This weekend my mom and I had a wonderful opportunity to go to the Indianapolis Art Museum. We’d been anxiously awaiting this day since late November, when we learned that an exhibit of Gustave Baumann’s work would be open. We needed to wait till after Christmas but not too long after because it’s only on display till Feb 14th. I hadn’t heard of this artist before until an advertisement featuring the temporary gallery was sent out to the members and I was mesmerized by his work. Baumann was a German immigrant who became a leading artist in woodcuts. His father left the family when he was around 17 and he went to work as an engraver and took some art classes from Art Institute of Chicago at night. He spent 1904 back in native Germany pursuing applied craft studies and then came back home to set up his own woodcutting studio. He turned out beautiful woodcuts inspired by his travels from then until his death in 1971.
The exhibit was arranged by the different locations that Baumann lived and traveled during his artistic career, incorporating his art, family photos, historic context, and a fascinating look at his artistic process with many of his original wood blocks on display. I loved all his work and took pictures of everything on display except maybe two paintings. I was delighted to find that he had lived for several years in Nashville, IN and was a member of the renown Brown County Art Colony. His studio overlooked the courthouse – a view I’ve appreciated for many years too. The art in today’s post are part of his Nashville portfolio, inspired by the land in my home state that I love too. The one above is a whimsical sketch he made called “Treehouse”. It’s in the group of my very favorites – I loved the sweet playfulness of this design with the little gnomes constructing a home at the base of the tree. And I think they used bracket fungi for the roof.
This one is a very typical fall scene in Brown County, when the country is at the height of beauty. Farmlands still dot the landscape of the rolling forested hills that flame yellow, orange, and red in the fading sunlight of autumn. Don’t you just love the soft, vintage feel of these woodcuts? They reminded me strongly of the illustrations in Grimm’s Fairytales that I pored over as a child – and then I remembered that both have their source in the fantastic German woodcuts of the 1800s. This piece looks just like it came out of a fairytale story.
This is another scene that looks like it could just as easily be Hansel and Gretel’s cottage in the Bavarian hills as one from the Nashville countryside. We were also able to see the watercolors and sketches that Baumann made in preparation for this woodcut. He would trace his gouache template onto each wood block and then carve a block for each color. Baumann was a pioneer in moving woodcut printings from 2 colors to 5-6 colored prints. He formulated all the pigments used as well, allowing him to use distinctive, but mellowed hues in his art.
“The Sycamore” is a fine example of how Baumann captured the glories of nature. It’s a perfect blend of vivid and vintage. The colors are warm and mellowed, but still vibrant and interesting. Looking closely, you can see the softness he achieved by using wood to ink his scenes – the sky is mottled with the imperfections in the wood plate and gives a lovely quality to the art. I’m just enchanted with the way his art feels – it’s illustrative in nature, but has more depth and interest than a pen-and-ink sketch. Each piece feels warm and inviting and pulls you into the scenery, making you feel at home in the story each woodcut represents. You’ll see more of his work in the coming days!
Blessings to you,