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1884 - 1939

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Charles M. “Chili” Capps 1898 - 1981

 

Essay by  Donald N Brown for an exhibition catalog -   Charles M. Capps,, Zaplin | Lampert Gallery, Santa Fe., NM, Arizona Litho, Tucson, 2007.


When the aquatint Into the Hills was awarded first prize in 1948 at the Sixth Annual National Exhibitions of Prints at the Library of Congress, Charles M. Capps became recognized as one of the foremost printmakers in the United States.  Two years later his acclaim was extended internationally when his print Mission at Trampas received the Reid Award from the Society of Canadian Printers, Etchers, and Engravers. However, these awards were not the first for Capps.  An early woodblock print, Low Water, was included in an exhibition of the American Federation of Arts in 1931 and selected for an international exhibition of prints. In 1935 the Kansas City Art Institute awarded him the silver medal for graphic arts at the Midwestern Artists Exhibition.


Charles M. Capps was born on September 14, 1898, and raised in Jacksonville, Illinois. After graduation from Illinois College in 1920, he attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts for two years and spent an additional year studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In 1923 he worked for a brief period at the Western Lithographic Company in Wichita, Kansas, before relocating to Springfield, Illinois, and subsequently to San Francisco where he worked as a commercial artist. In 1925 he accepted another position at the Western Lithographic Company and returned to Wichita. After six years he moved to the McCormick-Armstrong Company, another major printing firm in Wichita, where he remained until his retirement in 1965.


When Capps (or “Chili” as he was known to his friends) settled in Wichita he found a fortuitous convergence of talented individuals who shared a common interest in printmaking, private and commercial presses which were printing the works of established artists, and a growing national market for these lower cost original works of art. By December of 1930 this convergence resulting in the formation of the Prairie Print Makers, with Capps among the ten charter members.


The Wichita artists drew upon influences extending well beyond Kansas, most notably the nationally recognized artists residing in New Mexico. The close proximity of the art colonies in Taos and Santa Fe allowed for an active interchange of ideas and techniques between the New Mexico artists and those in Wichita. Also, many New Mexico artists engaged the Western Lithographic Company to print their work.


Despite the strength of his reputation, Capps was not a prolific printmaker. Over a period of fifty years, from 1929 to 1978, he produced a total of about ninety images. There was an extended hiatus in his printmaking during the seven years preceding his retirement in 1965. After retirement, however, he returned to his studio and began to create new work and to complete editions of his earlier prints. Several of the pieces he produced in this period are considered to be among his best. Three of his commissioned gift prints were produced following his retirement.

   

Capps is most noted for his etchings and aquatints, which compose eighty percent of his work – about fifty percent aquatints and thirty percent etchings. His initial ventures into printmaking utilized woodcut and linoleum block techniques. Using these, he produced a collection of bookplates and at least five woodcuts. However, this phase of his work lasted only a few years. Capps created a small number of lithographs during his career, all demonstrating a high level of skill and ability with this medium.


By the early 1930x Capps’s interests had shifted toward the etching and aquatint techniques, which allowed him to produce a combination of fine line and gradations of shade and light. Doel Reed, who was teaching at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University) in Stillwater, Oklahoma, only about 100 miles south of Wichita, had established himself as a premier aquatint artist. Working with Reed, Capps developed his skills in this difficult and labor-intensive process and for the following forty-five years pulled prints from a press he had made with Reed.


The commissioned gift prints which Capps produced were widely distributed and are some of his finest work. The first in this series was Society Night-Beecher Hall completed in 1934 for his alma mater, Illinois College. With the end of World War II, the Boeing Company commissioned him to produce a gift print showing the B-29 bomber (known popularly as the “Superfortress”) that had been built in Wichita. The result was Mission Accomplished, a patriotic image of the moon-cast shadow of the plane flying over the snowfields of rural Kansas, a moving tribute to both those who built the plane and those who flew the plane. His final two gift prints were Idyll of New Mexico, a second gift print for the Prairie Print Makers, and Mountain Mission, a second gift print for the Friends of Art, Kansas State University.


Capps’s work focused on four regions – Kansas, New Mexico, Mexico, and Hawaii. Recognized as a “Regionalist,” one of his favorite Kansas subjects was the mammoth grain elevators which are ubiquitous to the Kansas landscape. He presented this subject in one of his earliest etchings, Castles in Kansas, in and early lithograph, Beside the Mills, and in several aquatints. In all of these images he presents the mundane grain elevators as monumental creations rising from the prairie landscape. Another frequent subject in Kansas was the farm country. However, he transforms the ordinary houses, barns, and outbuildings into strong, noble structures as a statement about the nobility of the rural population during the depression years. The majority of his etchings were of Kansas subjects.


In the mid-1930s Capps visited Villa de Santiago, a community about twenty miles south of Monterrey, Mexico. After his return to Wichita, he produced a series of lithographs and aquatints based on his sketches and photographs. These include his initial gift print for the Prairie Print Makers, Mexican Barber Shop. The aquatint The Pool–Monterrey showing a pool with three nude female bathers is unusual for Capps, since he rarely included human figures in his prints. It is, however, reminiscent of Does Reed’s aquatints which frequently feature females.

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14 September 1898, Jacksonville, Illinois

17 July 1981 Wichita, Kansas


Education:

Illinois College, Jacksonville

Chicago Art Institute

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts


Professional Positions:

Western Lithograph, Wichita, KS

1931- 1965 McCormick-Armstrong, Wichita, KS



Awards and Honors:

1930 elected 1st President of the Prairie Print Makers

1937 Gold Medal, Midwestern Artists’ Exhibition, Kansas          City Art Institute

1948 1st Prize, 6th Annual National Exhibition of Prints, Library of Congress

1948 1st Prize, 6th Annual National Exhibition of Prints, Library of Congress


Exhibitions:

International Print Makers Exhibition, California Society of Printmakers

1930 - 11th Annual

1932 - 13th  Annual

1933 - 14th Annual

1934 - 15th Annual

1936 - 16th Annual

1937 - 18th Annual

1938 - 19th Annual


Midwestern  Artists Exhibition, Kansas City Art Institute

1930 - High Note, Ambush

1931 - Low Water, woodcut

1932 -Waiting for Summer, Mild Winter, Cottonwood-Davis Legacy

1933 - The Old Lucas Place

1934 -Moonlit Mills

1935 - Night Silence, 2nd Prize, Harvest Moon, Beside the Mills

1937 - 1st prize,Back Road

1938 - Santa Catarina & Quietude

1939 - Mexican Barber Shop & In the Flint Hills


Northwest Printmakers,

University of Washington

1931 - Mild Winter, Waiting for Summer


1934 - The Society of American Etchers 19th Annual Exhibition (formerly Brooklyn Society of Etchers)


1937 - 4th International Exhibition of Etching & Engraving, Chicago  Art Institute


1938 - 28th Annual Exhibition, Chicago Society of Etchers


1939 - New York World’s Fair, Graphic Arts Division (Mexican Barber Shop)

 
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The images below represent only a small portion of the prints made by Capps.  His primary focus was aquatints and thus they represent the largest group  of  the images below.