The following opinion piece, "Grattitude?" (the title, assigned by Art &
Auction, is a melding of "gratitude" and "attitude") by Dr. Williams,
appeared in Art & Auction in April 2009. Dr. Williams has received many
letters commenting on the article, which has been circulated by development
directors across the country. One of them wrote:
of a museum emailed the article to his Director of Development to read and
ponder and then the DoD emailed it on to colleagues like myself with the message
"Very interesting. It is a powerful and instructive wake-up call to myopic (my
words would be 'just plain stupid') museum professionals. Thank you!"
National Gallery of Art announced in January that my husband, Dave, and I were
donating our print collection to the museum, articles about the gift appeared in
the New York Times and the Washington Post. Our collection, of
more than 5,000 prints by more than 2,000 American artists, from 19th-century
etchings to Pop art. Its greatest strength lies in its pieces from the first six
decades of the 20th century, particularly those made in the Depression era and
under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration. Familiar names abound-
George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Childe Hassam, Edward Hopper-but the collection
was best known for the outstanding quality of its examples by lesser-known
artists active from the 1920s to the 1940s.
poured in thanking us for the gift to the nation, many of them from print
collectors and dealers. Only three employees of other museums-two of them London
based- wrote to us, although we have circulated, at our expense, 18 exhibitions
from our collection to about 100 museums.
personnel have long amazed us. They seem to march to an unusual beat, if they
march at all. Consider the Northeastern U.S. museum where two of our shows
attracted good audiences and where, because the institution itself owned few
prints, we offered to build a print room and help it acquire a print collection.
The director invited us to look at "the perfect space." The room was
unsuitable-it had many windows, bright light, little wall space. When we
demurred, he explained that he expected us to pay to have it converted into a
restaurant. We asked, "What about the prints?" "Oh, you can hang a few in the
restaurant," he replied. We told him that we didn't finance restaurants, and he
became enraged, berating us for our lack of generosity. We never returned.
touring a shabby Connecticut museum devoid of visitors except for us, we were
asked by the director to describe the exhibitions we fund. We told her we
support American print exhibitions, preferably group shows, with a concentration
on work from the first half of the 20th century. She listened intently, taking
notes. The proposal she sent us asked for a substantial check to pay for a large
exhibition of American Impressionist paintings. When we reminded her of the type
of shows we support, she was irate. "But I don't want a print
exhibition," she complained. "I want the show I described in the proposal." We
wished her luck.
episodes reminded us of the famous Harvard Business Review article
"Marketing Myopia," whose author, Theodore Levitt, points out that corporate
managers who ignore their customers' desires reduce their chances of success.
Change the word customers to patrons, and it's easy to see that
the two museums cited suffer from marketing myopia. Neither has flourished.
institutions we might have considered as homes for our collection displayed a
similar lack of interest in our prints. For many years we had a close
relationship with the Metropolitan Museum's Bill Lieberman, a champion at
attracting collections. Because of his interest in the category, we contributed
funds to buy prints, underwrote an exhibition and in 1999 donated more than 200
rare examples by African-Americans working in the 1930s and 1940s. Since Bill's
death in 2005, no one at the Met has shown the slightest interest in our
been members of the Museum of Modern Art's Print Associates for 15 years or more
and have financed one exhibition and assisted in financing others. But during
the five years that our prints resided in a Stamford, Connecticut, building we
bought to house them and that was available to tour by appointment, neither the
MoMA print curator nor the Associates visited. Shortly after we donated our
prints and the building to the National Gallery, but before the donation was
announced, the curator tried-too late-to arrange a group visit.
behavior on the part of museum personnel does not affect just us. Members of a
wealthy family whom we know collect American and contemporary art and specify
these interests in the official description of their foundation. But they are
still besieged with unrelated requests. Now they send out a form letter that
begins "We do not support" followed by a list. They also keep notes on
institutions that haven't properly prepared their requests.
robust U.S. economy of the past 25 years allowed curators to show indifference
to would-be donors capable of benefiting their institutions and to reject
offered gifts, urging instead the support of projects in which the donors have
no interest. But the outlook for museums has changed with the recent downturn.
The value of Institutional endowments have declined sharply. Trustees at
Brandeis University have responded to the decrease in its endowment from $712
million to $540 million by threatening to close its Rose Art Museum and sell the
collection. Corporations that once sponsored exhibitions have disappeared, as
have many of the hedge funds that had enriched free-spending new collectors.
Museum personnel, if they want to remain employed, will make patrons' interests
and desires major concerns of their future fund-raising. Marketing myopia has no
place in the museum world today.
The following review by Dr. Williams appeared in a slightly different version in
Print Quarterly, XXIV, 2007, 3.
Mexico and Modern Printmaking A Revolution in the Graphic Arts 1920-1950,
edited by John Ittmann, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art and
McNay Art Museum in association with Yale University Press, New Haven and
London, 2006. 289 pp., 53 col. And 250 b. & w. ills.
stunning exhibition catalogue contains almost everything anyone would want to
know about an important subject that has received far too little attention. When
the topic of Mexican prints has been addressed, the resulting books and
catalogues often perpetuated old inaccuracies. Contributors to this catalogue
have taken a fresh look at existing material, updated it and provided new
information, including elusive death dates. The scholarship is thorough and
comprehensive; the 30 pages of discursive footnotes are an education in
themselves, and earlier misinformation has been corrected. The 125 prints and
posters in the exhibition, drawn almost entirely from the collections of the two
organizing museums, are magnificent. Such a lavish display of Mexican prints in the USA
has rarely, if ever, been seen, and like all great exhibitions, makes the viewer
long for more.
interested in Mexican prints or the beginning of printmaking in the Americas
will want to read the opening essay by Lyle W. Williams, Curator of Prints and
Drawings at the McNay Art Museum. "Evolution of a Revolution, a Brief History of
Printmaking in Mexico" is only 21 pages long, but crammed with fascinating
tidbits, like "The first press in the New World was established in Mexico City
in 1539" and "Lithography [was] brought to Mexico in 1826."
Williams turns to a general view of Mexican printmaking, he explains that
although "a parallel is often drawn between Mexican and U.S. printmaking of the
1930s and 1940s, the prints and their makers were much more thoroughly
integrated with the social fabric of Mexico." This is true, but U.S. art of
those decades may have become a more integral part of society as a result of
lessons learned from Mexico. North American art owes an enormous debt to Mexican
artists, a debt rarely recognized in art history courses or textbooks, but that
will be obvious to perusers of this catalogue.
Rivera (1886-1957), José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) agnd David Alfaro Siqueiros
(1896-1974) made many of their prints for the U.S. market, and all three worked
with the New York-based master lithographer, George C. Miller, from whom--like
other artists of the period--they learned a great deal. The publication of their
prints spread their ideas, images and artistic styles and was a major part of
the cultural exchange between Mexico and the U.S.A.
Shoemaker, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the
Philadelphia Museum of Art, addresses the exchange in "Crossing Borders, The
Weyhe Gallery and the Vogue for Mexican Art in the United States 1926-40."
Shoemaker documents the role of the New York-based Weyhe Gallery; its director,
Carl Zigrosser (1891-1975) from 1919 to 1940; the U.S. writer and Mexico
resident, William Spratling (1900-67), and other U.S. citizens in bringing both
Mexican prints and printmakers to the United States.
when Zigrosser left the Weyhe Gallery, he became the Print Curator at
Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he continued to explore his interest in
Mexican art until his retirement in 1965. Shoemaker's account of Zigrosser's
Philadelphia years is especially valuable, dealing as it does with a
less-publicized aspect of Zigrosser's career than the Weyhe years. When
Zigrosser retired, the Museum purchased his collection of American art, and
after his death in 1976 acquired from his widow 134 prints and drawings created
by artists who were born in Mexico or had worked there most of their careers.
This material is the source of new and specific details in the history of some
of the prints discussed in the catalogue.
