Ulster County’s printmaking tradition still flourishes

Left to right: Bolton Brown demonstrating the process of lithography, 1923; Hue & Cry magazine cover by Konrad Cramer, 1920s; Offset lithographic poster by Milton Glaser for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits album, 1966.

Woodstock was at the forefront of American printmaking from the Arts & Crafts movement in 1903 through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1940s. Printmaking, infIuenced in part by ancient Japanese woodblock, etching, and drypoint prints, embraced everything from conservative to modernist approaches..

Two Woodstock magazines, the satirical and irreverent Hue & Cry and the literary Plowshare, regularly utilized linoleum and woodcut designs on their covers as well as in their insides.

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In the 1930s and early 1940s, lithography dominated printmaking in the arts-oriented town. Zulma Steele (1881–1979) designed furniture, painted, and was one of the most prolific artists in Woodstock. She was deeply immersed in printmaking and worked with monotype on paper and block printing on fabric for her textile designs.

Bolton Brown (1864-1936), one of Byrdcliffe’s founders, worked in a variety of media and styles including experimental landscape paintings and Tonalism. He exhibited a painting at the groundbreaking 1913 Armory Show in Manhattan.

Two years later, Brown turned to lithography and became known as the father of American lithography for mastering the medium both scientifically and artistically. He created new lithographic processes and printed pieces for many artists, but was perhaps best known for his work with artist George Bellows, with whom he was quite close. He created more than 100 pieces for Bellows.

In addition, Brown created more than 400 lithographs of his own utilizing his mastery of tone through shading. Brown was an avid mountain-climber who infused that passion with his art and writing. He loved the physicality of climbing as well as printmaking, which mixed in intellectual challenges. He published several books and articles on the subject, filled with mathematical and chemical calculations.He felt that the stone, not the ink or paper, was key.

Milton Glaser (1929–2020) was arguably the most famous American graphic designer. A graduate of Cooper Union, he studied printmaking in Bologna. He co-founded Push Pin Studios in 1954, which is widely credited with creating the chubby cartoon style known sometimes as “Yellow Submarine” art, popularized in the 1968 animated Beatles film.

In 1966, CBS Records commissioned him to design a special offset lithographic poster to accompany Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits album. “Elvis,” the name spelled out in Dylan’s  hair, was one of Dylan’s many influences. Inspired by a Marcel Duchamp self-portrait, the design evokes visual effects of the psychedelic drugs popular in counterculture at the time. The year before the design was created, Dylan suffered serious injuries in a motorcycle accident and disappeared from the public eye while living at Byrdcliffe in Woodstock.

Ben Wigfall at his press at Communications Village in Kingston, 1970s. (Ben Wigfall Collection)

Ben Wigfall (1930–2017) was apainter, printmaker, and educator. His print work ranged in technique from woodcut to relief printing to etching. He received a graduate degree from the Yale School of Design, and moved to New York in 1963 to teach artat the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz. He was the school’s first African-American faculty member and taught printmaking for more than 30 years.

In the 1970s, Wigfall bought and renovated a ramshackle mule barn,named it Communications Village, and offered free workshops there through the 1980s. Children and teens learned  printmaking and photography and their work was presented in the on-site gallery. Wigfall invited many first-rate instructors from New York City, including Robert Blackburn, one of the foremost printmakers in the country.

Passing Through, a linocut by Saugerties artist Carol Zaloom, 2003

Printmaking today is going strong as the tradition carries on with, among others, Saugerties artist Carol Zaloom, who works in monochrome and combines linoleum prints with watercolor.

Both the Woodstock School of Art and the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale continue to teach printmaking and offer studio rentals so artists can access the specialized equipment needed.

To see sample pages and information about supporting this 450-page book featuring 850 images that will be released in December 2021, please visit:  HudsonValleyHistoryAndArt.com.

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