Over the course of the 20th century, Gustave Baumann’s name was practically synonymous with Santa Fe. A master craftsman who worked in the mediums of painting and furniture making, he infused all aspects of his life with a vibrant, playful, and magical sense of artistry. But it is his work as a master printer for which he’s most remembered. For Baumann (1881-1971), printmaking was a lifelong pursuit, and he left behind a massive and distinctive body of work that evoked the beauty and grandeur of the Southwest and America as a whole.
Baumann’s print work can be divided into several periods in different locations: Munich (1905); Chicago (1906-1909); Brown County, Indiana (1910-1916); and New York City, upstate New York, and Provincetown, Massachusetts (1917). In addition, he worked in Arizona and California in the 1920s. But the largest period of activity for Baumann was in New Mexico. Baumann spent nearly 50 years in full commitment to his on-site printing studio and workshop at his home on Camino de las Animas in Santa Fe. Though he permitted few to enter the space beyond assistants and the occasional student, a recreation of the studio is on view at the Palace of the Governors’ Palace Press.
The New Mexico History Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art offer tours of the historic Baumann House on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 29, as part of their “A Gathering for Gus” symposium, which celebrates the centennial of Baumann’s arrival in Santa Fe.
“We have probably 90 percent or more of his actual tools and materials,” said Tom Leech, director of the Palace Press. “We have his press, his hand tools, rollers, the pigments he used to make his own ink.” Leech discusses Baumann’s use of tools and techniques in a talk on Friday, Sept. 28, during “A Gathering for Gus,” a two-day symposium on the artist sponsored by the New Mexico History Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art. The symposium commemorates the centennial of Baumann’s arrival in New Mexico. In addition to the symposium, the exhibition Gustave Baumann: Master Printmaker, A Prelude is on view through October at Gerald Peters Gallery (1005 Paseo de Peralta), and the show Among Friends: Gustave Baumann — Shared Visions continues through Nov. 3 at Owings Gallery (120 E. Marcy St.).
Most of the printmaking Baumann did in New Mexico was done on a Reliance Midget hand press he purchased from Chicago in 1917. It’s a small press with a large wood-handled lever used to raise and lower the platen for applying pressure to the paper over the woodblock. It’s still operational, and Leech occasionally uses it for demonstrations of Baumann’s process. “When the museum purchased the press in 2001, it came with the stipulation that it’s OK to use it,” he said. “Above and beyond that, Baumann, late in life, in a note he left for Jane and Ann, his wife and daughter, said he’d like to see the press maintained by someone who can use it. But not the tools.”
The small exhibit inside the Palace Press also contains the grinder Baumann used for pigments. According to Josie Lopez, author of The Carved Line: Block Printmaking in New Mexico (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2017), the pigments were mixed with an oil base and later a varnish base. He developed a strong knowledge of color over the decades, and understood the intricacies of pigments and the different behaviors of one color from another when mixed. He would change colors in an edition, Lopez writes, and added or omitted blocks so that numbers in an edition were often unique from one another rather than perfect duplicates.
Baumann would often begin each composition as a color sketch or a simple gouache rendering and use it as a guide. His process was done in the Japanese woodblock technique of carving separate blocks (he used basswood for its ease of carving) for each color used in the print, a time-consuming and painstaking process. According to Lopez, he worked with Japanese papers, too, early on, but eventually switched to cream laid paper. When the mill at German paper company J.W. Zanders was destroyed during World War II, Baumann switched to other products.
If you attended or performed in a Gustave Baumann marionette performance between 1933 and the final shows at the Museum of International Folk Art in 1959, or know someone who did, the museum would like to hear from you.
Baumann’s distinctive chop mark is a heart with a hand inside of it. It was made from a separate piece of carved wood, usually inked with orange for most of his prints. A dotted border that surrounds each composition is another feature unique to the work of Baumann.
As rich and detailed as the printing process itself was, it is the end results that enchant audiences. His evocative landscapes, portraits, and genre scenes are peculiar to the regions they evoke, but they possess an old-world quality that is bewitching.
Baumann was born in Magdeburg, Germany, about 100 miles west of Berlin, toward the end of the 19th century. He left with his family at age ten, arriving first in New York City but then settling in Chicago. Soon after moving to the Windy City, his father abandoned the family. He left school at sixteen and went to work in an engraving house, attending night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, as he began a career in commercial graphic design. In 1905, he traveled to Munich and studied color block printing at the School for Arts and Crafts. He began using his favored technique of using multiple blocks for a single print that same year. While in Europe, a German artistic style called jugendstil, rooted in English Art Nouveau and Japanese printmaking and aesthetics, influenced his work. After his studies abroad, he came back to the United States and eventually founded the Swanli Press in upstate New York in 1917, the year before he came to New Mexico.
