The AP/RC directs most of its attention to collecting, cataloging, archiving and preserving prints by contemporary artists. In an attempt to expand and enrich contexts for this work, we also direct some of our resources toward collecting historical prints, primarily American and European. In the last year we received a cache of prints, over 175, from Texas Tech University’s College of Architecture. These prints range from late 15th century hand-colored wood block prints to 1930s-50s American scene lithographs and wood engravings.
Among these were twenty early 20th century American prints in their original presentation folders from the The Woodcut Society. The folders, usually printed by letterpress in two colors, contained an editioned print and a foreword by the artist or a critic.
Clare Leighton’s The Net Menders, the 1933 print commissioned by The Woodcut Society (then located in Kansas City, MO), was also published in the November 1935 issue of Left Review, accompanying a short story with an explicitly anti-capitalist narrative (see Hickman 2011, especially chapter 5). This particular wood engraving depicts village workers from Collioure, a French fishing town on the Mediterranean near the border with Spain. Leighton’s embrace of human labor dominates the subject of her prints. Whether in her native England or adopted home in the United States, she resolved to focus attention on the dignity of work. Martin Hardie (1875-1952), then the curator of prints and drawings at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, wrote the foreword for Leighton’s presentation folder (printed by the renown Torch Press of Cedar Rapids, IA).
Leighton (1898-1989) made her living by her hands. She created more than 800 prints during her lifetime and many were used as illustrations in books, fifteen of which she also authored. Leighton emigrated to the United States in the 1920s and became a naturalized citizen in 1945.