testament and the December Testament.
TL: Yeah. Sorry, hon, they have the first edition. 1522, when Luther had translated the Bible from Latin into German. So it was the people's language and the whole Lutheranism thing started. Well, the first edition had an image at the back, which was, if I remember correctly, something like the Pope is the antichrist. In the December edition, they had to change the woodblock because it was so scurrilous. It was so brutal an attack on the Catholic Church that it had to be edited. They'd tried to excommunicate him. He's a wonderful figure, but you think about Martin Luther and then you think about people who change history like Martin Luther King, Jr., and you start to realize that idea that the power of one individual can do a lot. And the power of an individual affiliated with a printing press, some good artist is going to make a big difference. So there they could see the difference of those two, which I… Okay, that's totally book nerdy, but to me that's really, really exciting.
AS: It's a remarkable library.
TL: And the other thing, Audubon's Birds of North America, all the elephant folios that we would… it takes two people to pull them out and to see these magnificent birds engraved and hand colored in these gorgeous tomes and the birds had to be life size.
AS: And they have a plate or two?
TL: Yes, they have one Audubon plate and it has a wood-common loon, which is of course—I’m a dork. They also have the Fowler aspect of the collection of some of the finest printed books about architecture. It's a great learning library. And I actually sat with a weird little bound volume. John Buchtel, who was one of the very first curator slash librarians that I met when I was learning to teach this class said, “I was walking around the library and I found this in a bench someplace,” and it was actually all the plates from Goya's Disasters of War bound in a single volume. Which was just for the family, and they just started putting it all into a little binding. So I had to sit there and weep as I was turning the plates. But it's those kinds of things… things exist in all kinds of hidden places. All you need now is three mouse clicks to start discovering this stuff. You know, the world is yours. So that's, that's the kind of stuff we're trying to teach in History of Prints also.
AS: Just to circle back to the Garrett collection for a second, the Garrett library, as we said, is at Evergreen is a sort of collector’s dream of first editions. Right? Well, the print collection is fascinating because it is a survey of Western printmaking, read all male, white, et cetera,
TL: And really great impressions of them.
AS: There's some spots that aren't so great, but most of them are very good. But Garrett had purchased that collection from a Philadelphia collector who had put it together first. James Claghorn. So Garrett, in his effort to establish himself as a cultured person, lock, stock, and barrel bought this collection, as opposed to, you know, buying 15 Dürers from a dealer in New York and starting quietly to add… He bought the whole thing.
TL: So even the issues of collecting and just showing how savvy you are. I mean, it also gives some credence when you… if you ever heard somebody say, come up and look at my etchings sometime.
AS: It's a real thing.
TL: Yeah. If you have beautiful prints and they're etchings, which we'll probably end up talking about some really glorious etching when we get into the images-that-rock-your-world part of this effort.
AS: One of the reasons that Tru was making use of the BMA’s collection is that it was a mile and a third away from the school, but also with 65,000 objects in the print and drawing collection, we could tell the history of Western printmaking pretty much—I mean, with, we had obviously some gaps—from Dürer all the way up to yesterday. And it was mainly based in the Garrett collection and a few others. The museum has an incredible 19th-century French print collection that was collected by George A. Lucas. Not to be confused with the Star Wars Lucas. He was an artists’ dealer in Paris and collected multiple impressions of X, Y, and Z from Manet and…
TL: From the artists themselves.
AS: From the artists. And many of them are inscribed to him. There's a few Cassatts…
TL: Cassatts “To Mr. Lucas with all best regards.”
TL: I think it's The Banjo Lesson.
AS: I think you're right. And so that's, it's an invaluable resource because it's an intact collection. It also includes all of his catalogs and salon catalogs and reference books. And you could really see the totality of a connoisseur.
TL: And even that can become another issue because the Lucas Collection is a tremendously important part that the Baltimore Museum of Art has, but at one time it… Lucas, when in his bequest, he left it to the Maryland Institute College of Art. And so even this magnificent collection becomes an issue because it was part of the Maryland Institute, but ultimately in the mid-nineties, the Institute was falling on some hard times and was thinking about selling part of the Lucas Collection. And, Lucas had given it to the Maryland Institutes so students could use it, but when students use things, they use the hell out of them. They use them up. I mean, if you don't want anything to last, make sure you put it out there for student use. That's why Ann is always in the print room sitting with the students when they're looking at Dürers. But at the point the Maryland Institute, if I remember correctly, was trying to come up with funds and what it did was if you're going to destroy this, dismember this brilliant collection, that would have been a phenomenal loss to the history of art, to the history of prints, to a man's legacy. And so the citizens of Baltimore got together and the money was raised and it was brought into the custodianship… Or did you guys buy it outright?
AS: We did with a lot of money from individuals and also the State. But the interesting part is that Lucas dies in, I'm going to guess somewhere, maybe 1911-ish, somewhere in there. The prints were all in Paris. They get shipped to the Maryland Institute. They're there for not very long. They came to the museum in the thirties. They came to the museum as an on-loan collection. And they remained there until 1996, when the museum finally purchased them. So they were, they were loans for years and years and years. They were only at the Maryland Institute for 20 years, which is a long time, but it's not a long time.
TL: Who was the great curator though? The very first one, Blanche.
AS: Blanche Adler.
TL: In the story that the remarkable Jay Fisher, who was Mr. print curator for so long—we love him dearly—he had written an article about what would happen if we lost the Lucas Collection in the 1990s. And this is a reason I bring this up is because it's another lesson in how easy it is to lose history and, slicing a page out of a book like Audubon's Birds of North America so you set it up so it's pretty on the wall in your rich aunt's house is tragic because you've just ripped an arm off of a piece of a historical body.
AS: Well, he had to defend the purchase of it, which was a big effing deal.
TL: Oh, that's right. But it was also that Blanche Adler, his predecessor predecessor back in the thirties, had noticed that students were using a Cassatt to, they had it tacked against the window to diffuse the light. I mean these are prints that are now of course worth thousands and thousands of dollars. And at the time she'd only been dead maybe what 15 years? So it was just a thing then, and now it's a thing, you know, and we can use Mary Cassatt as one of the women artists we get to discuss. In fact, I was always sure to compare Mary Cassatt on the same day that we finished with Kollwitz. Because one is a child of privilege, mainline Philadelphia; one is a doctor's wife that chose to… she and her husband chose to live in the poorest part of Berlin. And the work that she makes is always of the poor, of the worker, taking solace in, finding the nobility of those who have far less and making them visible, I think for the first time. She was such a brilliant, but heavy topic, it's kind of like how you kind of had to end the day. Because she can suck all the oxygen out of the room, but in the most amazing way, you know? So it's being able to put two ideas or two concepts or two artists side by side. That's one of the brilliant things in the collection too. Also, as Ann and I went along in art history together. I mean, I'm looking at our dates from spring of 2005, we worked together until 2017. Towards the end of the time together, we were all able to bring out some of the newest accessions to the Baltimore Museum of Art’s collection, because those are some that Ann had curated (acquired). A couple of times I was there with her.
AS: That's true.
TL: Like the Jim Dine Raven on Lebanese Border kind of thing.
AS: That was a good one.
TL: But it was because that was the other part was to be able to see brand new, not even accessioned into the collection yet. So to get the students to realize that it is an evolving thing, it's just not this deep freeze of mink coats that you can never look at, you know, that it was a really vibrant part of history and to understand what the influences were on the makers in their own time. What was the governing force? If it was the Church, it was the Church. If it was the Church, it was still the Church.
AS: It’s the Church story.
TL: If it was the Church getting broken up and what that meant. And when that happens, does it change the kind of subject matter that can be there and why that subject matter? And if it takes you all to the way to the present day and how some artists are trying to trick or fool us, or masterfully restate something. It gives us all of these different ways of what kinds of life, the life of the artist's mind needs to deal with. Because an artist now has nothing in some ways to do with an artist that was making prints of a saint that someone could carry in their pocket for protection in the 1400s. But it's still prints, and you get the world.
AS: Yeah. And that's something that Ben and I talked about in series one a lot, which is beauty of prints and print collecting is that because they're multiples, their price point is usually lower than other media and because of that, you can have it. I can have that Rembrandt and you can have that Rembrandt.
TL: Well, I can't have that Rembrandt.
AS: I don’t have that one either. But...
TL: But I can have that Goya over there. That Bracquemond on my wall. I only paid it off over a year.
AS: I turned Tru into a print collector.
TL: Yeah. Well, you are evil.
AS: I did. It was so much fun watching.
TL: So if you were to walk around with Purple Crayon Press, we can go: “We were together. We were together.” “Where'd you get that one?” “I did that one by myself?”
AS: Yes, every now and again.
TL: And then there was one very recently that both of us kind of went for, but I nabbed it first.
AS: You did nab it first.
TL: Yes, I did.
AS: I wanted that print.
TL: Dude, it was in my price point, okay?
AS: I know
TL: I'm a poor little iris from Iowa.
AS: Yes, it is perfect.
TL: Yes, it is perfect, you can visit it.
AS: It’s a little John Taylor Arms print of the war planes flying, dive bombing.
TL: But the flying thing is, look, I'm a flyer. So at any rate. I forgot the point I was going to make you goober. No, no, no, no, no, it was “Why prints?” Well, if one were to go into the story of why even art history, that would be something, but mine was very fortunate because my folks, when we were growing up, there were five of us and there wasn't a whole lot of money, like none. My mother was a journalist and she also was a journalism teacher and an English teacher, but she would occasionally write copy for the Des Moines Register and Tribune, the newspaper that Iowa depends upon. And both of my older brothers and I also had a morning paper route and, you’d go out at four in the morning and you're dragging around this heavy paper and delivering it to homes, which teaches you wonderful things about milkmen who give you a free carton of milk because they see you walking around.
TL: Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. And you know, but it's also Des Moines and it's 20 below. You kind of need something on days like that, but my brothers, being older, there would always be two or three extra copies of the paper and it would be sitting on the table when I would come down. And there was always had to be at least two copies because my parents did crossword puzzle battles. I mean, they were fierce, but there would be at least two or three papers and they’d be lined up and that picture on the front right below the headline to see that repeated, repeated, repeated, and particularly it was burned into my mind one shot of a young man in the back of an ambulance during the Vietnam war. But to see an image repeated. At the time I was in my early teens, but I just remember how strong that was for me to be able to see those images, bop bop bop bop bop, and periodically I walked my mom's copy into the paper. Yes. Back in those days, we got on our horses and rode across the Plains to deliver. I'd walk Mom’s hand-typed-on-a-Remington copy into the Des Moines Register and Tribune. But you go past the press room windows that faced the main street of Des Moines, Iowa, and it was like Krispy Kremes, but fast, you know, the papers would be going (sound effect) and they'd be being printed and rolling down these huge things and they'd be up and over and round and folded and bop bop bop bop bop, and just like in the movies, but you'd see the repeated image. And that to me was so thrilling. And I think even editorial cartoons, because Frank Miller was and Ding Darling was also another one of the Pulitzer-prize-winning cartoonists whose cartoons would be on the front page of the paper. And that stuck in my mind big time too. And I guess that's where the Daumier thing comes from. I just realized that now, because I would analyze their lines, styles and all of this, and it was above the fold… It was the multiplicity of those images on the front page of the newspaper that got me fascinated. And then I hadn't had printmaking. We all did linocut.
AS: I did.
TL: Of course we did. And I thought that was really cool, but I didn't think it was something you got to do except in Mr. Rooney's eighth grade class. Until I got to college. And there's a circuitous path from being pre-med into going, oh God, that takes discipline. I have ADD, that's not going to work on organic chemistry and calc. No, I don't think so. Maybe I'm medical illustration or biology is gorgeous the way there's this thing called the computer. No, no, no, no, no. And then vocal performance. And then I took my first art history class. I'm like, oh, you can major in this? I just thought it was a neat thing that you could see, like my folks where I was taking us the Des Moines Art Center, because it was free. It was beautiful. But, and then the next semester I took a printmaking class. Oh my God, first semester, my junior year, it was the first printmaking class I ever had. And that was it. And it just the magical cookery of it, the care, the craftsmanship, the carving for me as a latent sculptor on a level playing field of doing things to a surface to make it do something to another surface. And then you get multiples. I mean, that's an amazing thing. As opposed to going—and believe me, I teach art history—dab dab dab dab on a canvas. For me? Not going to happen. To go click, click, click with a mouse. For me, not going to happen. To carve into a surface to get it in there, bite it in acid, put it on a press bed, crank it through, and then lift it up and go, oh, or damn. That, to me, is part of the making. So it's getting that whole life cycle of a print and what it can do once it's out there. That to me is absolutely thrilling. And that's the kind of thing that the History of Prints was there to teach these young printmakers. That’s why prints rock.
