To get to the Deem Print Gallery of the Art Museum of West Virginia University, you walk through the John and Ruth McGee Gallery displaying the Independent Vision: Self-Taught Artists from Appalachia exhibit. The space is full of brightly hued, hand crafted sculptures, paintings and quilts, lined by complementary walls of blue, red and yellow.

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Thus you feel a bit spirited as you are met with the royal shade of purple entryway welcoming you into Studio Window: The Prints of Grace Martin Taylor exhibit in the back. There is pleasant informative text here introducing viewers to the printmaker (1903-1995) who was born near Morgantown, graduated from WVU in 1928, and studied with her cousin, internationally known American modernist Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956), also a West Virginia native. The text explains that like Lazell, Taylor employed the white-line color woodblock print.

Viewers then can witness some of the breadth of her work through several of these prints, of which the Museum holds the only complete set of (this is also the first time a complete set of her white-line prints have been exhibited!). The majority of the work on view are smaller, perhaps 12×18” color woodblock print on paper works, the process of which is also summarized on a panel inside the gallery, and exemplified with two of her carved blocks aside the resulting prints.

Taylor’s style definitely emits a similar vibe of her cousin Lazell, not only with line quality, format and color, but with familiar Morgantown scenes, such as Elizabeth Moore Hall, Monongahela River, Trinity Church and South Hills. The scenes exude warmth with rounded hills and simplified abstract buildings, though without figures. There are also several still-lifes, and figurative works, which seem to evoke multiple style influences like geometric abstraction, neo-classicism and perhaps even Japonisme.

Lazzell, too, explored with many styles as can be seen in the gallery upstairs.  There is a brief explanation of the cousins’ relationship and their developing careers. There is also a fantastic array of personal items, letters, photographs and smaller linoleum prints in a case along with a description of the linoleum print method, providing a further understanding of the artist, her process and time period.

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Overall, the exhibit is definitely pristinely displayed with some nice information, and obviously an impressive set of prints by a talented West Virginia artist.  There does not seem to be an aesthetic narrative; landscapes, figures and still lifes are juxtaposed. This provides an interesting conversation but also a want for more; the Museum boasts not only the collection of Lazzell prints upstairs which could provide an interesting visual discourse with some of Taylors, but they hold over 3,000 international works that, if interspersed, could provoke more critical conversation about Taylor and her work.

 



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To be sure, resources and time are always a factor. The Art Museum of West Virginia University, just opened last fall, brings an outstanding addition to the community, not just with their exhibitions and Nath Sculpture Garden but with growing educational programming. Art expands perspectives and is vital to fostering a vibrant community. As a relatively new Morgantown resident, I’m thrilled to be able to walk around the galleries for free (yes! Free! Go!), take in the art and start such discussion. I look forward to what is next and thank the Museum and all the arts organizations for making it possible!

Moreover, Taylor dedicated her life to teaching art in West Virginia at the University of Charleston for forty years.  This is not just an enjoyable array of art, but a visual legacy of an important West Virginian that we should all recognize and appreciate. Go see it for yourself and post your thoughts!

Studio Window: The Prints of Grace Martin Taylor, is on view at the Art Museum of West Virginia, 2 Fine Arts Drive in Morgantown, through December 15, 2016. For more information and gallery hours visit http://artmuseum.wvu.edu/.

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Sally Deskins recently obtained an MA in art history from West Virginia University. She is a writer, artist and curator. Her writing has been published in Hyperallergic, n.paradoxa and Peripheral Vision Arts. She curates the online journal, Les Femmes Folles, a platform for women in art. She hopes to write much more about the arts in Morgantown. Send comments and ideas to sallydeskins@yahoo.com.

Photo Credits: Jenna LaPointe



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