Exploring the Art of Paper with the Achenbach Graphic Arts Council

This post was submitted by Ann Dawson, Achenbach Graphic Arts Council Travel Chair

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco possess a rich collection of works on paper, ranging from prints by Ed Ruscha, to Works Progress Administration-era art, to the largest collection of Japanese prints in the western United States. The department responsible for the Museums’ wonderfully varied works on paper, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts (AFGA), includes over 20,000 prints, drawings and artist books. The Achenbach Graphic Arts Council (AGAC) is an integral supporter of these works and their ongoing care and presentation, as they are exhibited on a rotating basis at both the de Young and the Legion of Honor.

As AGAC Travel Chair, I co-led a group trip to Seattle with AFGA assistant curator, Colleen Terry last September. Here are some highlights from our excursion—we set out to explore works on paper and made some interesting discoveries along the way!

Starting off at the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery, we met Rachael Faust, assistant curator of collections. She pulled an assortment of works on paper in the Study Center for the group to view, with objects ranging from the early 20th century to the present.

A group of people stand around a printed artwork being peeled off of a table.

Examining a print by artist Glen Alps with Rachael Faust, second from right

Next up was a visit with Sandra Kroupa, book arts and rare books curator at the University of Washington’s Special Collections Library. For nearly 40 years, Sandra has played a key role in shaping this unique collection of book arts. She shared stories about a wide array of whimsical and artful books, including three-dimensional pop-up and movable books.  One particularly memorable book was crafted in the shape of an accordion, depicting the artist’s honeymoon through a series of narrative paintings on folded paper.

We then visited some impressive private collections at homes on Lake Washington, which provided stunning views, both inside and out! The collections were primarily grounded in the 20th century, with works by Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, David Hockney, Wayne Thiebaud, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Rauschenberg, but we stumbled across several important Old Masters as well. Visiting an urban rooftop retreat near downtown Seattle, we saw an eclectic private collection with works by Kiki Smith, William Kentridge, Richard Diebenkorn, and a number of artists from the Pacific Northwest. 

At Sidereal Press, we learned what goes on behind the scenes at a printmaking studio. Sheila Coppola, a master printer, founded Sidereal Press specifically for collaborative use with artists and printmakers. Along with Coppola, Claire Cowie and Kim van Someren, both of whom have MFAs in printmaking from the University of Washington, gave a demonstration that involved inking, wiping, and printing three plates to create a collaborative triptych. 

A master printer wearing a bandana rolls out a large-format piece of paper onto a printing table.

Sidereal Press with Sheila Coppola, center

We then visited the home studio of printmaker Barbara Robertson, who makes digital prints that are informed by scientific inquiry and explore ideas related to space, mapping, motion, and light. Also on hand was Barbara’s colleague, Dionne Haroutunian, whose work combines traditional and experimental printmaking processes.

A print artist shows of a black and white work on paper to a group.

From left: Barbara Robertson, Matthew Silverberg (AGAC Chair), and Cheryl Bancroft

Next, we paid a visit to Michael Kenna, a fine art photographer who works exclusively in black and white and concentrates primarily on landscape photography.  He discussed the focus of his work and what goes on while waiting for the “decisive moment.” He also shared photographs from his most recent project in China.   

A woman looks at a series of black and white images on a flat file against a brick red wall

Michael Kenna

Brian Lane, of Print Zero Studios, discussed his background as a printmaker as well as his keen interest in sharing printmaking with a diverse audience. He cofounded Print Zero to promote and strengthen the printmaking community through print exchanges and exhibitions.

A man with a beard and ponytail points out photographs to a group of visitors

Brian Lane

The Seattle Art Museum’s Curator of American art, Patti Junker (formerly a curator of American art at the de Young), gave a tour that focused on Pacific Northwest artists Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. We then had the opportunity to explore the Vogel Collection, a compilation of contemporary art that brings together works from all 50 states.

A woman leads a tour group through museum galleries

Patti Junker, right

At the Frye Museum, the group got a glimpse behind the scenes of art storage and had the opportunity to see selected works on paper.  

A group stands around a table looking at artworks on paper

Cory Gooch, second from left

All in all, it was a successful trip! If this kind of art-filled adventure sounds fun to you, the AGAC is planning another trip to Portland, OR, from May 1—3, and we welcome anyone with an interest in works on paper to attend! Trip highlights will include visits to the Portland Art Museum and its Graphic Arts Council, artist talks, studio and gallery visits, and a look inside private art collections. Registration is first come, first served. Click here for more information.