Lee Sturges at Elmhurst Art Museum

I hope to continue bringing reviews of art exhibits in the Chicago western suburbs. This is the first review. The same review is also in the permanent Art Reviews section of this site. There are two photos of the exhibit that accompany this review. Photo 1. Photo 2.

April 14, 2005

Lee Sturges Points of View
February 19 through May 15, 2005
Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, IL

8 out of 10 stars
(explanation of ranking system)

On display at the Elmhurst Art Museum are selected works from the career of printmaker, Lee Sturges. Intaglio line etching is his preferred medium and comprise 90+% of what’s on display. There are a couple aquatint prints and 4 copper plates also on display.

This show is wisely curated from smart gallery arrangements to detailed and well-thought-out information tags. Every notion of his exhibit speaks of high-class presentation. And the work is impressive as well. It is easy to become engrossed in each of the detailed prints; none of which are over 8×10″. Don’t expect to see great variation in this show. It’s itaglio line etching of landscapes. period. No alternative printmaking techniques. No wacky subject matter. However, this exhibit doesn’t need to be anything more. It captures a strong segment of printmaking through the craft of dedicated artist in Lee Sturges. I’m tempted to give it 9 out of 10 stars, but I’m sticking with 8 stars since this is my first review.

It’s interesting how the EAM (Elmhurst Art Museum) decided to display his work. Sturges shares the main gallery space with two other exhibits. Upon first glance, this seems to be an unfair allotment to Sturges. I was thinking, “how dare they cram 67 pieces into such a small space.” However, after spending some time with his work, I understood why they put his work in such close quarters. Sturges’ prints contain a great amount of detail. Such detail can be enjoyed with close examination. Standing 5 feet back doesn’t do the trick. The EAM is wisely forcing the viewer to view prints at close range. And the lack of benches in the gallery space was a smart idea which further forces the viewer to get up close and personal with this prints. Kudos, EAM.

Nature is the subject matter of 90+% of the pieces on display. Sturges was a traveler and collected sketches of environments including Philadelphia, Nantucket, New Jersey, Alabama, Indiana, Florida, Chicago, Kentucky, Colorado, The Rio Grande, Alaska, Argentina, Chile and of course his home town, Elmhurst, Illinois. Within these locations he sketched mountainscapes, farmscapes, dunes, forests, and industrial plants. Humans are rarely represented in his works. When they are shown, they merely serve the function of fitting into the environment. There are one or two prints on display that use humans as the main subject. Those prints are far inferior to his nature work. Sturges was a great technician in capturing the mood and spirit of nature, but could not make a similiar translation of human nature.

All the prints use black ink exclusively. He represented light and color through his technique of line etching. This is very captivating. It’s amazing how he is able to convey such clarity and emotion in a scene simply with a bunch on lines. Deep shadows receive closely knit line treatment while lighted highlights simply use limited lines. Also his technique in representing perspective is quite effective. Objects in the foreground receive getter detailed lines while objects in the distance have few lines to represent. Its the representation of lighted highlights and objects in the distance that most captivated me. This must have required great foresight and discipline to accurately represent these regions.

At one of my visits to this exhibition, there were a couple of patrons that offered their own interpretation of the prints. They were relating the scenes in the prints to places they have been. It’s nice to see people bring their personal experience into the pieces despite the clearly stated information tag. And how about those information tags! I call them information tags and not title labels, because Melissa Ganje Dahlquist, Curator of the EAM and Mary Lautanen-Raleigh of the Elmhurst Historical Society went to great lengths to provide information on each print. Each tag features a statement by Lautanen-Raleigh and Ganje Dahlquist covering the history of Sturges artistic and professional life, design basics, cultural history, geographical history, postmodernist references, and story-telling. Whoa, that’s a mouthful. Oh yea, some of the tags also discuss technique and printmaking application which any printmaking student can learn a thing or two from.

I also must say the the pieces are smartly framed. The overmats always match the color of the paper used. Usually a beige or off-white. Pure white overmats are never used. And the pieces are set in classy, simple black frames.

The show was also wisely curated in that it was well-balanced between Lee Sturges’ personal pieces and the his respected professional work. On display are a couple of his family christmas cards featuring “Shadeland”, his home in Elmhurst. Receiving one of these prints must have been a real treat. Not too many people send original intaglio print christmas cards!

The selected works also cronical the career of Sturges that began at Pennsylvania Academy in the 1880s where he was influenced by Thomas Moran, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Eakins. (That’s what the EAM flyer says). Though his early work is surprisingly very loose and dark. As his career progressed, his work became much more polished and detailed. This shows how much of a craftsman he was. He worked his entire career perfecting his craft of line etching. Such level of detail and delicate attention to the nature of nature is apparent in his grand and powerful mountainscape etchings of the 1930s. Good ol’ Lee worked into his 80’s with his last know print being dated 1950.

It must have been difficult to select the 67 prints to display. There are more than 450 etchings listed in Lee Sturges’ complete works. The Elmhurst Historical Museum has the largest and most extensive collection. They also have sketchbooks, scrapbooks, drawings and handwritten mauscripts on the art of etching. Boy, oh boy. I might have to spin by the EHM one of these days and check this out.

I studied printmaking in college, so I appreciate the work of Lee Sturges on many levels.(I was one lousy class away from having a concentration in printmaking.) However, no background or training is required to enjoy these pieces. Any one can visit this inspiring exhibition and walk away with a positive experience.

So come on down to Elmhurst and check out the show at the Elmhurst Art Museum on the beautiful grounds of Wilder Park. Check out the fantastic Elmhurst Public Library right next door while you’re at it. Downtown Elmhurst is only a couple blocks away. There’s plenty of fun places to shop and eat. The Sturges show ends May 15. So mark your calendar.

-Erik Maldre

Elmhurst Art Museum
150 Cottage Hill Avenue
Elmhurst, IL 60126
(630) 834-0202

Link to Yahoo! map where you can get driving directions

Elmhurst Art Museum’s driving directions (scroll down)

Link to Metra train information (Hop on the Union Pacific West Line at Ogilvie Transportation Center on Madison St. & Canal St. in Chicago. It’s about a 25 minute ride.)

Here’s a map showing where to go from the train station. It’s two blocks southwest of the train station.

Sunday 1:00 – 4:00
Monday closed
Tuesday 10:00 – 4:00
Wednesday 1:00 – 8:00
Thursday 10:00 – 4:00
Friday 1:00 – 4:00
Saturday 10:00 – 4:00

Tuesdays are free for all!
Members: free

Adults: $4
Seniors: $3
Students w/ ID: $2
Kids under 12: free

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Tom Saaristo
19 years ago

This is fantastic! What a great selling job you’ve done, moose! I really want to come to Elmhurst!

Maybe I have a fever …

Matt Maldre
19 years ago

i NEED a new review from the chicago west burb art expert. When’s the next review. i NEED it NOW. like NOW NOW.