AS: But you didn't have a history of prints class in college?
AS: Neither did I.
TL: No. I had two weeks to prepare for that first one. And then, yeah.
AS: Yeah. I mean, it's kind of amazing to me that it's not offered, even in, not in an art history vein, like it's, it really…
TL: It really, really, really should be.
AS: I also find it amazing if you listen to the episode in series one on the role of the curator, where I confess that during my junior year, almost the exact same moment that you discovered your thing, I discovered mine. Day two in my internship at the Whitney I was like, “this is it.”
TL: Oh yeah, yeah. But wait, what part of the Whitney did you work in?
AS: Curatorial. I was with Barbara Haskell. She was working on early 20th century Modern painters.
TL: Which of course, we all have to read Barbara Haskell because she was like the thing.
AS: She's good. Yeah.
TL: And that's, that's the magic of a junior year also. It used to be that that's about when the students would also be taking History of Prints because they would have completed… That's the general idea, was that they would have completed their requirements, the first foundation requirements and drawing and sculpture and all of those things. And then sophomore year, there's some more requirements and you're starting to feel out what your major might be. And if you haven't figured out what your major is going to be by your junior year, you're in some hot water. But if you take History of Prints and it gives you this entire new menu of things to choose from, then you're really talking. Ideally, maybe there will be those that say, give it to a student their sophomore year. But they really need to have had some other art history first. Otherwise I think it's lost on them and senior year, it might be a little bit too late, but then again, they're real motivated because they only had but so much time left. And then eventually it was like, this should really be two semesters. And Ann is standing there panting. It's like, we're both like, yeah, it should, because that was an intense output. We were both sweating at the end.
AS: We were both cooked at the end of the class.
TL: Totally, totally. But it was a performance, but the magic of that and seeing the faces, the eyes light up, or the hushed tones, or learning how to… There's a tempo to presenting things so that I'm not, like I am now, endlessly fire hosing a ton of information at people. But to let there be silences. That is an important and wonderful thing too.
AS: So I think you're selling yourself short. There were some silences, usually while I was shuffling crap as fast as I could put the interleaving back in.
TL: I never understood how you can do that.
AS: It was challenging. But Tru, when you get on a roll and you start talking about something… So at some point in series one, we start talking about the three moments, Ben and I, started talking about the three moments that we were overcome with emotion about some object, and it was fascinating. Mine are sort of random and, like Las Meninas at the Prado. I didn't know anything about the painting. I was just struck by it. Right.
TL: Really? You didn't even know.
AS: I mean, I knew what it was, but I had never studied it. And Ben’s were all moments when you were talking about prints.
TL: How about that?
AS: I said, so what are your three? He said, well, let's see. The Three Crosses (Rembrandt) always gets me. Battlefield (Kollwitz), always gets… I was like, hold on, whoa, whoa. Now those are all moments that overcame you because you were listening to someone super eloquent on a roll, telling you something that got the emotions to link up with the visual for you. Which was just a whole different reaction than me walking into a gallery and going, holy shit. What is that?
TL: But at the same time then, Ben and his ability to start talking about things… Look how wonderfully florid he's becoming in his ability to speak extemporaneously.
