There’s a window looking out toward the Monongahela River.
From it, rolling green hills dot the background. A line of houses sit down the hill in a row, their colors purple and white. You can see a smoke stack through the window pane, a sign of Morgantown’s once booming glass industry.
Next to the window sits a ceramic vase of flowers. With their dark centers and colorful, angular petals, they look like daisies carefully arranged, ready to pose for a still life.
It’s a view from around 1930, before Morgantown was overrun with college students, before the town’s infrastructure and roadways were pushed to the max, before the glass factories closed down.
It’s a view from an artist’s studio window, a view that the famous West Virginia artist Grace Martin Taylor would see on any given day if she looked out from her hillside studio toward the river. It’s a view that she preserved in time by making a woodblock print of it. It’s a view that you, too, can see, thanks to an immense donation by Taylor’s daughter, Lucie Mellert, and the work of Robert Bridges, curator of the Art Museum of West Virginia University.
A color print of that view, titled “Studio Window,” will be on display in an exhibition that opens Friday at the Art Museum of WVU. The exhibition is titled after that famous print from Morgantown: “Studio Window: The Prints of Grace Martin Taylor.” The exhibition will showcase the complete collection of Taylor’s woodblock prints.
The exhibition opens Friday with a free event hosted by the Art Museum of WVU from 7:30-9 p.m. The exhibit will be open to the public until Dec. 15. The museum opened a little more than a year ago and is located at 2 Fine Arts Drive in Morgantown. Hors d’oeuvres will be served and live music will be provided during the event.
“Most likely we are the only place that has the complete collection of all of her prints,” Bridges said.
The exhibition will showcase all 34 of the white-line color woodblock prints Taylor created during her career. The work dates from 1925 to 1958. The exhibition will also display a portion of the black and white linoleum prints she created. The museum has all of the linoleum prints as well. However due to space constraints, they are only showing a portion of that collection.
“To be able to see in one place all of these prints is really going to be something for anyone who enjoys prints, but also painting and this artist in particular,” Bridges said. “... It’s also possibly a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see all of these prints in one location.”
Born in 1903 near Morgantown, Taylor studied at West Virginia University before pursuing a career in art. She studied with her cousin, internationally known American modernist Blanche Lazzell. She went on to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Arthur Carles in the 1920s, and later with prestigious artists such as Hans Hofmann and Emil Bisttram. For several summers during her career, Taylor studied in Provincetown, Massachusetts, known for its artist colonies.
Taylor dedicated her professional career to teaching art in West Virginia for 40 years at what is now the University of Charleston. And unlike Lazzell, who spent most of her career out of the state, Taylor would take what she learned in Provincetown and other places and bring the knowledge back to her students. She promoted modern art and abstraction to her students, the state’s next generation of artists.
Taylor died in 1995. She remains highly regarded as a painter and is considered one of America’s innovative printmakers of the 20th century. Thanks to the efforts of her daughter, Mellert, Taylor’s work is able to live on in art museum collections like the one at WVU.
“West Virginia University now has a large quantity of mother’s art which is now preserved and it will be preserved as long as West Virginia University exists,” Mellert said. “And that was the purpose behind the donation. She deserves it.”
Although best known for her paintings, Taylor also practiced white-line color woodblock printmaking, an American-born technique developed in Provincetown, Massachusetts around 1915. Rather than require separate woodblocks to be used for the different colors in a print, the white-line woodblock uses V grooves in the wood to keep the colors separate. This allows the entire image to be made on a single block of wood, Bridges explained.
“It doesn’t lend itself to certain types of things. It’s hard to depict human form. But Lazzell and Taylor were both masters of figuring out what they could and couldn’t depict in these prints,” he said.
The technique is like a watercolor painting created on a wooden block, with cut grooves that make white lines between the colors. Each color is painted on, then pressed onto the paper, before the next color is applied and pressed. Greater pressure creates greater depth of color, and the process relies on relatively simple forms with few details. The result? A simple, but modern, look.
“She was a fabulous colorist and would build these compositions based on color juxtapositions,” Bridges said.
One of Bridges’ favorites — “Studio Window” — combines two common genres: landscape and still life.
“You’re seeing like two views in one print,” he said.
Bridges has spent five years working on this exhibition. Some of the work WVU already owned in its collection, but Bridges said to get every piece took some time, working with Mellert and going through her personal collection, then conducting a significant amount of research to pinpoint when each print was made.
Most were created in West Virginia, Bridges said. There are scenes like “Studio Window” that depict a view of Morgantown. There’s also a view looking out over the Kanawha River from South Hills in Charleston. There are scenes from Provincetown — images of rooftops, sailboats and Cape Cod dunes — as well as a number of still life images, which could have been produced anywhere, but Bridges estimates that most were made in the Mountain State.
WVU’s collection of Taylor’s work isn’t just about the viewing pleasure. It’s about study. It’s about education. It’s about getting to know Taylor and her work in a deeper, more meaningful way.
“We are an institute of higher education,” Bridges said. “We don’t want to just show a few paintings, the best of the work, but we also want to have that archive here that allows students and scholars alike to be able to see a little bit more about this artist and why they created the way they did.
“That’s what is great about donors like Lucie,” he added, “to have the foresight to save things and then make them available to the people of West Virginia.”
For more information, visit the Art Museum of WVU’s website at http://artmuseum.wvu.edu.
Reach Anna Patrick at email@example.com or 304-348-4881.