The following is a guest post by Katherine Blood, Curator of Fine Prints, Prints & Photographs Division. As the Library of Congress marks its 220th year of serving the nation, the publication of a new guide tells two stories: how staff have for decades worked with art professionals to build the collections and how by creating descriptive materials such as guides, the Library strives to help viewers to research and appreciate the collections it has acquired.
A newly-published online research guide, National Exhibition of Prints (1943-1977) at the Library of Congress, helps researchers delve into a fascinating aspect of the Library’s print collecting and exhibition history.
Beginning in the late 1930s, the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division (P&P, then called the Division of Fine Arts) regularly sought the advice of artists as part of its program for building a world class collection of modern and contemporary artists’ fine prints (e.g. engravings, etchings, woodcuts, lithographs, and screen prints). In 1943, even as the country faced the challenges of World War II, the Library supplemented this approach with an ambitious undertaking, staging a series of national, juried print shows at a time when such venues for American prints and printmakers were still relatively rare. Works by printmakers from Mexico, Cuba, Canada, and several other countries were featured alongside a wealth of prints by both known and emerging artists from across the United States. This National Exhibition of Prints continued annually until 1977.
Artist/printmakers collaborated in the exhibitions, which also served as a means of identifying prints for the Library to acquire. Among those who served as advisors and jurors were John Taylor Arms, Fritz Eichenberg, Federico Castellón, Clare Leighton, Michael Mazur, Clare Romano, Benton Spruance, and many others.
The Library’s National Exhibition of Prints program fostered public appreciation of artists’ prints, while serving as a rich and recurring source for new acquisitions selected by artists who served as Jurors of Admission and Jurors of Award. The latter, working together with P&P chiefs and curators, conferred Pennell purchase prize awards, named for Golden Age illustrator, artist, and printmaker Joseph Pennell (1857-1926). The prints selected for awards were typically acquired and added to the Library’s permanent collections. In addition to artists, participating admissions jurors occasionally included art and museum experts, among them such legendary print scholars as A. Hyatt Mayor, Adelyn Breeskin, and Una E. Johnson.
Our new guide details this history and shows researchers how to find exhibited prints that were subsequently acquired for the Library’s Fine Prints Collection. Since only a fraction (about 500 out of 4,600 total prints) were ultimately acquired, the guide provides further links to catalogs listing all of the featured artists and their prints, including those whose works are not currently included in the Library’s collection. The National Exhibition of Prints catalogs also note the names of jurors and their respective roles. On-site researchers can review microfilm reels showing images of both selected and rejected prints from the exhibitions.
As research interest in the history, creation, dissemination, and impact of visual art grows, the National Exhibition of Prints research guide offers a slice of printmaking history in our nation’s capital that, through the Library’s collection and researcher engagement, continues to resonate throughout the country and beyond.
- Take a look at the National Exhibition of Prints (1943-1977) at the Library of Congress guide, and view a sampling of prints acquired through the National Exhibitions (because of rights considerations, the prints display only at thumbnail size when you are viewing from outside Library of Congress buildings).
- Read a series of special articles describing Collections of Works on Paper at the Library of Congress (pdf) from a Washington Print Club Quarterly (now called On Paper) dedicated journal issue (Winter 2011-2012).
- Explore online catalog records describing portions of the Fine Prints Collection (including prints featured in the National Exhibition of Prints) in the Prints & Photographs Division Online Catalog, especially those describing prints purchased with the Pennell Fund.
- Get to know Joseph Pennell and particular facets of his career in a video webinar focusing on Pennell’s well-known World War I drawing and related poster “Lest Liberty Perish…Buy Bonds.
- For information about offerings related to the Library’s 220th birthday, see the Library of Congress Blog’s post, “Your Favorite Library Turns 220!“