A Personal Canon: Christina Weyl on Five Influential Texts
Here are five books that shaped the study of women printmakers active in the twentieth century.
James Watrous, A Century of American Printmaking, 1880-1980 (1984)
Watrous’s well-researched survey of American printmaking was the first book I accessed on the subject as an undergraduate, when writing my senior thesis at Georgetown. It was probably the first art history book I ever purchased and continues to hold an important spot on my shelf. In the field of American art, it is rare to find an entry-level book that includes even a passing mention of printmaking. Watrous, who was himself an artist and an educator at the University of Wisconsin, dedicated this entire volume to surveying the graphic arts in America. He covers an enormous amount of terrain: biographical information, aesthetic debates, commercial galleries and other distribution systems, and notice of major exhibitions that shaped the field.
David Acton, The Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionist Prints (2001)
This exhibition catalogue opened a window into the world of midcentury American printmaking. Acton spent years getting to know artists—many were alive when he started his project—and unearthing rare prints that had been sitting in portfolios for decades. Part of the challenge of working on prints of this era is that they were not produced as regularized editions. Artists may have printed one or two impressions, perhaps to satisfy sales, but then never printed any other impressions even though the projected edition might have been 20. Acton’s carefully researched catalogue entries mark a turning point in the field, pointing forward to the need for further scholarship on these little-known (and rarely seen) prints.
Ann Gibson, Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics (1997)
As part of the major push in the 1990s to open the field of Abstract Expressionism beyond the canonical white, male practitioners, Ann Gibson’s eye-opening study established not only the value of studying women and other so-called minority artists, but also gave me some theoretical tools for approaching the women of Atelier 17. Her book influenced how I set up Chapter 4 of my book, which unpacks how and why certain techniques and formal qualities in women’s Atelier 17 prints marked them as “less strong” or “good” compared to their male peers.
Helen Langa, Radical Art: Printmaking and the Left in 1930s New York (2004)
I first accessed the seed of Helen Langa’s 2004 book in her much earlier essay “Egalitarian Vision, Gendered Experience: Women Printmakers and the WPA/FAP Graphic Arts Project,” in Norma Broude and Mary Garrard’s edited anthology, The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History (IconEditions, 1992). Although Radical Art expands much further into the world of politically motivated printmaking made during the 1930s, Langa still traces how printmaking interfaced with gender equality. The graphic arts workshops of the WPA are often thought to be the direct predecessor for women printmakers at Atelier 17, despite the fact that only one woman was actually employed there. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the impact of these WPA workshops and progressive ideologies of the 1930s in fostering the type of egalitarianism women sought at Atelier 17.
Elizabeth G. Seaton, ed. Paths to the Press: Printmaking and American Women Artists, 1910-1960 (2006)
While celebrating the private collection of Belverd and Marian Needles, Liz Seaton’s Paths to the Press is an important resource for those studying American women printmakers. Like David Acton’s The Stamp of Impulse, the thrust of the book is the biographies/catalogue entries for the women included in the exhibition. In addition, there is a four-page-long list of women printmakers active during this period. As I got into my topic, I was struck by how few women from Atelier 17 are on this list. This realization provided a significant push to write The Women of Atelier 17 and revive awareness for these unknown women artists.
Christina Weyl is an independent scholar who focuses on American printmaking and women artists. Her most recent book is The Women of Atelier 17: Modernist Printmaking in Midcentury New York. Read more about the women involved with Atelier 17 on the website, which offers an exceptional biographical supplement.
Acton David. The Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionist Prints. Manchester, Vermont: Hudson Hills Press. 2001.
Gibson, Ann. Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. 1997.
Langa, Helen. Radical Art: Printmaking and the Left in 1930s New York. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. 2004.
Seaton, Elizabeth G., ed. Paths to the Press: Printmaking and American Women Artists, 1910-1960. Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University. 2006.
Watrous, James. A Century of American Printmaking, 1880-1980. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. 1984.