The following is a guest post by Katherine Blood, Curator of Fine Prints, Prints & Photographs Division. A longer version will appear in On Paper: Journal of the Washington Print Club (Fall 2021).
Like poetry, literature, and music—visual art can reflect history, society, politics, and culture in uniquely powerful ways. Artists’ prints typically exist in multiples and have long been celebrated as being among the most democratic of art forms with the potential to be widely shared, experienced, studied, and appreciated.” From Fine Print Collections in the Library of Congress
What do artists Emma Amos, Ugo da Carpi, Albrecht Dürer, Edgar Heap of Birds, Ester Hernandez, Blanche Lazzell, Roger Shimomura, and James McNeill Whistler have in common? They all created beautiful prints that are freely available for you to view and study in the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division collections. Our newly published online research guide, Fine Print Collections in the Library of Congress, helps you find and learn to access these prints and over 60,000 others by artists working from the 15th century forward, in multiple styles, techniques, places, and visual voices.
The online overview is one of several recently released research guides–part of a planned series designed to help researchers navigate the Library’s full collection of artists’ etchings, engravings, woodcuts, lithographs, and screenprints as well as to explore collection strengths and other special topics. The guide begins with an introduction and summaries of the collection’s scope, selected signature collections, and provenance information. The next section, “Collection Strengths & Sample Images,” offers a quick visual taste of the collection before detailing selected topics, styles, techniques, formats, artists, and regional collectives represented in the Library’s Fine Print Collection. The next two sections offer tips for “Searching & Viewing” and researching “Rights & Reproductions.” The “Related Resources” section lists kindred collections at the Library and beyond. Related resources include a bibliography with citations, plus links for online sources.
A closely related, similarly arranged research guide is called Fine Prints Filed by Artist Name in the Library of Congress.
This guide focuses on the largest category within the Fine Prints Collection—an important “spoke” on the “umbrella” overview described above. Notably, this guide offers an expanded listing of over 240 representative artist names, arranged by century and alphabetically by surname, in the “Collection Strengths & Sample Images” section.
Did you know that between 1943 and 1977 the Library of Congress presented an annual series of juried, national print exhibitions as part of its acquisition program for fine prints? During that period, over 4,600 prints were selected for exhibition by jurors who included such renowned artist/printmakers as John Taylor Arms, Fritz Eichenberg, Clare Leighton, Michael Mazur, Clare Romano, and Benton Spruance. The National Exhibition of Prints generally had two sets of jurors: one who determined which works would be exhibited (“Jury of Admission”) and a second jury who awarded purchase prizes (“Jury of Award”). In addition to artists, the Jury of Admission included art professors, curators, and museum directors. Representatives from leading Washington, D.C., institutions served on the first Jury of Admission in 1943: C. Powell Minnigerode from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Ruel P. Tolman from the National Collection of Fine Arts (now Smithsonian American Art Museum), Macgill James from the National Gallery of Art, and Marjorie Phillips of the Phillips Memorial Gallery (now the Phillips Collection). The admission jurors chose prints to be exhibited at the Library. From those displays, purchase prizes were awarded for prints that were added to the Library’s collection using a special bequest from the artist Joseph Pennell (1857-1926). Pennell Committee artists have continued to advise the Library after the Library’s National Exhibition of Prints ended. Learn more about this fascinating aspect of our collection building in the online research guide: National Exhibition of Prints (1943-1977) at the Library of Congress.
We invite you to explore our newly published online research guides and stay tuned for future Fine Print Collection guides which will highlight additional signature collections and special topics. Up next: Harmon Foundation Collection of Harlem Renaissance prints and photographs, Mission Gráfica/La Raza Collection, and Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop Collection!
- Explore the three guides mentioned in this post:
- Fine Print Collections in the Library of Congress (the most encompassing overview)
- Fine Prints Filed by Artist Name in the Library of Congress (describing a major category of fine prints in the collections)
- National Exhibition of Prints (1943-1977) at the Library of Congress. Have a look at the blog post where we featured this guide: “Art Chosen by Artists: Library of Congress National Exhibition of Prints (1943-77) – a New Research Guide.”
- A variety of subjects and formats in the division’s collections are featured in guides and collection overviews. View all of Prints & Photographs Division recently created research guides and earlier overviews. Some recent guides, in particular, offer an introduction to segments of our graphics collections:
- Sample a variety of art works through Katherine Blood’s earlier guest posts. Reveling in the artist print collections is a time-honored tradition at the Library of Congress; read about a researcher who made regular visits as a break from his day job: “Chance Encounters: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Print Enthusiast.”