A humble man, Baumann held warm relationships with other artists and often sought to promote and encourage them. His attitude was reflected in his chosen medium, the fine art print — among the most democratic of art forms. “He didn’t have any elevated opinion of himself,” Martin Krause, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and editor of Baumann’s autobiography, told Pasatiempo in 2015. Baumann was only in the eighth grade when he quit school, and he worked hard to prove himself in the commercial art business. “He always said that the one thing he was thankful to commercial art for was to be mindful of his customers, the people who were buying his art. He worked for them, essentially, which is certainly not an ego-driven personality at all,” Krause said. He discusses Baumann’s early years during the symposium.
Santa Fe was not Baumann’s original New Mexico destination. He had intended to settle in Taos, back when it was still an unincorporated village. Taos already had a thriving art scene that had attracted artists from across the country. Baumann knew some of them (Walter Ufer, Victor Higgins, and E. Martin Hennings) from his student days at the Art Institute. But not long after his arrival in Santa Fe, the Art Gallery of the Museum of New Mexico (now known as the New Mexico Museum of Art) presented a traveling exhibition of his work, and he found he preferred the diversity of Santa Fe to that of Taos. He settled across the street from painter B.J.O. Nordfeldt, another of his Chicago acquaintances whom he also knew from the San Francisco Exposition of 1915. At that event, Nordfeldt won a silver medal for his artwork and Baumann took the gold for a woodblock print.
He enjoyed a long-term relationship with the fine art museum in Santa Fe, and was even, for a while, engaged in studio work in the museum’s basement. He was given the work space in exchange for helping Sam Hudelson, a museum custodian, build furniture and mount shows. “He was only there for a short time and left because, he said, you can’t get any work done in a museum,” Leech said. “People are always coming to borrow your tools.”
Baumann’s reputation as a printmaker grew after a prolific period of productivity in the 1920s. During the Great Depression, however, many artists found themselves jobless. Programs such as the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) aimed to get them back to work. Divided into 16 national regions, the project designated Santa Fe as the administrative headquarters for Region Thirteen. Archaeologist Jesse Nusbaum was its director, and, lacking a strong background in art, he appointed Baumann as the area coordinator.
According to Clinton Adams, author of Printmaking in New Mexico: 1890-1990 (University of New Mexico Press, 1991), Baumann’s job was to keep track of artists’ progress and encourage them in their work. But the program ended in 1934, less than six months after it was first instituted. The Federal Art Project, funded by the Works Progress Administration, took its place starting in 1935. Printmaking continued to flourish under such programs, in part because it allowed the general public access to original, affordable works of art in years of economic instability.
Lopez contends that it also provided a means to capture, visually, the human and environmental impact of the Depression. “For many New Mexican artists, participation in the programs was practical and necessary for survival,” she writes, “but it also involved a patriotic commitment that connected them to what it meant to be a worker and what it meant to participate in democracy.” She cites Baumann’s 1934 PWAP report, in which he states, “My own interest in assuming a share in the direction of the project was prompted by the hope that the artists as a group might be the first to really accept Washington in the light of the New Deal and by doing so actually feel themselves a responsible part of the government, rather than looking upon it as an obliging milch cow conveniently matured in inexhaustible clover.”
A large number of artists participated in the federal programs, and Lopez writes that their activities lent legitimacy and viability to the artistic professions while also democratizing art and putting food on the table. But she mentions drawbacks: A stifling of creative expression due to the expectation that notable artists working in established traditions should continue to do so rather than experiment. But Baumann did continue to experiment and adapted different formal qualities for works that fell within particular themes. His idyllic, enchanting landscapes of New Mexico, for instance, often contrasted with the starker visuals of his treatment of Native American subjects, such as in his renderings of ceremonial dances. “Many of his woodblock prints of Pueblo peoples and lands verged on the abstract and the surreal,” Lopez writes. One sees in these works a more modernist treatment of the subject.
