Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New: York & Haven

It was another print-packed week, beginning in New York at the IFPDA print fair and the Editions and Artist’s Book Fair -- followed by several days in New Haven working at the newly renovated study room at the Yale University Art Gallery and at the Yale Center for British Art.

t the Yale University Art Gallery I saw, for the first time, the vitriolic First World War images of George Bellows, which are hard to purge from ones mind, having seen them, yet they feel wildly exaggerated and in need of purging. It was a different kind of eye-opener to see the believable nightmare that haunted the usually lyrical Kerr Eby: a shed of cadavers around the table at which their living incarnations had been surprised and massacred.

cross the street, in England, I was moved by a great swath of seemingly benign mother and child imeas etched by William Lee Hankey around 1919; presumably the women were all war widows. I don’t think I can so easily summarize Paul Nash and C.R.W. Nevinson, whose work creeps in and stays for awhile.

eturning to New York, it was heartening to visit the opening of the Prints Gone Wild
exhibition in Brooklyn, with all its sure signs of life. Here is Joseph Velasquez of Drive By Press carving a Mellanesque self-portrait on a van-mounted press bed.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Stuttgart and Home

I recently returned from my travels. It is great to be back with family, but I am still in denial about being back in the USA. I suspect that I saw about 30,000 prints in all, many done between 1914-1918, but I took time in some collections to look extensively at early ornament prints and to look at landscape images from the “age of Goethe,” namely the eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries. Some of the more striking works I have seen include a literal rendering of a bombed factory with all of its huge iron gears exposed looking, for all the world, like an abstraction by Robert Michel (the WW I pilot who crashed his plane and then recovered in Weimar where he became an early member of the Bauhaus); a portfolio about the suffering of horses in the war; a 1918 portfolio of woodcuts and linoleum cuts made by a German artist in a U.S. prisoner of war camp in Georgia; elaborate, sixteenth-century geometrical fantasies in woodcut; and some of the more sublime images of great oaks, living and dead, ever conceived.

Until the outmoded concept of image copyright sorts itself out or is altogether abandoned I will share, instead of the works described above, these four stencil prints that are unquestionably in the public domain -- I saw them on the walls of the train station in Wolfegg. They tell a complex story.

My last stop was Stuttgart, whose Staatsgalerie has a remarkable collection of graphic arts (the top two floors are visible in this photograph). In addition to working with their deep collection I made weekend trips with a friend and excellent guide to the Schmuckmuseum in Pforzheim and to Ludwigsburg Palace, residence of the dukes of Württemberg. At the latter, which houses many collections, I noticed an eighteenth-century fan that had been decorated with prints.

I want to thank the many colleagues and other friends who helped me over the past two months. I’ve learned a lot from you all: that 500-year-old prints can be found stuck in the masonry of old buildings, that one can find art while looking for turtles (or prints, while taking piano lessons), that grapefruit can be eaten with curries and ground chili peppers, that printing with gun powder is as dangerous as it sounds, that printroom staff can and probably should include a dog, and that you have not given up on us perhaps because you remember that when you were very very young an American soldier standing across the street in your bombed city smiled and offered you a stick of gum.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two Weeks in Brief

Since last writing I learned (in Freiburg) that Otto Dix must have looked hard at the work of his sixteenth-century forbears such as Lucas Cranach and Hans Burgkmair; (in Wolfegg) that a collection of prints of flowers bound up in a volume several centuries ago is the best bouquet imaginable; (in Nürnberg) that sometimes ornament prints escape from the pages of applied decoration to float freely in the atmosphere like some outrageous but rigorously symmetrical begonia that has uprooted itself to masquerade as a hallucination (a not so symmetrical but related example shown here); and (in Coburg and in Nürnberg) that in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Germany landscape prints and drawings have the ability to transport you, though I think you are not transported to a time or a place but to one of those memories we have all had, a memory of a day in nature that seemed perfect.

