Monday, March 31, 2014

Recent Work On Display at Briar Bush Nature Center

I hung my work up at the Treetops Art Gallery at Briar Bush Nature Center's Dede Long Nature Museum. On the walls are small woodcuts from the artist's books I made last November: Scarlett and In My Yard. Downstairs behind the desk at the main entrance are two prints of a Great Horned Owl, from my current book project, Cat and Owl In Love
The common thread in all these woodcuts is that they are inspired by fauna local to the area. 

The book In My Yard depicts scenes of plants and small animals seen in my yard in Philadelphia. The small scale and subject of these works connects with an artist residency I'm fullfilling this year with the Wagner Free Institute for Science. In that position I've been teaching woodcut printmaking inspired by insects to middle schoolers enrolled in after school programs. My art curriculum compliments a science curriculum taught by other educators and which focuses on insect lifecycles. 

The book Scarlett was specifically inspired by a rescued screech owl who now resides at Briar Bush (as seen in this photograph.) The real Scarlett is regularly featured in Briar Bush's nature education programs for children. 

All of the woodcuts in the exhibition plus more from my Cats A-Z book will be for sale in the gift shop. All woodcuts on exhibition and for sale are original art (not reproductions), which is to say hand-carved and hand-printed with a wooden spoon by me. 

The Dede Long Nature Museum is open Monday-Saturday from 9-5 and Sunday from 1-5. The Treetops Art Gallery is located on the second floor of the museum. Admission is free for Friends of Briar Bush members and Abington Township residents, and for all others, $3 for adults. $2 for ages 2-17, and free for children under 2. The address is 1212 Edgehill Road, Abington, PA. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Tennessee Cove, Marin Headlands" by Tom Killion

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More about Tom Killion can be found at his website,

This cove is a good hiding place. Despite the drama of the great, black rock which towers over us like a menacing,  torso embedded in onyx, this place is quiet, peaceful. Fragrant flora dot the hillside. The sand is cooled by blue ripples of water. Foamy, green waves slosh against the smaller rock barriers, sounding a rhythmic, seashore lullaby.

But lo, that blindingly yellow sky is ripped open. Behind the tear, orange ribbons flutter by like a flock of dragons. Ready or not, here they come.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Three Woodcuts from "American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints of the 1930's and 1940's" at La Salle University Art Museum

 Boy In the City, Edward Palmer
This week I checked out the exhibition American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints of the 1930's and 1940's at La Salle University Art Museum. The show featured prints from both the museum's permanent collection and the Free Library of Philadelphia's Print and Picture Collection.

The WPA (Works Progress Administration) sought to provide employment for artists and bridge cultural divides during the Great Depression by (among other efforts) commissioning a huge number of works of art.

What is impressive about this exhibition of fine art prints alone is that while a wide variety of styles and artists from varied backgrounds is represented, the common theme of a specific era in the United States comes across. Although I didn't feature them here because they were not woodcuts, my two favorite pieces from the exhibition were an intensely humanizing mezzotint portrait by Dox Thrash, and a colorful engraving of musicians by Hilda Husik.

Before seeing the works face to face, I was a little worried that I'd encounter images of melodrama and idealized Americana. Some of the prints in the show, at a quick glance, seem as if they could be that. But under closer inspection I saw that through nuance and artful (and often experimental) methods, each artist managed to convey a deep sense of humanity. (Okay, except Thomas Hart Benson's works - I hate that guy's work. It all seems just pretty, but heartless. Maybe I'm missing something.) Taken as a whole, I interpreted certain consistent messages: hope and a sort of quiet endurance as people faced great difficulties, the various associations (both noble and devastating) of hard, physical labor in both rural and urban settings, and an ultimately vibrant human spirit against the backdrop of rapid and monumental change.

Coal Mining, David Burke
In this post I've included three of the color woodcuts in the show. The first is Edward Palmer's Boy In the City. The actual print is about the size of a large book cover. I felt as if I were looking through a window to the past. What most intrigues me about this image is the bag of toys (including a figure of the exotic elephant)*, beside a boy who appears perhaps too old to play with toys. Or maybe he's just in that transition between boyhood and manhood. His face is in dark show under his cap, and he occupies a cluttered, disheveled environment. But I cannot help but feel that this image contains a great message of hope. It is a soothing moment in time; the background color is distinctly warm, and we see from the angle of the sheets hung out to dry that there is a calm breeze. His gaze points up, and light is shining on this young man.

