The Prairie Print Makers  1930-1966

 

This introduction to the Prairie Print Makers is provided with the permission of Barbara Thompson, author, and granddaughter of C.A. Seward. It is with gratitude that the group’s story can be included. More detailed information on the Prairie Print Makers can be found on Barbara’s website at www.casewardprintmaker.com.

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An Introduction to the Prairie Print Makers

 

On December 28, 1930, the ten charter members of the Wichita-based Prairie Print Makers held their first meeting. Eight of these artists, Charles Capps, Leo Courtney, Lloyd Foltz, Arthur Hall, Norma Hall, Clarence Hotvedt, Herschel Logan, and Edmund Kopietz, were Wichita friends and associates of C.A. Seward, the organizer of this first meeting. Another Seward friend and associate, Birger Sandzen, hosted the meeting at his studio in Lindsborg. Seward spelled out the group’s primary goal in a letter of invitation to William Dickerson, also from Wichita, who became the first artist to receive an invitation to join the group: the object of this group is to further the interest of both artists and laymen in printmaking and collecting.

 

It was certainly this spirit of friendship and shared values that prevailed when the Prairie Print Makers first convened in 1930 in Lindsborg. The photograph (right) taken at the first meeting of the group (whose day jobs included commercial design, illustration, teaching, and court stenography) shows them proudly standing before the camera, announcing their artistic aspirations to the world.

 

To accomplish their goal the Prairie Print Makers organized and circulated exhibitions of members’ work, and commissioned an annual print, created by an active member, which was then circulated to the other active members. The Prairie Print Makers offered three categories of membership. Over the years there were more than 125 "Active Members" of the Prairie Print Makers who were practicing printmakers, elected by invitation, and who paid annual dues of $1.00. "Associate Members," the non-artist portion of the group, formed about three quarters of the membership. They were also selected by invitation and paid annual dues of $5.00. "Honorary Members" of the Prairie Print Makers were individuals who had made noteworthy contributions to the promotion of printmaking or collecting. Those in this category paid no dues but received all the benefits of the Associate Members. Carl Smalley, an art dealer and longtime friend of both Seward and Sandzen, was invited to become the society’s first Honorary Membership when he happened in on that first formal meeting.

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All of the founding members of the Prairie Print Makers contributed to the group’s unique synergy. Both Arthur Hall and Norma Bassett Hall, who resided in nearby Eldorado, Kansas, contributed the skill and knowledge they had acquired from a year of study in France with renowned etcher, E.S. Lumsden and his equally prominent wife, noted block print artist, Mabel Rowden. Charles Capps brought his meticulous nature and his disciplined mastery of aquatint. Herschel Logan lent his skill as a craftsman and instinctive aptitude for carving wood blocks that had established his national recognition by the age of twenty-three. Lloyd Foltz contributed his enthusiasm and dedication to perfecting his skill in each medium, and his very specific instinct for creating modern, dynamic compositions. William Dickerson, the first elected artist member, provided expertise from his study and work as an assistant to the eminent stone lithographer, Bolton Brown. Clarence Hotvedt contributed his strength as a draftsman and Edmund Kopietz, spread the reputation of the group to Minneapolis where, just previous to the founding meeting of the Prairie Print Makers, he had been appointed as the Director of the Minnesota Art Academy. Birger Sandzen, the eldest member of the group, had studied with the virtuoso etcher Anders Zorn at the University of Lund, as well as with painter, Aman-Jean in Paris prior to his departure for America to join the staff at Bethany College in Lindsborg. Though Sandzen did not actively participate in the group’s many sketching expeditions or print sessions at Seward’s studio, the European-born professor brought an academic and international perspective. Sandzen acknowledged Seward’s important role in developing the group in an interview, noting that: "The impression of his (Seward’s) personality is stamped on nearly every forward move in the art of this state during the past thirty years. He has been the soul of several state-wide progressive art organizations, such as the Prairie Print Makers and the Kansas Federation of Arts," and that Seward “was the mainspring in the organization of the PPM..."

 

Prints had long been considered to be an ideal popular art form because of their affordability, and the audience of print collectors expanded significantly in the early decades of the 20th Century. In his three-part series on collecting prints written for The Western Magazine of Art – Community Arts and Crafts, C.A. Seward, encouraged new collectors to join these prints societies as associate, non-artist members as a means of access to information about printmakers.

 

Several factors set the Prairie Print Makers apart from other print making societies of their time. Their location in Wichita, Kansas, a relatively small, yet highly entrepreneurial city in the center of the Midwest, combined with the unique qualities that the ten founding members brought to the group, created a synergy that distinguishes this organization in the history of American print societies.

 

The Prairie Print Makers’ annual gift prints testify to the groups’ high regard for craftsmanship and their enthusiasm for all printmaking mediums. The Gift Prints included seven etchings, four drypoints, four aquatints, one linocut, one color block print, one colored etching, three wood engravings, and seven lithographs. In all, thirty four gift prints were issued annually from 1931 until 1965 with the exception of 1963, when no gift print was issued. Thompson-O'Neill and Foreman in their 1981 catalog, The Prairie Print Makers, summarized the essential facts concerning the gift prints: the artist was selected by a committee, usually the group's three officers, and the artist was paid $150 (the society paid for the expense of printing, matting, and mailing).

 

The print was usually made during the summer, after annual dues were collected, and it was distributed in November with an illustrated biographical brochure. Printing (usually in an edition of 200) was done either by the artist, Western Lithograph in Wichita, George C. Miller in New York, Lynton Kistler in Los Angeles, or by member artists, James Swann and James D. Havens.

 

The group’s dedication to craftsmanship is also evident in the letterpress book produced by two of the members in collaboration with the poet Everett Scrogin, several years before the formation of the group. This book, Other Days in Pictures and Verse, was published in 1928 in an edition of 100. It featured the woodcut illustrations by Hershel Logan and decorative borders by C.A. Seward, and is a nostalgic evocation of the simple and good life threatened by the encroachment of modern times.

Seward’s statement of the group's objective "to further the interest of both artists and laymen in printmaking and collecting,” is reflected by their dedication to making their art accessible; not only through membership, but also through the traveling exhibitions they organized each year, as well as their request that the artists members continue to offer their prints at the lowest possible price. When Sandzen halved the dues of the "Smoky Hill Art Club" to fifty cents during the depression he gave clear testimony to his egalitarian outlook. Likewise, the Prairie Print Makers never raised their dues in the thirty-five years of their activity.

 

The artistic stance of the Prairie Print Makers is substantially different from that of the more renowned regionalists: Thomas Hart Benton, John Stuart Curry, and Grant Wood. Of these three, only native Kansan Curry was eventually to join the group. Elizabeth Broun has noted that "the Kansas invented by Curry—along with the Missouri invented by Benton and the Iowa invented by Wood, contained the power of myth," but, as Broun adds, this was at the expense of a realistic vision of life in the mid-west. While the founding members of the Prairie Print Makers may have occasionally shared the regionalists' mood of nostalgia, there was nothing self-conscious or exploitative in the way their work dealt with their rural heritage. In fact, The Prairie Print Makers were never interested in promoting a specifically Midwestern artistic agenda. With their third annual gift print in 1934, the group presented a print inspired by a New England barn by East Coast based printmaker, Ernest Watson. By 1936, the first of many images of New Mexican adobe buildings appeared, and in 1940, the East Coast artist Stow Wengenroth produced the first of his two gift prints on New England themes. By 1943, the first of three gift prints of European and Asian subjects appeared.

 

It is too easy to conclude that the Prairie Printmakers simply testify to the pervasiveness of printmaking societies in mid-twentieth century America. Flourishing in the seemingly inhospitable climate of the depression era prairie, their roots point to an indigenous enthusiasm for the graphic arts, an enthusiasm fueled as much by the pleasure of making prints as by the pleasure of bringing them to the attention of a larger public. That the group boasted forty-seven Active Members and over 100 Associate Members just four years after its inauguration, is a testament to their exceptional yet simple origin as a distinct group of artist friends brought together by geographic affinities and their passion for printmaking.

Charles Capps, Lloyd Foltz, Orlan Voth,

They shared their passion for art, they shared their lives.
Charles Capps, Lloyd Foltz, Orlan Voth, Clarence Hotvedt, Loren Kennedy.
(Photo provided by Sara Kennedy.)

"When I was a very young little girl I remember visiting Clarence and Bertha in their home in Wichita. Some years later, when Clarence learned I was doing a school project on my mother's family history, he gave me a print he had done of his Hotvedt family tree.  It made a huge impact on me at the time and I wanted to create one just like it for my family tree.  Creating a beautiful likeness of his tree never happened, but genealogy became a passion that has stayed with me throughout my life.  I often think of how kind he was to encourage me in an endeavor I have so enjoyed.

 

All the guys and their wives came to our house over the years I was growing up, often in one big group gathering.  After eating there was music!  Clarence played the piano and Chili Capps played the guitar, someone else played a harmonica.  I always danced to the music until my bedtime!  These gatherings were always filled with laughter and lively conversation and were such fun.

 

I can tell you that my father valued his association with all the printmakers and cherished their longtime friendships beyond words.  I grew up surrounded by their art in our home and now it is proudly displayed in my home as well."

 

- Sara Kennedy, daughter of Loren Kennedy 

Print Makers Join In Club Containing Finest Of Artists

Organization to Further Making and Collecting of Prints

January 4, 1930  (Permission to reprint by The Wichita Eagle.)  

 

     Wichita is the headquarters of America’s newest organization of Print Makers. The name of the new club is the Prairie Print Makers.

     The purpose of the organization is to further the interest of both the artist and the layman in print making and collecting.

     A group of mid-western print makers have been working for a year, perfecting the details of the plan. The final meeting was held December 28, at the studio of Birger Sandzen in Lindsborg, Kan. In the gravure section of today’s Wichita Eagle is a representative group of prints by the ten original organizers, also a photo of the group taken near the studio of Mr. Sandzen in Lindsborg.

     The officers of the Prairie Print Makers are Leo Courtney, president; Charles M. Capps, vice president; C.A. Seward, secretary-treasurer, all well known Wichita artists.

     Membership is by invitation only and is divided into three classes, active, associate and honorary.

     The active members are the artists who make prints, lithographs, etchings, wood blocks or prints in any of the generally accepted graphic art mediums.

     Associate members receive each year a gift print made by one of the active print makers and worth many times the amount of the annual dues. The edition of this print is limited and cannot be obtained in any other way, as the plate and entire edition is owned and controlled by the print club.

     The honorary group is selected from those who have performed some special service for the cause of print making or collecting.

     Mr. Carl Smalley of McPherson has the honor of being the first honorary member elected. Mr. Wm. Dickerson, another well known Wichita artist was the first active member to be elected after the organization was formed, and Mrs. Richard M. Gray of Wichita was the first associate member.

     The Prairie Print Makers is modeled after other national organizations, there being three other principal groups in this field. The oldest of this group is the Chicago Society of Etchers, the next is the Brooklyn Society of Etchers, and the other one being the California Print Makers. The Prairie Print Makers is modeled closely after the California group.

     The new society is in no way a competitive organization. Most of the organizers of the Prairie Print Makers are already members of one or more of the older societies and will continue to hold their memberships. The new group has a definite part in the development of our national appreciation of fine prints.

     The older societies have about reached their limit on membership and have long waiting lists. This seems to indicate a need for a centrally located organization. In fact the secretaries of all three of the older societies have not only approved the idea of the Prairie Print Makers, but have furnished much helpful information which has been gratefully accepted by the organizers of the new society.

        Invitations have been mailed to a large group of persons who have been recommended for associate membership. The active membership will be carefully and slowly selected from print makers who are actively making and exhibiting prints. One of the main functions of the Prairie Print Makers is to stimulate active creative effort.

     An annual exhibition will be held each year to which the active members will submit their latest productions. Group exhibitions will be selected from this exhibition to be circulated throughout the country.

     The second and more important activity of the organization is to stimulate appreciation for prints, and for print collecting. Helpful information will be circulated on how to begin a print collection and to care for it. Carl Smalley of McPherson, a nationally known authority on prints says, “One may not need to expend a great amount of money in building a good collection if wisdom is used in the selection from the many promising contemporary prints that may someday become old masters.”

     While the active membership is being carefully selected from recognized print makers, this is by no means the most important work of the governing board, according to C.A. Seward, secretary-treasurer. “We plan to recruit new talent as rapidly as new and talented young print makers can be found. Owing to the crowded condition of the memberships of the other organizations, the beginner is handicapped in getting his prints into the exhibitions and thus public approval is delayed.

 

It is our purpose not only to help the experienced print maker but also to help these younger folks to get their work before the public.”

     The Wichita Art Association is interested in seeing the Prairie Print Makers go forward and it is likely that the annual exhibition of this new print society will be one of the main attractions of future programs of the Wichita Art Association. It will be an event of national importance in the art field. The Art Association hopes to have their new museum completed by autumn so that future exhibitions may be held under ideal conditions.

Printmakers On The Prairie

Article from the Lawrence Journal World

Sunday, June 12, 1988

 

In 1930, a small group of artists assembled in Lindsborg at Birger Sandzen’s studio. It was the first meeting of the Prairie Print Makers, a society promoting the making of prints. The group prospered, peaking in the 1940’s and lasting until 1965. It boasted more than 100 members from around the United States in its heyday, including regionalist John Steuart Curry and Mary Huntoon, the Topeka artist who pioneered art therapy.

 

The charter members were Sandzen, Charles M. Capps, Lloyd Foltz, Arthur W. Hall, Norma Bassett Hall, Clarence Hotvedt, Edmund Kopietz, Herschel C. Logan and C.A. Seward. Most of the 10 founding artists were commercial artists in Wichita.

 

“It seemed, to me, very alive,” recalled charter member Foltz, 90, in a telephone interview last week from his Wichita home. “I thought Wichita was pretty active, compared to Topeka and other areas I was familiar with.”

 

At the time, there were quite a number of similar organizations that commissioned prints and sponsored exhibitions, and the members of the Kansas-based group often belonged to several, such as the Chicago Society of Etchers, Northwestern Printmakers and the Brooklyn Society of Etchers.

 

Generally, artists could join by invitation only. But the Prairie Print Makers were unusual for a number of reasons, says graphics curator Stephen Goddard. “It was conceived and looked after by a group of artists, which was rather unusual,” Goddard said. “Most of them (print societies) were associated with a big city or major museum that had a constituency they could draw upon.”

 

It’s also remarkable that such an organization was founded in Depression-era Kansas – and thrived.

 

From 1931 to 1965, the society commissioned a print by one of the member artists to be given to the entire membership. (No print was made in 1963.) One of the group’s aims was to promote prints as affordable art.

 

“The group really interests me when it’s getting off the ground, “ Goddard remarked. “It was much more a group of friends making prints, and you can see that in the spirit of the early works.”

 

Sandzen made the first gift print, a lithograph titled “A Kansas Creek.” The landscape was a major interest for these artists, although the Midwest wasn’t the sole source. A number of the artists spent a great deal of time in the Southwest, which is depicted in Charles Capps’ masterful aquatints, “Mexican Barbershop” (1938) and “Idyl of New Mexico” (1965), both created as gift prints.

 

The works are lithographs, etchings, aquatint, block prints, drypoint and engravings. Illustrative in their varied styles, the works are unremarkable for the most part but nonetheless are sweet and genuine. They show, above all, a love for the print media and strong technical command.

 

It may be that economic hardship and lack of local art resources contributed to the society’s strength. It opened up contacts with artists around the country and provided a setting for the Kansas artists to gather and discuss their work. With the exception of the Sweden-born Sandzen, who studied with Anders Zorn, and the Halls, the founders had no European training.

 

“These were people who were enthusiastic about making visual things, and crafting them themselves,” Goddard said. “This group grew out of friendship and a commitment to hand-made artifacts.”

 

The founders were unpretentious, sensible, and they loved their art.

 

“It was almost a social gathering,” said another founding member, Clarence Hotvedt, 88, in a telephone interview from his Wichita home. “Yeah, we’d inspire each other…we kind of stuck together. I didn’t know of any organization like ours in the country.”

 

At the center of the Prairie Print Makers were Birger Sandzen, Lindsborg’s artist of regional renown who taught at Bethany College, and his friend Carl Smalley, an enthusiastic book and art dealer in Wichita.

 

C.A. Seward, who was art director at Western Lithograph from 1923 to his death in 1939, was the main artistic force behind the organization.

 

“C.A. Seward was really the artist in Wichita to do work for,” Hotvedt recalled. “I worked under him for years. He inspired us young people to get to working on these things.”

 

Seward was a pioneer of metal plate lithography. He was devoted to promoting the arts in general, and also founded the Wichita Art Association.

 

“I think, to name an individual, C.A. Seward was the inspiration for all of us,” Lloyd Foltz said. “I’m certain he and Leo Courtney got the idea, and put it together, and arranged with Dr. Sandzen to get together in Lindsborg.”

 

Seward drew together a number of the young printmakers at Western Lithograph Co. in Wichita. Of the charter members of PPM, Seward, Charles Capps, Foltz and Hotvedt were among commercial artists there.

 

“I benefitted greatly from Seward’s experience as a lithographer,” said Foltz, who worked at Western from 1925 to 1969. “I’d never done any lithography or etching or block printing before I met him. I called him my daddy as far as art is concerned; I learned everything I knew from him.”

 

“We had a great time getting together socially, “ Foltz continued. “Mr. Seward had a small building with a small press, and we’d get together on Saturday afternoons and talk about all sorts of things. It was social, but it was all about art and printmaking We had all sorts of interests, but none of it was as important as art.”

 

The Prairie Print Makers was in its heyday in the 1940’s. “It began to wane at that time, and I don’t know for what reason,” Foltz said. He noted that etching and lithography were losing popularity. But more specifically, the death of Seward at age 54 in 1939, and Courtney’s death two years later, had an impact on the group, Foltz said. “They were our leaders,” he recalled. “And you can imagine that had something to do with it.”

 

Of the society’s charter members, Sandzen, Seward and Capps received the most recognition nationally. “Capps, in retrospect, is quite a spectacular printmaker in terms of art between the wars,” Goddard said. After exploring a number of printmaking techniques, Capps pounced upon the aquatint as his chief mode of expression and became a master at it. When he was asked to create the gift print for 1938, the only stipulation was that it be an aquatint.

 

“It’s also interesting to me that of the big regional artists – Benton, Curry and Weed – only Curry was a member and he never made a print,” Goddard noted. Yet Foltz says Curry wasn’t as well-known nationally in the 30’s and early 40’s as Capps, Seward and a number of other Prairie Print Makers. He was flattered by the invitation to join. In his acceptance letter, dated Feb. 4, 1938, he wrote, “…am very glad to belong. I haven’t made any new lithographs for two years. But expect to start in on a new series very soon.” Whether joining the PPM group inspired Curry to make the prints is unknown.

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 Art In Kansas Has A Long

And Varied History

Wichita Eagle - March 13, 2011

 

Wichita — Describing Kansas art in generalities is difficult, even for the most esteemed art historians in the state. It shares geography — and some would say a general spirit. And it admittedly contains more than its fair share of stark landscapes interrupted by lonely barns. But otherwise, Kansas art has existed in many different forms over the state's 150 years of existence.

 

It's the bold and colorful landscapes created by Birger Sandzen, a Swedish-born Bethany College professor, in the early 1900s. It's the sweeping and dramatic John Steuart Curry murals that decorate the state Capitol in Topeka. It's Samuel P. Dinsmoor's limestone cabin guarded by surreal concrete sculptures in Lucas' famous Garden of Eden. It's the offbeat sculptures of Wichita-born Tom Otterness, whose sought-after work fills parks and city avenues across the world. It's the contemporary paintings and sculptures that draw crowds to art galleries around Wichita on the final Friday of every month. It's 150 years' worth of paintings, sculpture, glass, photographs, fiber and ceramics produced by artists whose talents might have made them stars had they been born in New York City.

