The Printmakers Guild and its Taos Connections

The Printmakers Guild and its Taos Connections

Among the artists for whom Taos was a crossroad, some belonged to printmaking organizations in their communities, such as the Prairie Printmakers around Wichita, Kansas (subject of a future blog), the Lone Star Printmakers, and the Printmakers Guild (launched in north Texas in 1940). These associations reflected a growing interest in printmaking that emerged in the 1930s. One of the most innovative groups, the Printmakers Guild, only included women for most of its twenty-five year history — artists who drew inspiration from their visits to Taos.

The story of these dedicated women artists circulating prints all over the United States might be different had they not been excluded by the Dallas Regionalists who formed the Lone Star Printmakers. In art circles printmaking was in the air, as seen in work by Jerry Bywaters, Otis Dozier, Alexandre Hogue, and others when they formed an organization to circulate their new prints. However, at the same time they were not the only active printmakers in the region. Bertha Landers, Stella LaMond, Blanche McVeigh, Barbara Maples, Bess Hubbard, Florence McClung, and Coreen Spellman were all producing excellent art, while also teaching in Texas universities, the public schools, and museum art schools. Some of these women were also chairing art departments (LaMond at SMU and McClung at Trinity University). Yet, they made summertime working visits to Taos where they sketched ideas for new prints.

When the Lone Star Printmakers ignored these capable artists in its formation, Stella LaMond called a meeting at her home near SMU to explore an idea. Why not start their own organization to be called the Printmakers Guild? Why not limit its membership to women? Out of that meeting came plans for the Guild to prepare traveling exhibitions of their work that would be shown in public libraries, schools, and civic centers throughout the nation–work that would also be sold at modest prices. Because their editions of prints allowed for multiple traveling sets containing new works each season, they decided on a total of five identical portfolios to be sent around the country on carefully managed circuits. One set circulated in Texas, another around Dallas, and the others up the East Coast, throughout the Midwest, and around the western states. The western circuit included a show in Santa Fe where many of these artists also visited on their way to Taos.

Spellman 'Campo Santo, Trampas, NM' lithograph

Leafing through early issues of El Palacio, the official publication of the New Mexico Museum of Art, we find notes on the Printmakers Guild traveling exhibits returning to Santa Fe each year. These exhibits would include work such as the beautiful etching by Bess Hubbard of the Sangre de Cristo mountains at the top of this blog, or Coreen Spellman’s Campo Santo, Trampas, N.M., a lithograph with its spare image of tonal richness. The print shown below, Sleepy Plaza, Taos, is by Blanche McVeigh, a prolific and noted printmaker in Fort Worth.

Sleepy Plaza, Taos by Blanche McVeigh

Taos visits provided some of these women artists subjects for their prints now keenly sought by collectors, and for twenty-five years (1940-1965) the Printmakers Guild made history in the annals of American printmaking with traveling shows that educated people about prints and made them available around the nation at prices most affordable, from $5.00 to $15.00 each. At the same time, people all over the country were viewing scenes drawn in the Taos Valley by accomplished women printmakers who charted their own course.

Note: Later in its operation the Printmakers Guild changed its name to Texas Printmakers, and for its last season it admitted men.  A few members of the Lone Star Printmakers (Bywaters and Hogue) also drew upon Taos for visual subjects in their prints.  Yet, we have found no record of the Lone Star group exhibiting in New Mexico. Indeed, they folded their tent after a four-year run, unable to agree on how to proceed.  For a more extended discussion, see my chapter, “The Printmakers Guild and Women Printmakers in Texas, 1939-1965” in Prints and Printmakers of Texas, Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual North American Print Conference of Texas. Edited by Ron Tyler. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1997.

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