You don’t have to have a lot of fancy equipment to make art. Crystal Bridges’ Museum Educator Moira Anderson demonstrated this recently in an Art by the Glass workshop titled “Intergalactic Kitchen Prints,” in which they used some everyday household items to create their own prints, inspired by the lithographs of Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, in Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection.
Trouvelot was an artist and astronomer who lived in France and the United States between 1827 and 1895. He began making drawings of the astronomical objects he observed through his 6-inch telescope in 1870, and these were so masterfully created that Trouvelot was invited to make observations and drawings from Harvard College Observatory’s 15-inch Great Refractor, and later from the 26-inch Great Equatoria at the US Naval Observatory. Over his lifetime, Trouvelot created thousands of astronomical drawings.
For the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Trouvelot created a set of large color pastel images, some of which he later converted to lithographs to be published by Scrivners and Sons. The resulting collection, comprising 15 stunningly detailed and nuanced chromolithographs, along with a manual describing the prints, was published in 1882 as The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings. Only about 300 of these sets were produced, and Crystal Bridges is fortunate to have one of these in our permanent collection.
Over the past few months, the Museum has been exhibiting a rotating selection of Trouvelot’s prints in our Colonial to Early Nineteenth-Century Gallery. Because they are light-sensitive works on paper, they cannot remain on display for an extended period. Monday, March 7, is the last day to view them before they are returned to the vault. If you miss them, however, you can view all 15 of Trouvelot’s lithographs in the Digital Collections of the New York Public Library.
Oh, one other thing about Trouvelot— in addition to his prints, he is known, rather ignominiously, for introducing the invasive and highly destructive European Gypsy Moth to North America. Before he got into astronomy, Trouvelot had a passing fascination with entomology—in particular, silk moths, which he hoped to breed and profit from in the United States. He brought a batch of eggs to the US from Europe and started raising them under nets in the woods behind his house near Boston, Massachusetts. Inevitably, some escaped. Trouvelot alerted regional entomologists, but nothing was done about the invasion until it was too late. Today the Gypsy Moth continues to be a scourge on deciduous trees across the country, with particular concentrations here in the Ozarks, as well as the Appalachian region and around the Great Lakes.
But back to our original subject: Making prints with everyday stuff: in this case, heavy-duty aluminum foil, Coke or other cola, a Sharpie pen, and a brayer. This is a fun take on the harsh process of traditional lithography, though it’s a bit tricky and may require some trial and error before you get the hang of it.
But what’s so special about Lithography? Here are the basics of the traditional methods: The printing is made from a stone (litho = stone) or a metal plate with a smooth surface. The artist first draws an image onto the surface with an oil- or wax-based material (like a litho crayon). The stone is then treated with a mixture of sulphuric acid and gum arabic, etching the portions of the stone that were not protected by the waxy drawing. Then comes the water: to print, the stone is moistened, and the etched areas retain water. When applying an oil-based ink over the stone, the areas retaining water repel the ink so that it only sticks to the image. Put a piece of paper in contact with the surface, and print!
This traditional technique is still used today, but we’re here to bring you a safer version. The basic science of lithography remains the same: oil and water do not mix, and acid will create the image. Please note that there are several methods of “kitchen lithography” out there, but Moira Anderson takes us through the process she found to work best, step by step, throwing in a little clarity on the magic happening as we go.
Materials you will need: