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

Background: Joseph Pennell & the Exhibition

Joseph Pennell's Committee

Harris & Ewing, photographer. Joseph Pennell, the noted Philadelphia artist, etching the Wash. Episcopal Cathedral. 1923. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Often called the Dean of American Printmaking, Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) dedicated much of his life’s work to fostering graphic art in the United States. Pennell's 1924 bequest to the Library made provision for a special committee and fund to acquire "...original prints by modern artists of any nationality...of the highest excellence only" and made during the last 100 years (from the point of acquisition). Pennell stipulated that the acquisitions committee should include two eminent printmakers and a representative of the Library’s Prints & Photographs Division (P&P). Pennell Committee artist selections were to be made in consultation with the Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and curator from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (then called the National Gallery of Art).

Pennell's legacy is credited as a key impetus for inaugurating its series of national, juried print exhibitions in the foreword to the 1943 Catalog of the 1st National Exhibition of Prints : "As Pennell's heir, the Library of Congress is endeavoring to continue his service to the public and to his fellow artists by holding the present exhibition of prints." By 1947, the Fifth National Exhibition of Prints catalog foreword elaborated: "The Library of Congress, as heir to his estate, is endeavoring to fulfill the aim of Joseph Pennell to further the encouragement of the artists and to foster an interest in fine prints on the part of the public."

Between 1943 and 1977, the Pennell Committee selected prints to acquire for the Library's collection from the National Exhibition of Prints. After the National Exhibition of Prints was discontinued, the Pennell Committee has continued to meet every few years to recommend selected contemporary print acquisitions--typically between 15 and 20 works. In recent decades, the Committee has sought to increase representation by minority and women artists.

Pennell Committee artist advisors after the discontinuation of the Library's National Exhibition of Prints have included Jim Dine, Donald Jay Saff, Michael Mazur, Yvonne Jacquette, Jane Hammond, Dotty Attie, and Judy Pfaff. Their acquisition selections since the 1980s have included prints by Mary Lee Bendolph, Vija Celmins, Chuck Close, Enrique Chagoya, Nicole Eisenman, Tom Hammick, Alex Katz, Hung Liu, Whitfield Lovell, Kerry James Marshall, Henri Matisse, Martin Puryear, Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith, Alison Saar, Shahzia Sikander, May Stevens, and others.

Jurying the Exhibition

Library of Congress Photoduplication Service. Pennell Jury for Exhibit and Pennell Fund Committee. Photograph shows Jacob Landau, Adelyn Breeskin, Rudy Pozzatti, Alan Fern, and Elena Millie, at far right, and others, surrounded by prints for the Twentieth National Exhibition of Prints at the Library of Congress. 1966. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The National Exhibition of Prints generally had two sets of jurors: one jury determined which works were admitted to the exhibition ("Jury of Admission"), a second jury awarded purchase prizes ("Jury of Award"). The Library typically acquired prize-winning prints for the permanent collections.

The Jury of Admission was primarily composed of artists as well as art professors, curators, and museum directors. Representatives from leading Washington, DC institutions served on the first Jury of Admission in 1943: C. Powell Minnigerode from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Ruel P. Tolman from the National Collection of Fine Arts (now Smithsonian American Art Museum), Macgill James from the National Gallery of Art, and Marjorie Phillips of the Phillips Memorial Gallery (now the Phillips Collection). Artists whose work received purchase prizes often served as guest artist jurors on the Jury of Admission for subsequent National Exhibition of Prints, including Grace Albee, Edmond Casarella, Federico Castellón, Worden Day, Werner Drewes, Sue Fuller, Mauricio Lasansky, Clare Leighton, Seong Moy, Nathan Oliveira, Michael Ponce de Leon, Prentiss Taylor, and many others. More occasionally, art museum experts and print curators served on the admissions jury--among them such legendary figures as A. Hyatt Mayor, Adelyn Breeskin (seated at the left in the photo of the 1966 jury shown here), and Una E. Johnson who served in 1957, 1966, and 1971 respectively.

Celebrated artist/printmakers John Taylor Arms and Stow Wengenroth had been artist advisors on the Pennell Committee since 1937, well before the first 1943 exhibit when they served on the Jury of Award, along with Leicester B. Holland, Chief of the Division of Fine Arts (a precursor to the Prints & Photographs Division). Arms and Wengenroth continued to serve on the Pennell Committee until 1953 and 1955 respectively, along with Prints & Photographs Division fine prints curator Alice Lee Parker who held the position from ca. 1947 to 1957, also serving as Acting and Assistant Chief between 1947 and 1962. Before the exhibits concluded in 1977, Pennell Committee artists further included Arthur William Heintzelman, Benton Spruance, Fritz Eichenberg, Rudy Pozzatti, Gabor Peterdi, and Misch Kohn.