Printmakers You Should Know

Last month I introduced you to one of Shelburne Museum's print collection gems, the etchings of Luigi Lucioni. Today, I'll show you the work of another artist who created iconic Vermont scenes, Asa Cheffetz (1896-1965). I'll showcase some of Roswell's printmakers once I get settled there, but until then, we'll be siphoning off my Vermont backlog.

Asa Cheffetz, Pastorale (Vermont), wood engraving, 4 3/4'' x 10''. Collection of Shelburne Museum.

Cheffetz was originally from New York, but his family relocated to New England when he was a lad. Like Luigi Lucioni, New England landscapes, particularly those of Vermont, captivated him throughout his career, and he excelled in creating highly detailed scenes populated with old barns and meandering mountains.

Asa Cheffetz, Abandoned Farmhouse (Suffield, Conn.), wood engraving, 5 3/4'' x 8 3/4''. Collection of Shelburne Museum.

Asa Cheffetz, Along the Winooski (Vermont), wood engraving, 4 1/2'' x 8 3/4''. Collection of Shelburne Museum.
Whereas Lucioni made etchings, however, Cheffetz specialized in wood engraving. Instead of adding lines to create an image, he carved away wood to create his scenes.

Wood engraving had been a popular form of illustration during the 19th century, particularly in natural history books and art books. A variation of woodcut, wood engravings were developed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with Thomas Bewick being one of its first proponents.

Thomas Bewick, Barn Owl, in History of British Birds, wood engraving, ca. 1797-1804.

Basically, wood engravings are carved with the same kinds of tools as traditional, copperplate engravings, allowing for precise, meticulous images. Unlike copperplate, however, wood engravings have the advantage of being more durable and less expensive, allowing publishers to print off more images for less money. The economy of wood engraving made it an deal medium for reproductive imagery in the 19th century for encyclopedias, illustrated newspapers, and so forth, until photography really came into its own in terms of speed and efficiency.

Cheffetz was one of several artists during the early 20th century who experimented with wood engraving as an independent art form, and he is arguably one of its masters. Take a look at these two remarkable still life pieces:

Asa Cheffetz, Calendar, wood engraving, 6'' x 8''. Collection of Shelburne Museum.

Asa Cheffetz, Glass (a study), wood engraving, 6'' x 8''. Collection of Shelburne Museum.
His landscapes are equally compelling. His scenes are usually quite small in scale, encouraging intimate looking. Every time I hold one of his prints, I can't help but marvel at the level of detail he was able to achieve through a reductive printmaking method.

Asa Cheffetz, Early Morning (Poconos Mts., Pa), wood engraving, 5 1/2'' x 9''. Collection of Shelburne Museum.

Asa Cheffetz, Down Montgomery Way (Vermont), wood engraving, 4 1/4'' x 7 1/2''. Collection of Shelburne Museum.

Asa Cheffetz, The Village Church (Vermont), wood engraving, 5 1/2'' x 8 3/4''. Collection of Shelburne Museum.

Of course, not everybody is a fan of Cheffetz:

Victor Delhez, Rejected, 1941, wood engraving, 11 7/8'' x 8 7/8''. Image courtesy of William P. Carl, Fine Prints.

This wood engraving is by Victor Delhez, and it depicts a caricature of three artists: Asa Cheffetz, Peggy Bacon, and Todros Geller. They were the judges for the 7th International Exhibition of Lithography and Wood Engraving, held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1939. Not coincidentally, they had rejected Delhez's submission, and he responded to their decision with this print.

It just goes to show that you can't please everyone, even if your specialty is as benign as Vermont pastorals.

Want to learn more? Check out these sites:

And for wood engraving in general: