Our featured piece this month is the seminal 1937 print “Miner’s Head” by Blanche Grambs. This aquatint illustrates perfectly the first requirement of good printmaking—that the subject should determine the medium.
Blanche Grambs, Miner’s Head
signed in pencil
scarce; edition of about 25
14 ¾ x 11 ¼ inches
Text from Stephen Coppel, 'The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock', with the assistance of Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski, BMP, 2008, no. 79.
In 1936 Grambs made a study trip with her former teacher Harry Sternberg to the coalfields of Lanceford, Pennsylvania. She stayed with a mining family and was given permission to enter the mineshafts. In direct response to this experience, in 1937 she produced a group of ten prints in aquatint and etching which were published by the New York City WPA/FAP in editions of about twenty-five.
Miner's Head is her only print produced by aquatint alone, which she more commonly used with etching. The coarse aquatint grain in this print evokes the gritty coal dust and the dark and dangerous conditions of working deep inside the mines. The black depths are barely illuminated by the lamp on the miner's hard hat, and his gaunt face and blank stare express his physical exhaustion. Through the use of a crusty aquatint Grambs creates an effect of choking dust, the cause of the debilitating illnesses from which many miners suffered.
From Broad Strokes, the NMWA blog; posted November 12, 2010; written by Lindsay Amini
Drawing inspiration from the social and economic conditions of the Great Depression, American illustrator and printmaker Blanche Grambs incorporated the struggles of the New Deal era into her work. Grambs studied at the Art Students League of New York, a progressive institution where teachers often encouraged students to integrate socially driven messages into their assignments. Guided by her conviction that artists’ work could combat societal ills, Grambs created prints of jobless and homeless people, as well as industrial workers and miners. While she only produced prints for a short period of time in the 1930s, she is best known for these intaglios, lithographs, and relief prints.