Clare Smith ‘73 first enrolled in Knox College in her mid-sixties to try out art classes after her husband’s death. After raising children and being a devoted wife, she decided to follow her passions, and graduated four years later. Smith discovered her love for printmaking at Knox, and went abroad to France, where she studied under Stanley William Hayter at the Atelier 17. Hayter was one of the most significant printmakers of the 20th century, and founded the Atelier studio in Paris, which was frequented by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Joan Miro, among others.
Smith is one of the many female printmakers featured in the current permanent collection exhibition at The Galesburg Civic Arts Center, titled “Making an Impression: Women in Printmaking.” The exhibition features prints from women both local and international.
The exhibition was a collaboration between Curator Kathyrn Koca Polite, Director of the Art Center Tuesday Cetin and Knox Professor of Art and Art History Greg Gilbert. Upon looking at their permanent collection, comprising 600 pieces, they found that they had a large amount of outstanding prints, and many of them were made by women. They saw the exhibition as a great opportunity to showcase female printmakers in both Galesburg and internationally through their own personal collection, and a way to show these inspiring pieces to the public.
The gallery features a large number of female artists from both local locations and all over the world, with a wide variety of prints constructed from different techniques. These include etchings, drypoint and more.
“I just wanted to show that under this broad umbrella of printmaking, there are these very technical processes that different artists can take to get different aesthetic results,” Polite said.
Other internationally prominent artists include Josette Coras and Marie-Genevive Havel, of France, and Evelyn Dufour, of Canada. Artists prominent in modern and contemporary art include Helen Gerardia and Louise Nevelson. In their passion for preserving local history and art, the Civic Art Center chose to feature several artists from the Galesburg area, including Joanne Goudie, Gail Hintze and Smith.
Smith passed away in 1998, and the Galesburg Civic Art Center now owns several hundred of her prints, both for sale and in the permanent collection. Many of the pieces featured in the exhibition were donated by Smith, and originally given to her by her printmaking friends. There are often hand-written messages on the notes of the pieces, addressed to Smith as gifts.
“I find her life fascinating, because she [Smith] had sort of the ‘appropriate lifestyle’ for a woman: devoted mother, wife, and then said, ‘Okay now it’s my turn,’” said Cetin. “Somebody that age, you typically equate with someone who is slowing down, travelling, doing fun things. But to take courses, graduate with a degree, and then dive into the world of art is kind of an anomaly. You don’t typically see it. You see a development, late twenties, and then you kind of go off in the world, but not two lives, which is really why I love her work.”
Although the idea of the exhibition did not originally stem from the idea of showcasing women, both Cetin and Polite agree that it’s important to highlight female artists.
“I think, particularly for art centers, it’s important to show that women not only were important about the dissemination of art information, because usually there were ladies’ societies that got together to discuss important topics, and art was just one of them, but I think to actually do art, and be recognized for that, was extremely important,” Cetin said. “Because you do have, especially during a certain time period of American art É women understudies per se, who would work very hard on their art and then their male counterparts would present it É so I think for us to say these are women artists in their own right, that’s an important statement to make.”
Polite believes the aspect of gender should not be an issue in art.
“I don’t think gender has anything to do with being an artist, how creative you are, how technical your skills are, that doesn’t have anything to do with being an artist or being shown. It’s one of those ways to organize an exhibition. The art world is getting much better about showing gender equality, but we’re still not there yet, and I think sometimes it’s nice to highlight the women,” Polite said.
The creators of the exhibition hope it will both inspire people artistically, and help them realize the impact the Galesburg Civic Arts Center has on the preservation of history in the local region through artwork, which is considered to be the primary means of communication.
“I think more people think civic art centers are just this dropoff for housewife art, and it’s a nice-to-have, but we really are a have-to-have, and we preserve local history, especially regionalism,” said Cetin. “It should be valued, because it’s important to know where you came from, and art is how you relate to other people, it’s how you communicate where your society is in its developments, so the more we can keep and exhibit, the more we can explain who we are.”
The pieces are hanging in the main gallery of the Civics Arts Center until March 5, and all are welcome to come appreciate the artwork free of charge.