Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Printmaker's Bookshelf: Gustave Baumann

I suppose it seems a little... disloyal, perhaps... to start off my bookshelf ponderings with a woodcut artist as opposed to linocut, but here in the southwestern United States Gustave Baumann's (1881-1971) work is regarded as iconic.

Baumann began his career in Chicago, working as an illustrator in a commercial arts studio. He took night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, and briefly studied in Munich in 1905.

It was in Germany that he made his first woodcuts and when he returned to the United States he devoted himself mostly to idyllic scenes of the rural midwest, and made friends with other painters and printmakers on forays to New York and Provincetown.

In 1918 Baumann made his first trip to Taos, New Mexico– and ultimately spent the rest of his life there, more than 50 years. He focused on both the dramatic and pastoral landscapes of the southwest and the lives of native Puebloans.

As someone who has spent most of her life in the west and southwest, Gustave Baumann's work says "home" to me. His color palette is rich with the pine greens, cobalt blues, and adobe reds of the high desert. But it's his design sense that first catches my eye, and the wide variety of marks he carved to create an amazing array of textures.

"Cholla and Sahuaro," woodcut, Gustave Baumann

Of course, when I paged through my books again this week that I realized Gustave Baumann was also fond of a square format. Sound like anyone you know?

Baumann was not a reduction printmaker. He used multiple blocks and experimented with color combinations. He was also a planner, a rather foreign concept to me. Most often he made complete paintings in gouache on toned paper, usually en plein air, on location. As if that weren't enough, he also ground his own inks.

"Piñon - Grand Canyon," gouache painting, Gustave Baumann
"Piñon - Grand Canyon," woodcut, Gustave Baumann

Baumann's southwestern works are all relatively small, no larger than 13" x 13," since he was limited to the capacity of his press, a Midget Reliance. (Printmaker note: From the "Piñon-Grand Canyon" example we can see he didn't worry about reversing his image before carving.)

Original Baumann prints are highly valued, ranging in price from about $1,500 for his older 2- or 3-color work to $20,000... and "Price on Request." For the budget inspiration-seeker, many of his images have been extensively reproduced as posters, calendars, and notecards. Which is just to say that if you come across a seller offering one of Baumann's southwest prints as a "signed original" for less than $5,000... you're either finding a screaming deal or a screaming scammer. Be careful out there.

I have three books about Gustave Baumann and his work on my shelf.

"Hand of a Craftsman," by David Acton. Museum of New Mexico Press, 1996

"Gustave Baumann: Nearer to Art," by Acton, Krause, and Yurtseven. Museum of New Mexico Press, 1993.

"Gustave Baumann's Southwest," by Joseph Traugott, New Mexico Museum of Art, 2007

Book junkies, you can thank me later. Be shrewd shoppers, because "Hand of a Craftsman" in particular seems to be fetching a wide range of prices in the book market, as well.

I'm going to go grab a cup of tea, peruse a few more pages, and then get back to work.


  1. i know nothing about woodcut, should learn more. I will see if the library at uni has anything on him, they do have books on everything, which is great :D but might have to wait until next year to get any out since we are done pretty soon (yay! lol)

    1. Whatever would we do without good libraries? They save me from utter book-collecting ruin. ;-)

  2. Hi Sherrie, love Bauman's work. A good reminder to pull him off my shelve and re-view his work.

    1. He's a good'un, alright. Interestingly, I read that most of his blocks were basswood, which seems to me (an uneducated philistine when it comes to wood, I admit) a rather soft sort block for the wear and tear he gave them.