March 1, 2013

Grace Albee's Relief Prints

        Grace Albee (1890-1985) lived in France and the U.S., in cities and rural areas, and her relief prints always have a strong sense of place.  She did mostly wood engravings, but also some wood and linoleum block prints, and her subjects were mostly what I think of as landscape vignettes.  Like me, she had an eye for the beauty in derelict places and abandoned things.  For example, she has several cool portraits of broken-down carriages and wagons - but I didn't have room to post everything here, so do look up more of her work!
        Among the images I could find on the web, I've mostly gravitated toward architectural scenes, ranging from the romantic French town of Dinan with its medieval bridge and cottages, to the Manhattan eyesore with its broken and shuttered windows.  These are both wood engravings and therefore quite small and detailed, but you can see that the carving of the former is a little more stylized, especially in the sky, while the latter has texture as fine and nuanced as any pen drawing.
        I include Fisherman's Village as a representative linocut.  Although it's still wonderfully detailed, I love the larger areas of untextured black.  Also, see how the sky has a fuzziness to the inking where the shallow u-gouge has left the level of the block on a gradual slope?  That's such a wonderfully distinctive hand-carved block print look.
        Albee had a long and successful career, balanced with a long and successful marriage and family (five sons!)  I admire her ability to handle both without, it seems, too many compromises.  Here she is at work on an engraving.  There's no date given for the photo, although she's clearly somewhat older here.  She appears to be working at an ordinary
household desk in a corner of an ordinary room.  I can't help liking that, like me, she's not in some fancy studio.  One of the reasons I got started with block prints in the first place was that it's a medium that fits well into an ordinary house or apartment, integrated into an ordinary schedule that includes family and other work.  I like seeing that connection between us.  It's fun to look at Albee's work and think, "Here was another woman, another artist, who would have been noticing and being drawn to many of the same scenes I would be; who would have been thinking of those scenes, like me, in terms of a translation to black and white, uncarved and carved; and who, like me, would have been finding the time to try to coax that vision out of wood and ink and paper while living a whole and rounded life."

[Pictures: Dinan, wood engraving by Grace Albee, 1931 (Image from Georgetown University Library);
Manhattan Backwash, wood engraving by Albee, 1938 (Image from National Museum of Women in the Arts);
Fishermen's Village (Rockport, Massachusetts), linocut by Albee, 1927 (Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art);
Grace Albee at work, photograph by Peter A. Juley & Son, (Image from Smithsonian);
Villefranche sur Mer, wood engraving by Albee, 1929 (Image from Georgetown University Library).]

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