Printmakers of Alabama


A Southern Impression: The Printmakers of Alabama

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Southern Impression Cover

In the twentieth century, printmakers contributed significantly to artistic expression in Alabama...

By the RiverMildred Nungester Wolfe (born 1912)
By the River 1943 (detail)
Lithograph on paper, Gift of the Artist, 1989.8.3

Their printed impressions of the region, created using both traditional and modern techniques, depict the full panoply of Southern life. From the agrarian Southern scene, to nascent industrialization at the turn of the century and the subsequent poverty and despair of the Great Depression, to the rise of technology in the New Southprintmakers created a visual history of Alabama. In addition, many of them set their sights beyond the state. They captured a potpourri of subjects as they studied in art academies outside the region, and later enjoyed professional careers in the urban centers of America as well as abroad. A number of these printmakers were women, who struggled against significant odds to succeed as practicing artists.

This portfolio of printmakers, prints and biographical material is derived from the collections and documentation records of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. The Museum holds in its collections thousands of works on paper, ranging from Old Master Prints of the fifteenth century and beyond, to modern works by American artists, and particularly those of the Southern region.

PRINTS produced in Alabama during the early twentieth century are a vital record of rural life in the American South...

Southern PineAnne Goldthwaite (1869-1944)
Southern Pines ca. 1915 (detail)
Etching on paper, Gift of Richard and Lucy Goldthwaite, 1972.73

...a culture and landscape continually evolving in response to forces both internal and external. Originally, the economy of the region was overwhelmingly agrarian, an insular society revolving around local issues and community. The influence of nationalism engendered by America's participation in the two World Wars led to political isolationism that was expressed in art by the Regional style.

Regionalism in the South was grounded in the political philosophy of The Agrarians, a group of writers loosely associated with Nashville and Vanderbilt University in the late 1920s. Twelve of these writers emphasized the importance of these traditional regional values, and warned against the dehumanizing effects of industrialism in a book-length treatise titled I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930).

A number of Alabama printmakers were inspired by the Regional style in art, and subject matter associated with Regionalism. These printmakers focused on the relationship of Alabama's people to her landscape, the customs associated with life in rural communities, and particularly the role of religion in the lives of Southerners black and white.

LandscapeJ. Kelly Fitzpatrick (1888-1953)
Landscape ca. 1943
Silkscreen on paper, Gift of Mrs. Thomas McGough, III, 1989.4

J. Kelly Fitzpatrick (American, 1888-1953)

Alabama's pioneering art promoter was J. Kelly Fitzpatrick, who lived most of his life near Montgomery and found his stylistic inspiration in the work of the French Post-Impressionists. Kelly's subjects, however, were strictly "homegrown" in the tradition of American Regionalists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. He was preeminently a colorist, whose boldly modeled shapes and dramatic shadows captured the warmth and vitality of the Alabama landscape. Whether at his home in Wetumpka, or at the Dixie Art Colony, an artists' camp he helped found at Lake Jordan, Kelly was not only a practicing artist, but a teacher and mentor. Although not primarily a printmaker, he supported the creative endeavors of countless artists, and more importantly, established exhibition opportunities to showcase their accomplishments. Kelly's chief ties were to the land and its peoplehis images preserve regional customs and historical types within a narrative tradition that is the benchmark of the Regional style.

By the River 1Mildred Nungester Wolfe (born 1912)
By the River 1943
Lithograph on paper, Gift of the Artist, 1989.8.3

Snow in AlabamaMildred Nungester Wolfe (born 1912)
Snow in Alabama 1942
Lithograph on paper, Gift of the Artist, 1989.8.9

Mildred Nungester Wolfe (American, born 1912)

By the River is an image that illustrates a common Regionalist theme: the collision of two worlds. Traditional wood frame houses spill down a hillside to the river' s edge where two figures angle for a catch. From a distance, however, the modern world encroaches in the form of telephone poles and a smokestack that produces an ominous black cloud. This visual metaphor for the insidious dangers of industrialization epitomizes the philosophy of the Agrarians, who cautioned against the loss of the South's rural traditions.

Mildred Nungestger Wolfe went to Alabama College (now the University of Montevallo), graduating in 1932. After pursuing summer art studies in New York and Chicago (she learned printmaking with Will Barnet at the Art Students League), she returned to Alabama and was an associate of J. Kelly Fitzpatrick as an instructor at the Dixie Art Colony on Lake Jordan. As a result, in 1944 she married a fellow artist she had met there, Karl Wolfe, and they moved to Jackson, Mississippi.

