November 13, 2023

The Wonders of Cotton

         At my last show just over a week ago, a friend (a student who took one of my classes several years ago) came by and brought me a gift!  She volunteers at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, where the library was de-acquisitioning materials.  When she saw in the pile a small booklet illustrated with relief block prints, she snagged it for me!  So today I’m sharing a few of the beautiful block prints from Cotton is Environmentally Friendly: Crane is Cotton.
        This 1990 production is a lavish advertising piece for Crane paper, and the text gives a history of Crane & Co., a description of the paper-making process from planting cotton to 
trimming sheets, and effusive claims of environmental virtue.  I’m not here to assess the accuracy of any of that, but simply to enjoy the seven large relief block prints (plus one small) that illustrate the booklet.  They are by Stephen Alcorn, whose name I was delighted to recognize, as I featured some of his work in this blog once before.  Check out that post on Alcorn’s Birds (and Frog).
        As for Alcorn's illustrations of cotton, my favorites are the pair of the sower in spring and the finished field in the fall.  Decidedly not a modern cotton-growing operation, but such beautiful pieces!  The exuberant sun, the swirling tree, the rhythmic patterns of the field… These make my heart sing.
        There is also a series of the growth of cotton, from seedling to wispy seed fibers.  This is number 2 of 4, with the cotton flowers as well as the beginnings of puffy bolls.
        The whole set of prints is bracketed by day and night views of Earth, presumably to emphasize the environmental values of Crane & Co.  This is the day, and again I just love the sunshine with its patterns turning the heavens into a huge mandala over the curve of Earth, with her clouds and currents.
        Although the medium is not specified beyond “relief block prints,” with such smoothness combined with the level of very fine lines in these designs, I’m guessing they were done in lino, or possibly wood engraving, depending on their size.  I would love to experiment with this sort of imaginative designs added to otherwise realistic images.  I certainly don’t feel like I have the confidence to pull it off, but that’s what experiments are for.
        Many thanks to Diana, for thinking of me and bringing me such a delightful surprise gift!

[Pictures: four illustrations by Stephen Alcorn, from Cotton is Environmentally Friendly: Crane is Cotton, 1990.]

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