TL: You know, and just like, why is this grabbing me? You know, if I can say, this is what's in this picture and eventually you go, oh, and you start to realize that you can start picking those things out too. I mean, he's got a laser eye and I think it's so… Oh God, it's so easy in this day, when all this random crap pops up on your phone and you don't even notice how much bullshit's flying up there, but it's you and this image that a person who's touched it and it’s right there. If you learn how to look… It was like, oh my God. And it's there and it's there. And, oh, what's that? Oh my God. And then you'd be… What I tell my students, if you got a 20-foot image, a 10-foot image, a 5-foot image and it still says, come on, come on, come on until you're two inches away and the museum guard is going to smack you, then the artist has won and you win, too. Because you're right there and you're trying to find it. And that's… Really giving people the ability to know that they have the power to do that. And if you don't, you're missing half a life because 90% of the information is supposed to go in through your eyes. And it still can. It could just be…
AS: 90%? Is that right?
TL: Oh yeah.
AS: I believe it.
TL: And yeah. And that's why you don't talk about like going blind. Oh, that's terrifying. But that's why History of Prints is there, and you can get that close. And so… What else are we supposed to say?
AS: In that same vein, Ben confessed and I remember the one time during--I think it was The Three Crosses. No, it was the one with Simeon (Rembrandt).
TL: Simeon's Presentation in the Temple.
AS: This is another Rembrandt etching. And…
TL: It broke me down.
AS: It broke you. And that broke us because we've listened to you for however many times through this thing. And you saw something new and that came through like a fucking laser. And the two of us were like, aughhhhhh.
TL: It was the first time. I think it was the first time I used that image and it was shortly after…
AS: It was the first time? Really?
TL: Probably, well, let's put it this way. It was the first time I'd seen it that way. Because it's a super important image by Rembrandt.
AS: Which goes to, every time you approach a work of art, it's different.
TL: It's like a fireplace. That's like watching a fireplace. It's going to be different. You know, there are times where I think, gosh, I'll never hear Beethoven’s Seventh for the first time ever again. But that's not really true because it depends on who's conducting it, what orchestra, how it was recorded. How heavy are the basses in that section? How, you know,
AS: Is it Bernstein?
TL: Or is it a German conductor? Is it von Karajan? The thing about Simeon in the Temple… It's when Rembrandt has totally hit his stride and he's really figured out how to have figures that are completely in the light and just barely scribbled in there. But they're a way of carrying light into an image. And then there's a way he focuses your attention at a moment. And then there'll be maybe a dark side of the image as well. And Simeon is this old guy and he goes to the temple and he's been told that once he sees that the Messiah has come, he may die. He's ancient. He's been waiting and he's just ancient ancient ancient. And so Simeon has approached the altar in the temple and there's this infant, and I swear to you that the face on Simeon must be no bigger than 3/8 x 3/8. Which means that it must be like seven lines max that creates this face. And it's this wizened old man leaning forward and there is this shaft of light on him and seeing the infant, he now knows that he'd may go. He's allowed to die, that he can pass on. His time has been spent well. Oftentimes when we were teaching History of Prints and I'm looking at stuff upside down and from different angles, which also teaches me just how important composition is from any angle. That's also a really useful tool. Here's Simeon is coming in. I don't know if I was looking at it right-side-up or what, but I, blah, blah, blah, talking about Simeon in the Temple, and then he sees the infant and he knows he could go. And I looked at it, I went, I’ve seen that face and it was my mother's face. The day she died, she knew she could go. I gave her permission, and it was like that. And it's this silly little piece of paper that holds a lifetime of love in it. And that's what you get in History of Prints, if you want. That's all.
AS: Demonstration number one.
TL: It was, so it was so her face, it was just, it's this wonderful release in this kind of awe. It was so exquisite. And Rembrandt, get this, I got choked up talking about the Rat Catcher one day.
AS: You did?
