Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Imprinting the American West: Engravings from the late 1800's

The Forsyth Galleries at Texas A&M are featuring some prints and paintings depicting the wild west from the 1800's. We visited last week and loved examining the beautiful wood engravings they had on display. I took some cell phone shots so that you can see a little on them too. The variety of mark making from one artist to another is fascinating to me and there is always something to be learned from how they treat surfaces. **As a disclaimer, these shots are not the best, but I did leave the images fairly large, so that you can blow them up to see the best detail.**

First off Fredric Remington, Mexican Infantry on the March, appeared in Harper's Weekly, April 19, 1890. A wood engraving. Based on a painting, this illustration is one of several depicting life in Mexico that the artist made following a 6-week trip on assignment for Harper's Weekly. 

The first image you can see the whole engraving, and then there's three closeups. I really admire the way the Remington has treated the lights and the darks here.  

Below is a closeup of the soldiers. I like the variety of parallel lines, cross hatching and stippling to get all the different values and textures.

The head of the horse has some sets of parallel lines that make up the shapes around the mouth and nose. This almost feels like 3-d modeling to me.

This is another engraving after a painting by Remington. This one is called An Ox Train in the Mountains, it was done for Harper's Weekly for the May 26, 1888 issue. The caption for this one was interesting to me: "As author Randolph Marcy wrote in his influential manual The Prairie Traveler (1859), "when the march is to extend 1500 or 2000 miles, or over rough sandy or muddy road, I believe young oxen will endure better then mules; they will, if properly managed, keep in better condition, and perform the journey in an equally brief space of time. Besides, they are much more economical, a team of six mules costing six hundred dollars, while an eight-ox team only costs upon the frontier about two hundred dollars. Oxen are much less liable to be stampeded and driven off by indians, and can be pursued over and overtaken by horsemen; and, finally, they say, if  necessary, be used for beef.""

As I mentioned with the horse in the above engraving. I really liked the groups of lines that make up the varied shapes both in the landscape and the ox.

The following hand watercolored engraving is based on Henry Farny's original watercolor painting, The Captive. The engraving is titled The Prisoner and was carved for Harper's Weekly, February 13, 1886 issue. The caption for the painting reads: "Quietly dramatic, the scene invites the viewer's speculation as to the prisoner's unenviable fate. The shift in title from The Captive for the watercolor to The Prisoner for the illustration may have been intended to highlight exotic cultural difference: the Plains Indian method of detaining and punishing wrongdoers by exposure to nature's elements differed markedly to the federal and state prison system."

I love the bright red in the indian cloak. It obscures the engraving in places, but when you look at the colored print as a whole, its has just the right amount of black ink and color. It's something hard to achieve, because often the engraving is so powerful the colors look forced.

From this one I would love to learn how to carve grass and so well and am really interested in how the cross hatching in the body on the ground creates the dimensionality of it. 

This picture shows a nice fade from the grass to the hills. Even the distant riders have stippling in them so that they are not too prominent in the image.

Rufus F. Zogbaum, Painting the Town Red, Harper's Weekly, October 16, 1886
This wood engraving shows four cowboys on horseback barreling through a frontier town. It reminds me of the engravings from the original Alics in Wonderland book. The way that the lines are carved, seems like the image was first drawn as a line drawing, which was then carved around to make the plate. If you look closely at the lines in the engraving, they look more like a pen and ink drawing than an engraving like the above showed images.

This was my favorite engraving from the whole exhibition. So there will be a lot of closeups of it. It's called Snake Dance of the Maqui Indians, made for Harper's Weekly, November 2, 1889 issue. Here is what the label stated: "Following a photograph by Cosmos Mindeleff, Farny, a student of Albert Beirstadt drew this performance to serve as an illustration for an article in Harper's Weekly. Indian cultures in the southwest became subjects of increased fascination among anthropologists, artists, and laypersons alike throughout the late nineteenth century due to the growth of the railroad, which reached present-day Albuquerque, New-Mexico, in 1880. The Moqui, or Hopi, culture in present-day Arizona inspired special scrutiny because many of their practices appeared to Anglos to be very similar to witchcraft. The Snake Dance, an elaborate ceremony of rain, ranked among the most frequently represented rites, because it seemed particularly exotic.

Compared to most of his artistic peers, Farny possessed exceptional knowledge and understanding of Indian cultures: He under soot and spoke many Indian languages and was adopted by the Zuni and the Sioux."

The way line is treated in this engraving is so masterful and intriguing. It is very different from the other engravings I showed so far. The carving really shows control of the tools and how to use them just right. I love the way he gets light areas where the sun hits the leaves and the way the texture in the stone walls are created.

Here's some closeups of the people, equally masterfully carved. Again, I apologize for the poor quality of the photos, but you can get a pretty good eyeful of the linework.  

Some smaller people on the wall. I love the way the folds of the clothing is implied on the person on the bottom right corner and the way the store walls are carved to show texture and pattern.

The below photo is somewhat blurry, but the detail shots came out better. I thought it was an interesting depiction of the railroad and buffalo. The maker was indicated as unknown, but it appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, in June 3, 1871. It is a wood engraving with watercolor. This one is similar to the four horsemen where it looks like it was partly engraved around a ink drawing. There are some fun details and nice areas where the eye can rest and the watercolor compliments the thin lines nicely.  

I hope you enjoyed this little mini tour of engravings. I've got some limited edition books to share with you too and some new work. As something new, I have a Facebook page now where I feature the latest classes and exhibitions so the blog can be more concentrated on tutorials, introductions and reviews.