Robert Blackburn

During my weekly visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art I was pleasantly surprised to see a newly-hung lithograph titled Blackburn. In the lithograph by Ron Adams (an artist heretofore unknown to me) I instantly recognized my former mentor Robert Blackburn. Adams portrays Robert doing what he was always doing: working a printing press. I never saw him outside of his beloved Printmaking Workshop surrounded by presses, inks, proofs, and half-finished editions.

Blackburn by Ron Adams

Blackburn by Ron Adams

The big-hearted Robert was like many printmakers I’ve had to good fortune to know: generous with their time and fortune, and passionate about their craft. The complex and magic-filled craft of printmaking attracts and holds a certain type of artist. Robert epitomized this type: consumed with drawing and filled with respect for the demanding–and sometimes dangerous–discipline of printmaking. Above all, he was passionate about printmaking, like I said.

Robert, who died in 2003 at the age of 82, founded The Printmaking Workshop in 1948. He was the head, heart, and soul of the Workshop. When I worked there in the ’80’s, it was still in its original location at 55 West 17th St in Manhattan. The workshop was a cooperative but Robert kept an open door for struggling artists like me who couldn’t afford even the modest (for New York!) fees. He gave me a job tending the litho and etching presses in exchange for using the shop. I produced several editions there. Oftentimes I’d arrive early to clean the shop and find Robert sleeping soundly on one of the big press beds.

Here’s a NY Times article about the Workshop from around the time I was there in 1988. The workshop lives on today at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, which is located at 323 West 39th St. between 8th and 9th in Manhattan.


[Photo mine but work copyright the artist.]

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