Twice a year, a group of admittedly obsessive collectors meet for a âshow and tellâ. And sometimes, what members of the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Printing Company are the most enthusiastic can end up on the walls of museums in the region.
During the last gathering on January 13, at Leedy-Voulkos Art Gallery at Crossroads, members of the Print Society were huddled in front of colorful lithographs of Indian gods, vivid serigraphs of Amazonian birds, and 18th-century Italian engravings were on display for all to see.
âPeople like to see what other people collect, because we all have different tastes,â said Print Society president Paul Sokoloff, who has been collecting prints since high school. âPeople bring prints that I never want, and I bring prints that they never want, but it opens up a whole world to us.
The reasons collectors buy prints are as varied as the individuals who collect them.
Kathy Ashenbrenner, for example, owns several prints by the artist Roger brun. Known internationally, Brown is most closely associated with the Chicago Imagist School.
âI brought the print because I really love Roger Brown’s sky, and I also love it because it’s the ‘Family Tree Mourning’ print,â Ashenbrenner explained. âAnd these are all wars in the United States up to the time the print was made. So it touched my heart.
At these gatherings, each member has five minutes to talk about one or two prints. Karl Marxhausen brought a framed woodcut by Max Weber that his father left him because he wanted to know more about the artist.
âSomeone said, ‘If you’ve got a print and you don’t know anything about it, bring it. Someone will say something, âhe said when it was his turn to speak. “Does anyone know Max Weber?”
A murmur of excitement ran through the crowd, and John Mallery, who organizes these events, did a quick search on his phone.
“Weber’s early paintings reflect a fascination with futuristic themes, cubist space, and tawny color,” John Mallery read aloud. ” And it continues. Yes, he’s an important artist.
The Nelson-Atkins Print Society was founded four decades ago by George McKenna, the museum’s former curator of prints. The group’s mission, then and today, is to increase appreciation for prints and expand the collections of Nelson’s works on paper.
Stephanie Fox Knappe, Samuel Sosland’s curator of American art at Nelson, now serves as the group’s official liaison and closely monitors what they do.
âI learn something from every Show and Tell event,â Knappe says. “I’m learning new things about artists that I feel very comfortable with, and I’m exposed to artists that weren’t in my playbook.”
Collectors bring a different intensity to the art they buy, she notes.
âI live with art much of my day here at the museum. But it’s so wonderful to see and hear the personal stories of collectors about the connections (that they make with) these works of art that they live with, âsays Knappe.
The enthusiasm of a Print Society member can put an artist on Knappe’s radar. Currently there is an impression called “Fine Lines: Whistler and the revival of American printmaking, by Oklahoma artist Maurice Bebb, exhibited at Nelson.
It was Mallery who got Bebb’s attention to Knappe, and Mallery admits he can be obsessive. Prints, he says, can be like a drug entry into the art collection.
âSo if you really love an artist, you’re not going to spend thousands of dollars on a painting, but you can spend $ 100 or $ 150 on an engraving,â he says.
âIf you are a collector and have the disease, you will see the print and nothing will stop you from buying it below your price range,â Mallery says. âBut if it’s in your price range, I’m going to get that impression. It’s very sad, âhe laughs, which means it’s not at all sad.
Mallery is relatively new to the collection. He bought his first print just a few years ago, and he’s now 200. And later this month, the Albrecht-Kemper Museum in Saint Joseph will be presenting a special exhibition of works from his personal collection, “The Mirror of a Lifetime: The John Mallery Collection. “
âI’ve always been delighted to find that you can buy museum-quality prints without being a millionaire,â says Mallery. âAnd that’s kind of all about impressions. I mean, during the Depression, people like Thomas Hart Benton and a bunch of people doing prints – and they were selling for five dollars.
Collectors often ask Sokoloff if the prints are a good investment. But he advises people to collect for fun.
âTrain your eye,â he says, âand buy what you like. “
Julie Denesha is a photographer and freelance reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @juliedenesha.