Exhibit displays never-before-seen prints

Student mined Spencer Museum for rare morsels from etching revival

Sunday, March 28, 2004

When Reed Anderson started rummaging through the print room at the Spencer Museum of Art in the fall of 2002, he didn't think he would find a new life passion.

But he did.

photo

Jared Soares/Journal-World Photo

Reed Anderson is framed by Mary Cassatt's "Baby's Back" and James Abbott McNeill Whistler's "The Unsafe Tenement." Both prints will appear in "American Etchers Abroad, 1880-1939," an exhibition Anderson guest curated at the Spencer Museum of Art. The show opens Saturday and runs through June 6.

As a Kansas University doctoral student in art history and an intern at the museum, he was asked to get to know the collection. He soon became enchanted by some of the etchings found in the print room.

"The more you look at them, the more they tell you," Anderson said. "Every one of them is very, very unique."

He now hopes others will come to appreciate the artwork. "American Etchers Abroad, 1880-1939," an exhibition guest-curated by Anderson, will open Saturday in the museum's White Gallery and run through June 6.

The exhibit features 60 prints by 32 American artists who traveled abroad during a period referred to as the etching revival. Anderson said the etching revival promoted the idea that when a person made an etching it was a personal statement, a response to a stimulus.

"I really hope people will spend a little time looking at the prints and seeing if they can't discern some of the excitement that motivated the artist to actually make the print," Anderson said. "I think it's evident in every print that's there."

The exhibit includes several prints that have never been shown to the public. One of those is Frank Duveneck's etching of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy, a recent addition to the museum's collection. Duveneck, a teacher from Cincinnati, was a key figure in the etching revival who took several students overseas to do etchings. The museum's print collection included several of his students' etchings but missed a key piece of artwork from Duveneck.

"It was kind of a glaring gap in the collection," said Steve Goddard, curator of prints and drawings at the Spencer. "Doing the exhibition pointed out something we were missing."

Better in person

The exhibit also features works by celebrated artists, such as Mary Cassatt, Joseph Pennell and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Anderson said Cassatt's etchings were similar to her paintings in subject matter.

"Most of her etchings have to do with women and their children and the emotional bond they share," Anderson said. "Instead of brightly colored canvases, they're done with a beautiful black line."

Other lesser-known artists, such as John Taylor Arms, Samuel Chamberlain and Louis Rosenberg are also included.

Goddard said the exhibit offered an opportunity to see the original etchings.

"Seeing them in person is radically different than seeing them in any publication," Goddard said. "Even the ones that have been published before, it's a great opportunity to see them in person because they're typically in very extreme detail."

Accompanying the exhibit is a fully illustrated, 175-page catalog Anderson wrote based upon his research on each of the artists. It was funded by Marilyn Stokstad, KU art history professor emeritus, and Kansas University Endowment funds.

Student initiative

Andrea Norris, the former director of the museum, said it was unusual to have a student write a catalog to go along with an exhibit. It has only happened three or four times in the past 15 years.

"I think it's a very good introduction to this material, and there's a lot of information about a lot of artists in it," Norris said.

Anderson was in Norris' graduate museum-training class a year and a half ago when he wrote the proposal for the exhibit as a class assignment.

Norris said when she read the proposal she thought it could be a really good exhibition. Many student proposals are not feasible, but Anderson's was because it included many pieces the Spencer already owned. When Norris told Anderson, she discovered he already had been thinking about doing it at the museum.

"It wasn't that the assignment gave him the idea, he already had the idea," Norris said.

New passion

Norris said the exhibit was important because it discusses a part of American printmaking history -- the etching revival -- that is not often discussed, making the work important to academics. In addition, she said, the etchings are beautiful.

"The etchings are just wonderful images of places that you imagine going or places you have been," Norris said. "It's a really delightful travel log."

Anderson said he planned to do further research on several of the artists in the exhibition after he finished his doctoral dissertation. He hopes eventually to teach and do museum work, but he knows the etchings have become part of his future.

"It's really become one of the true passions of my life," Anderson said. "It's always going to be from now on, I have a feeling."