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Fremont Ellis Landscapes and Gustave Baumann Woodblock Prints


A new exhibit is on display in Gallery 5 at the Stark Museum of Art featuring Fremont Ellis Landscapes and Gustave Baumann Woodblock Prints. This exhibit will be on view through July 2003 with the addition in September of an exhibit showing the woodblock print method.

Fremont Ellis's life as a painter started at the early age of thirteen when he unwillingly visited the Metropolitan Museum in New York. According to Ellis, "it was like if you had never seen very well, things were kinda blurred -- then suddenly, by some miracle, you could see all the leaves on the trees, and everything. It opened up a whole new world." Visiting the museum daily he would memorize the paintings and later copy them at home. It was through this process that Ellis taught himself to paint. (right: Fremont Ellis (1897-1985), Large Snow Scene or Winter Evening, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 inches, Stark Museum of Art, 31.20/24)

The next life-changing experience occurred when he visited Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1919. He fell in love with the land and the people, The landscapes were crisp, sharp, and colorful. He knew he would have to make this his home. He joined four other young painters "Los Cinco Pintores" or " The Five Painters" as they were called, for the purpose of exhibiting and selling their work. He spent the next 65 years painting and experimenting with techniques, executing many of his landscapes in heavy impasto describing the essential aspects of the scene with little reference to specific details. He would paint entirely from memory. He said, "A painting done on the spot can sometimes become too literal." He is aptly called an American Impressionist. He received many awards, and his works are represented in museums and private collections throughout the country.

The origins of woodblock printing can be traced to Egypt and China, where wooden stamps were used to make symbolic or decorative impressions in wax or clay. With the invention of paper by the Chinese in the 2nd century A.D., these stamps soon evolved into woodblocks used for printing. By the 6th century A.D., this concept of printing had progressed to Japan, and then westward. The "Golden Age" of the woodblock was 1450-1550 during which period artists perfected this medium for use in illustrations. Shortly thereafter, woodblock printing was replaced by copperplate engraving and etching which afforded the artisan greater flexibility of line. (left: Gustave Baumann (1881-1971), Bound for Taos, (sketch ) 1930, pencil and watercolor on rice paper, 11 3/4 x 13 1/2 inches, Stark Museum of Art, 31.216/9A)

The 19th century saw a revival of woodblock printing. The simplicity and bold patterns of Japanese woodblock prints influenced many artists including Paul Gauguin and the German Expressionists.

In the United States, Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) made his own contribution to the art of woodblock printing by being one of the first western artists to fully develop the use of color in woodblock printing. In the early 20th century Baumann was one of the first artists in New Mexico working in graphic arts. His use of woodblock printing helped to convey the spirit of New Mexico in a new and exciting manner. In producing a woodblock print from an original watercolor, Baumann carved separate wood blocks for every color to be printed, usually five or six colors for each print. He mixed his own colors and used paper made especially for him in Germany with his own watermark of a heart and hand. He usually printed a small edition of 25 prints. If they sold, he printed 50 more in edition II, and 50 in edition III, with no more than 125 of any print.

Gustave Baumann's family moved from Germany to Chicago when he was ten. As a young man he apprenticed at an engraving firm, attended the Art Institute of Chicago at night, and worked as a commercial artist designing labels for food products before he decided on the art of woodblock printing. He moved to Santa Fe shortly after his first visit in 1918. Baumann was one of the first western artists to fully develop the use of color in woodblock printing. He executed each stage of the woodblock printing himself. He designed the image, carved the block of wood, and did the printing in color. His prints of Taos and Santa Fe are alive with color.

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About Gustave Baumann

The New Mexico Museum of Art presented Pulling Strings: The Marionettes And Art Of Gustave Baumann from January 30, 2009 through May 10, 2009. From the museum's news release:

After a lengthy and extensive restoration process, the marionettes carved by Gustave Baumann in the 1930s will be on view beginning January 30, 2009 through May 10, 2009 at the New Mexico Museum of Art in the exhibition Pulling Strings: The Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann. Nearly all the puppets had to be restrung, leather joints replaced, costumes restored, and paint stabilized. This will be the first time in over fifty years that this number of marionettes and related stage material have been on public display.
The Baumann's living room was the site of the early marionette performances. Gus, as Baumann was called, carved and painted the marionettes and with his wife Jane wrote the scripts. She also made the puppets' costumes and helped perform the marionettes with the assistance of friends.
Since the performances often referred to local characters and events their popularity spread beyond their circle of friends and family. For years the larger community of Santa Fe was invited to attend performances just before Christmas. The marionette performances grew in renown and were moved to St. Francis auditorium and other public venues.
In the manner Baumann carved, painted, and articulated the puppets, he gave each one their own personality. A puppet with many moving parts could suggest activity, Freckles and Wart, for example; and by giving Miguelito the burro fewer moving parts the puppet seems to have a solid, steady character. The marionettes vary a great deal in size because they represent a wide range of people and animals (and even a dancing banana tree). The largest are about 24 inches tall and the smallest about three inches.
Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) learned his wood-carving skills after his family emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1891. At sixteen, Baumann apprenticed in a commercial printmaking shop in Chicago to learn the trade. Eager to know more about fine art, he enrolled in 1905 in the Royal School of Arts and Crafts, Munich, Germany, where he practiced and perfected his printmaking skills. Baumann demonstrated his ability in wood carving at this time when he produced a Bavarian village complete with hand-carved toys representing the townsfolk.
In 1918 Baumann moved to Santa Fe and worked in the basement of the New Mexico Museum of Art on his woodcut prints ­ for which he is best known. After his marriage to the singer and actress Jane Henderson in 1925, and the arrival of their daughter Ann in 1927, Baumann and his family in 1931 began to create their marionette theater. Intended in large part to entertain their daughter and friends, the marionette theater became an important part of their creative lives.
After Baumann's death in 1971, Jane and Ann, gifted the marionettes, stage materials, and related items to the New Mexico Museum of Art. In addition, they and other Baumann supporters donated a vast selection of Baumann's prints, paintings, and drawings to the museum, making the collection the largest in the world.
The museum continues the Baumann holiday tradition with marionette productions in St. Francis auditorium just before Christmas for the public. The marionettes used are exact replicas created so that the Baumann family's gift to Santa Fe and the world can continue to be enjoyed.
Exhibition curator Tim Rodgers, Ph.D., said, "Working with conservators to restore the marionettes and other materials has been very exciting. To see the marionettes 'live' again has been quite rewarding. And to view them showcased in their proper homes has given me a deep appreciation for the artistry of Baumann and his family."

Gustave Baumann's Southwest, by Joseph Traugott, published by Pomegranate Communications, 2007, 80 pages. Book News says of this book:

It is evident in the fifty woodblock prints collected here that the artist Gustave Baumann found home when he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1918. These super-colorful plates depict the infinite variety that sunlight lends to the Southwestern landscape, along with the churchgoers, wildlife, and Native American neighbors Baumann encountered. An essay from Traugott, curator of twentieth-century art at the New Mexico Museum of Art sheds light on Baumann's life and work.

ISBN: 978-0-7649-4178-8. (right: Gustave Baumann's Southwest front cover courtesy Amazon.com)

About Fremont Ellis

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rev. 10/19/09

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