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The History of American Printmaking: Selection from the Permanent Collection
Recently the ASU Art Museum received a gift of 190 prints from Melvin and Ellen Hellwitz. At the core of this gift are many examples of the best American printmakers from the early half of the 20th century. This gift offered a unique opportunity to highlight that time period, adding a few other prints from the permanent collection, and form the exhibition: The History of American Printmaking: Selections from the Permanent Collection.
Though there are a few prints from the 1920s, the focus of the exhibition is the volatile time of the 1930s-1940s. The nation was in a period of isolationism during the Great Depression and was bracing for the possibility of entering the Second World War. Roosevelt's New Deal generated temporary economic reforms which incorporated support for American art and artists through government programs that brought art into the public sector, schools and government buildings: the Section of Painting and Sculpture in the Treasury Department and the Federal Art Project in the Works in Progress Administration. As a result of the government support, there was renewed interest in printmaking as a medium that could reach a broad segment of the population and the artists of the period were encouraged to produce works with a distinctly American spirit.
The resulting work was categorized as the American Scene movement, seperated by some critics into two branches: the Regionalists and the Social Realists. Regionalists reflected rural American, romanticized views of country life as seen in the work by Thomas Hart Benton, Slow Train through Arkansas, 1941; John Steuart Curry, Sanctuary, 1944; and Grant Wood, Shrine Quartet, c. 1939. Social Realists depicted life in the American city, often with social and political commentary, such as in Margaret Lowengrund's Breadline, 1930s and Rockwell Kent's, And Now Where, 1936. The private presses and publishing firms were also very important in the development and propagation of the American Scene prints. The Associated American Artists (AAA) published etchings and lithographs by American artists and advertised their purchase - for $5. each - on the back of periodicals. This increased access to prints from the city art markets to a larger American audience, brought prints to more urban areas, such as Arizona. Many of the prints included in this exhibition were produced by AAA and acquired by the Hellwitzs and other donors, such as Mr. Oliver B. James, Mr. & Mrs. Read Mullan, Helen Shipley, Mr. & Mrs. Orme Lewis, and Robert Bell and Stirling Puck.
The American Scene movement declined with the insurgence of aesthetic influences from European artists escaping World War II. But the movement continues through this collection of prints, generously gifted by ASU Art museum supporters.
CHECKLIST OF THE EXHIBITION
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