TL: Yes. Something was going on, it was partly a Trumpian time, you know, and it was like just being so evil to people of no standing or the lesser than, or the other. And, you know, talking about how, Amsterdam in Holland in the 17th century is the most literate, has the highest per capita lifestyle of any place on the planet, and there's a rat catcher that's coming. He’s got his rats, all dangling from his post that he's got the owner of the house is leaning over the Dutch door, looking at the rat catcher and he's standing there. And I was ranting about something about economy and about how these people would take care of their own. And even Rembrandt would show betters with humanity and actually make images that included them as prints. Which means there's going to be a market for people buying more because they're lessons in humility, humanity, mercy, those kinds of things. And there's this image and I'm blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's something I must have been in the news that had so addled me that I was ranting about it. And I looked at it and I said, and he'll do something like this. And it was just, it was like, he got me. It was like, just because the person who's come to the door. It's not like, oh God, here comes the people that are trying to sell you a new form of electric access or whatever. It was the face of the person who was looking at the rat catcher who is a beggar man with dead rats, but he's going to come and take these pests out of your home. He knew me, you know, and that's like the 1640s. And we can't even still figure this out. I mean, looking at COVID and taking away people's unemployment. People are people and people suffer, and we all have more than we think we do. And enough is a feast then why can't we be better to most, you know, or if not, all. So I think that I learned more about humanity in those times… Even Callot did beggars and street performers. And, you know, it's that as a subject. If you were to see that now… Let's see, who could do it. Käthe Kollwitz would have done it. A couple of the guys doing WPA prints during the depression, we could see something like that. And then let's move our way forward and start realizing how much less there is there of that. And it's more, you know, what is the…
AS: It’s more documentary photography now.
TL: Yeah. Which I think in a way as a little too easy. In a way, because I think people react to photography far differently. It's an immediate impulse and an immediate access in prints because your eyes have to wander through those lines and start having them solidify into something that I think has a different kick. You know? So it's those kinds of lessons in humanity or sometimes it's just what the artist went through to make something happen or how firm their belief is in something. Sometimes it's just the prodigal beauty of how a person makes their mark and makes it look so easy. And it's not. That it took a lifetime to master how to, with a very few lines, say so much with so little. That simple is beautiful, but simple isn't easy. It's those kinds of things, that's an amazing thing too.
AS: I think that's why Rembrandt continues to be the guy because he runs the gamut from religiosity to humility, as well as you, me, and your neighbor
TL: Or just, you know, he's a great story. Oh my God. Or the Adam and Eve. She's like this nice middle-aged woman and she's looking all crabby and Adam's holding the apple and he's looking all crabby and they looked like this bitchy married couple. And it's like, oh man, did you nail that, buddy? Just as a little bitty print, it's funny as can be. And you compare that to the Dürer where Adam is this Adonis of a body and the whole forest is beautifully rendered and every animal is present, but you know, you look at the Rembrandt and you're like, yup, I know that is that squabbling… The Bickersons. It's like, yeah, even Adam and Eve squabbled. That's a storyteller right there.
AS: I love Dürer, but I feel like Rembrandt would be a much more interesting conversation.
TL: Heck yeah. If you read some of the literature, he apparently was a really horrible little man, but I'm sure he'd be a lot of fun to speak to. Dürer, c’mon, man. He was so beautiful. Look at me.
AS: Ego, ego.
TL: In a way he has the right.
AS: I know. But I love a Dürer.
TL: Yeah, Rembrandt had his own little problems too. But sometimes you can't cancel people completely because the contribution they made or the change that they wrought could be completely useful, too. That's even something that I've been thinking about a lot. Gauguin was a total ass and left his wife and four or five kids to like, “alright, God, I can’t be a baker. The only thing I'm good at is painting. I'm going to go to Tahiti and paint these beautiful little Tahitian treat girls. I'll marry one, whatever.” You know, that's a jackass who really changed modern art.
AS: I have a hard time with all that, now. What do I do with Picasso and Matisse? They were all pigs.
TL: Yes. But they were allowed to be pigs because there was no group of women going, “oh no.” I mean, think about Käthe Kollwitz knew what she meant, but the Kaiser stripped her of the medal she won that year because no woman can be winning a gold medal for drawing and or that it was too naturalistic. You know, everybody has a point. That's the other thing about History of Prints, that we can get into those kinds of arguments, as well.
AS: Right. So let's wrap up with, if you don't mind… You always had the “what's your credo, what do you believe in” talk for the students as they were embarking on their final projects that I always thought…
TL: You mean what's your manifesto? That’s create your credo. It doesn't mean it has to stick with you forever, but what do you believe? It was what's your manifesto? That was, in fact it could be one of their final reflections. Each student, because we've talked about the futurist manifesto or the surrealist manifesto, would be asked, but what is your manifesto?
