Printmakers You Should Know

Today's Printmaker You Should Know (and another prominent artist from the RMAC collection) had a penchant for experimentation: Bror Julius Nordfeldt (1878-1955).

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B.J.O. Nordfeldt, ca. 1900. 

Originally from Sweden, Nordfeldt and his family moved to Chicago when he was a teenager. He worked as a typsetter (or printer's devil) at a Swedish-language newspaper while studying at the School of the Art Institute, and became an assistant to Albert Herter, a muralist who had been commissioned by the McCormick Harvester Company to paint murals for the Paris Exhibit of 1900. Nordfeldt accompanied the murals to Paris, and spent the next three years studying there, where he was greatly inspired by such late 19th-century moderns as Manet, Gauguin, and especially Cezanne. He also studied woodblock printing in London under Frank M. Fletcher.

After returning to the States, Nordfeldt continued to work in Chicago, but with the United States' entry into World War I he relocated to California to paint camouflage for boats. After the war was over he moved to Santa Fe in 1919, where he would more or less spent the next two decades painting Native Americans, landscapes, and other local subjects.

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B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Antelope Dance, 1919, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of

In the 1930s he relocated to New Jersey, where he would spend the remainder of his life. He'd die of a heart attack in Texas while returning home from a trip to Mexico.

Throughout his career, Nordfeldt worked in many different places, from New Mexico to Minnesota, New Jersey to California, and also experimented with different styles. In his earliest woodblocks, his work is clearly influenced by Japanese imagery:

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Nordfeldt became impatient with the tedium of carving multiple blocks for color woodcuts, however, so he developed a technique called the white-line woodcut. Basically what you do is carve out the outline for your entire composition (hence the white outline that distinguishes these prints), and then apply the different color inks all on the same block. 

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B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Fisherman's Family, 1916, white-line woodcut. Image courtesy of

He also worked in etching, which tended to be more naturalistic images:

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B.J.O. Nordfeldt, St. Paul's Church, Lower Manhattan, etching. Image courtesy of
Stylistically, Nordfeldt was most strongly influenced by Cezanne, as well as the Fauvists. In the early 20th-century America, Nordfeldt's work was considered controversial for its expressionist feel. In New Mexico especially, which tended to favor naturalistic, indeed nostalgic scenes of Native Americans, his images were rather daring. 

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B.J.O. Nordfeldt, Four Trees, New Mexico, 1937, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of
As someone who likes to play around with different media, I appreciate Nordfeldt's artistic restlessness. He could have easily made Japanese-style woodcuts for his entire career, they're certainly attractive, but he instead he experimented, something we should all do more often.

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B.J.O.Nordfeldt, Geophysical Forms, 1954, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Roswell Museum and Art Center.

Want to learn more? Here's some fodder for you: