1935 Linoleum Block Print on Paper 12.75"x15.5" framed, 5.5"x8.25" unframed
This linoleum block print on paper couple scene is signed and dated in the lower left (please read the details below about serious questions that exist around the validity of the artist and date). Excellent vintage condition. Framed in a contemporary wood frame with a monochrome striped face and black sides using archival matting behind conservation clear glass.
About the Artist
This is the bizarre story of both a strange scam and a body of remarkable, original work: Earl M. Washington (1862-1952) was an African-American master wood-engraver and printer who between the early 1900s and the time of his death had amassed and printed from one of the largest collections of artists' wood blocks in the United States. Washington's career began at the age of 13, when he was apprenticed at a Southern printing shop. In 1880 Washington moved to New York, but encountered racial and social prejudice which barred him from employment at the larger printing shops in the city. Eventually finding a position in a small shop on the Lower East Side, Washington went on to perfect his skills as a master printer.
Washington's collection of wood blocks began accidentally, with blocks collected from the fire-ravaged print shop of a fellow-carver and friend. As he continued his printing work, Washington's circle of acquaintanceship widened, and he began to receive blocks from many different artists and publishers. These included the work of Hale Woodruff, (1900-1980) whom Washington met and befriended; Eric Gill, Lynd Ward, Rockwell Kent, M. C. Escher, Robert Gibbings, and others. Washington printed impressions for each of the wood engraved blocks in his collection, and in some instances, he used the designs of other artists to create new engraved blocks.
It turns out that this "find" was the result of an elaborate scam perpetrated by this printmaker's supposed great-grandson, also named Earl M. Washington. The evidence is overwhelming that even if the first E.M. Washington did exist and was a printmaker (both uncertain), he was neither the maker nor printer of these prints. Instead it is clear that the maker of these prints is the current E.M. Washington, who made "original" woodblock copies of prints by the famous printmakers who were supposed to be the friends of his alleged great-grandfather. Each of these prints is signed "E.M. Washington," which though said to be by the great-grandfather is certainly the signature of the great-grandson, and they are dated with dates when they were supposed to be printed, a clear misrepresentation.
Although this collection is the product of this art scam, the prints are most interesting in that history. The eagerness with which they were initially accepted speaks to the growing modern interest in the work of early African-American artists and artisans. Though we know now that they are not what they seemed, these prints are still very good "original" copies of some very fine wood block prints, especially those of African-American figures and subjects.
About the Collector
John A. Dauer (1933-2017) was a collector of many things, the vast majority of which convey stories of hard work, craftsmanship, industry, unsung histories, and associations with those he loved and respected.
Born and raised on Staten Island, New York in 1933, John grew up among a close-knit family of entrepreneurial bakers, wood carvers, and leather merchants. He graduated in 1954 from Columbia College with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. He went on to work with his father John Sr., at the New York City-based John A. Dauer Leather Company.
During and after his undergraduate studies, John enrolled in painting, print making, and sculpture classes at Columbia, the New School for Social Research, and Greenwich House. Many of his teachers (including Margot Kempe and Peppino Mangravite) were recent European emigres and WPA artists, sympathetic to the themes of social realism and late modernism.
Although he made his living and supported his family as a leather salesman, John consistently maintained an interest in, and passion for, the creative work of artists and craft people throughout his life. The subjects and scale of his collecting varied over the years (from large 18th century cupboards to hand carved fishing lures), but let’s just say his houses and barns often resembled mini-Mercer Museums.
During his last 2 decades, John focused his collecting efforts on the work of print makers and painters who reminded him or were directly associated with those who influenced him during his New York youth. Images and the stories of sailors, stevedores, factory workers, craftsmen, pushcart vendors, musicians, stoop sitters, and artists abound.