OLD LYME, CT.-
The Road Less Traveled: Thomas Nasons Rural New England, on view at the Florence Griswold Museum
in Old Lyme, Connecticut from January 17 through April 12, examines the visual poetry of printmaker Thomas W. Nason (1889-1971). The exhibition draws parallels between the carefully carved, deliberate lines of Nasons wood engravings and the thoughtfully chosen, measured language of poet laureate Robert Frost, with whom he collaborated. Several of Frosts and Nasons rare chapbooks and other limited editions are also on view along with a choice selection of items from Nasons studio, such as the artists tools, blocks, and personal library, to help to illuminate the technique and career of one of New Englands most revered printmakers.
Nasons romanticized versions of New England farms and his views of the regions undisturbed countryside earned him the name poet engraver of New England. Nasons illustrations proved appropriate for several American poets. Publishers commissioned him for comprehensive volumes on William Cullen Bryant and Henry David Thoreau. However, Nasons engravings were never more closely aligned with poetry than when he illustrated the verse of Robert Frost, states Amanda Burdan, the Museums first Catherine Fehrer Curatorial Fellow and curator of the exhibition. The title of the exhibition, The Road Less Traveled, is a nod to Frosts poem The Road Not Taken. Frosts poems, like Nasons prints, pay tribute to rural life in colloquial terms, says Burdan. Frosts status as the quintessential rural New Englander, writing in simple, direct, and yet forceful terms about American life makes a ready comparison to Nasons life and work.
Raised on a farm in Billerica, Massachusetts, by what he called a practical lot of Yankees, Thomas Nasons first career was in business. It wasnt until 1921 that he began to teach himself the art of printmaking. Nason tutored himself in the workings of various presses and a variety of print techniques through books and observation. In 1931 Nason and his wife Margaret bought an abandoned farm in Lyme, Connecticut. There he continued to study and work at his craft until his death at 82 in 1971.
The Road Less Traveled also explores, for the first time, the modern qualities of Nasons works. Driven throughout his career by a devotion to craftsmanship, technical mastery and realism, the printmaker built a lasting reputation as an artist working in a timeless style. But his tendency to produce sharp, precise, and stylized images also reflected the changing aesthetics of the modern era, an aspect of his work that has been overlooked until now. The prints featured in the exhibition emphasize the abstract elements evident in his smooth lines, simplified forms, and silhouetted compositionstraits that lend his works a surprisingly modern quality comparable to that of noted American Regionalists Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton.
Several images, like The Leaning Silo, 1932 or Milkweed Pod, 1954 owe their impressive depth to the multi-color process called chiaroscuro wood engraving. Summer Storm, 1940, represents the most complicated print in Nasons oeuvre and is often considered his greatest achievement. Chiaroscuros, the way I made them, Nason wrote, were the most difficult of anything Ive done. Made up of three separate blocks, and inked with four different colors, Nason calculated that he pulled the lever of his press at least 700 times in the creation of an edition of 90 prints. He created only 25 different chiaroscuro engravings over the course of his career. In all of his work, craftsmanship mattered to Nason above all else as he echoed in a 1966 essay: It is better to be exquisite than to be ample.
Along with prints from the Florence Griswold Museums own collection, which is the largest body of Nason prints and archival material, the exhibition features loans from a variety of institutions and private collections.
Special Programming - Join Amanda C. Burdan, curator of The Road Less Traveled: Thomas Nasons Rural New England, for a gallery discussion entitled Nothing Gold Can Stay: Conjuring the Past in Thomas Nasons Prints of New England on Sunday, January 18, at 2 PM. Burdan discusses her selections and explores the modern elements in prints seemingly filled with nostalgia for an idealized rural New England. The event is free with Museum admission. For additional information and a list of special programming, contact the Museum at 860/434-5542 or www.FlorenceGriswoldMuseum.org.