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Martin Puryear. Fern from Cane. 2000

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Martin Puryear (American, born 1941)

Fern from Cane

One from the suite of seven unbound woodcuts accompanying the illustrated book
composition: 10 7/16 x 12 11/16" (26.5 x 32.3 cm); sheet: 16 3/4 x 20 11/16" (42.5 x 52.5 cm)
The Arion Press, San Francisco
The Arion Press, San Francisco
Credit Line:
Gift of Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro
MoMA Number:

Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 232

Martin Puryear's career began with a brief period of printmaking that was rekindled only recently. Early on he displayed a facility for drawing, a voracious appetite for learning about subjects as diverse as ornithology, archery, and Native American history, and a particular aptitude for building useful objects. During a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, he developed an interest in and respect for the wood carvers of that region. Upon his return, he was accepted at Sweden's Royal Academy of Art as a printmaking student. There Puryear found himself deeply drawn to Scandinavian wood carving and began spending his evenings in the sculpture studio while also accepting unofficial apprenticeships with local craftspeople. When he returned to the United States, he enrolled in the art program at Yale, absorbing the current developments in Minimalism, post-Minimalism, earthworks, and site-specific sculpture.

Puryear's work, consisting primarily of sculpture in wire mesh, tar, bronze, leather, and his preferred medium of wood, reflects these diverse influences and experiences. Abstractions that resemble organic and biomorphic shapes suggest a usefulness or functionality and often reveal a labor-intensive handcraftsmanship and an interest in culture and identity. Since the 1980s, he has resumed printmaking at various workshops, gravitating toward direct, physical mediums such as etching and woodcut. Puryear has made approximately twenty-five prints, many of which echo the forms of his sculptures, including this Untitled work. The woodcuts for Cane, a poetic novel of the Harlem Renaissance, combine organic forms and figurative presences and are named for the female characters in the story.

Sarah Suzuki

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