C.A. Seward

1884 - 1939

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Biography contributed by Ron Michael, Director of The Sandzen Memorial Gallery, Lindsborg, KS - www.sandzen.org

As a printmaker, Birger Sandzén worked in three primary mediums: lithography, block printing (including woodcuts, nailcuts and linoleum cuts) and drypoints.  He was drawn to printmaking for many reasons – including his appreciation for artists that had used the medium in the past and recognition that his work could be more accessible to the general population.  In creating editions, Sandzén rarely pulled his own prints, which he referred to as "proofs," electing instead to have outside professionals do the work. Beginning in 1916, and continuing until 1952, he produced 207 lithographs, 94 block prints and 27 drypoints.

Sandzén often created his lithographs by using a lithograph crayon on paper that allowed the transfer of the image to a lithographic stone or plate by a professional printing company.  Early on, Sandzén used Ketterlinus Lithographic Manufacturing Co. in Philadelphia.  Later, he utilized Western Lithograph Company in Wichita, Theodore Cuno in Philadelphia, and others.

In a February 15, 1916 letter to his brother, Gustaf, in Sweden, Sandzén wrote about his first efforts in lithography:  "I now have some news to tell, that I think will interest you, namely that I have attacked lithography.  A business friend in McPherson, an educated and fine American, named Carl Smalley, who owns a very valuable art collection, especially etchings, lithographs, etc. has for a long time advised me to begin experimenting with lithography.  Lately, since I didn't get going soon enough, he sent me a set of lithographic grease pencils and asked me to try at once. “ I sent two lithographic drawings to a lithographic print shop in Philadelphia [Ketterlinus] and got proofs a couple of days ago.  These proofs were exquisitely successful and so like the original drawings that one could hardly see the difference.  I have ordered several prints.  These cost me 15 dollars for 50.  A little later I shall send you my first lithographs.  They are placed on cardboard and signed with a lead pencil, just like etchings.  Lithography in an artist's hand are just as beautiful as etchings.  I will sell them for $10 apiece."

In working with block prints, Sandzén's first efforts followed his beginnings in lithography and were traditional woodcuts (although he often referred to them as "wood engravings."  The first woodcut he produced, "Study of Pines," was self-printed in his studio on August 31, 1916.  After carving the image in the block, Sandzén rolled ink on the surface, laid the paper down and stood on the block to transfer the ink onto the paper.  His next, and subsequent attempts were printed at the Bethany Printing Company.  He continued with woodcuts until 1921, when he made his first linoleum cut.  Several of his early woodcuts were created by pulling a sharp nail across soft wood, creating a series of lines that made up the image.  Additionally, he developed a pointillist block printing technique his daughter Margaret termed "nailcut."  For nailcuts, he used a square tip nail to make impressions in a dot-like fashion rather than using the traditional wood gouges.  Between 1917 and 1928 he made 34 nailcut block prints.

Sandzén's first linoleum cut, printed on August 2, 1921, was "Rocks and Hills."  Linoleum was much easier to carve than wood and became readily available for printmaking during the 1920s.  Sandzén utilized the media with regularity, making linoleum cuts almost exclusively following 1925.

Throughout the years, he would use a variety of printers to publish his block prints.  These included the Lindsborg News-Record, Bethany Press and Consolidated Printing in Salina.

The final printmaking medium Sandzén employed was a drypoint technique on copper or zinc plates. Sandzén's first drypoint, "Light and Shadows" was completed in early March of 1918.  The plate was printed four times and another larger plate, "Rocks and Clouds" was printed in an edition of 10.  Since Sandzén, or the Bethany Art Department, did not own a press, he had these first, and many subsequent, editions printed by J. Hempstead in Chicago.  Sandzén continued to have drypoints printed in small editions up until 1938.

"The Graphic Work of Birger Sandzén," written by Sandzén's son-in-law, Charles Pelham Greenough, is an excellent resource for information on Sandzén's prints.  Greenough describes many of his processes and lists all of his prints – with reproductions of approximately 60.  The book is available through the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery or at www.sandzen.org.


Birger Sandzen 1871 - 1954

Images on this page (top to bottom, left to right): photograph of Sandzen taken by C.A. Seward. Sandzen prints:”Study of Pines,” “Three Cottonwoods,” ”Stoney Pasture with Cottonwood Grove,” “In the Heart of the Rockies,” “Sentinel Pines,”  “Evening,”“Kansas Sunflowers,” “Twilight,” “Smoky River,”Granite Banks,” “Giant Cedars,” and “Blue Valley Farm.”

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