 

"The art of the region and the state is much less monolithic than people think," said Bill North, senior curator at Kansas State University's Beach Museum of Art, which specializes in Kansas art. "There's a lot more to it than just barns."

 

The earliest Kansas artists included landscape painters such as George Stone, a Topeka-born artist who studied with Paris greats, and George Hopkins, a painter and teacher who directed the art school at the Kansas State College in Manhattan in the late 1800s. But what may have been the most significant period of Kansas art dawned in the early 1900s with a man named Carl Smalley, the son of a McPherson seed dealer, North said. During a 1904 seed-selling trip that included stops in Kansas City and St. Louis, Smalley bought several prints, which he took back to McPherson and sold at the seed shop.

 

The art was so popular that Smalley's father eventually turned over a section of the showroom. Smalley's art dealing eventually took over the entire business. Smalley, who would sell prints to farmer's wives who'd saved their egg money, started a friendship with artists such as Sandzen and C.A. Seward, whose work he promoted and encouraged.The pair of printmakers went on to serve as charter members of the Prairie Printmakers, who arguably made up the most famous and influential group of artists in the state's history.

 

The group was officially formed on Dec. 28, 1930, when Seward invited eight other artists plus Smalley to Sandzen's Lindsborg studio. Among the organization's other charter members were Wichita artist Clarence Hotvedt and married artists Arthur and Norma Bassett Hall.

 

The group's stated goal was to gather and inspire printmakers and print collectors. Wichita's William Dickerson was the first artist invited to join, and over the years, the group included more than 75 active members, all of whom paid annual dues of $1.

 

The artists, who created etchings, silkscreens, linoleum cuts, block prints and lithographs, made art that was accessible, affordable and easy to love, said Stephen Gleissner, curator at the Wichita Art Museum, which has a collection of prints by founding member Herschel C. Logan.

 

Some of the group's most famous pieces include images of Kansas prairies, lush trees and farmland. "The imagery just grabs your heart," Gleissner said. "It's the way you want Kansas to look and feel. It's what you wanted your youth or you grandparents' youth to look like."

 

The Prairie Printmakers also helped spark an unprecedented, statewide interest in art, North said. "There was just a real appreciation throughout the state of art, and ordinary people were collecting art, reading about art and thinking about art," he said.

 

The period that produced the Prairie Printmakers also included a fascination with the southwestern landscape, partly ushered in by Wichita banker Ed Davison and his wife, Faye. The pair began summering in New Mexico and joined a colony of Taos-based artists who were inspired by the southwestern landscape. Many other Kansans also started traveling to New Mexico to work, including Charles Capps, another founding member of the Printmakers, as well as Dickerson. The Prairie Printmakers also inspired generations of artists, who branched off in many different directions.

 

The 1940s saw a fascination with abstract expressionism, embodied in the work of artists such as Sue Jean Covacevich, a Sandzen student who studied with Diego Rivera and went on to teach at Winfield's Southwestern college.

 

Some of the most important figures in the history of Kansas art have included educators such as Albert Bloch, Roger Shimomura and Marjorie Schick. The list also includes easel painters such as Henry Hubbell; sculptors including Bruce Moore, Tom Otterness and Blackbear Bosin; and photographers such as Terry Evans, Larry Schwarm and Gordon Parks.

 

Kansas art historians could spend hours rattling off names of Kansas artists both well known and unjustly obscure and of Kansas artists both long gone and those alive, well and prolifically producing today.

 

What Kansas art experts have more trouble identifying is what makes art Kansas art. ”There never really has been what you would identify as a Kansas style," North said. "One thing that you do find in a lot of Kansas artists is this subtlety that is hard to describe. It's not flashy. It's very incredibly rich but very subtle and it sort of invites meditation. Things start to reveal themselves over time."