Blanche Lazzell's Preparatory Drawing for The Monongahela at Morgantown
The art of the celebrated American modernist Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956) is distinguished by her lifetime of study and development in many media. She has enjoyed much attention in recent years as the true breadth and depth of her work has been revealed. Lazzell's passion, heart and inventiveness are nowhere more evident than in her masterful white line color woodcuts, which have caught the eye of museums and collectors alike. As colorful as these prints are, they owe their distilled subject, form and composition to the preparatory drawings, which came first. These preparatory drawings are where the artist's ideas were first given form and refined. They offer us the most intimate insight into the creative process, and as such, they are in many ways the founding documents of an artist's achievement, and certainly worthy of deeper study and appreciation.
Here then, I offer the original finished preparatory drawing for one of Lazzell's finest prints: The Monongahela at Morgantown, of 1934, showing the glass factories, smoke-stacks and a water tower set against the gentle curves of the great river winding it's way between misty hills to a high horizon. One of three prints Lazzell composed for the WPAP, this commanding image of her native West Virginia brings together it's verdant past and the industrial present, with formal contrasts of soft organic and hard geometric form, sharp foreground and hazy distance. In this composition, Lazzell comes closest to an oriental aesthetic in her exploration of atmosphere and vast distance, which makes the tight staccato rhythms of the diagonally ascending factories all the more pleasing. The compression of accordion pleated rooftops here offers a dynamic contrast with the soft expansive hills above. Discreetly penciled color notations located throughout the drawing serve as reminders for the ensuing translation into a color woodcut.
While the formal compositional qualities of The Monongahela at Morgantown remain dramatic and pleasing, with this drawing Blanche Lazzell created an iconic image and symbol of American industry with a deeper meaning. Within it's contrasting forms we see industry's uneasy dance of compression and expansion upon the land, which is woven into our history and way of life; remaining very much in the news today. Lazzell's powerful drawing, created eighty years ago, continues to challenge and resonate with us today as we strive to find that elusive balance between industry and nature in our rapidly changing world.