March 13, 2018

Another Snow Day!

        Another winter storm and another chance to share some wintry relief block prints.  This first one, by Wharton Esherick (U.S.A., 1887-1970), is really a holiday card entitled “December Snows.”  Well, around here we can’t be sure of a white Christmas and most of our snow tends to come January or later, so this is certainly looking more like the current scene outside my window than December.  The trees are loaded down and everything is indistinct with falling flakes.  I love the texture of this piece, with the dots of the snowflakes and the scratches and lines going every which way for the movement of blowing, falling, swirling snow.  Esherick has managed to convey so much with such a deceptively simple piece.
        The storm continues with a piece by Hasui Kawase (Japan, 1883-1957), who was famous for his views of Japan.  I find the rich blue of the canal a bit implausible, but it certainly gives the print a touch of color.  There’s no one to be seen, but the golden light in the windows implies people hunkered down, cozy inside as we are today.  Again, I like the sweep of flakes.  This time instead of lines to indicate movement, it’s masterfully done with streaks composed of larger, denser  white gouges.
        Hasui’s color woodblock print is made in the Japanese method, while this one by Paul Leschhorn (Alsace, 1876-1951) is done in the European style of one color per block.  This view is far more serene than what I’m seeing now, although perhaps this is what the world will look like tomorrow.  Certainly Leschhorn has captured the weight of the snow coating every branch and twig.  I love how this piece uses multiple shades and hues of grey to evoke a scene and feeling that would have been impossible for black and white.
        The first three artists are all roughly contemporaries of one another, but for a little historical perspective, I also have a piece by an anonymous artist depicting the Great Snow of 1717.  Back to back to back storms in February and March left five feet of snow and drifts as high as 25 feet throughout New England.  Entire single-story houses were covered, which this little image doesn’t do justice to with snow only up to the man’s thighs.  Thank goodness we’re not dealing with that, but I nevertheless feel that Whittier describes a blizzard wonderfully: “The whited air hides the hills and woods, the river and the heaven, and veils the farmhouse…the housemates sit… enclosed, in a tumultuous privacy of storm.”  Actually, it isn’t so blustery for us right at the moment, and at some point we’ll go out and start shovelling, but for now it’s nice to be enclosed in white.

[Pictures: Christmas Snows, woodcut by Wharton Esherick, 1923 (Image from Wharton Esherick Museum);
Twenty Views of Tokyo: Ochanomizu, color wood block print by Kawase Hasui, 1926 (Image from Scholten Japanese Art);
Wood block print by Paul Leschhorn (Image from Modern Printmakers);
Great Snow in 1717, woodcut or engraving by anonymous artist in The History and Antiquities of New England by John Warner Barber, 1856 (Image from Internet Archive).]

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