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Chicago Stories: Prints and H. C. Westermann—See America First

May 16, 2010–August 15, 2010
Galleries 124–127

A longstanding anchor of the curriculum, printmaking at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) has been greatly enriched by the museum’s collection and exhibitions, which have fostered the collaboration of print media with painting, photography, and other studio endeavors. This exhibition takes a look at an explosive period in Chicago printmaking when GIs returning from World War II swelled the SAIC’s enrollment and increased demand to work with print media. Featured are works by artists who studied at SAIC and/or made Chicago their home base.

An SAIC alumnus, Vera Berdich was introduced to printmaking through the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. In 1947, Berdich became the etching instructor at SAIC and substantially expanded both the facilities and program in intaglio (etching and its related processes including mezzotint and drypoint). For over 30 years, she worked in intaglio and explored other techniques, especially non-silver photographic techniques such as cliché verre and gum bichromate printing. One gallery of the exhibition is devoted to a progression of her rich intaglio plate, Pool of Tears, with state, trial, and color proofs shown together.

The work of Berdich’s student and assistant, Philip Hanson, a noted painter and current professor at SAIC, will also be on view. During his period with Berdich, Hanson developed a sophisticated body of etchings, some recently acquired by the Art Institute. Produced concurrently with paintings on similar themes, these etchings reflect an array of Hanson’s interests from Chicago icons and Baroque stagecraft to comic books and lessons learned from his scrutiny of Picasso’s planar development of forms in space.

Also on display will be prints by H. C. (Cliff) Westermann, one of the foremost artists to study at SAIC after World War II and well-known for the economy of line—nuanced yet brash—in both his drawings and lithographs. Highlighted is Westermann’s portfolio See America First, which captured the spirit of mid-century America’s culture and landscape as he and his wife Joanna Beall traveled between the coasts in a restored pick-up truck that also served as their home. His distinctive body of work continues to influence young artists and enthusiasts who encounter it for the first time.

Together these complex works showcase the historical vitality of SAIC and the city as a crucial breeding ground for printmaking innovation.

H. C. Westermann. Untitled, Plate 17 from See America First, October 17–25, 1968. Purchased with funds provided by Dorothy and Alan Press.