Prints, Drawings, & Other Works on Paper
Gerald Kenneth Geerlings. Civic Insomnia, 1932. Aquatint, 10⅞ x 14 in.
Begun in 1976, my collection of American prints spans the period from 1900 to World War II, with a particular emphasis on the 1930s. Between 1929 and 1933, Gerald Geerlings created a series of masterful urban images. A trained architect, he was meticulous in his work.
Most urban landscape prints of this period were etchings. However, this is not the case with Civic Insomnia. To achieve the atmospheric effect in the view of the night skyline from across the river, Geerlings used a large watercolor brush to spread the acid and vary the length of acid biting time for each degree of blackness. The lovely dark night with beautiful gradations is unique to his work.
I had already owned Geerlings’s Jewelled City (1931), a Chicago night scene. And the addition of Civic Insomnia to my collection, with its splendid view of the Manhattan skyline, makes for a fitting accompaniment by this most creative printmaker.
Kurz & Allison (lithographer and publisher). Southern California Citrus Fair, Chicago, 1886. Chromolithograph, 20½ x 28 in. Supplement to the Daily Inter Ocean newspaper, Chicago, April 4, 1886.
Provenance: George Frost, prominent Riverside orange grower and one of the promoters of this fair, with his annotations.
Los Angeles, in the late nineteenth century, was a city unlike any other. Garlanded with flowers the year round and with orange groves and vineyards in the middle of town, it was visually and climatically exotic, newly built and ready for action. When the direct train from Chicago arrived in 1885 linking Southern California with the Midwest and East, an economic boom soon followed.
Navel oranges had first been planted in Riverside in the 1870s, and within a decade, 750,00 navels were sent east, increasing to tens of millions by 1891. Orange growers, eager to connect with eastern markets, staged an exhibition in Chicago to promote oranges, lemons—and the railroad itself. The fair was held over five weeks and drew 75,000 visitors. For twenty-five cents, one could marvel at citrus fruit in Chicago, and for ten dollars, board a Los Angeles-bound train and experience this Pacific wonderland in person.
For me, this image sums up the charm, enthusiasm and exoticism that Southern California represented to nineteenth-century America. It was a spectacular paradise, an agricultural and horticultural Eden, a place to pursue new wealth in unexpected ways, a place where a revitalized American dream was launched.
Robert LaVigne (1928–2014). Peter Orlovsky at the Black Cat Café, 1954. Ink on paper, 12 x 8 in.
Artist and set designer Robert LaVigne created portraits of many luminaries in the San Francisco bohemian scene. This drawing of Peter Orlovsky (1933–2010), poet and longtime partner of Allen Ginsberg, helps to document the period just prior to Howl and On the Road. The Beat writers were still unknown outside of their immediate circle, and it captures the calm before the launch of the Beats into the public arena the following year. This portrait was created at the Black Cat Café in San Francisco, a watering hole for artists, writers, actors, musicians, gays and rebels from the 1940s until it closed in 1963.
During my early years of collecting, I focused on books, manuscripts and correspondence relating to the Beats. This was the first work on paper added to my collection, and it has expanded my interest and appreciation for a broader approach to my collecting.
Belle Silveira Gorski (1877–1930). Portrait of a Woman with a Book. Pencil drawing, 10¾ x 6 in.
Although not widely known today, Belle Silveira Gorski made this beautiful, captivating portrait of an unknown sitter in the early 1900s. Drawn with great technical skill, the image proves how the humble pencil can create a work of refinement, precision, and polish, delivering a portrait both crisp and shadowy. The draped shoulders, the ring on her left hand, swirled hair, floral accents, and, of course, the book suggest a woman of style and substance who wouldn’t be out of place in a story by Edith Wharton or Henry James.
I collect drawings of people reading or with books, and this has been hanging in my office for more than twenty years. Its appeal comes not only from its subtlety and virtuosity; it serves as a daily inspiration and antidote to the hectic pace and mindless preoccupations of contemporary life. Here she sits, serene and self-possessed, an elegant reminder to recalibrate every once in a while, make one’s life as beautiful as one can, and definitely, always, have a book at hand.
Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo (1612–1667). Rearing Horse and Rider. Pen and wash on paper, 7½ x 5 in.
This is a preparatory drawing for The Staghunt at Aranjuez, a major painting by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, an assistant to, and later son-in-law of, Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. The painting hangs in the Prado Museum and had been commissioned by King Phillip IV of Spain, for whom del Mazo became court painter. The horse and rider can be found at the right center of the painting, almost exactly as drawn.
I purchased the drawing at Rockman’s Gallery on First Avenue in the mid-fifties, when I was a sixteen-year-old high school art student in New York. On the day of my purchase, I noticed a gentleman nearby who seemed rather interested in this del Mazo. He exclaimed, rather loudly, “Young man, you’re not interested in that drawing, are you?” Little did I know that he was the eminent director of the Prado, Francisco Javier Sánchez Cantón. In all my acquisitions, I research them afterwards, and I subsequently discovered the wisdom of my choice that day, and the reason for his apparent dismay.
Elias Bäck (1679–1747), also known as Heldenmuth. Portrait of Matthew Buchinger. Regensburg, Germany, 1710. Etching, signed by Buchinger, ink on paper.
Matthew Buchinger (1674–1739) was a phocomelic, twenty-nine-inch-tall overachiever. He was a legless and armless conjurer and calligrapher who danced the hornpipe and played more than a half-dozen musical instruments, some of his own invention. Among his formidable accomplishments was fathering fourteen children.
He is pictured here surrounded by thirteen vignettes of his various exhibitions: executing trick skittle or bowling shots, threading a needle, playing the dulcimer, charging a gun, shaving himself, placing figures within a bottle, drawing, writing, cutting a quill, and performing conjuring with coins, cards, dice, and cups and balls. He was a master of micrography and was able to produce coats of arms, family trees, and portraits with almost unimaginably small calligraphy. He signed this souvenir print in forwards, backwards and mirror writing.
In my many years of collecting books, broadsides, and the iconography of celebrated and unusual characters, no one fascinates me more than Buchinger, “The Little Man of Nuremberg.” I mention him at every opportunity and am now writing a biography to accompany an exhibition of his work: Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Inventive Drawing from the Collection of Ricky Jay, opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in January 2016.
T. Peter Kraus
A pair of Indian miniatures. Provincial Mughal (possibly Alwar), late 17th c. Watercolor and gold on paper, each 7¼ x 4 in.
I have been collecting Indian miniatures since 1967, when I was introduced to them by my cousin, and then-employer, the bookseller H. P. Kraus. This pair is by far the most personal of the collection. My wife purchased them for me from Otto Ranschburg of Lathrop Harper. They had been in the rare book stock of Herbert Reichner, whose scholarly stock Otto had arranged for me to purchase, and which had been a key component in the founding of my own business. This is their second appearance at the Grolier Club. In 1975 one of my chief mentors, Geoffrey Steele, borrowed them for the exhibition Nature's Handmaid Art: Landscape Architecture from the Garden of Eden to Central Park.
Anthony J. Mourek
Jack B. Yeats (1871–1957). Sketch Book: Spiddal to Gorumna and Lettermullen, 1905. Pencil, ink and watercolor.
Provenance: Signed inscription to Maurice Craig.
One of Dublin bookseller Eamonn DeBúrca’s clients had a story to tell and an expensive book to sell. The more I heard, the more I knew I wanted it.
In 1905, the Manchester Guardian hired two unlikely Gaelic speaking, Anglo-Irish reporters to “report on distress” in Ireland. They were recommended by their friend, future Poet Laureate John Masefield. The thirty-four-year-old reporters, Jack B. Yeats and John Millington Synge, would become famous in the future, but at the time they were little known and in need of the work. They traveled for a month by horse cart and hooker through Galway and Mayo, producing twelve articles on the poor Irish-speaking region.
Yeats’s sketches pick up much of the details of their travels: scanty fields, white cottages, hookers against the sky, and shawled women. This sketchbook begins in Spiddal and extends westward to Gorumna and Lettermullen. The grocery/pub interior labeled as “Sabina’s” is probably the Hotel of the Isles in Lettermullen, run by Sabina MacDonogh and, as reported by Synge, may also be the pub near the quay, where he and Yeats spent the evening “talking and drinking and telling stories in Irish.”
This sketchbook is one of a handful in private hands that has not been broken up and was given by the artist to architectural historian Maurice Craig in April 1945 as a wedding gift. Craig records that “Jack Yeats threw a dozen or so little sketchbooks on his sofa and invited us to choose one each as a present … he wrote in both books and slipped them in the covers which he kept for such occasions.”
Janice Carlson Oresman
Ben Shahn (1898–1969). Phoenix, 1952. Screenprint in black with hand coloring, 30¾ x 22⅜ in. No. 84/100.
Ben Shahn was a visiting lecturer at Smith College when I was an undergraduate there. I was taken by his presence and his attitude about art as a statement of justice and humanity. He was selected for WPA projects and was commissioned to paint murals for numerous public and government buildings around the country. I chose to write my senior thesis about his public murals and was privileged to meet with him to discuss that work.
Shahn was drawn to religious and mythological subjects. The phoenix represents renewal and hope. The minute I saw this print I knew I had to own it. It was the first one I ever bought (on time) and was the start of my print collection. Phoenix has followed me around all these years and remains one of my special treasures.
