Gustave Baumann (1881Ė1971) came to the United States with his German parents and sisters when he was only ten years old. Soon after settling in Chicago, his father left the family. Baumann subsequently shouldered the responsibility for supporting the household, and at sixteen he began full-time work in a commercial engraving house. He took night classes in drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago, “to get a little closer to art,” and later began work at an advertising studio. By 1903 he had his own studio.
Baumann’s business prospered and he assiduously managed his accounts. Upon accumulating one thousand dollars in savings, he gave half of the money to his mother and used the other half to travel to Munich to study at the School of Arts and Crafts. At the time, Munich printmakers were producing bold, innovative designs, which deeply impressed Baumann. He continued to exhibit their influence in his work throughout his life. Upon returning to the United States, Baumann continued to earn an income from advertising and illustration commissions, while devoting more time to painting and creating woodblock prints. In the years before and during World War I his work won several prestigious awards, including a gold medal from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
The Bishop’s Apricot, 1924
In his mid-thirties Baumann moved to the East Coast from Indiana, living in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York, but soon he turned west, settling in New Mexico, which had only recently become a state in 1912.
Baumann resided in New Mexico for more than fifty years. From his studio in Santa Fe he made forays to the Grand Canyon and other scenic parts of Arizona, the valley of the upper Pecos, the Pacific Coast, Colorado, and Texas. His woodblocks captured the southwestern light in its mutable qualitieshard and flat on the mesas, subtle and tentative in piñon forests and evening gardens. Baumannís work shows a country both delicate and rugged, personal and mythic.
Today, Baumann’s art remains as important as it was when first created. As Joseph Traugott wrote in Gustave Baumannís Southwest
, “The explanation of Baumannís enduring popularity lies in the ability of audiences to cross over aesthetic divides and to reinterpret his prints in new artistic contexts. This permits viewers continually to discover fresh meanings that address changing aspects of American culture. At a time when many artists have careers as fleeting as meteors shooting through the night sky, interest in Baumannís color woodcuts seems only to increase over time.”