During the recent workshop I attended, I covered my first solarplate in Akua carbon black ink and my heartbeat accelerated because the etch in the plate was suddenly apparent.
At the same time, Ken parked the rental car off Canyon Road in Santa Fe. As my spirits lifted from the past evening’s disappointment of believing my plate to be a total disaster, Ken walked into a gallery and made an import discovery.
In talking with Monica at the Ventana Gallery, Ken added a new art’s space to our short list (special shout out to gallery maven Monica!). it’s good to have a short list since there are hundreds of galleries in that sweet western town – the Argos Studio Gallery, home to the Santa Fe Etching Club. With this knowledge came a name – Eric Thomson, gallery director.
That Friday, Ken and I stood in the Argos Gallery talking with Eric. I fear I stood there like an idiot with my mouth hanging open. Etching hung over the entire wall surface. An antique press commanded center attention and off to the side was a small Takach press on loan. The club meets Thursday evenings for working studio nights (they also offer live drawing sessions).
In the main gallery, a historical print show is on exhibition until June 10. It’s called from Barbizon to Santa Fe and features 19th century prints of the Etching Revival. It includes the French artists of the Barbizon School and finishes with American artists Thomas, Mary Nimmo and Peter Moran. Many of these are of early scenes of Santa Fe.
Eric kindly showed us around the exhibit, filling us in with the history of the Etching Revival. To sum it up (and it deserves more pomp and circumstances), around 1860 in France the general populous rediscovered their love of etching as an art form in its own right. They had tired of the mass produced prints. And this fever spread to the U.S.
The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History describes this quite nicely:
“By the 1860s, however, etching was embraced as a reaction against the negative associations of these media with industry and mass production. Produced by sketching upon a malleable wax ground instead of carving into a copper plate, etching more closely resembled the practice of drawing and was seen as directly connected to the artist’s hand.”
The Argos’ exhibition shows prime examples that fit this definition, many of the pieces coming from the Santa Fe Etching Club’s benefactor Bob Bell’s personal collection.
What made this an extraordinary experience was Eric’s willingness to share in the history and techniques. Rediscovering printmaking for me means having to go past the little I know about traditional etching and drypoint, which mainly involves etching needles. Now I know about wax grounds and roulette wheels.
And Eric shared one of his own etchings with us. The level of detail and skill in his finished piece is extraordinary, so even if you miss the current show – it’s worth it to see the current work Eric and the other members of the Santa Fe Etching Club have on display.
Oh, and my first solarplate was not a true disaster. I learned to trust in Don Messec’s wisdom of no-matter-what-always-ink-your-plate-and-run-a-proof. Had I done this the night before, I would have slept much better.
For more information on the Argos Gallery or to see a portion of the prints on display, please visit argos-gallery.com.