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Currier & Ives Prints Acquired by the Springfield Museums


The Board of Trustees of the Springfield Museums agreed on April 21, 2004 to accept one of the most comprehensive collections of Currier & Ives prints in the world. In a unanimous decision, the trustees voted to accept 787 Currier & Ives hand-colored lithographs from Silver Spring, Maryland, collectors Lenore B. and Sidney A. Alpert, who have amassed the collection over the past 40 years. Only the Library of Congress and the Museum of the City of New York have larger public collections of Currier & Ives prints.

"This collection will make Springfield and the Pioneer Valley even more attractive as a destination for visitors," said Joseph Carvalho, president and executive director of the Springfield Museums. "The collection is too large to show at one time but it offers opportunities for numerous exhibits around various themes, enticing visitors to return again and again."

In selecting the Springfield Museums for their collection, Sidney Alpert said, "We were looking for a place where the collection would be appreciated, preserved and kept intact. These pieces have become part of my family and now they're going to a new home in Springfield, which seems especially fitting since you have snow up there and so many of the prints have a snowy atmosphere." He added that the choice also seemed appropriate since Currier was a native of Massachusetts, "born in Roxbury, had a summer house called the 'Lions Mouth' in Amesbury, and served his apprenticeship at the age of 15 under Boston lithographers, William and John Pendleton."

For Heather R. Haskell, director of the Springfield Art Museums, the addition to the collection is the realization of a key goal. "For several years we have been seeking to add to build our excellent American holdings," she said. "The chance to acquire the largest privately-owned collection of Currier & Ives prints was the opportunity we were seeking. The collection builds on the museums' strength in American art, especially that of the 19th-century, and has many connections with artists in our permanent collection, such as Frederic Church, George Inness, Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer and J.G. Brown. The prints provide a snapshot of American life and illustrate the foundation of national identity which will help us tell visitors the story of American 19th-century art and culture."

The prints cover a diverse variety of subjects including the Revolutionary and Civil wars, American scenic wonders, Barnum's Circus, genre scenes, firefighting, rural and agrarian scenes, pastimes such as hunting, yachting and racing, city life, western expansion and political portraits. Many of the scenes relate to New England.

In the coming months, the staff will be cataloguing and preparing the prints for a major Currier & Ives exhibition which is being planned for December 2005.


About Currier & Ives

Nathaniel Currier, was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1813 and died in 1888. James Merritt Ives, born in Ohio, passed away in 1895. From the beginning, Currier & Ives sold their lithographic renditions of American life to ordinary people, who hung them on the walls of their homes, stores, barbershops, firehouses, barrooms and barns. The firm, the most prolific and successful company of lithographers working, represented every phase of American life. The varied subjects of their prints reflected what middle-class American wanted to believe about their own country and went far toward defining national identity. The works provided a foundation for people living with enormous change and included such themes as hunting, fishing, whaling, city life, rural scenes, historical scenes, clipper ships, yachts, steamships, the Mississippi River, Hudson River scenes, railroads, politics, comedy, gold mining, winter scenes, commentary on life, portraits and still lifes.

The firm of Currier & Ives, which produced two to three new images every week for 64 years (1834-1895), is estimated to have produced 7,450 different images. For the original drawings, Currier & Ives employed or used the work of many celebrated artists of the day including J.F. Butterworth, George Inness, Louis Maurer, A.F. Tait, Thomas Nast, C.H. Moore, Eastman Johnson, and Frances (Fanny) Flora Bond Palmer ­ the first woman in the US to make her living as a full-time artist. All lithographs were produced on special stones on which the drawing was done by hand. A stone often took over a week to prepare for printing. Each print was pulled by hand. The lithographs were then hand-painted, mostly by women, often immigrants from Germany with an art background, who were paid $6 per 100 prints colored.

The small works sold for 20 cents each and the large works sold for $1 to $3 each. The Currier & Ives firm ran a shop in New York City and also consigned prints to pushcart vendors, peddlers and book stores and sold work through the mail. The works were sold internationally through a London office and agents throughout Europe.

The firm closed in 1907 and today the works are highly prized as valuable records of popular taste and works of art in their own right.


About Lithography

Lithography (Greek lithos, "stone"; graphein, "to write") is a popular medium with graphic artists which relies on the repulsion between grease and water. The process was discovered by a German map inspector named Aloys Senefelder in 1798. Senefelder found that if a drawing were made on a flat piece of limestone with a greasy crayon, the lines would attract and hold an oily or greasy ink when the stone was wet. The other portions of the stone would take no ink. The drawing could then by reproduced on a piece of suitable paper rolled into contact with the stone.

Lithography has been used by artists for centuries. In 1825, Goya produced a series of lithographs titled The Bulls of Bordeaux. Use of the technique by other European artists of the 19th century, including Gericault and Delacroix, brought prestige and acceptance to lithography in the world of fine or "high" art. Many saw the technique as a less expensive means to own a work of art by a renowned painter. Lithography was also commonly used for commercial and popular purposes such as advertisement posters. At the beginning of the 20th-century, lithography became less used as an artistic endeavor, and was exploited for its commercial use. More recently, lithography has been rediscovered and enjoys a well-respected place among fine art techniques. It is now seen an important method with unique expressive capabilities.


Steps in the Process:

A thick, heavy piece of limestone is ground absolutely flat on it widest surface and serves as the receiver of the drawing. Lithographic stones are heavy limestone blocks about three to four inches in thickness. When ground, the porous, flat surface is produced and is ready to receive the drawing lines and tones made with greasy crayons, pencils, or with tusche, a grease in liquid form.

The drawing is made with greasy crayons directly onto the polished surface of the limestone.

After the drawing is completed, the entire surface is covered with a wash of water. Wherever the greasy crayon has touched, the water is repelled so that only the undrawn areas are dampened.

A roller very similar to a rolling pin that is capable of absorbing printer's ink is saturated with the special greasy lithographic printing ink. It is then rolled over the damp stone's surface, where it adheres only to the crayon lines of the drawing.

The printing is done by placing a dampened sheet of paper on the surface of the stone. When this is passed through the great pressure of the lithographic press scraper, the drawing on the stone is transferred to the paper faithfully, but as a reverse of the original.


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