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The nucleus of a new approach

Norma Bassett Hall, “Navajo Land,” 1947, color woodcut, 9.38 x 14 inches. (Courtesy of LewAllen Galleries)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

At a time when both the East and West coasts reigned as American art centers, New Mexico emerged as the nucleus of a new approach to printmaking.

While early 20th century artists often viewed printmaking as an inferior advertising offshoot or a cheap alternative to the more lucrative painting, New Mexico attracted a coterie of artists who chose printmaking as their focus.

Norma Bassett Hall, “Work and Play,” 1949, serigraph, 8 x 10 inches. (Courtesy of LewAllen Galleries)

“Lasting Impressions: Four Leaders of New Mexico Printmaking” showcases more than 25 works by a quartet that includes Gustave Baumann, Gene Kloss, Charles M. Capps and Norma Bassett Hall through March 6.

“Even though all four artists were not from New Mexico, they all really contributed to what has become New Mexico’s legacy as a center for printmaking,” LewAllen’s Alex Gill said.

While Baumann’s is the most recognizable name, all of them were considered master printmakers in woodcut, etching, aquatint and serigraphy (silk screen).

Gene Kloss, “Taos Eagle Dancers,” 1955, drypoint and aquatint, 10.75 x 13.75 inches. (Courtesy of LewAllen Galleries)

Scholars recognize Kloss as one of the major 20th century American printmakers. The artist created black-and-white New Mexico landscapes and images of pueblo people, as well as the Penitentes (the Spanish religious group), using intricate lines, rich blacks and shifting fields of grey.

Born in Oakland, California, Kloss first visited Taos on her honeymoon in 1925.

“Gene Kloss brought her etching press,” Gill said. “They would camp with it. She was great at carving this graceful quality of line.”

Gene Kloss, “Winter Woods,” 1941, etching on paper, 6.75 x 8.38 inches. (Courtesy of LewAllen Galleries)

Kloss received widespread recognition and awards in the 1930s. From 1933 to 1944, she was the sole etcher employed by the Public Works of Art Project.

She returned for months at a time annually before moving permanently to Taos in 1960.

Born in Oregon, Hall studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, then moved to Kansas, where she became the only female founding member of the Prairie Printmakers. She moved to Santa Fe in 1944, where she lived in the Gerald Cassidy home on Canyon Road. Hall created serigraphs for the Works Progress Administration. Serigraphs had never been used in a fine art context; Hall was one of the first artists to apply it to landscapes. She employed planes of flat color to bring out the New Mexico sunset.

“They’re very graphic, they’re reductive, they’re very vivid,” Gill said.

Charles M. Capps, “Mexican Barbershop,” 1938, aquatint and etching, 8.5 x 11.5 inches. (Courtesy of Lewallen Galleries)

Capps was another founding charter member of the Prairie Printmakers, known for his use of aquatint, a variant of etching that produces areas of tone rather than lines.

“He uses it to convey the architectural forms of New Mexico,” Gill said. “It creates the sense of light and shadow. They’re realistic, but they’re very moody.”

Originally from Illinois, Capps was a member of the Chicago Society of Etchers, through which he met Baumann and visited New Mexico, where he returned to regularly. In Kansas, he worked for the Western Lithograph printing house. He was soon experimenting with woodcuts.

Gustave Baumann, “Church Ranchos de Taos,” 1918, color woodcut, 10.13 x 11.33 inches. (Courtesy of LewAllen Galleries)

Art historians cite Baumann as one of the most influential American woodcut artists of the 20th century. Born in Germany, he emigrated to the U.S. at age 10, settling in Chicago, where he found work in a commercial engraving house and attended night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1905, he traveled to Munich to study color block printing. He returned to the U.S. and moved to New Mexico in 1918.

“There’s such an extraordinary intricacy to his blocks,” Gill said. For “every single color, he carved a different block. It’s an incredible amount of technical precision.”

Baumann colored his 1918 image of the Rancho de Taos church in blue and yellow.

“He’s one of the superstars of New Mexico printmaking,” Gill said. “Some of his use of color is modernist.”

Baumann created the head of the first Zozobra, and carved and performed with marionettes. His work hangs in more than 100 museum collections in both the U.S. and Great Britain.

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