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Bertha Jaques: Eye on the World

May 25 - September 15, 2013

Bertha Jaques, The Bridge – Japan, 1909, drypoint, Museum purchase, 88.9.68.
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Accomplished printmaker and photographer Bertha Jaques is perhaps best known for her prints of wildflowers and ferns. Her interest in this subject matter grew out of her desire to present something that was not only beautiful to behold, but also promoted wildflower preservation. Jaques’ interest in environmental issues was only one way in which she was a pioneering woman artist. Not only did Jaques succeed in a field dominated by male artists, she helped popularize etching in America. Jaques’ full impact on printmaking and photography at the dawn of the twentieth century is still under-recognized and ripe for reappraisal.

Born Bertha Clausen in Covington, Ohio in 1863, Jaques lived in Cedar Rapids from 1885 to 1889. She did not come to printmaking until she was in her 30s when, in 1893, she attended the Chicago Columbian Exposition where she saw prints by such notable artists as James Abbott McNeil Whistler, James Tissot, and Anders Zorn. She became immediately interested in the etching technique and her surgeon husband (an 1883 graduate of Cornell College whom she met in Mt. Vernon) fashioned tools out of surgical instruments so she could etch copper printing plates. With the purchase of a printing press, Jaques made her first etching in Chicago in 1894. Her interest in printmaking never waned and her home and studio were the setting of many artistic events. Jaques was one of the founders of the Chicago Society of Etchers in 1910, serving as its secretary/treasurer for 27 years. During her 46-year career, she created 461 prints and more than 1,000 cyanotype photographs. Although largely self-taught, Jaques was an influential teacher and mentor, authoring a book, Concerning Etchings, in 1912. Also an accomplished poet, Jaques self-published a number of volumes of her poetry.

As a graphic artist, Jaques’ body of work can be divided between black-and-white prints of landscapes—both Midwestern and from her foreign travels—and her botanical prints, many of which were hand colored. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is fortunate to possess not only nearly every print Jaques created, but also several states of certain prints, which allows viewers to see the evolution of Jaques’ thought process within a single print. In addition, the collection contains many cyanotypes of botanical subjects as well as Jaques’ archive, filled with personal photographs, correspondence, and essays and lectures.

In 2013, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of her birth, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art will present three successive exhibitions: one of her botanical prints and cyanotypes, one of her images of foreign locales, and one of her domestic scenes, including her beloved Chicago. In this way, repeat visitors will be able to gain a better sense of the artist’s breadth and depth of production. Only then can a proper re-appraisal of her place in the history of printmaking be properly considered.

This exhibition has been made possible in part by the Momentum Fund of The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.





Commentary

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