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Moving Toward Multiplicity:
Printmaking in Northern California—The 1940s to the Present

By Art Hazelwood

Nicholas Dunphy
Nicholas Dunphy, (1896-1955), Montgomery Canyon, c. 1930, etching, 4 x 1 13/16”, Courtesy of M. Lee Stone Fine Prints

The story of the past seventy years of printmaking in Northern California is a dramatic one of new forms and new directions. With the end of World War II, the California Society of Etchers (CSE) found itself in much the same position as it had been for most of its history—it was the only organization focused on printmaking in Northern California. The Depression saw the rise of the Graphics Division of the WPA Federal Arts Project, but the WPA ended in 1942. Theoretically at least, the CSE was therefore uniquely positioned to be a leading force in the developing postwar art world.

The CSE may have been alone in representing the interests of prints and printmakers, but the print world was moving in new directions. Despite its brevity, the impact of the Depression and the WPA was profound. A new artistic ideal of printmaking had been born, and the nineteenth century Etching Revival style was no longer the focus of printmaking. The aesthetics of finely rendered landscapes was slipping away, and the medium of etching was eclipsed by lithography, relief, and increasingly by screenprint. A whole new generation of artists were exposed to printmaking and they looked to different inspirations. The enthusiasm for the etchings of the nineteenth century artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler as well as for the Arts and Crafts style were replaced with new and more contemporary influences.

The Mexican muralist Diego Rivera made a profound impact beginning with his first visit to San Francisco in 1930. Other Mexican artists and European modernists were also influential throughout the 1930s and ‘40s.

In contrast, the CSE artists can perhaps be represented best by John Winkler. Winkler was an early member of the CSE who, in the 1920s, was heralded as one of the greatest etchers in America. His work was much sought after, his newest editions closely watched. He worked in what could be referred to as the Whistler school—fine etching, landscape and cityscape, and incredible attention to craft. But in the late 1920s and 1930s he hit a wall and found he could no longer work. Though his personal artistic block had its own sources, it dramatically symbolized the wider changes going on in printmaking and its role in society. The 1930s represented a truly monumental shift of aesthetics, of media, of politics, and of the very reasons for printmaking.

These changes began to be noticeably felt in the 1930s, but the long period of tumult in the microcosm of Northern California lasted well into the 1970s. By that time CSE had become the California Society of Printmakers (CSP) and a large number of print publishers, workshops, college and university print departments, had sprung into existence. The CSE was not to be alone for long.

The CSE was consistently administered by Nicholas Dunphy, who was executive secretary from 1932 until his death in 1955. Dunphy was an accomplished etcher whose work also fell within the Whistler school. After his death, Elizabeth Ginno, wife of John Winkler, took the organization under her care. She was a stabilizing force for fifteen years, eventually shepherding the transition into CSP. In 1970, after one year as the third president of the new society, she stepped down from the board.

Elizabeth Ginno Winkler
Elizabeth Ginno Winkler, aka Elizabeth de Gebele Ginno, (1907 - 1991), Flight in Time, c. 1940, lithograph, 5 3/8 x 6 7/8", Courtesy of Annex Galleries and the estate of the artist

Elizabeth Ginno was employed by the WPA during the Depression, and did printmaking demonstrations at the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair exhibition, Art in Action, on Treasure Island. In 1940, she also created lithographs printed on the telltale Warren’s Olde Style paper—a pretty clear sign that she was working at the WPA Federal Arts Project print workshop run by CSE member Ray Bertrand. Almost all San Francisco WPA prints, as well as most student work of the era, were printed on this paper. There wasn’t really much lithography going on at that time that wasn’t produced through Ray Bertrand.

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This essay was written for the California Society of Printmakers for their book celebrating 100 years. California Society of Printmakers: One Hundred Years, 1913–2013. This 330 page book with more than 380 illustrations is currently out of print but has been reissued in electronic format available in the formats below.

Amazon Kindle

Apple iTunes/iBooks

Barnes & Noble

California Society of Printmakers: One Hundred Years, 1913–2013
. This 330 page book with more than 380 illustrations, designed by photographer and printmaker Joe Ramos, has 7 essays ranging from a short one pager to over 75 pages, from personal reflections to documented history, from a diversity of authors: Karin Breuer, Curator in Charge, Achenbach Foundation For Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Daniel Lienau, founder and proprietor of The Annex Galleries, Santa Rosa, CA; Art Hazelwood, printmaker, book artist, and independent curator, San Francisco, CA; Maryly Snow, emerita art librarian UC Berkeley, CSP Historian, and printmaker; Sylvia Solochek Walters, emerita professor of art, San Francisco State University and renown woodcut artist; Sherry Smith Bell, past CSP President and print publisher; and David R. Jones, Director, Anchor Graphics, Columbia College of Art, Chicago, IL. The essays are followed by a catalog of current 250 CSP artist and honorary members, followed by 8 appendices, a glossary, bibliography, and index.