C.A. Seward

1884 - 1939

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Norma Bassett Hall 1889 - 1957

 

The folder which accompanied Norma Bassett Hall’s Gift Print created in 1943 for the Prairie Print Makers described her as a quiet, self-effacing woman, not prone to idle conversation but “standing out from the crowd...by the gleam of humor in her observant eyes.” This quiet, rather reclusive nature made her well suited for her pursuit of creating color wood block prints.  The careful attention and long hours needed to cut as many as six blocks from a hard wood, then inking the blocks and printing them with careful registration all required uninterrupted periods of time in order to achieve her level of perfection.


Norma was born in the small town of Halsey, Oregon, and it was not until she attended seventh and eight grade in  Portland, where art instruction was given in the schools, that she discovered not just her interest, but talent as an artist. She particularly loved water color and special praise for her work and her selection to be in an exhibition set in motion her interest in becoming an artist.  More time passed before she was able to return to Portland to seriously study art.  She first studied with a private instructor and then at the Portland Art Association School.  She combined a small scholarship with assistant-teacher work and graduated from this art school in three years.  Seeking yet more instruction, she left Oregon in 1915 and moved to Illinois to study at the Chicago Art Institute.  During the fall of her second year she met her future husband, Arthur Hall. She described the timing of this encounter in a later interview, “...(it) was perhaps better so in so far as our work was concerned, for a romance immediately developed at an alarming rate of speed.” By the next spring, however, America had entered the war and Arthur volunteered and joined the US Infantry in Southern France. Norma finished her degree at the Art Institute and immediately got what she called her “war job” in a drafting office.  At the end of the war she returned to her native Oregon, and established a studio in Portland and taught art in the high school. Arthur had found a job as a court recorder in El  Dorado, Kansas, after he returned from his service in France.  Norma and Arthur resumed their courtship and were married in October of 1922.  They took a honeymoon along the Oregon coast and documented this trip by creating a book with 30 block-print illustrations of their travels.  This little book was the beginning of their print making teamwork. It served to convince Norma that this was the medium for her.


Norma then returned to El Dorado with Arthur and began pursuing in earnest her interest in block prints and she later found work teaching school.  In 1925 Norma and Arthur left their home in El  Dorado to spend two years in Europe. Their travels included Paris, southern France, England, and Scotland. Their first studies were in Edinburg with the acclaimed etcher E.S. Lumsden and his wife, the well known block print artist, Mable Royds. Royds introduced Norma to the Japanese method of printing woodcuts on rice paper with transparent watercolors, rather than the opaque oil base colors she had employed up to that time. Following this initial exposure, Hall adopted this method exclusively for her color block prints. Her distinctive images were printed using as many as six or seven colors, each of which required a separate, hand-cut, hardwood block typically of her favorite cherry wood. In later years, she duplicated the effect to a certain extent in her serigraphs, which were created during the years the Halls lived in New Mexico.


In 1927 the Halls returned to Kansas, settling in the small community of Howard, and they became very involved in the close group of artists in nearby Wichita. They were frequent visitors in Seward’s home and studio.  By 1927 Seward began organizing the first annual national exhibition of American Block Prints in Wichita and this proved an ideal venue for exposure for Norma’s work. Four of her prints were selected for this first exhibition and they continued to be chosen in following years by the jury. The acceptance of her work not only documents the evolution of her style but also her position among the noted print makers and block print artists of her time. Her work was published and she was invited to become a member of the Printmakers Society of California as well as other prestigious print groups of the era. In December of 1930, the Halls joined the rest of this Wichita-based group of artists in their first formal meeting as the Prairie Print Makers.  The Halls, and particularly Norma, had worked with Seward in the plans for this group.  Norma created the logo for the Prairie Printmakers and then in 1943 the Annual Gift Print.


The Halls remained in Howard until after Seward’s death in 1939 when they began construction of a new home on the 48 acres they had purchased near Bluemont, Virginia. They moved to Virginia in the spring of 1942. The advent of World War II and consequent financial challenges changed their sentiments about this new home and they returned briefly to Kansas where Arthur resumed his work as a court recorder and Norma began teaching school.  By 1944 they were able to purchase the Santa Fe home and studio of artist, Gerald Cassidy. This large 200 year-old adobe provided an ideal situation for the Halls to devote their attention fully to making art. Six years later, in 1950, they were offered the opportunity of moving to an historic adobe home that was part of a larger resort called Rancho del Rio.  Located between Santa Fe and Taos near the small town of Alcalde Rancho del Rio was a perfect place for the Hall’s to open a summer art school.  This situation insured financial security for the Halls for they now had a consistent small income from the school to combine with sales of their prints and paintings. From September through May they also had the freedom to pursue making their own art in the southwestern setting they were so deeply attached to.


After their move to New Mexico, Norma continued her work with block prints, and began to apply some of her techniques to making serigraphs.  Both she and Arthur eventually began to focus more on their work as painters. By August of 1951 they had a joint exhibition which included her color wood block prints and serigraphs, as well as oil paintings and watercolors. After a lengthy and difficult illness Norma died of complications from cancer in 1959.


Norma's travels in Europe and America, her homes in Oregon, Kansas, Virginia, and New Mexico provided ample material for her subject matter. Her prints often have her initials carved into the block on the lower right corner.  She then from left to right, under the printed image, numbered, titled and signed her prints. Some of her color block prints and serigraphs (noted with an S) are shown on this page and in the file below.  In 2015 art historian Joby Patterson wrote a book documenting Norma’s life - Norma Bassett Hall: Catalogue Raisonne of the Block Prints and Serigraphs.



                                             

Images above (left to right, top to bottom): April, 1931 issue of The American Architect which featured Norma Bassett Hall’s work, photograph of courtyard at home and summer art school at Rancho del Rio, the logo of the Prairie Print Makers designed by Hall and two photographs of Hall one from about 1931, the other from about 1943. Below right hand column, a block print titled Cineria by Mabel Royds, mentor of Norma Bassett Hall.

 

21 May  1889, Halsey, Oregon

1 May 1957, Santa Fe, New Mexico


Education:

1918 graduate, Chicago Art Institute

1926-27 study with noted block print artist, Mable Royds & her husband, English etcher, E.S. Lumsden

English block-cutter, Noel Brooke


Professional Positions & Honors:

1922 studio in Portland, Oregon

1950-1963 home & studio in New Mexico

1950-57 art school & studio, Rancho del Rio, Alcade, New Mexico


Charter Member - Prairie Print Makers - 1943 Gift Print

member of:

Printmakers Society of California

American Color Block Association

Northwest Printmakers


Exhibitions:

Midwestern Artists’ Exhibition, Kansas City Art Institute

1929 - Tourettes Sur Loup, Mt. Hood, Oregon, A Highland Croft

1930 - Marigolds, Gattierres France

1932 - Laguna Pueblo, Sleeping Pueblo

1933-The Village Church


Publications:

American Magazine of Art

Print Connoisseur

American Artist

The American Architect



Museum Exhibitions & Collections:

Honolulu Academy of Arts

Library of Congress & Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.

Boston Public Library

Wichita Art Museum, Kansas

Wichita Center for the Arts

Sandzen Memorial Gallery

Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas

 

Color blockprint by Mabel Royds, mentor of Norma Bassett Hall

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