While at the Veste Coburg I managed to catch the last few days of a very fine exhibition about aquatint up to and including Goya. The exhibition and its catalogue were a wonderful collaboration between a print curator and a paper conservator who did not balk at attempts to recreate the processes of Sanby, Le Prince and Ploos van Amstel. Here are the details:

Christiane Wiebel (with contributions by Wolfgang Schwahn). Aquatinta oder "Die Kunst mit dem Pinsel in Kupfer zu stechen" Das druckgraphische Verfahren von seinen Anfängen bis Goya. ISBN: 978-3-422-06693-9

I’m also attaching a photograph of two chopped bicycles boasting “PimpGarage™” labels that can be seen parked on the streets in Nürnberg.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I spent all of yesterday looking at an assortment of prints by Erich Heckel made between 1907 and 1965. I’m not ready to try to put any related ideas into language yet -- thoughts about the intricacies of carving faces and landscapes are still churning (the detail shown was not photographed on this trip). I also had a chance to look at a stunning little drypoint done by Ludwig Meidner in 1913. The effect was a bit like looking into a small glass orb to see a city coming apart as if under some extreme gravitational influence; or maybe it is better described as a city that is shaking apart because the routine laws of perspective have failed; or perhaps it is a city in which matter is strung out like laundry on lines that have snapped and so they no longer converge. I’m going to extreme lengths not to use the one word that is always used to describe Meidner.

Today, October 3, is an anniversary of German reunification. For the past few days the German television networks have been working up to this national holiday with a movie, with interviews and with other specials focusing on the difficulties of divided Germany prior to October 3, 1990. These programs have been discussed as an attempt to remind that part of the population that suffers from “Ostalgie” -- the nostalgia for life as it was in the East (Ost) -- just how grim existence was under the control of the East German secret police.

he most prominent of these televised features was a film (Die Frau vom Checkpoint Charlie) about Jutta Gallus (now Gallus-Fleck) and her daughters. Gallus is the brave woman who had been a political prisoner in East Berlin but was eventually “traded” to the West in exchange for a large payoff. The cruel twist is that Gallus’ release meant that she was forcefully separated from her young daughters who had to remain in East Berlin. Some of you probably remember photographs of Gallus
near Checkpoint Charlie where she demonstrated daily beginning in 1984, wearing signboards about her daughters and her divided family. After the movie was screened the real, and articulate Jutta Gallus and her grown daughters appeared for a round-table discussion that would seem to put to rest any lingering glorification of a police state, but no doubt the situation is more insidious than that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Imagine that you are a museum worker in Belgium in 2007 and one day you stumble upon some old photographs of your museum taken during the occupation of the early 1940s. While the facility and all of its spaces look familiar, you are disoriented by this photographic image because there are solders wearing armbands and carrying rifles in the galleries. A colleague recently shared just such an experience with me. Imagine also that you are doing research in German museums and libraries and sifting through the holdings of used bookstores. It dawns on you that what you are seeing, and more importantly what you are not seeing, has a lot to do with political situations that started to unfold about a century ago. What was created under duress, what was banned, what burned during an aerial attack, what is missing because it was sold to far-away collections? There are reminders at every step, and they are living reminders: colleagues with personal histories; buildings that, for whatever reasons, have or have not been restored; books and prints only recently catalogued and indexed. While visiting a rural landscape recently I made a comment about a quaint duck pond and was reminded that there was a good chance that it was an old bomb crater. In another idyllic, rural landscape in another country another colleague pointed to the Black Forest “there” and the famous vineyards of Alsace “there” and the site of furious bloodletting toward the end of the First World War “there.”

Against many odds, the resources in European print collections are staggering, consider the sign outside of the Dresden study room for graphic art (housed in the castle or Residenzschloß that is pictured here):

The Kupferstich-Kabinett holds some 500,000 drawings, prints and photographs dating from the late 14th century to the present. Due their sensitivity t light, these works of art cannot be on permanent display.

The Study Room provides all visitors – scholars and laypersons alike – with the opportunity to examine the holdings of the Kupferstich-kabinett even when not on display in special exhibitions (...)

ight on!

ince I can’t post images of prints from my recent study visits I will post a British Satirical print by James Gillray (courtesy of
Wikipedia) that illustrates, however painfully, the realities faced by at least one quasi-vegetarian who dabbled with options in the land of bratwurst.

I’ll also share two
photos of bicycles that I took just before leaving Berlin. One is a rental bike of a variety seen parked randomly around the city. If you need a bike you call the number posted on the vehicle, give a credit card number, and the device is unlocked via a radio transmission (or that is my hypothesis) – to learn more see www.callabike.de. The only thing better would be the honor system (which is used on the grounds of the Kröller-Müller Museum ). The final photo is just a reminder that the honor system doesn’t always work when humans are involved.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


From Münster I took the train to Kassel where I had a few days to take in Documenta 12, which was a good deal better than the reviews would have you believe. Rather than share my favorites, which tended to be the more political works, I would like to catch up to where I am now: Berlin.

One of the most impressive aspects of traveling by train through Germany is the visible proof of this country’s dedication to green solutions to our global environmental crisis. The rural landscape absolutely bristles with windmills. The picture I show here is hardly exceptional, it one of several dozen photographs I took of windmill-laden landscapes en-route to Berlin. I’ve also included a nice image of how mail and newspapers are delivered in this big city.

I have been steeped in the study of prints made during the “Great War” – what a misnomer if ever there was one. So far I’ve looked at portfolios by George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Ludwig Meidner, Willy Jäckel and Natalia Goncharova. I’m not in a position to post any images of these works, but I am overwhelmed and not sure how to share it. Goncharova managed a brilliant confluence of Russian Orthodox imagery and images of the new machines of war; the word "apocalyptic" is usually applied to Meidner, but he was telling it, vividly, like it was; Grosz was very cunning with his multilingual titles (which do not amount to translations or transliterations in most cases) for his Gott Mit Uns portfolio (an idea that could find apt application today); and Willy Jäckel, a superb draftsman with training similar to that of Lovis Corinth, as I understand it, put forth a damning series about the war that was quickly suppressed by the officials (he ended up 40 kilometers from the front making trench maps).

We may not learn from history, but when we look at it really carefully it turns out we were equally frustrated by this fact in the past.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Once each decade since 1977 the city of Münster has hosted a city-wide sculpture exhibition. I was able to spend nearly two days at Skulptur Projekte Münster 07. One of the wonderful features of this project is that the thirty-three works created for 2007 can be visited along with thirty-seven works from previous years that are still in place around the city. Happily, it is necessary to rent a bicycle to see many of the outlying sculptural installations (a rented bicycle is shown here in front of Ilya Kabakov’s lyrical antenna of poetry “Blikst Du hinauf und liest die Worte…” [“Looking up. Reading the Words…”].

Some of the most successful works are those that have a meaningful association with historical sites or events specific to Münster, such as Martha Rosler’s Unsettling the Fragments [Erschütterung der Fragmente] which focuses attention on a number of aspects of the city’s history such as the cages on the tower of Church of Saint Lambert that were used to display the executed bodies of Anabaptists, such as Jan van Leyden (who can be seen in a brilliant engraving by Albrecht Aldegrever). I also enjoyed Andeas Siekmann’s Trickle down. Der öffentliche Raum im Zeitalter seiner Privatisierung [Trickle down. Public Space in the Era of its Privatization], and Bruce Nauman’s Square Depression [Quadratische Senkung].

Everyone I spoke to in the community loved Rebecca Horn’s, Das gegenläufige Konzeert (The Contrary Concert) – an installation work in one the cities old fortifications that was used in the Second World War to interrogate, torture and kill prisoners. Horn’s installation is largely auditory. The dimly lit corridors and rooms of this masonry maze have many mechanized hammers that slowly tap at the structure. Other sounds come from an electrical arc and a device that lets drops of water fall from the center of the fortification to a pool below. These subtle sounds provide all that the visitor needs to forge fuller associations internally.

