Art Chosen by Artists: Library of Congress National Exhibition of Prints (1943-77) – a New Research Guide

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.

Section of guide, National Exhibition of Prints (1943-1977) at the Library of Congress.

Section of guide, National Exhibition of Prints (1943-1977) at the Library of Congress.

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.

Sixteenth National Exhibition of Prints at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Photo by Library of Congress Photoduplication Services, 1958. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.65148

Sixteenth National Exhibition of Prints at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Photo by Library of Congress Photoduplication Services, 1958. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.65148

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.

Pennell Jury for Exhibit and Pennell Fund Committee. Photo by Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1966. Shows Jacob Landau, Adelyn Breeskin, Rudy Pozzatti, and Alan Fern surrounded by prints for the Twentieth National Exhibition of Prints at the Library of Congress. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.65150

Pennell Jury for Exhibit and Pennell Fund Committee. Photo by Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1966. Shows Jacob Landau, Adelyn Breeskin, Rudy Pozzatti, and Alan Fern surrounded by prints for the Twentieth National Exhibition of Prints at the Library of Congress. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.65150

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.

Lunch hour. Lithograph by Joseph Hirsch, 1942. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99406670/

Lunch hour. Lithograph by Joseph Hirsch, 1942. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99406670/

Ljubljana night. Collagraph by Clare Romano, 1965. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003678499/

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.

Pennell Jury for Exhibit and Pennell Fund Committee. Photo by Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1966. Shows Rudy Pozzatti, Fritz Eichenberg, and Edgar Breitenbach viewing prints for the Twentieth National Exhibition of Prints. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.65151.

Pennell Jury for Exhibit and Pennell Fund Committee. Photo by Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1966. Shows Rudy Pozzatti, Fritz Eichenberg, and Edgar Breitenbach viewing prints for the Twentieth National Exhibition of Prints. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.65151. Do you recognize any of the prints they are considering?

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2 Comments

  1. john lockwood
    April 24, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    You guys still do it? And did the LIbrary of Congress burn down in the war of 1812?-including the artwork?

  2. Katherine Blood
    April 24, 2020 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you for your response! Though the annual National Exhibition of Prints only ran from 1943 to 1977, the Library has an active exhibition program (physical and online) featuring its multi-format collections: //loc.gov/exhibits/all/. Artists’ prints appear in exhibits on many topics and here is a selection (searchable via the link above) focusing on fine art prints: Creative Space, the Floating World of Ukiyo-e, Life of the People, On the Cutting Edge, Sakura, and World War I: American Artists View the Great War.

    This exhibit examines the War of 1812 fire and subsequent rebuilding of the Library: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/out-of-the-ashes/index.html.

    The most active period of growth for the Fine Prints Collection happened beginning in 1898 with the Hubbard Collection gift: //www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/124.html. Please visit our online catalogs to explore more of the Library’s extensive and growing graphic art collections, including prints, drawings, and photographs: Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (//www.loc.gov/pictures/) and General Online Catalog (//catalog.loc.gov/).

    Hope this is helpful. Thank you and best wishes, Katherine Blood,
    Curator of Fine Prints

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