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Prints With/Out Pressure

Print Clubs

Print clubs and societies played a significant role in the development and appreciation of graphic arts in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. Often formed by artists, though sometimes by collectors, the clubs served a variety of functions: to provide financial assistance to artists, as well as facilitate the printing and distribution of their works; to educate members through discussions and demonstrations of printmaking techniques; and to supply museums with substantial collections of prints. Clubs usually commissioned individual artists to create prints for the subscribers, who paid an annual membership fee.

These organizations first came into being in this country in the late 1870s and 1880s with the revival of etching, influenced by the concurrent popularity of the medium in Europe. By the early 1890s, American interest in printmaking was starting to ebb, but etching returned to favor in the 1910s, when many American artists were traveling to Europe. For the following three decades print clubs, some of which nurtured print mediums other than etching, emerged in numerous cities across the country. Surprisingly, the Depression years saw a significant increase in the establishment of these clubs, probably a reflection of artists’ dire need to support themselves, and because prints were much more affordable than most other art forms. However, World War II brought on the demise of these activities, and very few new clubs were established during the late 1940s and 1950s. By the 1960s they were for the most part replaced by print workshops, which provided equipment and services to printmakers, and by university printmaking courses.

Some clubs aimed to promote specific print mediums, such as The Woodcut Society in Kansas City, Missouri, established by Alfred Fowler in 1932 at a time when woodcut was still considered inferior to etching. In contrast to Stanley William Hayter’s print workshop Atelier 17, however, these organizations were not places of significant technical or stylistic experimentation, but more conservative, didactic settings. Other clubs focused on print collecting, such as The Print Club of Cleveland, founded in 1919, which continues to support the Print Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art through gifts and purchases, and since 1924 has commissioned a print annually for its membership.

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