For many years now Nancy E. Green has been a leading scholar in the field of the American Arts & Crafts movement and colour woodcut in particular. From her base as senior curator at the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, she has published books and articles that are necessary reading for anyone with a real interest in colour woodcut. Unfortunately, on this side of the Atlantic, some of this work has been either unavailable or has become expensive, so I do not have her books about Arthur Wesley Dow and her old essay about Frank Morley Fletcher on my bookshelf. This means that the article published this month by the Scottish Society for Art History in volume 25 of their journal is going be indispensable reading for both scholars and collectors.
The society are fortunate to have James Barnes as a member. He is their treasurer, an enthusiast for colour woodcut and an experienced proof-reader, and it was James who edited the lecture given by Nancy E. Green in Glasgow last year. The result is the most comprehensive account to date of Fletcher's life and career from his early days in Lancashire to his final years in Ventura County, CA. But this is not merely the story of an artist and his work. Fletcher was a teacher and educationalist, an administrator and committee man, a writer (above) and a proponent of industrial design (below) as well as being a printmaker. This makes him a tricky person to research, a situation made more complicated by Fletcher leaving Britain in 1923 to live and work in California. No-one could know it all. What is worse, the material available is scattered and often tantalising. This essay has made something coherent out of all that.
Nancy Green did some of her research in Scotland while the Fletcher family were also very helpful to her, but inevitably some things are missing and there are occasional errors of fact. What is more important are the judgements Green makes. A case is properly made for the importance of partnership in Fletcher's life, above all with his wife, Dolly, and suggests how much this was part of the ethos of the Arts & Crafts movement both in Britain and the U.S.A. Not only has the topic been neglected, the role people like Dolly Fletcher, Mary Batten and Ada Shrimpton played has been more or less ignored, something Green will be putting right with her next book. She also pins down Fletcher's talent for building on ideas and the way he put his organisational ability to use in the cause of art education at new schools like Edinburgh College of Art and the Santa Barbara School of Art, a skill I suspect he first developed in the United States. Lastly, she takes care to emphasise the importance of Fletcher's large family of ten brothers and sisters - and his father, Alfred Evans Fletcher (below). Alfred was a scientist and engineer with a lack of realism that he finally managed to suppress during a successful career as chief inspector of alkali works. Fletcher was as uncompromising as his father (who had refused to sign the Thirty-nine Articles to become eligible for Cambridge) and one of the most telling passages in the essay deals with Albert Herter's visit to the Fletcher household in 1891: ' ...his father is in a chronic state of grievedness at the wickedness of his family and their frivolity of Godlessness.'
Worse was to come. In 1895, his son married the daughter of a Suffolk fisherman who was also an artist's model (the daughter not the fisherman) and continued with his plans to become an artist himself. What Green does not say is that Alfred's own father was an educationalist, a connection Alfred could not have failed to make once his son began teaching at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1897 and became headmaster of the art department at the new University Extension College at Reading only one year later. His sister-in-law said later Fletcher had the same far-seeing eyes as his father (which the photographer has captured) suggesting both men were equally sensitive.
This essay made me think and represents an important stage in the study of a neglected field, particularly in Scotland, and members of the society have done a good job bringing the subject to the attention of readers in Scotland and beyond. The piece is well-illustrated and the colour reproduction good. The image above is one of the versions of Mount Shasta from his short California series begun in 1926 after he and his wife became American citizens.
Copies of journal 25 are available at £8 plus P&P from ssahistory.wordpress.com/current-journal/. Use the Art UK option. Fletcher's Salinas River, California I (top) is available at $7,000 from Bill Carl. The first two editions of Woodblock Printing (above) contain different original prints by Fletcher and are occasionally available, sometimes inscribed by the artists who owned them. An essay about Walter Phillips by Nancy E. Green is contained in Walter J. Phillips (2013) from Pomegranate Press, Portland, Oregon, and is available online at £22.