C.A. Seward

1884 - 1939

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The Prairie Print Makers - Annual Gift Print

 

For a membership fee of five dollars, Associate Members of The Prairie Print Makers received the Annual Gift Print.  Artist Members paid an annual fee of one dollar.  Each print was accompanied by a folder, inscribed with the member’s name, which provided a discussion of the artist’s work. The artist was selected by a committee and paid $150 and the Prairie Print Makers paid for the printing, as well as the matting and mailing of each Gift Print. From 1931 through 1965, with the exception of 1963, the Prairie Print Makers commissioned an annual gift print for its members. Within a few years the membership had grown to include almost 200 active artist and associate members.


The Gift Prints were commissioned by the officers of the organization and as depicted below reflect a broad range of technique and subject matter.  All of the Gift Prints as well as those included in the Annual Exhibitions reveal each artist’s great respect for the traditions and craft of the printmaking medium.  For those who are aficionados of  the printmaking medium, the sheer skill and direct honesty of these artists has always made their work timeless. In their lifetimes the original artist members witnessed the advent of not just electricity, air travel and expanding industrialization but also the first world war and a devastating economic depression.  None of these artists followed the European trend, that captured the attention of many historians and collectors by the 1950s, of inventing a completely new visual language to depict their personal response to the turbulence of the times. Without trite sentimentality they simply continued a well established, centuries-long tradition and used real life images to capture and share their observations of the world in which they lived. Their personal styles ranged from the highly detailed,  precise etchings of John Taylor Arms to the flattened, modernist patterns and minimalist linear lithographs of Ken Adams. Their subject matter was most often but not always, based on the America they knew.  It encompassed landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, specific historical events as well as both the routine and fleeting moments of everyday life.  


Rather than attempting to force-fit this group of artists into unwieldy and inaccurate categories it is more realistic to view them  as a group who followed their own inner voice and whose focus and work is best described by  D.H. Lawrence in his writings about “spirit of place.”  Whether at home in America or traveling through Europe or Asia, the link between all these very individual artists was an instinctive desire to capture the essence, the elusive spirit of their chosen subject.


                “Every continent has its own great spirit of place.  Every people is

                polarized in some particular locality, which is home, the homeland. 

               Different places  on the face of the earth have different vital

               effluence, different vibration, different chemical exhalation,

                different polarity with different stars: call it what you like.

               But the spirit of place is a great reality.”


It is most interesting to also note that  many of these printmakers shared Seward’s highly experimental approach to the medium. Many were very cutting-edge modernists in a technological sense. Seward’s advocacy for the use of the more readily accessible metal plate, brought lithographs into the realm of possibility for artists living far from a source of cumbersome Bavarian limestone.  Seward is said to have designed at least three presses, each one improving on the last.  Lloyd Foltz laughingly described how economics drove him to build his own press using auto parts. Charles Capps in seeking to keep each image of his edition crisp and precise had his metal plates chrome plated.  In this manner none of these artists could be accused of being “out of touch” with the technical modernism of their time they simply stayed true to their philosophy that an artist’s work was really about using a common language, the visual world, to share his or her vision in a manner that would be accessible and thus resonate with their viewer. The spectrum of the focus of these artists still remains very broad.  The original Charter Members of the group may have primarily lived in Kansas but seldom is even their subject matter  quite as literal as it is often described and thus solely about barns and harvest time. Like their peers, living throughout America, their focus was on capturing a personal vision of a particular place or moment. 


Many members of this group of artists had  chosen printmaking as their primary medium.  Exceptions to this include Birger Sandzen who was primarily a painter who used printmaking as a means of extending his saleable body of work. The major portion of  Edmund Kopietz and William Dickerson’s work was also paintings. Later in their careers, after they both moved to New Mexico, painting became the primary focus for both Arthur Hall and Agnes Tait. Levon West was also a painter and a well recognized photographer but separated this work by using a different name, Ivan Dimitri. The devotion of this group of artists to printmaking speaks well to a possibly shared philosophy.  Seward was perhaps influenced by the Populist rhetoric of one of his first employers, William Allen White, or simply his own family’s financial challenges, for he spoke often of his desire to make his art as accessible as possible. For him the great beauty of the print was the opportunity of making multiple images and thus financially affordable fine art.  Earning his living as a commercial artist and illustrator Seward had long understood understood the power of  well executed, widely disseminated visual images.  Thus an organization such as The Prairie Print Makers was a more than logical solution to his ambition of making sure that  good art was in the sphere of small town kids as well as sophisticated collectors.


Date, title, medium and dimensions in inches (height x width) of each Annual Gift Print are listed under the images below.  In parenthesis is the printers name and number of impressions pulled - edition size. (Western Lithograph - edition 200)

                                               
 

   Charter Members             Artist Members                        Annual Gift Prints    

to view some of the PPM correspondence ../artists_letters/Levon_West_lttrs_2_2_2.html

William Auerbach Levy

Levon West

Ernest Watson

John Taylor Arms

Peter Hurd

John Steuart Curry

Roselle Osk