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Around the mulberry bush with Helen Frankenthaler

Around the mulberry bush with Helen Frankenthaler

April 14, 2016 // by John Hutcheson

As a master printer, John Hutcheson has so many great stories about working with artists. That's why MOCA Jacksonville asked him to record a series of audio guides for works in MOCA Jacksonville's printmaking exhibitions: Time ZonesIn Living ColorThe Other, and the Permanent Collection. He trained at the Tamarind Institute of Lithography and is an associate professor at the University of North Florida. In this text, he shares a story about the making of Helen Frankenthaler'Essence Mulberry (1977) woodcut in MOCA's Permanent Collection.

Helen Frankenthaler Essence Mulberry b
Helen Frankenthaler's Essence Mulberry (1977) woodcut in MOCA Jacksonville's Permanent Collection, purchased from the Kathleen Snead Memorial Fund.

I worked with Ken Tyler of Tyler Graphics, then a print studio in New York, as a collaborating printer to make this woodcut with Helen Frankenthaler.

I am very proud of this print. It is one of the more famous pieces I have worked on in my career as a master printer.

Tyler found a rare batch of gampi paper and presented it to Frankenthaler for this print. Gampi is made from mulberry fibers.

Mulberry fibers are one of the three standard fibers used for traditional Japanese handmade paper known as washi. Frankenthaler often used Japanese paper when printing at Universal Limited Art Editions. This use of strange paper, which might be difficult for printing, was completely opposite to Tyler's usual practice of using tailored or custom-made papers used for their good printing qualities.

To make this even more romantic, Tyler took Frankenthaler out into the beautiful fields behind his country estate and print shop, where there was a huge shade tree. It was a North American version of a Mulberry tree that grows small purple berries in the fall. Frankenthaler picked some of those berries and brought them back to Tyler's studio.

She and Tyler made a reddish-purple ink from the berries, and Frankenthaler painted it onto a sheet of gampi paper.

That was the single inspiration for the name of the Essence Mulberry print.

Frankenthaler carved four wooden blocks for us to ink and print.

This print came out of a moment in time that no one expected-especially not Frankenthaler. Although prints often do not reach national recognition, this one made the cover of ARTnews and was wildly popular.

Listen to the audio guide here or call 904-248-4197, then press 209.

Find all of Hutcheson's audio guides here.

Helen Frankenthaler Essence Mulberry detail c
A detail of Helen Frankenthaler's Essence Mulberry (1977) woodcut in MOCA Jacksonville's Permanent Collection, purchased from the Kathleen Snead Memorial Fund.

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