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Pictor Ignotus


[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

Pictor Ignotus [ca1940s]

“Study for a Printed Fabric”

watercolor on paper / 6.8 inches by 10.2 inches


During the 1940s the art department at Northwest Iowa Normal (its name had not yet changed to “State University”) offered classes in what today we would call commercial or applied art. A folio of work from that period has recently shown up in the library and been placed on long term loan to the Community Collection. Research into college records my reveal who created this sophisticated idea for what was presumably intended to be a silkscreen on silk.

Stylized birds of this sort were a popular theme with architects and designers from the early Arts & Crafts through the Art Deco — William Morris, C.R. Mackintosh, H.M. Baillie Scott, C.F.A. Voysey, and Kolo Moser are prominent in this group. Though their treatment tended toward repetition for application to fabric or wallpaper. The loose treatment evidenced here offers another perspective on industrial design.

Another equally probable influence came to the U.S. much earlier, from Japan, in the form of ukiyo-e floating world woodcut prints, such as this print by Yamada Hōgyoku, active in his own country a hundred years earlier, ca1820-1840.

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