May 1, 2012

Sandzen's Nailhead Woodcuts

        Today is a very busy day, including an interview with the local paper and an author talk at an elementary school, in addition to the dentist appointment, the continued preparation for this weekend's open studio show, and the usual schedule of children's activities in the afternoon.  So that makes it a good day just to feature an interesting little thing I came across.  These pieces are by Birger Sandzen (1871-1954), who was born in Sweden and emigrated to Kansas in 1894.  Among other things, Sandzen studied pointillism in Paris, which influenced his painting deeply.  It also apparently influenced his printmaking.  Who would have thought that pointillism would translate to relief printing?
        These are called nailhead woodcuts, and, as far as I can tell, it means just that: the image was created not by carving, but by making the pattern entirely with the dots of nail holes.  I don't know whether Sandzen invented this technique, or whether he's the only one who used it to this extent.  I've used nail holes for texture myself in some of my wood block prints.  But I've never seen any other artist's work made entirely from nail dots.  I think they're cool!

[Pictures: Crystal Lake, nailhead woodcut by Birger Sandzen, 1928 (image from Legend Fine Arts);
The Sentinels, nailhead woodcut by Sandzen, 1918 (image from Live Auctioneers);
A Mountain Lake, nailhead woodcut by Sandzen, 1928 (image from Diverse Ayres).]


Jim Crimmins said...

Hi- I am fan of Birger you think thee nailhead prints are made with an endgrain block or flat grain plank?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Hello, Jim,
I'm guessing that they're on plank, but I don't know that for sure. I guess that partly because they're called woodcuts, which usually means carving on the grain, partly because of their size, which is often in the 6-12 inch range, which would be huge for a block of end grain, and partly because of their relative simplicity, which certainly wouldn't require endgrain to execute and therefore would be a waste of a rarer and more expensive material.