An essay by
John Ittmann, Curator of Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, focuses on
"Gringos: Foreign Artists in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s," a time when U.S.
artists made the pilgrimage to Mexico to work with and learn from the muralists.
As Ittmann points out, a number of those "gringos" were printmakers; among them
were the U.S. artist George Overbury 'Pop' Hart (1868-1933) who worked with
Diego Rivera and later made prints of Mexican scenes; George Bilddle
(1885-1973), who was so impressed with the murals he saw in Mexico that he
suggested a similar government-sponsored program in the U.S., and led the way to
the art projects of the WPA-FAP; Spratling, cited above, who settled in Taxco
and attracted other artists to the area; Olin Dows (1904-1981); Natalie Scott
(1890-1957); Caroline Durieux (1896-1989); Howard Cook (1901-1980); Barbara
Latham (1896-1989); Marion Greenwood (1909-1970) and Clara Mairs (1878-1963).
also discusses artists from other countries who visited Mexico, notably the
French-born Jean Charlot (1898-1979); the British Leon Underwood (1890-1975);
the Japanese Tamaji Kitigawa (1894-1989) and the Slovakian Koloman Sokol
(1902-2003). Works by some of the "gringos" discussed are included in the
exhibition; others, like Marion Greenwood, are mentioned but not represented by
alludes to another aspect of how the influence of the Mexican artists was
disseminated in this discussion of Lucienne Bloch (1909-1999), who assisted
Rivera with his Detroit murals and was inspired to portray the artist in the
position in which she most often saw him in the Muralist at Work, (Diego
Rivera) of 1933. The topic of U.S. artists who learned from the Mexican
artists working in the USA is not a part of this catalogue, but could be an
exhibition on its own.
seven less well-known artists-Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo) (1875-1964), Rufino
Tamayo (1899-1991), Leopoldo Mendez (1902-1964), Alfredo Zalce (1908-2003),
Francisco Dosamantes (1911-1986), Isidoro Ocampo (1910-1989) and Jesús Escobedo
(1918-1978)-contain their biographies and the history of each artist's
printmaking. Of the major Mexican artists, Rivera is the most famous printmaker,
and led the fashion for Mexican art. In his essay on Rivera, Ittmann describes
how Zigrosser persuaded Rivera to make lithographs in Mexico for the Weyhe
Gallery to publish, and draws on Shoemaker's use of Zigrosser's collection of
cancelled plates, working proofs and invoices, etc., to establish the dates on
which Rivera made each print. For example, his first two prints, Flower
Market and Market, were completed on 20 October 1930. A checklist of
Rivera's prints includes all the specific dates discovered.
second group of prints for the Weyhe Gallery was printed in New York by George
Miller. Each lithograph is based on a detail or a variation of an image from one
of his murals. The last of this series was Zapata, 1932, Rivera's best
known and most-admired print. As Lyle Williams points out, "Diego Rivera's
lithograph Zapata, 1932, is one of the seminal images of twentieth
century printmaking, a landmark in the history not only of Mexican Art but of
essay on Orozco, Ittmann questioned the attribution by the artists to Orozco of
five early woodcuts, "on the grounds that this medium would have been difficult
for an artist who had lost his left hand as the result of an accident in 1904."
Ittmann may be right, but visitors in the 1980s to Taller de Gráfica Popular in
Mexico City, where both Mexican and visiting artists made prints, were
astonished by the facility of a TGP lithographer with only one arm. Ittmann also
revised the dates of some of Orozco's prints as published in earlier catalogues,
although the prints that the artist made for the Weyhe Gallery, documented in
the Gallery's records, remain unchanged. This series was drawn on mural details
and his lithograph Hands of 1929 is a typical example.
essay on Siqueiros, Ittmann writes that because of the artist's "intermittent";
as a consequence, Siqueiros produced relatively few prints. Some of his most
interesting works were made for the U.S. market. Of one of these, his zinc
lithograph, Black Woman (Profiles) of 1936, Ittmann wrote that it was
drawn on 'one of his latest paintings, an enigmatic double portrait composed of
overlapping profiles'. Ittmann opines that the model for this print may have
been a well-known photograph of the unfinished painting (which remains unlocated.)
Williams' essay on Dosamantes is briefer and less detailed than some of the
others. Dosamantes never worked in the United States, the sources used for the
other Mexican printmakers--Weyhe Gallery records, George Miller's notes, etc.--do
not mention him. The paucity of footnotes in this essay, unusual in this
catalogue, suggests the need for further study on Dosamantes. While the artist
was politically involved and created prints with political content, he is best
known for works that celebrate the indigenous people of Mexico, like Three
Yalaltecan Women, 1946, a lithograph published by Associated American
Artists that same year as Women of Oaxaca.
perhaps impossible to produce a flawless catalogue of this size and complexity.
Dosamantes's anonymous women suggest the only flaw in Mexico and Modern
Printmaking: the under-representation of female artists. This is a pity,
because women played important and public roles in Mexico in the period covered
by the exhibition and their work is typically excellent-no need for political
correctness here. The most striking example is that of Elizabeth Catlett (b.
1915), who is not American as her listing in the checklist states: she
worked in Mexico for more than 50 years and became a Mexican citizen in 1962.
Catlett, a great artist, is given short shrift in the text and is represented by
only two works. A prominent place for her should have been a must, and there are
many other female Mexican printmakers who might also have been included and
illustrated in place of some of the very large number of prints by men.
on foreign artists in Mexico could have been significantly strengthened by the
substitution of works by Marion Greenwood, Henrietta Shore (1880-1963), and Emmy
Lou Packard (1913-1998) for three of the six prints by Howard Cook (1901-1980).
Cook was a competent artist, but his Mexican prints are bland. The three women
cited made vibrant and exciting prints of Mexican subjects, conveying the
enthusiasm of visitors who fell in love with what they saw-which, after all, is
a major theme of the exhibition.
The following review by Dr. Williams appeared in a slightly different version in
Print Quarterly, XXV, 2008, 3.
The first 42 pages of this handsome catalogue, Edna Boies Hopkins: Strong in
Character, Colorful in Expression., by Dominique H. Vasseur, Ohio University
Press in association with the Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art, OH, 114 pp., 112
col. And 6 b. & w. ills., provide a detailed account of Edna Bel Beachboard
Boies Hopkins's life and death, correcting published misinformation about both
of those milestones-she was born in 1872, not 1877 as stated on her death
certificate; and she died in 1937 in Detroit, not in New York. She married John
Henry Boies in 1892, and was widowed two years later. In 1904, she married
fellow artist James Roy Hopkins (1877-1969).
Hopkins, admired in her own time and today for her color woodblock prints, took
art courses throughout her life, including a term in New York at Pratt Institute
with Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922). At Pratt she was introduced to Japanese
woodblock prints, and later studied woodblock printmaking in Japan. Her early
prints are pale and delicate, imitative of Japanese works, but in 1905 she and
her husband moved to Paris, where she became acquainted with the work of
European artists. Around 1909-1910, her prints became more vivid in color; hence
the catalogue subtitle, "colorful in expression."
Hopkins returned to the U.S. in 1914, she taught woodblock printmaking in both
the New York and Provincetown branches of the Modern Art School, founded by
William and Marguerite Zorach, and Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt. When Nordfeldt
developed the white-line or single block method around 1914, Hopkins
experimented with the technique, first in her Provincetown landscapes, later in
some of her other works.
found Paris and New York far more appealing than the academic life in Ohio
chosen by her husband. Dressed in trousers, her hair dyed red and cropped short,
Hopkins, disregarding those who disapproved of her eccentricity, spent more of
her time in New York and Paris than in living with her husband. (Presumably this
independent behavior accounts for the catalogue subtitle "strong in character").
All of this information is meticulously documented in seven pages of 95
part of Edna Boies Hopkins (43-103) is devoted to the catalogue raisonne´
of the artist's color woodblock prints, and a few related works-mostly drawings
and water colors. The prints are divided into three groups-Landscapes, cats 1-4;
Figurative Scenes, cats 5-19, and Florals, cats 20-74. All but four of the
prints are illustrated in color; those four, for which impressions were not
located, are illustrated from black and white photographs taken years ago.
explains that the catalogue raisonne´ is organized by subject rather than
chronologically because "a definite chronology is difficult to ascertain."
Hopkins rarely dated her prints, but Vasseur has assigned dates to each, using
all the usual approaches-stylistic comparisons; exhibition histories; specific
periods when Hopkins was in particular locations (her "mountaineer" prints were
made in 1917 when she visited Cumberland Falls, Kentucky); articles in the
press; and the seals or chops she used at various times.
writes, 'one of the major objectives of the catalogue raisonné is to provide a
standardized title,' and a listing of alternate titles. This rationalization of
titles was necessary because some collectors or dealers gave the prints new
titles instead of using those Hopkins assigned. Those who selected new titles
sometimes ignored the flowers pictured, and gave the print the title of a
totally different flower. Phlox, Cat 53, was retitled White Hydrangea
(which it definitely is not) in 1986 in a dealer's catalogue. Bramble,
Cat 25, was changed to Blackberry (which it definitely is not).
Similarly, Lilies, Cat 42, picked up the alternate title Moonflowers
(Ipomoea Alba), which are always white, while the flowers in Cat. 42 are
yellow, (Fig 136). Finally, the title Violets and Phlox, Cat 69, (Fig
137), seems to have sprung out of nowhere, and is almost certainly wrong, as the
white flowers portrayed are not phlox, and while violets are present, so are
other flowers in two shades of blue. (A related work, not illustrated, in the
collection of Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, is titled Early Spring
this would have been a better title for Cat 69.) These add-on or substitute
titles have all been included, with an alphabetical index to lead the reader to
the standardized titles. The catalogue raisonne´, with its beautiful
illustrations and lists of collections where the prints can be seen, is most
The following article by Dr.
Williams appeared in Journal of the Print World Vol.32 No.3 Summer 2009.
What We Kept and Why
In late 2008, more than 5000 of our
prints, most of our art library, and the building that housed our print
collection and the books and files, became the property of The National Gallery
of Art in Washington, D.C. This was not a sudden decision on our part. We
weighed it carefully, and devoted considerable time to deciding which prints
would remain in our possession.
Why did we decide to break up the collection and dispose of most of it? We
weren't tired of the prints, but after five years of caring for the collection
as we'd established it - that is, open to visitors by appointment - we wanted to
move on to other projects. Because we were never able to find the right people
to oversee, catalog and display the collection, we found our role with the
prints too time consuming. Most of those who applied to work at The Print
Research Foundation had no art background, and no one we hired was willing to
take art history classes, even at our expense and on our time.
We were not surprised that visitors wanted us to guide them through the
collection, and to respond to their questions. We winced when employees
dispensed inaccurate information, and we often received incorrect answers in
reply to our own queries. If we had been able to hire print-knowledgeable
staff-or those willing to study and learn-we'd probably still own the
Fortunately, we had plenty of experience in parting with prints before 2008.
Some years ago, we donated more than 200 prints by African American artists of
the 1930s-1940s to The Metropolitan Museum. Later, we sold some of our Mexican
prints, and donated the remainder to the British Museum. We found that we missed
some of those prints so much, we bought impressions to replace them. Two of
these twice-bought prints were Diego Rivera's Zapata, 1932, and Raymond Steth's
Heaven on a Mule, ca. 1935-1943.
But we've also donated or sold prints that we were never able to replace because
of their rarity. We don't think we made that mistake this time. We kept the
rarest prints -those where there are only 2-4 known impressions, or in one case,
the only existing impression. We also retained works we especially enjoy having
around us. For example, we own more than 100 color woodcuts of all types. (I
suspect ours is the only kitchen in New York decorated with all of Luigi Rist's
vegetable prints.) Our slimmed down collection consists of more than 500 prints,
including the woodcuts. And we plan to continue to collect.
Reba White Williams, PhD., has written about prints for more than 20 years. Her
book, The Weyhe Gallery Between the Wars 1919-1940, is widely used for