New Mexico artist Gustave Baumann's color prints on exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art
By Chadd Scott
Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) - Deer Hunt | Woodblock Print | 6.5'' x 39.5'' | c. 1940
In one way – as a brilliant artist – Gustave Baumann differs greatly from the millions of people who have enjoyed the artwork he created over 50 years living in Santa Fe.
In another way – as someone who visited New Mexico from the Midwest, fell in love with the area and moved there – his story mirrors many of his admirers who would subsequently make the same decision through the decades. Countless others dreamed of doing so, but never did.
Baumann’s vibrant wood block prints depict the New Mexico – and West – which reside in those dreams. Those dreams unfold on paper through May 2 at the Cleveland Museum of Art which displays 65 color woodcuts and 26 drawings by the artist during its exhibition, “Gustave Baumann: Colorful Cuts.”
“Golden aspens in the fall shimmering in the breeze, deer dwarfed by giant redwoods, the colors and majesty of the Grand Canyon, Baumann’s color woodcuts capture all of this and more,” Jane Glaubinger, CMA’s retired curator of prints and exhibition curator told “Essential West.” “There is a universality in appreciating the beauty of nature, a dense grove of eucalyptus in Laguna Beach, California or the awe-inspiring panorama of the Grand Canyon where he creates an illusion of the expansive space and a convincing effect of light playing over the rock formations.”
Gustave Baumann becomes a New Mexico artist
Baumann (1881-1971) was born in Germany, living there until the age of 10 when his family immigrated to Chicago where he would spend his formative years. Bucking stereotypes, Baumann’s artwork received almost instantaneous commercial and critical success.
The artist later moved to Indiana for a series of years and then briefly to Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. Baumann had seen a lot of green in his life before his first visit to New Mexico in 1918. That first impression must have been an extraordinary one. Colors and landscapes his eyes could scarcely imagine.
Long before color photographs of the area became widely accessible – or any photographs for that matter of the still wild and wooly territory, New Mexico did not become a state until 1922 – the area must have seen outrageously exotic. And alluring.
Same as it has been for thousands of Easterners drawn to the area. Right on the heels of the Taos Founders. Thirty years before Georgia O’Keeffe made the move.
We don’t have to guess what Baumann thought of Santa Fe or the West. A unique aspect of “Colorful Cuts” is its incorporation of his writings, quoted throughout the exhibition, which reveal his inner life, thoughts about the area and his artwork.
“I let Baumann speak for himself as much as possible throughout my (wall) labels, revealing his inner life and thoughts about art,” Glaubinger said. “He talks a lot about his artistic process and sometimes his frustrations.”
“My studio really is a shop, thus I am a craftsman by choice and an artist by accident. Since the two are closely related, I’ve always felt that need for combining them to the point where they merge into a unit.”
– Gustave Baumann
Gustave Baumann’s color prints in Cleveland
The quotations come via Gala Chamberlain’s definitive book on Baumann published in 2019 along with a catalogue raisonné of his color woodcuts, “In a Modern Rendering: The Color Woodcuts of Gustave Baumann.”
“Gala quotes Baumann throughout her book extensively as he left a lot of unpublished writings which divulge his wonderful sense of humor, love of life, and love of his craft,” Glaubinger said. “He must have been a most delightful person, very humble, very human.”
It was through Chamberlain that the Cleveland Museum of Art came to possess its bounty of Baumann artworks, a 2005 gift from the artist’s daughter, Ann.
Glaubinger spent 41 years as curator or prints at CMA, meeting Ann Baumann upon introduction from Gala Chamberlain. Ann and Chamberlain both lived in Santa Rosa, California. Gala and her husband owned an art gallery there, The Annex Galleries, which represented Baumann’s estate.
“Every time I was in San Francisco, I took a trip to Santa Rosa to visit with Ann, and we became friends,” Glaubinger recalls.
Surprisingly, Cleveland also has a long relationship with Baumann’s work.
“The CMA was one of the venues for the first traveling exhibition of Baumann‘s color woodcuts in 1918 and a venue for a show of color woodcuts that Baumann organized (it contained eight of his own prints) in 1920,” Glaubinger said. “In addition, we were a venue for a show of Baumann’s color woodcuts in 1987 organized by The Museum of Fine Arts Santa Fe (now the New Mexico Museum of Art).”
Gustave Baumann - "Grand Canyon, 1934" printed c. 1945. (American, b. Germany, 1881–1971). Color woodcut; image: 32.3 x 32.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund, 1987. 201. © Ann Baumann Trust
Gustave Baumann’s color prints come to life
The works, most of which have never been on view at the CMA, provide a comprehensive survey of Baumann’s long, productive career. The exhibition illustrates how he worked and features his color woodcuts and drawings inspired by the landscapes, architecture and cultures of not only New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California, but Illinois, Indiana and New York as well.
Baumann did everything himself, including cutting a block for each color, mixing inks and printing. The exhibition features Summer Clouds (1926), the only print in the collection for which the museum has the woodblocks and both the color proofs and the progressive proofs. This allows visitors to understand how Baumann printed layers of color to achieve rich effects.
“The colors are so vibrant because Baumann mixed his own inks, controlling which pigments and binders he used,” Glaubinger explains. “He said, ‘a knowledge of color needs to be acquired since they don’t all behave the same way when ground or mixed...careful chemistry goes into the making of colors, with meticulous testing for permanence. While complicated formulae evolve new colors, those derived from Earth and metal bases are still the most reliable.’”
Gustave Baumann’s love for Santa Fe
Their remarkable beauty aside – and no greater reason be required – Glaubiner finds another reason for Baumann’s work to resonate with contemporary audiences.
“Baumann was attracted to living in Santa Fe because of the cultural diversity,” she said. “He was extremely interested in Native American culture, attended many of the ceremonies at various Pueblos and collected kachina dolls and pottery. Many of his prints depict the rituals of traditional Native American life as well as Roman Catholic Colonial-era churches. I think today’s audiences are particularly interested in images of a variety of cultures.”
Gustave Baumann - "San Geronimo Taos, 1924" printed after 1932. (American, b. Germany, 1881–1971). Color woodcut; image: 18.2 x 15.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Ann Baumann, 2005.437. © Ann Baumann Trust