Gustave Baumann has carved himself a place in American hearts with his meticulous woodblock crafted masterpieces of brilliant bright and captivating scenes from across the country. Using hand-ground pigments and precise carving to create atmospheric prints, his artwork has put him at the centre of American 20th century woodcut printing and in the hearts of many wide-eyed patriots across the country.
From the weathered cabins of Indiana to the great redwoods of the California coast, to rural Wyoming, and the plains of New Mexico, Gustave Baumann shaped his indelible images of USA with his charming, idyllic, and captivating woodblock prints that almost sing with bright, brilliant color.
After emigrating to the United States from Germany at the age of ten, Baumann briefly returned to Germany in 1904 to attend Kunstgewerbeschule (a type of vocational art school) in Munich, where he studied wood carving and learned the techniques of wood block prints. He returned to his adopted homeland to transport viewers into scenes of rich woodland, captivating, clear skies and the bright and burnished light and land of New Mexico, where he eventually settled and remained for 50 years.
Known for using multiple blocks for many of his color woodcuts, Baumann would cut one block and ink it with a single color. He would then run the paper through the press several times to produce a print with multiple hues. Editions usually numbered around 125, meaning each print bears a rare quality that makes Baumann’s prints particularly popular at auction.
Three Pines, 1926
The only color woodcut from Baumann’s 1926 visit to Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Three Pines illuminates the rural scene with pulsating bright black, blue, orange, turquoise green, yellow ochre, and purple. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice not all prints are the same; in the first edition there’s crosshatching in the sky above the pine trees, but it’s absent in the second. This sort of individuality can be seen across Baumann’s other prints.
Summer Shadows, 1917
Looking out from the front porch of noted arts patron Lydia Coonley Ward in Wyoming, New York, this serene scene was originally carved in a run of ten prints. A later edition around 1935 included a few minor changes. “On Sunday mornings after a selected evening reading by Mrs. Ward, the Zoellner Quartet played Bach music out-of-doors as I have never heard it. Listening to it all was like sharing a dream with others buffeted about by the uncertainties of professional careers,” explained Baumann of the tranquil environment.
Cochiti Ensemble, 1947
Baumann wasn’t just a master of woodblock prints of southwestern landscapes. In fact, he was also a master of oil paints and even favoured this style in later years due to his arthritis. The vibrant colors he’s famed for remain, as does his enthusiasm for Mexican culture, but the pentagonal form of the board ensures Cochiti Ensemble of native Pueblo and Hopi dolls maintains a distinct sense individuality that hasn’t put off fans of Baumann’s art, as it sold for $40,000 in May 2021.
Also known as White Trees, Baumann’s command of color is evident here, as the flawless and brooding metal leaf sky vies for attention with the white blossom tree. The color woodcut with aluminium leaf artwork originally produced in 1930 is a signature work by Baumann that has proved popular with buyers thanks to its rich scene, which reveals girls in white dresses lining up for their first communion set against the white blossom and dark tree trunk to exaggerate the delicacy of the girl’s veils.
Palo Verde and Ocotea, 1928
Baumann delighted in trying to emulate New Mexico’s exotic natural beauty and strong light. Indeed, he was such an enthusiast of the region’s natural beauty that he noted, “the palette and theories regarding color east of the Mississippi should all be tossed in the river as you cross the bridge.” The process to produce the clear and vibrant colors involved mixing pure, brilliant hues and overprinting them in layers to recreate the intense light and arid atmosphere of the area.
Wash Barnes Cabin, 1912
As Baumann travelled throughout the United States, his work reflected the beautiful scenery, but also documented the history of his atmospheric scenes. His large format woodcut of the Washington Barnes Cabin for example is intertwined with Brown County folklore. The couple inhabiting physically divided their cabin rather than getting a divorce and when the husband died, his body had to be taken out of a window, as his wife wouldn’t allow him to pass through the front door.
In a departure from the scenes of rural America, Baumann’s study of a Tulip once again highlights his mastery of contrasting colors, as the signature silver leaf background allows the brilliance of the rich green and the delicacy of the pink and orange flowers to bloom. Tulips also features Baumann’s signature orange heart in hand chop mark, which symbolizes charity, given from the heart.
Rain in the mountains, 1926
The landscape of New Mexico enraptured Baumann. May’s monsoon season brought with it the perfect conditions for the juxtaposed bright brilliance of his art, as the dramatic cloud patterns contrasted with the rich brilliance of the arid, sun-baked desert. Baumann is said to have referred the cloud formation as “walking rain” and he deftly captured its drama here.
Harden Hollow, 1927
Sante Fe had been Baumann’s home for nearly a decade by 1927. He was married to the actress Jane Devereaux and awaiting the birth of their daughter, so with travel limited he looked to his roots for fresh inspiration a drew upon old sketches of his former home in Brown County, Indiana where the richness of the fall leaves give it depth, as does the trademark contrast in tone.
Strangers from Hopi Land, 1921
It wasn’t just the landscape of New Mexico that appealed to Baumann, as he also collected Kachina dolls and had a collection on the mantle of his Canon Road studio. The brightness of Baumann’s brilliant yellows and pinks give the rare print a dreamlike quality. Baumann was seemingly proud of this print judging by the number of times he submitted it for exhibition, which now sits in the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe.
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Article by Dan Mobbs