*It was brought to my attention that what I thought was a toy elephant in the bag in the bottom righthand corner of Palmer's Boy In The City, might actually be a scrawny cat crawling into a bag of food. When I looked at the image again, it now seems obvious - mainly based on the context of the image - that it is indeed a stray cat, and not a toy. (This edit was added on 3/31/14.)

My favorite woodcut in the show was David Burke's Coal Mining. The eerie and threatening nature of working underground is conveyed through an unexpected combination of dark hues and slanted beams which seem poised to collapse. The two miners are simple and stylized, yet their gestures are animated. While everything else seems barely scratched into existence, they bulge out and are glowing with heat and movement.

Woodbine, Ernest Watson
The third print featured here is Ernest Watson's Woodbine. Though the colors are rather cheery, the scene quiet, and the cow seems rather healthy and robust, I get a strong sense of entropy from this image. The tree, the buildings, and the fence all heavily lean as if being slowly pushed down by their own weight and old age. The blue of the sky is slashed. It all fades and then abruptly vanishes at the edges. Though to some degree this seems a quaint and cozy scene, the impermanence and vulnerability of this way of life weighs heavy in the back of my mind.

With these three woodcuts alone, I feel I've showcased some of the wide variety of artistic styles featured in the exhibition.

Learn more about the exhibition from the press release. Better yet, if you get a chance, visit the museum (free admission!) Mondays-Fridays, 10am-4pm. And if you can't get to the show but want to have an intimate viewing experience with the works in this show, La Salle has published an exhibition catalog for sale on lulu.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"After Lunch" by Elizabeth Norton

I first posted on Norton just over a month ago. I find that I'm especially drawn to her style of color woodcuts of animals given the project I'm working on at this time. Here I feature another of Norton's colorful gems:

The abundant grass is swept up in their steady and continuous feeding.

munch munch munch 

The white rabbit is tired. He leans against an orange companion, eyelids heavy. His rapid heart-beat slows from a gallop to a mere trot.

ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom 

One stands on higher ground, eyes open wider, ears perked up straighter than the rest, muscles more tense. She will give the signal, should anything go awry. Not that anything ever does in this domesticated sphere they occupy.


Eating, dozing, and on alert - it is everything they do.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Early Spring" by Eva Stockhaus

Even though I found many high-resolution images of Eva Stockhaus's wood engravings, the only information about the artist I've found in English was that she was Swedish, lived from 1919-2009, and exhibited primarily in Sweden and sometimes London, England. I only found one book on the artist, but it's in Swedish. I want a copy anyway just for the pictures. This is certainly an artist whose work I will write about more than once.

Stockhaus's wood engravings tend to be dramatic, often vertically oriented landscapes, such as this stoic scene of early spring. The image is loaded with subtle symbolism. One thick and gnarly tree stands with branches still bare from winter's sleep, but a gigantic knot, swirling and speckled, emerges from the trunk like a pregnant belly. Another tree's branches, these bursting with new leaves, reaches into the scene and in front of the bare tree. Blooming flowers merely creep into the bottom left corner of the composition. Most dramatically, a flock of birds in black silhouette rise up into flight, and form a dotted path into the sky. Normally, as they connect to spring, birds would symbolize return. But these are flying away from the viewer, which I find intriguing. I invariable conclude that the darkness of their plumage symbolizes the darkness of the coldest season as it slowly recedes and longer days return.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Owl and Cat in Love, "Watching the Sunset..." and "...With Company" (double page spread pages 17-18)

"Watching the Sunset..." and "...With Company"
Woodcuts (reduction)
Each is 11.25" x 11.75" (image), 15" x 16" (paper)
Oil based inks on Subi paper
Limited editions of 3 each

Finally safe on dry land again, Owl and Cat take a moment to enjoy the setting sun. However, this island is already inhabited, and some of the natives are taking a moment to watch them.

Are there any silhouettes you, dear reader, recognize?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Owl and Cat in Love, "Finding the Island" (double page spread pages 15-16)

"Finding the Island"
Woodcut (reduction)
20" x 9.5" (image)
24" x 15" (paper)
Oil based inks on Subi paper
Limited edition of 3

Our protagonists have survived the stormy seas. After having lost their boat (thank goodness Owl can fly), they thankfully discover a welcoming shore, where the bong tree grows... 

I've been keeping to the formula of a four-layers-of-color reduction for this project. But you'll see that here the hues have dramatically warmed. It's not just because of the sunlight at this time of day. Things are (perhaps) looking up for Owl and Cat.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

“In Those Days (A Quei Tempi)" by Marie Weaver

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More of Marie Weaver's work, which includes sculpture and artist's books as well as woodcuts, can be found on her website, here
I first discovered Marie Weaver's woodcuts in 2010 when they were featured on McClain's online gallery. I was immediately struck by the lyrical compositions.
In this image, sheep trot along and red birds deftly soar. Plowed fields seem to course like a river and the foilage of a nearby tree bursts up and out from its trunk like a fountain. Though on the move, the shapes of these living things interact so gracefully with the ground and sky, like puzzle pieces perfectly arranged. 
When I wrote to Weaver asking for permission to write this post, she told me that she did the drawing for this print while in Tuscany to teach a workshop. She described the landscape as "a magical place":   
We were located on the property of a 12th century tenuta, Spannocchia, a farm with a villa and sharecroppers' houses sprinkled across the acres. Current owners operate it as a farm and educational center. They farm traditional crops and animals, hence the olive trees and sheep, among other things.
Certainly Weaver has caught some of that magic in this image. You can also find a slightly higher resolution version of In Those Days (A Quei Tempi) on Weaver's website here

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tugboat Printshop's "Farm Barge" and "Surf"

Images used with the permission of the artists. Tugboat Printshop is the two-artist team of Valerie Lueth and Paul Roden. They are based in Pittsburgh and sell limited edition color woodcuts from their online store. Click the link above to learn their story and view/purchase more of their amazing prints.
The style of Lueth and Roden's collaborative images is always very tight and stylized, and I find it most fascinating and surreal when they depict vapor or fluid. I included a second print, "Surf" to further display the tendency to make that which is loose, solid. This has a particular logic to it when depicting a wave, as waves often behave as if they are solid objects, such as when they allow surfers to literally ride on top of them, or when they do tremendous damage to solid structures during a storm. The three-layered wave in "Surf" seems not only to be solid, but to have perhaps come alive, by virture of its feathery texture, lively colors, and animated position.

In "Farm Barge" the clouds in this sky seem like clusters of various-sized wheels, rolling along an invisible track. They appear to have so much weight to them, and I can't shake the feeling that they could suddenly drop from the sky, pummeling the floating farm into wreckage.

The waves unroll like carpets. Or maybe more like a roll of dense and heavy linoleum. Movement is slowed down to a crawl - I can almost hear a creak - and I more profoundly contemplate this particular moment in time. These forces (atmosphere and water) are captivating in their elusive movements and ever-changing forms. But they are intimidating for the same reason. They are tremendously powerful, and we are at their mercy. But we can learn to work with nature. Gather energy from the wind. Sail on the seas.  Today is a bright and colorful day.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Barry Moser's Uncommonly Expressive Animals

This weekend I stumbled upon a picture book illustrated with the most exquisite hand-colored wood engravings. The book was Ever Heard of an Aardwolf? and the illustrator was American artist Barry Moser.

Even though I found this book in the Children's library area of the Academy of Natural Sciences, it is hardly only for children.

Moser is a serious artist with a prolific career and his own imprint, Pennyroyal Press. Many of his stunning black and white original engravings (which sell for hundreds each) depict animals.

This book in particular included type designed by Eric Gill, lettering by Judythe Sieck, and was printed on Mohawk Superfine paper. I might have found it among many cheap, mass-produced, mediocre books for kids, but it was a gem among pebbles.

Most importantly, the imagery is certainly sophisticated enough to be enjoyed on a high level by an adult audience.

What most captivated me about the animals in this book were the emotions conveyed by the animal's facial expressions (especially in the eyes), and sometimes the gestures of the bodies. The okapi glancing down as if caught in a moment of wistful reflection. The zebu who stares down the viewer with a haughty frown.

Obviously I can't (or at least shouldn't) repost a significant portion of someone else's book here. But I can at least give a small taste with these three, low-resolution details of primates wearing tremendously human expressions. I highly encourage anyone who enjoys wood engravings and/or animal art to seek out this book and see the whole collection of works in its full glory.

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Quiet Night" by William Hays

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More about William Hays as well as images of his paintings and prints can be found (and purchased) at the Artist's Loft website.

A tangerine glow
Heat embraced by docile snow
An igloo's hearth, unbound

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Driving Snow" by Erich Heckel

Here's a little gem from Erich Heckel I just discovered. 

Sharp planks of light and shadow cut across the sky and into the tumbling landscape like bolts of lightning. Flat, silhouettes of trees seem more like over-sized dried leaves and naked branches stabbed into the snow-covered hill. I feel I am standing in a high place with nothing below to catch me if I fall. And losing my balance is likely as this whole place is rolling along at a ferocious pace. 

I really need to feature more Die Brücke artists on this blog. So many exhilarating woodcuts came out of German Expressionism.