Robert Blackburn, 82, founder of the Printmaking Workshop in New York and one of America's foremost fine art lithographers, died on April 21.
Born in 1920, Blackburn was widely celebrated for his early work as a WPA artist within the Harlem arts community in New York and as the first master printer for the prestigious Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) press in Long Island, where he helped define the so-called 1960s "graphics boom" through collaborations with such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Grace Hartigan and Jasper Johns. Blackburn's Printmaking Workshop, which he established in 1948, became a major destination and creative catalyst for printmakers in this country and throughout the world. It also helped seed other workshops, including the Lower East Side Printshop in New York, the Asilah Workshop in Morocco, and the first Namibian printshop in post-apartheid South Africa.
Blackburn's own pioneering contributions to the technical and aesthetic development of abstract color lithography are as legendary as his generosity in encouraging and training thousands of diverse artists to explore the graphic medium. Over the past several years, Blackburn worked with the Library of Congress to place a core collection of more than 2000 artworks on deposit here, including the most extensive collection of his own prints. The archives includes graphic works by generations of his students and collaborators at the Printmaking Workshop, as well as by friends and colleagues from the 1940s to the late 1990s. It encompasses emerging printmakers as well as such renowned creators as Emma Amos, Will Barnet, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Faith Ringgold.
"Creative Space: Fifty Years of Robert Blackburn's Printmaking Workshop," an exhibition honoring Blackburn's remarkable contributions to, and impact on, American graphic art, opened at the Library in February and remains on display in the Jefferson Building through June 28 (see March 2003 Information Bulletin).
The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York City is working to permanently re-establish the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in the foundation's quarters at West 39th Street in Manhattan.
Katherine L. Blood is the fine prints curator in the Prints and Photographs Division.