Bicycles rounded out this visit, through the delightful work of Guy Ben-Ner, I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it [Ich gäbe es dir, wenn ich könnte, aber es ist nur geliehen]. To view this piece the viewer pedals something like an exercise bicycle that powers a video display (the faster you pedal, the faster the video runs; pedal backward and the video runs backwards as well). Spoiler alert → the video concerns bicycle parts, specifically those found in a museum: sculptural works by Jean Tinguely, Pablo Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp. In the video, Ben-Ner, his son and his daughter proceed to whisk the works, past a dozing guard and out of the museum where the clever family recombines the parts to form a working bicycle. Lovely!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

News from Belgium

Looking back to my arrival in Belgium a few weeks ago I am happy to report that bicycling and stencil-printing are alive and well. I am on a study tour to see prints in coming weeks, especially those made during the First World War.

My first few days in Antwerp I looked at many etchings by the Belgian printmaker Walter Vaes, whose career might have been a tedious recital of well-established and somewhat derivative subjects were it not for a series of hallucinatory subjects that crept onto his small etching plates during his years as an expatriate in Holland during the First World War.

A trip to Ieper led to a nice encounter with colleagues at the Flanders Field Museum. I had gone to ask if they had any information about Henry de Groux’s unusual series of etchings, Les Visages de la Victoire, only to learn that they are about to exhibit their versions of this series as well as publish a catalogue. I will show a detail of one of his prints here: a group of soldiers in gas masks. De Groux spent the war years in Paris and witnessed the events along the front. He had been fond of Beethoven, Goethe and Wagner, and one can imagine that he was deeply troubled by a war that would have him looking over the trenches toward those who had inspired him.

Friends in Ghent were nice enough to take me on a day’s outing to the very southwest corner of Belgium, to visit the cemetery at Vladslo where the remains of 25,000 German soldiers who fought during the First World War are buried. The cemetery includes a moving sculptural group by Käthe Kollwitz, whose son had fought and died in the war and is buried a few feet in front of his mother's monument.

We then visited the community of Watou, which hosts a wonderful series of summer exhibitions and poetry readings each summer, this was Watou Poëziezomer 2007. Poetry was everywhere to be read or heard, and a remarkable line-up of artists had their work displayed in the old barns around town. Among the 27 older and contemporary artists were John Cage, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, John Armleder, Josef Beuys, William Kentridege and Yoko Ono.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Road Trip

A recent trip (by car, admittedly) took me to a colleague's home where a lovely lithograph by Georges de Feure was displayed on an easel in the study in memory of a mutual friend. This mutual friend, a print enthusiast and collector of great passion and insight, would have been delighted by this gesture. It reminded me of the long history of printmaking as a vehicle to express friendship, a topic worthy of exploration.

This road trip, which had begun with a powerful Kansas storm that could have come right out of a John Stuart Curry lithograph, took me through Greensburg, the small Kansas town that had been all but expunged from the face of the earth by a devastating tornado on May 4 of this year. The volunteer station was still active and a truck with a signboard solicited aid. No construction had yet begun, but the trees, at least those that still had their roots in the ground, were pushing forth new foliage from their blasted limbs, making a remarkable image of the persistence of life.

his scene called to mind a passage in Arundhati Roy’s essay, “Peace is War,” in An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (
South End Press, 2004), in which Roy develops a brilliant metaphor of bees descending upon an old Buffalo; a metaphor she uses to analyze the interplay of new, corporate televised and electronic news media with older, more traditional (printed?) reporting. The “crisis reportage” that covered the Greensburg catastrophe is limited to the brief period of the media's feeding frenzy, after which Roy’s bees moved on to the next crisis, leaving untold the ongoing story of Greensburg -- which I do not pretend to know -- but those greening, shattered trees are emblematic of the under-reported, post-crisis story.

I made it to Albuquerque late the same day. Other obligations kept me from visiting the Tamarind Institute of Lithography, but I did get to sample riding in this bicycle-friendly community. A bike map of Albuquerque includes an impressive network of four tiers of roadways that you might safely and legally ride you bike upon: multi-use trails, bicycle lanes, bicycle routes, and roads with wide shoulders -- something for all communities to strive toward.

can only report two print experiences from ten days with friends and family spent hiking in the Rocky Mountains. One was perusing a stack of handsome woodcuts of Hindu images printed on Lokta paper. We found these in a Nepalese import store in Estes Park, a store that had previously offered some vivid chromolithographs of similar subjects. The other was trying to make sense of a large, halftone, offset lithograph in a shattered frame that graced one of the walls of the cabin we rented. This reproduction of a painting of a bighorn sheep in two colors bore the printed signature of Ray Harm, who, no surprise, turns out to be a wildlife artist. Harm’s website includes a quote from an article in The Filson Historical Quarterly (April 1998 Vol. 72, No.2), “Ray began releasing Limited Edition Prints in 1963 and in doing so became the founding artist of the Limited Edition Print industry as it is known today.” Limited edition etchings, woodcuts and lithographs (a.k.a "prints") came about in the nineteenth century to create a sense of rarity. More recently the term “print” has often been used in a similar way, lending the mantle of art where the word “reproduction” or "poster" might not suffice. The complete blending of these terms and the collapse of any distinction between them is borne out by the third of four definitions for the noun “print” that appears in the Oxford American Dictionary (an electronic edition that came bundled with my computer) -- the only definition that might describe etchings, woodcuts or lithographs:

3 a picture or design printed from a block or plate or copied from a painting by photography : the walls were hung with wildlife prints.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Music of the Gears

I was wondering if I needed to comment on the images in the masthead of this blog at some point -- to comment on the obvious, to expand on the similarity of the physical work that goes into turning the starwheel on a press and turning the crank on a bicycle (never mind that some of us print with a wooden spoon). I was running this through my head as I wound around Lone Star Lake last weekend when I passed a family fishing from the bank of the lake – click-fzzzzz-plop-tick-tick-tick – the sound of the spincaster feeding out its line, the tackle hitting the surface of the lake and of the reel winding in a foot or two of line; like humming to the sound of your bike’s freehub whizzing away, as you back-peddle for the pleasure of doing so; like cranking out a print – a silent spinning effort that ends with a clunk. These manual activities have an aesthetic reward it seems, at least so long as spinning and gears are involved.

For several days I have been thinking about Paul Klee, especially his early etchings. I’m surprised that these few early works (Jungfrau im Baum; Held mit dem Flügeln; Komiker, etc.) did not land Klee in that hall of fame for eccentric printmakers, Leonard Baskin’s wonderful text, Five Addled Etchers.

Klee often signed his works with his initials and some combination of the city, date, number of the work in the year’s production and an ornamental flourish. A similarly inclined artist, Dirk Vellert, a sixteenth-century stained-glass window painter who worked in Antwerp and, almost on a whim, it seems, produced two dozen prints, also had an obsessive mode of signing his etchings with a monogram [D★V] and the day’s exact date. Vellert, however, did make it into Baskin’s small group of addled etchers. Monograms, those seemingly little bits of documentation, contribute far more than is generally acknowledged to the aesthetic whole. What would a diminutive Nothnagel etching be without it’s elegant “N” monogram? A Whistler without its butterfly monogram? A Franz von Stuck without its precise architectural lettering for title and signature? A Bellange without it’s elegant scrolly-rolly-polly cursive? A Cranach without escutcheaons and winged serpent? A Wiley without the circle-W brand?

As for the task of closing the gap between the "music of the gears" and the issue of monograms (that ooze pictorial fantasy from a safe vantage point, that of being anchored in a shred of language), I can only say that, in the case of Nothnagel, the vertical form under the “N” is a nail (a Nagel), forming a rebus for artist’s name, which is a very satisfying click-fzzzzz-plop-tick-tick-tick sort of thing.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Peaceful Cow

Returning from the junction of Colorado and Thomas roads in Franklin County I stopped at Pleasant Hill Cemetery for a brief rest and befriended a cow who, with three calves, had also made her way into the trees for a bit of shade. She was eating leaves from a scraggly Osage Orange, gingerly pulling the leaves from the thorny branches. I decided to call her Sadie Mae and scratched her head, which was probably a useless gesture since hedge thorns and barbed wire didn’t seem to make much of an impression on her, though she did take the opportunity to carefully sniff my arm.

Sadie Mae is the kind of peaceful cow who has inspired vegetarianism in many cultures through the ages. I felt a pang of guilt for having suggested to her that humans were friendly companions, especially in front of the calves, who had decided I was dangerous until Sadie Mae walked over to demonstrate how benign the human is.

There is a heavy concentration of early prints from the Low Countries that feature cows in leading roles, no doubt due to the central importance of cows to the economic and geographic landscape of the Netherlands. In 1510 Lucas van Leyden engraved an unforgettable image of a cow between two peasants, and Paulus Potter and Nicolaes Berchem’s prolific production of cow prints in the seventeenth century suggests there was a real demand for such images.

Carl Wilhelm Kolbe’s brilliant etchings of cows amidst reeds (illlustrated here) argue for the centrality of ruminants in a peaceable, if largely botanical, kingdom, while Kolbe’s near contemporary, Goya, changed the formula from one of agricultural harmony and bucolic fantasy to a more aggressive world of bulls and bullfights, carried to embarrassing extremes by his twentieth-century admirer, Picasso. Unable to turn back the clock to Kolbe’s peaceful world, Sue Coe has recently drawn and printed an array of virulent exposés of stockyards and the meat industry, as in her 1990 and 2001 photoetchings, Modern Man Followed by the Ghosts of his Meat.

I’ve included a self-portrait as an age disclaimer – the shadowy form in the upper right is Sadie Mae lying down in the shade, before we visited face to face, though over the fence.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Bike Boom is On

While organizing my books today I came across Godfrey Frankel's, Bike-Ways (New York, Sterling Publishing Co.: 1950). Browsing this optimistic text reminded me of a college friend who claimed that his biggest wish was that the modern, lightweight, fully-geared bicycle had been available at the end of the nineteenth century, as surely this would have thwarted the union of the industries of oil, automobile manufacture and tire manufacture in favor of bicycle transportation. Here are some of the opening remarks in Frankel's text:

"The Bike Boom is on. Not since the golden year of 1899, when cycles were more numerous than automobiles, has the United States seen anything like this."

lready there are more than 18 million bike riders on the road, and with 3 million bikes in production this year, it seems likely that the two-wheelers will give their motor competitors a run for their money."

otor cars dominated the scene for the first half of the 20th century, and serious cycling was left to racers, faddists, youngsters, and old-timers who somehow never got over their first crush -- the bicycle. Self-propulsion was passé. Bike production dropped to a low of 250,000 units in 1933, when even in the midst of depression, the American family stuck to its jalopy."

oday, it's a different story. Americans seem finally to have awakened from the onslaught of the car [...] They want to smell fresh country air, untainted by exhaust fumes."

Frankel continues with the virtues of cycling, it is "a palliative for our age," that leads to better emotional health, it is a good exercise, and embraces the attraction of youth hostels. "More and more, wives are using their cycles to market" and the bicycle is used for work in industry, on college campuses, and in hospitals. If, in the manner of Good Bye Lenin, Frankel had fallen into a coma in 1951 only to awaken today, how would we break it to him?

Original captions for the images:

All movable parts of the bicycle should be oiled regularly.

On jobs like patrolling and meter-maintenance at vast oil refineries, the workers cover ground and save time on their balloon-tire bikes.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hive Collapse

"Colony Collapse Disorder" is an odd name for the dying of bees that is, in all likelihood, due to human activity. It's as if we are faulting them for not knowing which bloom is laced with pesticide and which is benign. "Disorder" has a distinctly human and pejorative tinge to it. The terms "Colony Collapse" and "Hive Collapse" (withought the "disorder") have a more universal ring that might describe the human world as readily as that of bees. I noticed today that the solitary bees have emerged and are buzzing about the garden with their droning Geebee bodies. I have not seen a honeybee this year, while last year we had a colony trying to set up in our attic.

Here is a bee-free view of Lonestar lake, taken yesterday. I often ride around Lonestar for a short but hilly ride, slightely longer if I do the Eastern route until the blacktop ends and then circle back.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Two Bikes and a Print

An attempt at a trick photo shows one of the best presents I ever received (thank you Tom), a cherry red Raleigh (or Hercules?), here fitted out with butterfly handlebars, an analog odometer, and stripped of fenders (superfluous in Altadena, California). I suppose this was about 1966.

onversation at the Spencer Museum with Kris today turned to one of my favorite links
between cycling and printmaking. We got onto the subject of Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), who was as interesting for his activities as a pataphysician, print enthusiast and printmaker, as for his much better-known activities as a playwright. Jarry’s bike, which he dubbed, “that which rolls” was an 1896 Clément Luxe racer.

