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National Exhibition of Prints (1943-1977) at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress hosted an annual series of juried shows as part of its acquisition program for fine prints. This guide details their history and helps you discover artists, jurors, and artist prints featured and/or acquired.

Introduction

Sixteenth National Exhibition of Prints at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.. 1958. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Beginning when venues for national, juried American print exhibitions were relatively rare, the Library of Congress helped increase appreciation for artist prints by organizing and mounting a series of 25 shows called the National Exhibition of Prints between 1943 and 1977. These shows engaged new audiences with the art of printmaking in a spectrum of styles from Social Realism to Abstract Expressionism and wide-ranging techniques that included lithographs, woodcuts, etchings, engravings, and screenprints. The exhibits also traced such 20th century phenomena as the postwar "Print Renaissance," the rise of collaborative workshop practice, and more. Significantly, the shows were a valuable source for selecting modern and contemporary prints to expand the permanent collection of fine prints in the Prints & Photographs Division. This research guide will help you locate the names of artists selected and rejected for each exhibition and also study trends in American graphic arts as documented in the exhibition catalogs, microfilms of the prints, and specific works added to the Library’s collections.

During the 35-year exhibition period, over 4,600 prints were displayed and cited in the catalogs. The art works were primarily by American artists and also by printmakers from Mexico, Cuba, Canada, and a few other countries. Prints & Photographs Division staff worked with the National Exhibition of Prints jurors, who included such renowned artist/printmakers as John Taylor Arms, Fritz Eichenberg, Clare Leighton, Michael Mazur, Clare Romano, Benton Spruance, and many others. Jurors chose prints to be exhibited, and from those, purchase prizes were awarded for prints that were added to the Library's collection using a special fund bequest from the artist Joseph Pennell (1857-1926).

The Library acquired more than 500 prints or approximately 10% of the prints exhibited. Highlights include work by such luminary creators as Leonard Baskin, Isabel Bishop, Sam Gilliam, Lorenzo Homar, Martin Lewis, Sister Mary Corita Kent, Rockwell Kent, and Robert Motherwell, to name a few. The National Exhibition of Prints was an annual event at the Library from 1943 to 1960. The next several shows were mounted every three years, and the final four opened on a biennial basis until 1977 with the last three cosponsored by the Library of Congress and Smithsonian National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian Museum of American Art).

The Library's collection of fine prints includes close to 75,000 artists' engravings, etchings, woodcuts, lithographs, and screenprints, acquired through selected gifts, copyright deposits, and purchases. Along with its multi-format, interdisciplinary collections including poetry, literature, music, and film, the Library of Congress is a primary repository for visual collections with over 16.5 million photographs, fine art and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings.