New Research Guides: Artists’ Fine Prints at the Library of Congress

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.

Print with a woman holding a book, a child holding a torch light near her.

Sibyl reading. Chiaroscuro woodcut by Ugo da Carpi, 1517 or 1518. //

Print showing a woman holding a guitar.

Lydia Mendoza, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, 1937. Color photoscreen by Ester Hernandez, 1987. Used by permission. //

Prnit showing colors in leaf-like shapes

Neuf for Modoc. Color lithograph by Edward Heap of Birds, between 2001 and 2002. Used by permission. //

Print showing ships on water.

Nocturne. Etching with drypoint by James McNeill Whistler, 1879 or 1880. //

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.

Screen shot showing front page of online guide with navigation links

Introductory page of research guide, 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!

Print showing silhouette of armed guards in a watch tower against an orange sky.

Minidoka snapshots. “Reveille.” Color lithograph by Roger Shimomura, The Lawrence Lithography Workshop], 2010. Used by permission. //

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