This page contains various articles I've found, primarily concerning the Prairie Print Makers. Clarence's granddaughter has additional articles I hope to add soon.
Article from the Lawrence Journal World
Sunday, June 12, 1988
"Printmakers on the Prairie"
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.
Antiques Roadshow article posted 4/25/2005
“Who Were the Prairie Print Makers?”
There was something perfect about how little a woman paid recently for a color woodcut print made by Norma Bassett Hall, an Oregon native who made the print back in the 1920s. The woman, who brought the piece to the Portland ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, spied the print while rummaging around a Goodwill store. "I was just looking for something, who knows what, and it really caught my eye," she said. "I thought the colors were very beautiful. There just seemed something about it, that this was a piece that was nice, that was lovely." The price tag didn't dissuade her: it was $1.49. "It just seemed like it shouldn't be $1.49," she said.
Most artists would be upset if they knew that one of their prints sold for such a paltry sum. Hall, though, was part of a Midwestern group of artists known as the Prairie Print Makers, who prided themselves in making affordable art for ordinary people rather than for just art collectors. They might have been pleased to discover that one of their prints was so appreciated — and had sold for such an affordable price.
The Prairie Print Makers group was formed on December 28, 1930, when 11 of Kansas' best artists, also friends, gathered in the Lindsborg studio of Swedish-born Birger Sandzen, an artist who had been inspired to teach at Bethany College in Kansas after reading a description of the college in Carl Swensson's I Sverige in 1890. The Print Makers' purpose was spelled out in an invitation to join the organization made to the Wichita artist William Dickerson: "The object of this group is to further the interest of both artists and laymen in printmaking and collecting."
Many of the printmakers in the group were also professional graphic artists who took up printmaking as an avocation. Each year, they would commission a print by someone in the group and they would give it to all their members. The 34 gift prints made annually over the group's history included traditional printmaking techniques such as etchings, drypoints, aquatints, lithographs, and wood engravings. Todd Weyman, the Swann Gallery appraiser who assessed the Norma Hall color woodcut, noted that this printmaking technique took a large amount of skill. "For each color you see in this print, which are maybe seven or eight colors, a different block is made," Weyman noted to the print's owner. "So there's quite a bit of craft used to create a woodcut like this."
The group helped sell members' work to a wide audience by sponsoring inexpensive traveling exhibitions. These exhibitions met a public eager to purchase prints that were more affordable than those sold by European printmakers who were popular at the time, such as Sir Francis Seymour Haden, Anders Zorn and James Whistler. Carl Smalley, an art dealer who sold the works of Sandzen, expressed the democratic attitude of the group when he wrote, "I have dreams of providing original prints and good paintings for the walls of every schoolhouse in Kansas." Until the Prairie Print Makers ended its run in 1965, they never raised their $1 annual membership fee.
The artistic philosophy of the Prairie Print Makers was substantially different from that of more renowned Midwesterners such as Thomas Hart Benton or Grant Wood. These two artists often delved into the realm of the mythic Midwest rather than a more realistic, honest vision of Midwest life, which was preferred by the Prairie Print Makers. Over time, these artists expanded their membership to include Eastern printmakers as well as ones from the Southwest, and their identity became more and more diluted. Hall, in fact, only passed through Kansas for a residency there in 1923, and was typical of the later diversity of the Prairie Print Makers. She moved to New Mexico in 1942, and while living there she did block prints of the Southwest. Over her lifetime, her art depicted a variety of subjects including Kansas farm scenes, Oregon mountains and New Mexico pueblos. The subject of the Hall print that came into ANTIQUES ROADSHOW was even farther from the Midwest, depicting a home not on the Kansas prairie, but on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
Article from the Wichita Eagle, 3/13/11
“Art in Kansas has a long and varied history”
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."
Obit from the Eau Claire, Wisconsin newspaper: