We have two new prints in our collection, both white line-woodcuts by Pia Oste-Alexander. White-line woodcuts are one of the only printmaking processes that developed in America. The Provincetown Printers, a small group of Massachusetts printers working in the early 20th century, experimented and honed the process of printing a color woodcut from a single block of wood, as opposed to the multiple blocks used in traditional Japanese woodcuts.
The Provincetown Printers used only a single block, with different areas of color separated by a thin, carved groove to keep the colors from running together. On the finished print, the groove “printed” as a white line separating the colors (hence the alternate name “white-line” woodcut).
These prints are very distinctive and are often confused with watercolors because of the soft colors employed. Of the original Provincetown 1916 group, some artists such as Blanche Lazzell, Agnes Weinrich and Ada Gilmore produced a large body of work in this medium. Others worked at it for only a short time and produced few prints.
The process itself is very laborious, as each section of color must be applied separately. Registration of the paper to the block is essential; any shifting of the paper can allow the colors to bleed into one another. In many ways, each print, even is printed off the same block, is unique. The wood and paper can absorb varied amounts of inked color each time. Artists will also employ different colors on additional printings, and sometimes cut more grooves on later printings, thus changing the overall composition.
Pia Oste-Alexander is very well-known for her woodcuts. She studied Japanese Wood-Block Printing & White Line Wood-block at the Women’s Studio Workshop, Rosendale, NY. In her artist statements, Oste-Alexander states, “To me it is important to see the mark of the hand in works of art. I find the combination of carved wood and brush applied watercolor satisfying.”