This reminds me that two late nineteenth-century printmakers stumbled upon a recipe for compounding a semi-transparent soft-ground that made use of a substance in bicycle patch kits, but that is for another day.

In response to an earlier
comment I'll post an image of James Ensor's 1888 sulfur-ground and drypoint print of stars over a cemetary.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


My bicycling and photographing in the Iowa landscape started during one of my summers in Grinnell, probably in 1971. I had purchased a black Schwinn Paramount with a massively oversized, chrome-plated headlamp for twenty dollars. I started riding out of the city limits just to follow the blacktop and became utterly intoxicated by the experience of riding on country roads through the cornfields, looking not at the road in front of me, but at the “funhouse” reflection in the headlamp; a racing blur of the blue sky, clouds, and passing
fields. I thought I had a photograph of that headlamp, but perhaps not.

hree photographs to share:

Pat Farrell & his Bicycle Extraordinaire. Farrell was a stogie chomping Iowa City eccentric. He was very pleased to pose for this photograph while he was out walking his bike about thirty years ago.

Round Bales. There is no shortage of landscapes featuring round bales, but this is one of my favorite efforts, taken with a hefty 35 mm camera that I kept accessible in a handlebar bag during my mid-1970s Iowa rides.

Finally, there was a great demonstration of color intaglio printmaking in the K.U. printmaking studios today, summarized by Andy's flying, plate-wiping hands.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Oasis Amplified

Bicycling in Iowa in the 1970s and early 1980s was a joy. I was in my twenties and riding somewhat aimlessly until exhausted. This was the counterpoint to working in Lasansky’s printmaking studios and my later forays into art history. By 1977 I was riding my first “serious” bicycle, a bright orange Centurion Super Le Mans, which had (and still has) elegant touring geometry, a beautifully lugged frame, and bar-end shifters. I found one of my photographs of the Oasis Cemetary mentioned in yesterday’s post. This sent me to Wikipedia, where I learned that:

"Oasis is a small village located in Johnson County, Iowa. It lies within section 26 of Graham Township, and was once known as Graham, Iowa. It part of the Iowa City, Iowa Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of 2005, the town has a total population of approximately 20. It contains several homes, a cemetery, and a functioning grain elevator. It was once a stop on The C RI & P Railroad, whose bed has now become the Hoover Nature Trail which runs from Oasis to West Branch. West of town is the Oasis Cemetery. Oasis once featured a sign that greeted visitors but it tragically disappeared one night."

I was sorry to read about the fate of that sign, which I remember vividly, and here it is as it appeared when I photographed it around 1979. I remember straddling my Centurion and taking this photograph to the great interest of one child and one dog. More Iowa bicycling recollections and photographs to come.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pleasant Hill to Oasis & Back

Recent rides have taken me to Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Franklin County, Kansas. This is a small rural graveyard with monuments that date into the nineteenth century. An old hedgerow provides a little shade, and the headstone for an infant who died in 1901 at the age of 21 days provides some perspective. The hedgerow is true to Kansas, being an actual row of hedge trees (Osage Orange).

This stop, almost exactly thirteen miles out, is a halfway marker for a nice twenty-six mile ride, especially when the wind is from the south, pushing one north on route 1029 into Douglas County. But, more than a milepost with some history, perspective and hedge trees, the Pleasant Hill Cemetery ride brings back memories of bicycling near Iowa City over twenty-five years ago, when I would routinely visit the Oasis Cemetery, a similar mile-marker with its own share of history and irony.

Ensor would have enjoyed etching either of these cemeteries, even without an ocean nearby. He did, in fact, do an experiment with a sulfur ground once, which pretty well corroded the plate, resulting in an all-over pockmarked darkness when printed. He rescued this plate with the addition of a few etched headstones, turning the grey scene into a starry night.