For One and All:
Prints from The Block’s Collection

Ron Adams (American, 1934 – 2020), Blackburn, 2002, Color lithograph on paper, 25 in x 35 in, Lawrence Lithography Workshop, Kansas City, MO, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, purchase funds provided by Christine and William Robb III and Bill and Vicki Hood, 2010.11

For One and All: Prints from The Block’s Collection is the first of several projects to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Block Museum. The exhibition is a tribute to the museum’s foundations in collecting, exhibiting, and teaching with prints—engravings, etchings, lithographs, screenprints, and woodcuts—which were among the first media to form The Block’s collection.

The exhibition focuses on three ideas that are characteristic of printmaking: circulation, communication, and collecting. In recent years, circulated images, widely shared and reproduced in virtual space on phones and computer screens, have been crucial to our understanding of the world. These prints, from the 15th through 21st centuries, remind us that images have always circulated through space and time and have been vital in disseminating information and visual form.

The subject of this print, artist Robert Blackburn (1920‒2003), was one of the most collaborative and influential printmakers of the 20th century. In 1947 he opened his own studio, the Printmaking Workshop, in New York and became the master printer at Universal Limited Art Editions when it opened in 1957. Blackburn famously fostered a community of diverse artists and an open, welcoming studio. He worked with such artists as Romare Bearden, Grace Hartigan, Stanley William Hayter, and Jasper Johns. In the year that the Printmaking Workshop closed, Ron Adams—a master printer himself—created this homage showing Blackburn at his lithograph press.

Chaim Koppelman, Robert Blackburn, Thomas Laidman and others in the workshop, 18 June 1959, Image Wikimedia Common

Prints are often described as more approachable and more accessible than other art forms. Each impression on view here is unique but also one of a series—or an “edition.” This selection of prints acknowledges the breadth of The Block’s collection and allows us to reflect on the idea of prints as a medium for one and all.

For One and All: Prints from The Block’s Collection is presented as part of Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection, our 40th Anniversary Initiative. This year-long initiative marks four decades of exhibitions, projects, programs, and events that use the museum’s evolving collection as a springboard for thinking about history. We invite you to visit For One and All online for additional information and resources. Please also join us throughout the year for our continuing 40th anniversary celebration, including the fall 2021 exhibition Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection.

Etienne Delaune (French, 1519 – 1583), The Goldsmith’s Shop, 1576. Engraving on paper, 3 3/8 in x 4 3/4 in. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, The Norman H. and Marie Louise Pritchard Collection, 1985.2.202.

Though printmaking is more closely associated with drawing and painting, engravers in early modern Europe frequently trained as goldsmiths. Étienne Delaune apprenticed as a goldsmith under Italian artist Benvenuto Cellini (1500‒1571) and served as armor designer for Henry II, King of France, and as a medalist in the royal mint. Engravings are produced by carving a design into a metal plate, and engravers were thus similar to goldsmiths in the need to carefully work with the metal instruments and materials. This engraving shows the collaborative nature of the goldsmith’s workshop with several craftsmen performing various steps in the process.

Francis Seymour Haden (English, 1818 – 1910), Hands Etching, 1865. Drypoint, 5 3/4 in x 8 5/8 in. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, 1985.22.

Hands Etching served as the title plate for Francis Seymour Haden’s portfolio Études à l’eau-forte (Studies in Etching, 1866). Showing hands working with etching tools, the print is inscribed with a line from Horace, “O, sweet solace of labors.” Along with James McNeill Whistler, his brother-in-law and colleague, Haden was one of the spokespersons for the Etching Revival in late 19th-century England. Haden prized the medium of etching and its capacity to be “free, expressive, full of vivacity.”

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