Gallery Tour: Artist And Printmaker Leon Loughridge
Leon Loughridge nods in my direction as I enter DC Art Press, the printmaker’s Denver studio. The artist is holding open The Cimarron Cut Off, the third book in his Woodblocks of the Santa Fe Trail series, for a photographer. “I do all the cuts for the imagery,” Loughridge says of his prints, which illustrate excerpts from Josiah Gregg’s classic account of early Western trade routes, Commerce of the Prairies, first published in 1844. “[The books] are hand-stitched and we create the boards and covers. It’s truly a hand-built book from start to finish.”
Although many of the images in the 64-page limited edition feature blue-skied landscapes, Loughridge’s goal was to focus on the people. “The image of three men pushing a wagon gives a better feeling of what it was like to move a 4,000-pound wagon through the Sand Hills of Kansas than a picturesque scene of the prairie.” In order to gather material for this series, the artist hiked the trail himself, creating watercolor sketches along the way.
His studio walls are now covered with 5 x 7-inch watercolors capturing the colorful Fable Valley, the pine-strewn Loveland Pass, and the expansive San Luis Valley in addition to the Santa Fe Trail. “The beauty of a sketch,” Loughridge explains, “is that there are unconscious distortions that happen, and those distortions, as minor as they are, contain the real expressive quality.”
Despite studying at the Art Institute of Colorado, Loughridge was not introduced to printmaking until he enlisted in the Army and viewed etchings by Rembrandt in a German museum. Since then, the artist has acquired a rich background in printmaking history and processes. But while he continues in the tradition of great Western printmakers like Gustave Baumann, he is also venturing into new territory, using separate plates for cool and warm colors, and carving each plate several times to create fascinating textures and lush, layered hues — a fresh vision of the historic West.