AS: That's the thing that I think separates art school education curricula from other kinds and separates the kind of brains that artists have, that people like me don't. Nobody ever asked me what my goddamn credo was ever.
TL: But you know what it is, and we talk about it, but…
AS: Well, I do now.
TL: What's your art, you know, what's your elevator speech, right? It’s like I believe in this and that and the other. It's like the Apostle's creed in a way. Right. And, the idea of, for this moment… it doesn't mean that you have to believe this forever, but what do you strongly believe in right now? Actually, I do that a lot with that final 20th-century one, when I was listing all of the stuff that had happened to Martin Luther King…
AS: That's the speech that always got me.
TL: Well, that’s so sweet.
TL: But that's because I was putting it together for me, you know? And I put together that timeline. To realize that in my lifetime, we went from the civil rights act to the civil rights voting act up to Barack Obama. In my lifetime. It's amazing to me that that that could have happened. And now we have Kamala Harris. And yet we have so much to do because there's so much that's still so fucked up, but that's where prints could be completely useful. So that idea of really taking a hard look at the world, and seeing what is it that I could do? What do I think? What is an image that I could make? And the other thing that I put in every single syllabus, I think for the last 20 years, and it's a quotation actually by a photographer, Walker Evans, who was taking photographs for the Farm Service Administration… But it is “stare, educate your eye and more, stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop, die knowing something, you are not here long.” And it always ended that way too. You’ve got now. Use it. That's what I do in those classes, because it's all we get, is now.
AS: I always try to describe your effect on the students and why they always say “the best class I ever took was History of Prints. I got so much out of it.” And between seeing things up close at the museum, but also just your incredible passion for not only your own thinking and beliefs, but also helping them along their own paths. I mean, it's a gift.
TL: It's a legacy. It's giving back. It's paying it back and paying it forward. Because we become the people we respect. And if I hadn't been taught the way I was at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, then, you know… The credo of that school was lives of worth and service. It didn't say lives of good and stable income. But if you'd say lives of worth and service and… I can't not teach. I can't. It's my expensive hobby. I'm not a full-time faculty member, but I'm not one that are going to get rid of, because I got these students and they're miracles and I want them to feel like I felt, and that's why that happens. And I don't know any other way to do it. And I don't honestly know where it comes from in the moment. That's why I was get all weird and squiggly about stuff like what we're doing right now, but we're doing it.
AS: It took me a while to convince you to do it.
TL: Ann’s pretty good at pulling teeth. I don't have very many teeth left, but… Yeah, but that's why History of Prints. Because it's the world. You get the world if you want. And if you don't, have a good time with your phone and your TV. I wish you luck.
AS: Alright. So, thanks for listening to the first episode of what we hope will be many. I'm not exactly sure how many we're going to do in this series, but we're going to start and keep going.
TL: It's an un-closed edition.
AS: There you go. It's an open edition. We're going to start chronologically, right? Skipping along, over prints that we think are linchpins or jaw droppers or whatever their effect. It's curator's choice.
TL: Yup. Yup.
AS: If you have requests, let us know.
TL: You definitely can. Because sometimes: each one, teach one. Cause you learn a lot from your students, too. So if you have a favorite, it's like if you like such-and-such by so-and-so…
AS: And maybe we can even, if we can find them and they are willing, have some alumni of History of Prints come on and talk to us about their experience. Wouldn’t that'd be great?
TL: Yeah, we should go look through the roster. Oh my gosh. Oh my peeps. I love my peeps.
AS: Anyway. Thanks for joining us today. We'll be back with more
TL: Hail and farewell, centurion.
AS: There you go.
AS: You've been listening to Platemark series two the History of Western Printmaking. I hope you're enjoying it and learning. We welcome questions and hope you will rate us and leave a review. That will help us spread the word. And you could share it with your sphere of influence, too. We'd appreciate it.
Platemark series two History of Prints is produced and mixed by me, Ann Shafer and my co-host is Tru Ludwig. And I'd like to say a special thank you to Michael Diamond for letting us use his original composition as our theme music.
Platemark series two History of Prints
Producer and host: Ann Shafer
Co-host: Tru Ludwig
Theme music: Michael Diamond
Show notes and website: platemarkpodcast.com
©2021 Ann Shafer