Frank Hartley Anderson PaintingFrank Hartley Anderson
Negro Preachin
Date unknown
Linocut on paper
Gift of the Artist

Frank Hartley Anderson (American, 1890-1947)

“The Southern Printmakers is not just another organization. It has a set purpose, and is accomplishing it successfully. The South has no lack of artists—but it has long lacked standards for these artists to reach. Only when they have gone North, and lived and worked where art is more definitely a part of existence, have Southerners had a chance, and they have made good. Not all artists can go North. Many can't afford to, more do not want to, but all want the inspiration found in work done by the the world's best—in any line.”

Frank Hartley Anderson, The Art Digest, April 1, 1936.

In 1934, Anderson founded the Southern Printmaker's Society, an association organized specifically to encourage exhibition opportunities for printmakers. Its first exhibition was held at the Birmingham Public Library in 1936-37.

Anderson's comments speak directly to the frustration felt by Southerners who sought academic art training in the region. Such training was not readily available before the rise of the University art departments after World War II. Both Anderson and his wife Martha Fort Anderson were early art educators in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. Negro Preachin, and a related work Church Supper, 1936, demonstrate the importance of religion in Southern culture.

Richard Coe KansasRichard Coe
Date Unknown
Etching on paper
Gift of the Artist

Richard Coe (American, 1904-1978)

Richard Coe was a native of Selma, Alabama, and, like many young people who needed advanced art training, he was encouraged to seek opportunities outside the state. In his case, the artist studied in both New York and Boston, and then traveled in Europe for two years in the early 1930s. He returned to Alabama in 1934, and established a studio in Birmingham. For a time, he was the head of the WPA section in Alabama. He later studied and taught in both Colorado and Maryland, before settling in upstate New York.

Coe was primarily a painter, but produced a number of etchings that reflect a specific philosophy. "American art for and by the American people is a slogan well worth heeding… A 'new deal' in art has come in with all the other 'new deals'. The government is doing its best to develop it by giving work to artists to do art for the education and delight of the people." (Birmingham News, May 9, 1934) Prints such as Kansas evoke Coe's sentiments by contrasting newer elements of technological progress (the automobile, for instance) with conventional indicators of American agrarian life—the farmstead with wind-powered pump. The vignette also compares the scale of the man-made objects with the vast expanse of land and sky, evoking both pride in American technological ingenuity, as well as the ongoing struggle of Americans to persevere and flourish in a sometimes hostile environment.

Anne GOldthwaite Southern PineAnne Goldthwaite
Southern Pines
ca. 1915
Etching on paper
Gift of Richard and Lucy Goldthwaite

As early as the nineteenth century, artists from the state had sought professional training outside of Alabama….

Advanced academic art school training was most readily available in America’s northern and mid-western urban centers—New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia as well as in European cities such as Paris and Munich. Typically, students first sought training at the major New York art schools such as the Art Students League, the National Academy of Design, the National Academy of the Fine Arts, or Cooper Union. European study (or at least travel) was considered necessary to expose the young artist to the best traditional art, as well as to the more modern trends of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and abstraction.

As a result, students discovered a wealth of subjects from various parts of the country and the world, and prints inspired by these experiences out of the region made their way back to the state. Slowly, the influence of Regionalism waned, and a greater awareness of the world expressed itself in both the subjects depicted by Alabama printmakers, as well as the styles and techniques that were used in making prints.

Ann Goldthwaite Minnie Watts and BabyAnne Goldthwaite
Minnie Watts and Baby, ca. 1905
Etching and drypoint on paper
Gift of Richard and Lucy Goldthwaite

Anne Goldthwaite (American, 1869-1944)

One of the South’s most prolific printmakers was Anne Goldthwaite, a native of Montgomery, Alabama. The daughter of a Confederate artillery captain, she went to New York to study art in 1898. After living and studying in Paris from 1906 to 1913, she returned to New York to teach at the Art Students League from 1922 until her death in 1944. Goldthwaite’s primary medium was oil painting, but she earned a significant part of her living as an artist through her production of prints.