Lopez gives examples of how his work changed over the years. She refers to Summer Clouds (1925), a simple scene depicting an old adobe home against a blue sky where two figures engage in conversation from opposite sides of a fence. It incorporated a bright palette, implied details, and flat masses of color that brought a cohesive sense of balance to the overall composition. This seems characteristic of his early work in New Mexico. “Later on, Baumann’s prints featured more intimate settings with softer floral motifs,” she writes, citing his woodblock print Spring Blossoms from 1950. The print stands out for Baumann’s use of metallic leaf for the sky. He was, Lopez states, among the first artists in the United States to use metallic leaf in his printmaking.
Spring Blossoms has been used in posthumous exhibits of the artist’s work to provide viewers with a sense of Baumann’s process. The New Mexico Museum of Art maintains it in its collection along with the original blocks (he typically had about four or five for each composition) and the simple print, when shown with the blocks, gives a clear impression of how he developed each work.
The museum is the ideal co-sponsor for the symposium, not only because of Baumann’s history with the institution but because they hold the largest collection of his works, including the majority of his New Mexico-themed color woodcuts, sketchbooks, progressive series of prints with the associated blocks, numerous paintings in oil and gouache, advertising materials, illustrations, and other woodcuts made for family and friends. In addition, the museum has memorabilia, photographs, postcards, scrapbooks, and over 60 of the artist’s marionettes as well as the set designs, scripts, and stage props for the marionette performances. The collection includes more than 500 objects, the majority of which Jane Baumann gifted to the museum after his death.
His stipulation that the press continue to be used, however, made the Palace Press an ideal repository for some of his materials, as well. How the Palace of the Governors came by the other studio items on view at the Press was largely through happenstance. Cultural historian and curator William Wroth discovered an old wooden crate with Baumann’s name on it on his property. He contacted Leech and asked if he was interested in seeing it. “I drove over there,” Leech said. “It had been in his garage for years, and he was giving it away to someone else and was lifting it into the guy’s truck when he saw the name and said, ‘You can’t have it,’ and called me.”
According to Leech, Wroth wasn’t sure how the empty crate ended up in his possession, but the house next door had belonged to Helen Gentry, a publisher and friend of the Baumanns. There was an old swimming pool on the Gentry property full of stuff from Baumann’s studio. She had acquired it after the death of Jane Baumann, but was in need of a permanent place to store all the materials. When Gentry’s nieces, Rita and Linnea Gentry, took over maintenance of the house, they drained the pool, dug a trench to create an entrance, and put a roof over it. Leech was invited to view the materials. He was looking for one particular component: a tympan, a stretched cloth set in a wood frame that folded over the press and was used to add more pressure during the printing process. The tympan from Baumann’s press was missing. “I not only found what I was looking for but a lot of this other stuff, too, Leech said. “I realized I could probably put together a facsimile of the Baumann studio, and so that’s what we did.” ◀
“A Gathering for Gus”
A two-day symposium on the life and work of Gustave Baumann
Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28-29
Tickets are available at ticketssantafe.org.
Friday, Sept. 28
Check-in, New Mexico History Museum lobby (113 Lincoln Ave.)
Introductions and announcements — Tom Leech
Keynote speaker Nancy Green discusses Gus Baumann’s career and Jane Baumann
Speaker Martin Krause discusses Baumann’s early days
11:15 a.m.-12 p.m.
Speaker Gala Chamberlain discusses work on the Baumann catalogue raisonné
Curator Christian Waguespack discusses Baumann’s paintings
Conservationist Maureen Russell discusses marionette construction and conservation
Palace Press director Tom Leech discusses Baumann’s tools and techniques
Closing remarks and announcements
Catered evening reception in the NMHM lobby
Saturday, Sept. 29
Morning welcome and announcements
Mac Watson and John Eddy present a film on the Baumann house
Break-out group tours to rotate between:
Fray Angélico Chávez History Library and Collections to view
Baumann’s holiday cards and ephemera with Jean Moss
The Palace Press with James Bourland and Tom Leech
The New Mexico Museum of Art collection with
Michelle Gallagher Roberts on the stage at the St. Francis Auditorium (107 W. Palace Ave.)
Tour of the galleries at the New Mexico Museum of Art by curator Christian Waguespack
Books and archives at the New Mexico Museum of Art with librarian Rebecca Potance
Closing remarks and Q&A on the stage at the St. Francis Auditorium
Tour 1 of the Baumann house (409 Camino de las Animas), with Elaine Bergman and Mac Watson (for up to 25 people)
Tour 2 of the Baumann house, with Elaine Bergman and Mac Watson (for up to 25 people)