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Thomas Moran Interpretive ReprintsPortfolio Text
Thomas Moran was called the “father” of the national park system. Although artist George Catlin conceived the idea in 1832, “. . . by some great protecting policy of government . . . in a magnificent park . . . . A nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty!” it was Thomas Moran, a generation later, whose art brought the west to people in a way that made possible the first national park in the world, Yellowstone, followed by dozens of national parks and monuments.
Between 1867 and 1879 there were four government supported expeditions west. Moran was invited to join the 1871 expedition to Yellowstone, his first of many trips to the West. Moran’s drawings from that and his other expeditions appeared in the popular magazines and books of the times: Scribner’s, Harper’s, Century, The Aldine, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine, Picturesque America, Picturesque Canada, etc. His first major successful painting, The Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone, measuring 7’ by 12’, was completed a few months after President Grant signed the Yellowstone park bill into law, March 1, 1872. It was purchased by the government for $10,000. His water colors and drawings are often cited as being instrumental in getting support for the bill from politicians, none of whom had seen Yellowstone.
What is significant about Moran and his work is that he found a style appropriate to the landscape and he brought landscape to the American people—neither a small feat. Most people lived in the east, and if they ventured from the major urban centers, their wilderness landscape was the far tamer Appalachian mountains. The geology and geography of the West was the thing of myth: Yellowstone was “the place where hell bubbled up.” Often tacked onto the list of Hudson River School painters of a generation earlier, Moran’s style was greatly influenced by the work of J. M. W. Turner, whose work he first saw as engravings in books; but in 1862 he made a trip to England to see Turner’s paintings. Moran found a way to express the grandeur of the western landscape that was truly his, but which has influenced landscape artists ever since, even after the popularity of his style waned towards the end of his life. He had been trained as an engraver, and, arguably, that understanding along with his style and quickness made him much in demand. That demand translated into a large public awareness both of his work and the places he loved to draw and paint. What most people saw were the woodcuts of his drawings.
Woodcuts and steel engravings use a similar and rich variety of patterns to translate color and texture. Other than through the use of multiple inkings and plates, these images are, however, except at their best, lifeless. These are collaborative images. In some instances we know that the person who did the drawings actively worked with one or more engravers—more often they did not. Even without his famous [see Moran's dark red logo on the portfolio title page], Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran, his work stands out; and in The Aldine and the Picturesque series of books, where the emphasis was on the highest quality engravings, images not of the West are quickly recognizable as his.
Despite the quantity of books and magazines published in the second half of the nineteenth century, they are disappearing and with them the art work. Neglect, ignorance, wear and tear, oxidation, foxing, insects, water damage, and commerce are destroying tens of thousands of books a year. There are large companies that plate books and throw out the remainder. Bookstores throw out books that are too damaged to sell. Children throw out their grandparents’ old books. Paintings remain, but the bulk of the images that help change a world are disappearing.
Interpretive Reprints™ uses color scanning, digital editing software, and Epson’s UltraGiclée™ system (specific papers, inks, and printers) to give back a dynamic that was lost when these images were recast from drawings and paintings to woodcuts or steel engravings. Ansel Adams talked about the negative being the score and the print being the performance. It is accepted that a performance of a play or a symphony has something original in it, but this is seldom seen in the visual arts, not as an end in itself. All reproductions, even facsimile reproductions, vary from the original: scale, color, densities, surface sheen, etc. And one artist rarely reproduces the work of another. Rather than trying to minimize those deviations, One-Off Press embraces the possibilities with its Interpretive Reprints™ portfolio series. Following a careful assessment of the artist’s paintings and drawings, a new interpretive print is created. The UltraGiclée™ print, selected by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as offering the best combination of fidelity and longevity for reproducing art in its collections, provides the best way to reintroduce these images.
Moran page, or Before and After examples
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