Frederick W. Pattison
Salvador Dali (1904–1989). St. George and the Dragon, 1947. Designed by Dali, etched by Stanley William Hayter, plate: 17⅝ x 11¼ in.; sheet: 22⅝ x 15¼ in. Engraved on Whatman wove paper and signed by Dali. Edition of 260.
Depictions and accounts of the myth of St. George and the Dragon have appeared in various artistic and literary forms going back centuries, including in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend (ca. 1256). This St. George and the Dragon is considered by many to be Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali’s finest print, with its quite full margins. Published by the oldest print club in the United States, the Print Club of Cleveland, I was only seventeen years old at the time I acquired this etching, and the club’s youngest member.
Handmade English Valentine, Richard Pitt to His Wife, Anne Pitt, Ilfracombe (Devon), with 1805 postal cancellation. Watercolor on thick paper, 19 x 16½ in.
Provenance: Philatelist and writer Frank Staff.
One of the earliest mailed valentines, this message is filled with tender emotion. It is a superb tribute to love, crafted by a sailor returning home to his wife.
The elaborate design, with decorative borders and tasseled curtain swag, is personalized with the lovers’ initials, “RP” and “AP.” Romantic emblems of love, spring, and fruitfulness abound, including primrose flowers, paired lovebirds, bows and arrows, Cupids, and monogrammed flaming hearts. Richard Pitt writes:
In war I served my King and country, at home I hope to live in peace with thee. The birds that sing shall tune our nuptial joys.
This stands above all others in my collection of valentines, as it embodies their history, artistry, and passion, and its imagery and content evoke the emotions felt over 200 years ago.
Ellen G. K. Rubin
(aka The Popuplady)
Edward H. Hutchins. Thinking of You. Salem, NY: Editions, 2015.
The most precious items in my collection of pop-up and movable books and ephemera are handmade. On rare occasions, paper engineers will construct a unique and personal pop-up for me.
In 2012, while on safari in Botswana, I found sheets of paper made from elephant dung! Coarse but pliable—and NOT smelly—I tried to envision what paper engineers would make from them and sent a sheet to my dear friend and book artist, Ed Hutchins.
Imagine my surprise when I received an envelope from Ed with a note that said, “You are the only person in my life who has sent me rare poopy paper.” Inside was a greeting card made of the dung paper and was itself an elephant pop-up! He didn’t even know that I also collect elephants. And like an elephant, I’ll never forget Ed and this card, which I treasure.
Caroline F. Schimmel
Roz Chast. Women of the Wilderness by Mindy Melnikoff. Pen and ink and watercolor, 16 x 12 in. Published in The New Yorker, February 25, 1991.
Though she’s never heard of me or of my collection on women in the American wilderness, no one but Roz Chast could better capture the agonies and joys of foraging through book stores far and wide for un- and under-appreciated narratives of women who set out into the wilds of the Americas with guts and a dream and, if really lucky, a knife and a fork.It felt like Kismet flipping through the New Yorker that day.
Alex Raymond (Alexander Gillespie Raymond, 1909–1956) and Dashiell Hammett (1894–1961). Secret Agent X-9. Original pen and ink drawing for a daily comic strip published on June 29, 1934, 5½ x 25 in.
I have been interested in American comic strips since my childhood in France, when I read them (in French translation), and dreamt of becoming a cartoonist myself. When I came to America, I started clipping and collecting comic strips from New York newspapers and it is by reading these that I learned English. I eventually began collecting the original art of my favorite strips.
This item is the original art for an early example of the comic strip Secret Agent X-9, which was launched by King Features Syndicate in January 1934. It was scripted by Dashiell Hammett and illustrated by my favorite comic strip artist, Alex Raymond, one of the most influential forces in this medium and creator of the more celebrated Flash Gordon. Numerous artists have named Alex Raymond as an inspiration for their work, and the director George Lucas has cited Raymond’s Flash Gordon as a major influence on his Star Wars films.
Phil Shaw. Friction 2, 2008. Eight-color pigment-based archival print on Hahnemuhle paper, 46 x 20 in. No. 38/40.
There is not much point in collecting unless it is for pure enjoyment. I particularly enjoy whimsy, especially when rooted in wit. Phil Shaw’s Friction 2 fits the bill: shelves of books so closely packed that the titles and authors have “rubbed off” on each other. The artist’s process is so realistic that you think it’s photographs of actual spines, only to find that he switched words in titles and mixed names for some unlikely pairings: The Boys from Wakefield by Ira Goldsmith next to The Vicar of Brazil by Oliver Levin. Its significance for me? The humor pushes the envelope of what is real or assumed to be real; one needs to take a closer look in order to understand.