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Mount Shasta as a Visual Resource

Woodblock Artists:
Early 1900s

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The period between 1915 and 1930 was one of continued innovation in the portrayal of Mount Shasta. The Plein Air artists, as discussed in a previous chapter, were at the forefront of creative enterprise. At the same time, however, there were other developments entering into the art scene. The technique of woodblock printing was one of these develpments and it resulted in some of the most striking images of the mountain ever made.

Frank Morley Fletcher (1866-1949)

In 1923 Frank Morley Fletcher left his position as director of the Edinburgh College of Art to come to America to be the first director of the newly formed Santa Barbara School of the Arts. Already fifty-seven years old, he brought with him an English tradition of woodblock printing of which he himself was the major exponent. Already by1916 he had encapsulated his experience in a successful book titled Woodblock Printing.197 The Print Makers Society of California said of him:

To say anything about English blockprints and omit mention of the leader in that country's movement would be impossible. Mr. Frank Morley Fletcher was the man who brought the blockprint in England to its high development, and all English workers trace directly to his influence.198

Prints by Fletcher have been bought by the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Boston Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and even by the National Museums of Dresden and Budapest.199 Some of his California prints include scenes of Mount Shasta, the Salinas River, and Ojai. The influence of the Japanese blockprint style is undeniable in his blockprint of Mount Shasta. One would at first glance think that somehow the revered Mount Fuji had come to California.

Mount Shasta by Frank Morley Fletcher courtesy Montagne Collection.
Woodblock print of Mount Shasta by Frank Morley Fletcher.
From: Noticias, Quarterly Bulletin of the Santa Barbara Historical Society, Vol. XVI, No. 1, Winter 1970.

Frank Morley Fletcher. From:  Noticias, Quarterly Bulletin of the Santa Barbara Historical Society, Vol. XVI, No. 1, Winter 1970. As was the custom in block prints, each edition of a print was numbered and signed. In 1985, Christies Auction house offered for sale a Mount Shasta woodcut by Frank Morely Fletcher, on Japan paper, signed and titled in pencil, numbered 56/100. Thus at least 100 prints of Mount Shasta were made, though there was no illustration in the auction catalog to allow one to say with certainty that the print is the same as the one pictured here.

Another thing about Fletcher's influence on California culture is quite remarkable. Many of his Santa Barbara students became animators for the Walt Disney Studios. Since woodblock printing lends itself to large areas of solid color on the printed paper, it is therefore logical that the student training would lend itself to the production of the stillframes used in animated movies, those stillframes being likewise composed of large areas of solid color.

William Seltzer Rice (1873-1963)

William Seltzer Rice began his art career as a watercolorist and by 1914 was a member of the prestigious National Academy. At the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, in San Francisco, Rice became interested in the art of Japanese prints. From that time on he worked almost exclusively with woodblocks, though he relied on watercolors and pastels for sketching on location. In the studio he would carve the blocks, apply oil based inks with a sable brush, and press the Japanese paper by hand.

Mt. Shasta by Night by William Seltzer Rice. Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.
Woodblock print entitled 'Mt. Shasta by Night' by William Seltzer Rice (1873-1963).
Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.

He was the author of three books - Block Prints: How to Make Them (1929), Block Printing in the School (1941), and Portfolio of Block Prints (1932)200. He taught in the public school systems of the Bay area, and he also taught at the many art societies, including the San Francisco Art Association, the California Society of Print Makers, and the Prairie print Makers. He was considered to be a fine American artist and was listed in the important french Benezit encyclopedia of artists. His prints can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the Philadelphia Art Museum, and many other museums around the country. His work was shown at the seminal printmaker's exhibition at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair.

Rice wrote about his philosophy of printmaking and said:

...the viewpoint of the artist differs from that of the commercial printer. In hand printing, each print has a beauty and individuality of its own. The aim is not to produce editions in large quantities, all alike and uniform, but to obtain slight variations which give a personal character to each print. The making of color prints of this type is essentially a painter's performance. There is a great fascination about color experimentation. The real pleasure comes from seeing the same subject appear in different colors, the design gaining in interest with each new color scheme. Wonderful color effects may be obtained by continual experiments. It would almost seem, sometimes, that no block has ever spoken its last word when it comes to its final color scheme.201

His philosophy of experimentation also led to the small number of individual prints made from each block. Typically only ten or fifteen prints were made of any one carving.

Unfortunately, color prints were not popular in his own time, and Rice was forced to be pragmatic; he also made the typical black and white prints that were more saleable and acceptable to collectors and art critics. For Mount Shasta, both color and black & white prints were done. His 'Sunset Glow - Mt. Shasta' (c. 1926) with its bold solid colors, contrasts markedly with his equally effective but traditional black and white 'Mt. Shasta by Night'.


[197] Noticias. p. 5.

[198] Quoted in Noticias. p. 9.

[199] Noticias. p. 9.

[200] Chamberlain. p. 2.

[201] Ibid. p. 2.

 

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