Anne Goldthwaite Paris in the RainAnne Goldthwaite
Paris in the Rain
ca. 1912
Etching on paper
Gift of Richard and Lucy Goldthwaite

Goldthwaite produced some 320 prints between 1895 and 1942, using intaglio techniques as well as lithography. While in New York, she began her career as a printmaker by working with a commercial printing house, Kummel and Voight, who printed etched plates for artists. There she learned the basics of the etching process. She subsequently joined an etching class taught by painter/printmaker Frank Mielatz, and, according to her memoirs, was apparently the only woman in the class.

Goldthwaite left New York in 1906 to study in Paris and gain a greater experience of the art world. She found herself in the midst of a radically different environment, one dedicated to the avant-garde. Within six days of her arrival she was taken to tea with Gertrude Stein, where she was shown the Steins’ unparalleled collection of modern painting. She later helped to organize an experimental art academy, the Académie Moderne. She executed about 80 prints in Paris before she left in 1913 prior to the beginning of World War I.

Anne Goldthwaite Southern MarketAnne Goldthwaite
Southern Market
ca. 1913
Etching on paper
Gift of Richard and Lucy Goldthwaite

“In the South after the Civil War, it was a disgrace to be rich, so my grandfather could not have had much money,”

“ …but he and Grandmother had enough while he was senator to make the grand tour of Europe… They brought back many large oil paintings in beautiful Italian frames. These pictures were copies of Old Masters—Titian, Raphael, etc. They were in their places for me to see when I first came into the world.”

Anne Goldthwaite: A Catalogue Raisonne of the Graphic Work

Anne Goldthwaite Her DaughterAnne Goldthwaite
Her Daughter ca. 1934
Lithograph on paper
Gift of Adelyn D. Breeskin

After she returned to the United States, Goldthwaite settled in New York City, in a studio and apartment at 112 East Tenth Street. While she executed many prints with urban subjects (parks, landmarks, and the like), she also accepted a number of commissions for print portraits. Woodrow Wilson was among her subjects. Summers were generally spent back in Alabama. Her Southern images capture the evolution of a small city in the early twentieth century, and focus on the ways traditional and contemporary societies slowly began to merge. Her Southern Market is a record of the downtown farmer’s market that was both a site for commerce, as well as a general meeting place for the community. It is summarily depicted, with emphasis on the contrast between the rich darkness under the canopy versus the blazing sunlight that washes out most all detail outside.

Many of Goldthwaite’s Southern subjects were members of the local black community. She made sketches in south Montgomery, near what is today the site of Alabama State University. This section, known at the time as Boguehomme, was the staging area for rural residents who came to Montgomery to sell produce or procure supplies. She captured many public areas filled with transient visitors from the country, but also sought out more intimate, domestic scenes.

Her Daughter is a lithograph of just such a small moment, casually rendered. Goldthwaite was an excellent draughtsperson, with an unerring sense of of which lines, shadows and highlights were necessary to create the modelling that preserved this simple, yet lyrical, morning task.

CLara Parrish AlyssClara Weaver Parrish
ca. 1910-1915
Color etching on paper
Gift of Mrs. Henry Altheimer

Clara Weaver Parrish (American, 1861-1925)

Parrish was a slightly older contemporary of Anne Goldthwaite, and they followed similar career paths. Born in Dallas County, near Selma, Parrish studied at the Art Students League with, among other teachers, William Merrit Chase. Between 1898 and 1906, Parrish and Goldthwaite were in New York simultaneously. Like Goldthwaite, she also traveled in Europe, and in Paris began making drypoint portraits that she later exhibited in New York.

Sometime in the 1890s Parrish began working for the Tiffany Studios as a designer of stained glass. Her known designs (many in the form of preparatory sketches) are for church windows.

Clara Parrish Rue du SabotClara Weaver Parrish
Rue du Sabot
ca. 1910-1915
Etching on paper
Gift of Mrs. Henry Altheimer

A number of color etchings by Parrish exist in various collections in Selma, and demonstrate her considerable ability. Most are portraits of female models, with a few architectural compositions such as Rue du Sabot.

This etching by Parrish demonstrates the stylistic influence of one of the greatest printmakers of the turn of the century, James McNeill Whistler. The point of view is low, looking down a narrow street. A minimum of detail is captured; instead, the artist has focused on the surface textures of the various buildings, as well as a palpable atmosphere. A key element of this particular impression is the freshness of the drypoint work, which imparts a wonderful velvety black to the figures in the street as well as the buildings on the left. In addition, the artist has left a tone of ink on the plate, that is, it was not completely wiped bare of ink on the surface before printing. This film helps to create the smoky richness of diffused light. These techniques mimick the working methods of Whistler, whose prints were widely admired in France and England.

Irving Wolfson Brooklyn SkylineIrving Wolfson
Brooklyn Skyline
ca. 1940 (detail)
Etching on paper
Gift of the Artist

Irving Wolfson (American, 1898-1981)

…was a native New Yorker and the son of two professional photographers. He showed exceptional artistic promise as a youngster, and was a scholarship student at three of New York's best known art academies—the National Academy of Fine Arts, Cooper Union and the Art Students League. He most strongly emulated the work of one of his teachers, John Sloan, who encouraged him to adopt scenes of everyday life in America as his subject matter.

wolfson dance newIrving Wolfson
At the Dance
ca. 1940
Etching on paper
Gift of the Artist

In 1943, Wolfson, by then a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, was assigned to Maxwell Field as a staff artist. After his marriage to a local resident, he remained in Montgomery and became well-known as a local portrait painter.

Wolfson's etchings demonstrate his excellent professional training (he studied with printmaker Joseph Pennell), and his interest in illustration. At the Dance, ca. 1940, is a collection of small vignettes illustrating the human interactions at a fancy dress ball. Wolfson shows the urban landscape and its distinctive inhabitants, the powerful grandeur of the American city, and the sophistication of city-dwellers in the early twentieth century.

Joan Mulder RabbitsJoan Mulder
Untitled (Rabbits)
ca. 1950
Woodcut on paper
Gift of the Artist

Joan Mulder
(American, born the Netherlands, 1913-1986)

Mulder was a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to the U.S. as a student in the 1930s. She studied biology, and formed a partnership with a physician, Isabel Dumont, to provide missionary and medical services. They set up a clinic and social services center for the poor of Selma beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1970s. Her woodcut designs are highly stylized compositions focusing on the contrast of positive and negative space.

Mulder created a series of woodcuts of mystical/religious subjects, several related to her own vocation of missionary work. They incorporate stylized figures including those of Christ, the Virgin Mary and saints presented in the form of devotional objects.

Joan Mulder Martyrs of JapanJoan Mulder
Blessed Martyrs of Japan, ca. 1950
Woodcut on paper
Gift of the Artist

This impression of Blessed Martyrs of Japan is typical of her style and subject matter. It is strongly reminiscent of the works of the German Expressionists, a group of early twentieth-century painter/printmakers who focused on the raw power of carved wood to create images with strong emotional impact. The emphasis in this work is on surface design and contrasting pattern. The emaciated bodies of the martyrs, and their awkward postures as they hang from rudimentary crosses, are made more poignant by the bold contrast of black and white, as well as the slashing gouges that were used to carve the image in the wooden block. The sense that this was intended as a textual illustration is enhanced by the incorporation of the title of the work as a part of the composition.

Maltby Sykes ChowMaltby Sykes
Chow, 1944
Lithograph on paper
Gift of the Artist

Maltby Sykes Street in GuanajuatoMaltby Sykes
Street in Guanajuato 1949
Lithograph on paper
Gift of the Artist

Maltby Sykes (American, 1911-1992)

…was one of Alabama’s most important art teachers, with a career at Auburn University that spanned three decades. Much of Sykes’ training was derived by acting as an apprentice-type assistant to experienced artists such as the painter Wayman Adams, the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, and the fine art lithographer George Miller. He also took courses at the Art Students League with John Sloan. Sykes was temporarily hired by Auburn in 1942 to replace faculty who had been called up for military service. He served as a combat artist for the 20th Air Force in the Pacific during World War II, and then returned to Auburn in 1946 to continue teaching drawing and painting. When a printmaking shop was added to the art department in 1950, he became a printmaking instructor as well.

Maltby Sykes Zen GardenMaltby Sykes
Zen Garden III, 1975
Lithograph on paper
Gift of the Artist

Professor Sykes learned the basics of the traditional lithography process from George Miller, a particularly skillful lithographic printer who worked in New Jersey while Sykes was a student of Wayman Adams in Elizabethtown between 1934 and 1935. Miller was the printer of choice for many fine artists, and he provided stones and printing services by mail to artists who had no access to lithographic presses. While Sykes was in the Marianas Islands during World War II, for example, Miller sent him stones by mail for creating lithographic designs, proofing and printing the work and returning the final edition. It was Miller who provided Sykes with a letter of introduction to Diego Rivera in Mexico, allowing the young artist to gain employment with Rivera as he painted the murals at the Hotel de la Reforma.

Street in Guanajuato is based upon his experiences in Mexico, where he was fascinated with the topography, as well as the cultural artifacts of the Pre-Columbian civilizations. The stylized, angular forms are reminiscent of Rivera’s adaptation of modernist art into a vocabulary that was easier for the greater population to understand and appreciate.

Maltby Sykes Maine Coast FourMaltby Sykes
Maine Coast Four 1973
Lithograph on paper
Gift of the Artist

In 1951 Sykes made use of the GI Bill to go to Paris and study with Fernand Leger and at William Stanley Hayter’s Atelier 17. As one of the last living members of the School of Paris, Leger was a source of information and training in abstract art. In an oral history of his career, Sykes notes, “…in his criticism he [Leger] would talk about the use of color. It was very interesting because I was trained to paint an apple red, you know. And on the light side the color does a certain thing as it moves over into shadow…Leger might draw the apple in outline and paint the background red…it goes back to cubism where they took things apart—took nature apart and put it back together again.” (See resources). His exposure to the sensibility of abstraction is demonstrated in his later, experimental multi-metal lithographic images. In 1966-67, during a sabbatical from teaching, and with support of the NEA, he explored techniques that were developed for the commercial printing industry. He experimented with making lithographs on plates made of metals such as aluminum, stainless steel, chromium and copper, rather than on the traditional stone.

His prints of the 1960s and 1970s reflect the spontaneity of this experimental approach. The techniques he used—spraying, masking, and the use of chemical solvents expressed the spirit of exploration that characterized printmaking’s use of new materials and methods.

Annotated Sources for Reference
History of Printmaking in Alabama

The Center for the Study of Southern Culture, The University of Mississippi. Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris, Co-editors. Chapel Hill and London: the University of North Carolina Press, 1989. (ISBN 0-8078-1823-2) A comprehensive reference for the history of life in the Southeastern U.S. Includes an excellent section on Art and Architecture.

Georgia Museum of Art, Patricia Phagan, editor. The American Scene and the South: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1930-1946. Athens, GA: The Georgia Museum of Art, 1996. (ISBN 0-9159-7724-9) Contains an essay by William U. Eiland, “ Picturing the Unvictorious: The Southern Scene in Alabama, 1930-1946”, in addition, a second essay on WPA period Black printmakers.

Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Adelyn Dohme Bresskin, essayist. Anne Goldthwaite: A Catalogue of the Graphic Work. Montgomery, AL: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 1982. (ISBN 0-89280-019-4) A complete catalogue of Goldthwaite’s printed works, as well as locations for many impressions. Parts of a draft memoir by the artist are included in Breeskin’s essay.

Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, C. Reynolds Brown, essayist. Clara Weaver Parrish. Montgomery, AL: The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 1980. (ISBN 0-89280-016-X) A brief biographical essay, as well as reproductions of a number of her works in all media.

Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Margaret Lynne Ausfeld and Christine C. Neal, essayists. A Symphony of Color: The World of Kelly Fitzpatrick. Montgomery, AL: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 1991. (ISBN 0-89280-028-3) A chronological survey of the artist’s work, primarily in oils, with many reproductions of easel paintings and murals.

Southern Works on Paper, Richard Cox, essayist. Atlanta, GA: The Southern Arts Federation, 1981. Essays regarding aspects of Southern work from the mid-century.

Thomson, Laquita. Oral History of Maltby Sykes. (Unpublished typescript in the Artist Files of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.) Transcript of interviews conducted with the artist, as well as a brief biographical essay by the author.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Painting in the South: 1564-1980. Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1983. (ISBN 0-917046-14-5) Catalogue of an exhibition that traveled from 1983 to 1985. Includes essays on the development of Southern painting, as well as brief biographies of the most important painters.

Williams, Lynn Barstis. “The Dixie Art Colony.” Alabama Heritage, Summer, 1966, pp. 6-15. A history of the art colony with biographical information on the primary participants.

Williams, Lynn Barstis. “Printmaking as a Bozart of the South: 1914-1947.” The Southern Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 2, Winter, 1998, pp. 111-132. A discussion of printmakers in the Southeast, as well as subject matter, especially as it relates to the social and political environment.