The historic impact of the Print Center of Philadelphia, the oldest organization in the United States devoted to promoting graphic arts, will be celebrated in two projects organized by sister cultural organizations in the city this summer. Prized Impressions: Gifts from the Print Center of Philadelphia, an exhibition on view in the Berman-Stieglitz Galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from July 12 through September 14, 1997, will feature more than 100 prints and ten photographs illustrating the Print Center's long-term commitment to innovation and experimentation in printmaking and photography. At the same time, a systematic investigation of extensive archival documents relating to the Print Center will commence at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a process that will illuminate the Print Center's rich and varied exhibition history during the past eight decades.
Organized by Thomas Loughman, National Endowment for the Arts Curatorial Intern, supervised by John Ittmann, Curator of Prints, the works in Prized Impressions have been selected from over 1000 given by the Print Center to the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1929. The exhibition spans five centuries of printmaking: from a pair of virtuoso Mannerist portraits dated 1589 by Hendrik Goltzius to Edouard Manet's 1875 set of haunting Impressionist scenes illustrating Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven"; from an embittered Expressionist self-portrait of 1918 by Max Beckmann to a provocative Pop-Art image from 1960 by Jasper Johns. The Print Center's support of contemporary photography since 1980 is exemplified by such prizewinners as Don Camp and Emmet Gowin. Among recent gifts to the Museum are prints created by Robert Cumming and Art Spiegelman during an artists' residency program devised by the Print Center to allow leading artists to work with outstanding master printers in the Philadelphia area.
The Print Center's close association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art began in 1929 with the endowment of the Charles M. Lea purchase prize for prints to be donated to the Museum. In 1928 the Museum had already received as a memorial gift 4800 prints collected by Charles M. Lea and his father Henry C. Lea, an acquisition that formed the foundation of the Museum's print holdings. The Print Center's prestigious Lea Prize has inspired several generations of collectors and artists to designate exhibition awards that recognize excellence in printmaking and photography while continuing to enrich the Museum's collections. In recent years Museum purchase prizes have been sponsored by George Bunker, Josef Jaffe, Ann and Donald W. McPhail, Harvey S. Shipley Miller, J. Randall Plummer, and many other generous patrons. In 1942 the Print Center established a permanent collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Now numbering more than 1000, the Print Center's gifts to the Museum include prize-winning works from all eight decades of juried exhibitions held at the Print Center. In addition, funds contributed by Print Center members have added rare masterpieces of printmaking to the collection, dramatically expanding the range of the Museum's holdings.
The Print Center's archives are on deposit at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. A current grant from The Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission now makes it possible to begin to investigate this resource of rich potential for cultural and art historians, students, and artists. As a first step, art historian V. Scott Dimond will compile a comprehensive chronological roster of artists who participated in exhibitions held at the Print Center during its long life.
One of the oldest institutions of its kind, the Print Center was founded in 1915 as The Print Club of Philadelphia. The recent change of the institution's name to the Print Center was made to reflect more accurately its ongoing mission as a non-profit organization that supports printmaking and photography as vital contemporary arts and encourages the appreciation of the printed images in all its forms.