November 5, 2015 | By Jake Weber
When great art and good scholarship are introduced to a passionate group of learners, a form of alchemy can occur, yielding new original art, fascinating debates and a collection of essays worth sharing with the world.
Modern American Prints from the Albion College Collection is the latest in a series of books created from the History of Prints course developed by Art and Art History Department professors Bille Wickre and Anne McCauley. The pair, along with Jason Martin, '12, edited the book, which was released earlier this fall.
Studio artist McCauley and art historian Wickre created their History of Prints course to show students the important relationship between creation and scholarship—a relationship not always valued within the art world. Wickre introduces the students to history, scholarship and curation via direct work with Albion's print collection. McCauley teaches the students how to make prints, adding an artist-to-artist understanding to their scholarship.
"When the students are studying a woodcut with Bille, we're doing our own woodcuts in the printmaking studio," McCauley explains. "The students have a very different understanding of artistic techniques when they've tried it themselves."
This approach provides Albion students with a learning opportunity that might be the envy of many art students. "We studied Rembrandt prints in graduate school, but they were always on the museum wall, never available for handling or looking at with a magnifying glass," recalls Wickre.
As a graduate student, McCauley recalls seeing a print held in a permanent public collection that appeared to be mislabeled. The curator was unfamiliar with printmaking processes and appreciated the assistance in identifying the specific technique used.
"This curator knew about art but didn't know about making art," she said. "In our course, students learn about the history and the creation of prints."
Wickre and McCauley are also passionate about using the College's greatest treasures in service to education. "We have an amazing print collection that forms the basis of this multidimensional course," says McCauley. "The print collection is one of our most valuable teaching tools."
Learning to look at, talk about and produce art, however, is still just part of McCauley and Wickre's teaching.
For the books, "the students have to produce an essay that is publishable," notes Wickre. "We have them turn in multiple drafts and fact-check each other. While accessible and enjoyable to a broad range of readers, each essay is a deep look at a particular print and its place in history."
The works in Modern American Prints date from 1916 to 1955 and include works by Grant Wood, Edward Hopper, Milton Avery and other 20th-century artists. As Americans experienced the plentitude of the Roaring Twenties, the desperation of the Great Depression and the anxieties of World War II, artists documented and commented upon their experiences.
Examining form, content and context, Albion's students discovered that while symbols of America can be diverse, the unifying elements of folkways, the land and shared experiences forged a strong national identity.
Modern American Prints will serve as a catalog for an exhibition of the prints, opening at Jackson's Ella Sharp Museum on November 7.
Wickre and McCauley agree, "We are very pleased that the prints that started out as an exhibition in our Martha Dickinson Gallery as subjects for student research will now be an exhibition for a broader audience with student research providing a context."
Modern American Prints from the Albion College Collection is available directly from Albion College's Barnes & Noble bookstore, which accepts all forms of payment, including Barnes & Noble gift cards. To order, email or call 517/629-0305.