Critics & the Exhibition

Seattle Times Reviews

The International Exhibition of Northwest Printmakers garnered more attention from the local media as it continued throughout the years, with a noticeable increase in its Seattle media presence in the 1960s before its discontinutation in the 1970s. Art critics in the The Seattle Times seemed to be in overall agreement about the positivity of the show. Many pointed out the shows' ability to make art more accessible to everyday people and not just art collectors, due to the lower cost of prints. In 1957, Thelma Lehmann wrote a lengthy Seattle Times piece commenting on the shows' ability to "retain its consistent high quality."[1] A 1959 article written by an art writer called "A.G.T.," discussed the "virtuosity" displayed at the Northwest Printmakers 30th International Exhibition and praised the show, saying:

The show is so large and of such high quality that anyone but a printmaker or an experienced collector might be bewildered by its extent. It seems likely, however, that any one of the multitude of expert offerings, if taken off by itself away from the competion of its neighbors, would prove to be a rewarding companion.[2]

In 1964, the novelist Tom Robbins, a Seattle Times art critic at the time, had an overall positive review of the show applauding the bold techniques he saw in printmaking: "The most permanent impression left by this show is that printmakers, many ignited by Glen Alps' invention of the collagraph, are following the charmer's pipes into a brave new world."[3]

In 1970 art critic, John Vorhees, applauded the Northwest Printmakers 41st International Exhibition calling it a "must-see" and saying:

In addition to this being a show to enjoy visually, most of these prints are very reasonably priced, one more reason why more and more people are turning to prints. One could have a half-dozen exciting prints from this show for what mediocre artists are selling mediocre paintings these days.[4]

Later Criticism by Tom Robbins

Prior to becoming a famous novelist, Tom Robbins was an art critic. He wrote for publications such as The Seattle TimesSeattle Magazine, Artforum, Art in America, and Art International.[5] In the February 1968 issue of Seattle Magazine, Robbins wrote a short criticism in The Arts column about the 39th Northwest Printmakers International Exhibition pointing out that the exhibition was more concerned with prints that have the approval of academics rather than prints that were representative of actual quality printmaking.[6] He wrote:

Although the likelihood of finding a few high-quality prints makes the exhibition worth a visit, none of its 100 or more works will bear the signature of an important artist: The exhibition is primarily a showcase for academia, and major league performers seldom risk playing in minor league company.[7]

In a letter to the Northwest Printmakers Society members, the then president, John Paul Morgan, expressed disagreement and disappointment in the remarks of Tom Robbins, pointing out that participants included undergraduate students, housewives, and hobbiests.[8] He ends his newsletter pointedly:

Some of the 'Avant Garde' IN people will be disgruntled with the "Big Moose" of Danny Pierce but when this print was lined up with all the rest of the prints, it was a natural winner. Perhaps the most honest expression in the show and definitely the finest piece of craftsmanship in the country. That man can work wonders with an engraved line. There was no argument in its merits - excuse us Mr. Robbins.[9]

Tom Robbins became a well-respected art critic, Morgan pointed this out himself in the letter to his members. In an oral history conducted by the Smithsonian Insitute, Tom Robbins describes himself as an art critic in 1965:

I got involved a lot in the Seattle art world and knew enough by then to have some valuable opinions, which I shared with those artists who respected them and... In fact, became so immersed in the Seattle art world that when I tried to break away to begin my first novel, what I'd wanted to do most in life, I had a very difficult time extricating myself from that milleu.[10]

The exhibition only continued for three more years after Robbins' criticism. However, archival letters of correspondence seem to indicate that it ceased to continue because of financial difficulties within the Northwest Printmakers Society,[11] although this is not certain. Despite Robbins's overall positive review in his 1964 Seattle Times piece of the 34th exhibtion, the 39th exhibition held in 1968 failed to get the nod from him.

[1] Thelma Lehmann, "Printmakers' Show Retains High Quality," Seattle Times, March 31, 1957: 61.

[2] A.G.T., "International Print Show is Long on Virtuosity," Seattle Times, February 15, 1959: 52.

[3] Tom Robbins, "Printmakers Walk on the Wild Side," Seattle Times, February 23, 1964: 40.

[4] John Vorhees, "'Decade of Prints' Starts at Pavilion," Seattle Times, March 1, 1970: C5.

[5] Tom Robbins, interview by Martha Kingsbury, Oral History Interview with Tom Robbins, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, March 3, 1984,

[6] Tom Robbins, "Prints Fit for a Prince," Seattle Magazine, February, 1968.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Craveurs Review comments by J. Morgan, 1968, Northwest Printmakers Records 1929-1970 (Box 1, Folder 10), University of Washington Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Tom Robbins, interview by Martha Kingsbury.

[11] Ed Merrill letter to members, 1970, Northwest Prinmakers Records 1929-1970 (Box 2, Folder 3), University of Washington Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries.

Critics & the Exhibition