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'The Voorhees Legacy, in Art: A Place in America' at Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers
Anders Gustave Aldrin (American, born in Stjernsfors, Sweden, 1889-1970), The Sycamore Tree, 1936. Color woodcut. Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. Ralph and Barbara Voorhees American Art Fund. Photo: Peter Jacobs.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ.- To honor the generosity of the Voorhees family, whose major gifts have greatly enriched the arts at Rutgers University, the Zimmerli Art Museum is presenting A Place in America: Celebrating the Legacy of Ralph and Barbara Voorhees, on view through February 8, 2015. Featuring a selection of prints and drawings by some of the most important American artists working between 1880 and the late 1940s, the exhibition celebrates places across America from “sea to shining sea.” From quiet rural settings to dramatic views of urban landmarks, from inspiring wilderness vistas to industrial scenes: the exhibition demonstrates how artists helped to define the changing character of America’s landscape, both natural and man-made. The exhibition also highlights prints by Arthur Wesley Dow, Stuart Davis, Blanche Lazzell, Louis Lozowick, and John Marin, whose styles influenced the course of American art of the 20th century.

“The Zimmerli Art Museum’s collection would be less remarkable without the generosity of our dedicated donors. This exhibition features a selection of extraordinary acquisitions purchased with funds donated by Ralph and Barbara Voorhees. Over the past 30 years, Mr. and Mrs. Voorhees enabled the museum to acquire nearly 500 works of American, European, and Russian art, thereby enriching the visual arts resources for our community,” explained Marilyn Symmes, the Zimmerli’s Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts Director and Curator of Prints and Drawings. A native of Highland Park, Ralph Voorhees graduated from Rutgers in 1948 and became a dynamic and engaging civic leader. In 1983, Ralph Voorhees and his brother Alan made a major contribution to the Rutgers University Art Gallery (established in 1966), which was renamed the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in honor of their mother. The current exhibition celebrates the important legacy of Mr. and Mrs. Voorhees (who died in 2013 and 2005, respectively).

The earliest works in the exhibition are by Mary Nimmo Moran (1842-1899), who was instrumental in reviving interest in landscape etching among American artists and collectors during the late 19th century. By 1880, she and her husband Thomas Moran (the celebrated painter of the American West) lived in Newark, New Jersey. In 1884, they built a summer studio and home in East Hampton, on Long Island, now – as then – a vibrant art community. Today, the Moran studio, a National Historic Landmark, is under restoration. Inspired by beauty of the East End’s bucolic scenery, Nimmo Moran applied her skill to creating such etchings as Looking Seaward – Long Lane (1884), The “Home Sweet Home” of John Howard Payne (1885), and Under the Oaks – Georgica Pond (1887). The quality of Nimmo Moran’s prints like these brought her international recognition—a rare accomplishment among women artists of the day. Her first etchings impressed the New York Etching Club and she was admitted as their first female member. She also was the only woman among the original Fellows of London's Royal Society of Painter-Etchers.

An influential artist and teacher, Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) is represented in the exhibition by two color woodcuts – The Old Bridge (1893-95) and Rain in May (circa 1907) – inspired by his native Ipswich, Massachusetts, and the aesthetic of Japanese prints. With Japanese prints as a compositional model, Dow carefully balanced color and form, as well as light and dark contrasts, to convey the picturesque qualities of these scenes. Starting in 1895, Dow taught courses in New York City, where his innovative theories of design, art practice, and education impressed many American artists, including Max Weber, Pedro de Lemos, and Edna Boies Hopkins (all of whom are represented in the exhibition), as well as Georgia O’Keeffe. Today, Dow is celebrated for his pioneering role in promoting Japonisme in America and for his impact on art education.

The Brooklyn Bridge – one of the most iconic American landmarks and feats of engineering – opened in 1883 and has inspired artists since. A masterpiece of American printmaking, the 1913 etching Brooklyn Bridge, No. 6 (Swaying) by John Marin (1870-1953) epitomized the beginnings of American modernism. His dynamic lines conveyed the bustling power and energy propelling New York City towards the future. The exhibition shows how this energy was echoed in two vigorous drawings of New York’s towering buildings executed in 1912-13 by Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965). Other artists, including Walt Kuhn, Max Weber, and Marguerite Zorach, created striking figurative prints inspired by the avant-garde styles of Fauvism and Cubism they had encountered in Europe. Their art exemplified American modernism in the decade after the 1913 Armory Exhibition introduced modern art to America.

The spectacular color woodcuts by Edna Boies Hopkins (1872-1937) and Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956) are the centerpiece of the exhibition. Both had spent several years in Europe, where avant-garde styles invigorated their art development. After returning to the United States, they both spent time during World War I in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where there was a vibrant cultural community. While there, Hopkins and Lazzell learned how to create bold color woodcuts using the then-unorthodox white-line color woodcut technique, which used only one woodblock for printing multiple colors (instead of carving a separate woodblock for each color). In 1917, Hopkins traveled to the Cumberland Falls region of Kentucky, where she created some of her most important prints. Mary and Her Grandmother and The Mountaineer were her first figurative prints and among the earliest images depicting the residents of Appalachia, predating similar work of American regionalist artists by a decade. Blanche Lazzell, a painter who did not make prints prior to her stay in Provincetown, soon became the leader of the “Provincetown Printers.” Her stunning 1919 print West Virginia Hills (accompanied by the artist’s original woodblock) is one of her masterpiece prints of the undulating rural landscape where she grew up.

Color woodcuts depicting places in the American West are also in the exhibition. Anders Aldrin (1889-1970), a Swedish immigrant who eventually pursued his art career in southern California, is represented by two varying color impressions of The Sycamore Tree (circa 1936): one is bright and bold, the other has paler hues. The pairing evokes the same scene in different seasons (or times of the day) in a manner inspired by traditional Japanese prints. A compelling print by Gustave Baumann (1881-1971), one of the leading color woodcut artists of the 20th century, promoted the practice of the traditional European multiple-block color woodcut method he had learned in Germany. In 1918, Bauman settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he continued to make color woodcuts of southwestern landscapes. Among his signature works, San Miguel de Santa Fe (1949) depicts the historic Spanish colonial mission, believed to be the oldest standing church in the country.

Aspects of New York City life in the 1920s and 1930s are captured in captivating prints by John Sloan (1871-1951) and Louis Lozowick (1892-1973). A committed urban realist, Sloan created an etching in 1920 of two men descending the stairs to “Bandits Cave,” an establishment advertised as a “tea dance,” yet it was really one of the many speakeasies that appeared during Prohibition. In his lithograph Through Brooklyn Bridge Cables (1938), Lozowick presents the skyline of the dynamic metropolis “fragmented” by a network of girder cables in the foreground; a composition reflecting, perhaps, the lessons of Constructivist art.

During the Depression of the 1930s, many artists, such as Leon Bibel (1913-1995) and Ida Abelman (1910-2002), were supported by the government’s Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project program. Bibel’s colorful screenprints Brooklyn Bridge and Farm Scene (both 1938), are quintessential views of a celebrated urban landmark and a vision of heartland America. His lithograph The American Way (1938) presents a typical townscape of houses, telephone poles, and a patriotic billboard. Abelman’s lithograph Wonders of Our Time (1937) depicts subway riders shoving each other to squeeze into a subway car, which remains a familiar aspect of the commuter experience.

The exhibition closes with a seven-color screenprint by Stuart Davis (1892-1964), an ardent champion of modernist art in America. In Bass Rocks (1941), he devised a distinctive composition of cubist fragmentation, abstraction, and simplified flattened shapes to evoke a rocky New England coastal scene. The interplay of jagged, brightly colored shapes and thick lines foreshadow the pursuit of abstraction that would characterize the most innovative American art after World War II.

A Place in America: Celebrating the Legacy of Ralph and Barbara Voorhees has been organized by Marilyn Symmes, Director of the Zimmerli’s Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings, with Sara Green, International Fine Prints Dealers Association Foundation Intern, and Kirsten Marples, a Rutgers University Art History Graduate Student Intern (M.A. 2014).

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