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 Warren Bryan Mack  (1896 - 1952)

About: Warren Bryan Mack


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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: landscape and botanic engravings

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biographical information was submitted August 2007 by Scott Wilder, Art Researcher from Olathe, Kansas. 

It is from The Newsletter of the Penn State University Libraries ,Number 36 Spring 2005, by Anne Stoltz, Bednar Intern

Warren Mack Expands Fine Prints

CollectionHorticulturist. Plant physiologist. Graphic Artist. Warren Mack (1896–1952) wore many hats in his lifetime.  As head of the Horticulture Department, he was well respected in the Penn State community. Yet, there was another side of Mack that gained him international recognition in a different field.

Traveling exhibitions of wood engravings that he created made him known to the printmaking world. This popularity, in turn, helped to create the Libraries’ Fine Prints Collection, used by Penn State art students. “Mack’s work was unique and it stood out from the rest,” says Loanne Snavely, head of Instructional Programs. “Unlike other graphic artists, he never stylized his prints.  He made his prints realistic.”

The excellence in his work was what prompted the National Academy of Design to elect Mack as an associate in 1944.  John Taylor Arms, (1887–1953) and noted printmaker and chairman of the Graphic Art Section of the Academy, proposed Mack for candidacy. In a letter sent to the Secretary of the Academy, Arms wrote: “Dr. Mack, as his degree implies, is an academic as well as one of the most distinguished and remarkable wood-engravers of the country.  He combines, in his work, the craftsmanship of the traditional school with a freshness of approach and a mastery of technique, which, in my opinion and in that of many print lovers, makes him an outstanding artist in his field.  I know him to be a fine and sympathetic man, and I believe that he is one whom the Academy would both enjoy as a member and value as one. ”Some of America’s most prominent painters, architects, printmakers and sculptors are among the past and present members of the Academy, including founding members Thomas Cole (1801–1848), Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860), Ithiel Towne (1784–1844) and Samuel F. B. Morse (1791–1872).  Today, this artist-run organization has membership of approximately 450 contemporary artists. “His [Mack’s] acceptance into the National Academy is very significant,” says Snavely. “It serves as evidence that his work was noticed, appreciated, and respected.”

When Mack’s wood engravings were shown at Penn State’s Palmer Museum from July 1996 to January 1997, the local artist proved to be immensely popular. According to Snavely, Mack was very well received. “People raved about his engravings,” she says. “It was very moving to see all of the enthusiasm that surrounded his work.”

Mack had always enjoyed working with wood.  As a boy, he constructed wooden sleds and carts.  Later, he familiarized himself with the woodcuts of J.J. Lankes (1884–1960), who illustrated many Robert Frost publications, and the wood engravings of Timothy Cole (1852–1931), one of the most sought-after wood engravers in the publishing industry.  Inspired by the works of these talented artists, Mack began making his own wood engravings and prints while pursuing his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University.  Mack completed his first original engraving in 1927.  Entitled Winter Night in Washington, this print is said to have been published in the magazine of the Sunday Baltimore Sun in 1929.

For more than 20 years Mack continued creating his wood engravings, and with each piece his execution became even more refined and detailed.  Wood engravings are created differently from woodcuts. “Instead of ‘drawing’ lines as one normally does with pen and ink, an engraver, such as Mack, cuts around the lines, leaving what will be black there and removing what will be white,” Snavely explains.  Engravers hand print their work from a woodblock by applying printer’s ink to the block using a small printer’s brayer or roller. The image is then transferred to smooth paper by rubbing with a hard wood pestle or another hard object. 

Mack often captured the beauty of the Pennsylvania countryside in his work.  In a 1990s article recollecting the Macks, the late Gene Lederer, State College’s Acting Burgess (mayor) from January 1930 to July 1932, notes that Mack’s finely wrought pastoral scenes and peaceful landscapes were a reflection of his gentle personality.  Lederer described Warren as “a sensitive, gifted man.”

Mack retired early from the University to devote time to his hobby, or as some would say his second career. He and his wife, the well-known Penn State research chemist Pauline Beery Mack, bought property in Denton, Texas.  Mack made arrangements to have the loft above the three-car garage transformed into his studio.  It was there he planned to continue his engravings, in hope of eventually publishing his works.

Warren Mack died, though, in a Philadelphia hospital in 1952, before he could fulfill his dream. After his death, Mack’s wife donated a set of 20 of his prints to the University. The University Libraries’ Fine Prints Collection later became the home for this collection.  Three years later, Lynd Ward, president of the Society of American Graphic Artists, and Charles T. Douds, 1922 Penn State alumnus, created a memorial to Mack in the form of a gift.  The pair suggested that each member of the Society send at least one print to the University in Mack’s honor.  A Leonard Baskin print, the Thomas Hart Benton, and Spring—one of the three prints in the collection by Will Barnet—were among the 200 donated prints that now comprise the
Libraries’ Warren Mack Memorial Print Collection.

Thanks to the late Robert W. Laws, the first and only cousin of Mrs. Mack, the Libraries are also fortunate to have 17 of Mack’s original wood engraving blocks and copper plates.  Mack kept his records on the back sides of his blocks, and his handwriting can still be seen on the blocks today.  In addition to the blocks and plates, Laws donated reprints of 16 Warren Mack prints to the Arts Library.

Mack’s engravings have worldwide acclaim and can be found in collections such as the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, the Library of Congress and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Hunterian Art Gallery at Glasgow University in Scotland has the print Willows on Water.

“Our Mack engraving—quite an impressive river scene—was presented by Dr. James McCallum, a Glasgow lawyer and one of our principal donors,” says Peter Black, Hunterian Art Gallery Prints Curator. “The print, signed and numbered 33/50, was part of a very important collection of mainly Old Master prints that Dr. McCallum gave us in 1939.”

According to Black, the print market of the 1920s, when prices were at their highest, was a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic. “British collectors would acquire works by Americans,” he says. “I imagine that this is how at least one of Mack’s prints made its way to us.” Printmaking and art history professors continue to bring their students to the Libraries to study the Mack prints. As with the other prints in the Fine Prints Collection, Mack’s prints are always pulled for students to view upon request.

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