Kristin Bluemel, professor of English and Wayne D. McMurray Endowed Chair, recently published an article on the English artist and writer Clare Leighton for RAW – Rediscovering Art by Women: The Radical Art Website. Titled “Clare Leighton and the Fine Art of Mass Reproduction,” Bluemel’s article introduces Leighton as a protofeminist socialist writer and wood engraver who contributed to the formation of England’s radical countryside with publication of “Four Hedges: A Gardener’s Chronicle.” The year was 1935 and crises of unemployment, hunger, industrial unrest, and fascist threat claimed the headlines. Ordinary citizens from all classes sought solace in nature; when they were not rambling, birding, or gardening, they were reading books about the countryside. “Four Hedges” is Leighton’s autobiographical account of the year she spent creating a garden on what had been an untilled quadrangle of pastureland in the Chiltern Hills. Illustrating her first-person documentary with 88 exquisitely designed and executed wood engravings of everything from spades and scythes to snapdragons, raspberries and snails, Leighton remade with her publisher’s help the conservative clichés of the period’s countryside books. Bluemel hopes that her feminist rediscovery of Leighton as a committed writer and progressive artist of the Great Depression will advance popular and scholarly interest in women’s contributions to 20th-century rural humanities.
RAW is an online art gallery associated with the RAW collection of paintings and sculptures by 20th-century women and gender non-conforming artists. It is curated and edited by the Paris-based art historian Sacha Llewellyn and art curator and artist agent Maudji Llewellyn. Opportunity to publish new research on artists and individual works on the RAW blog complements the more traditional practices of exhibitions, gallery talks, and print publication, expanding arts access and education in ways that are consistent with Leighton’s practice. Leighton made her fine art of white-line wood engraving, typically associated with limited small press editions, widely accessible through mass reproduced books for ordinary people.
Bluemel’s article for the RAW blog is part of her scholarly book project, “Enchanted Wood: Women Artists, Rural Britain, and the Twentieth-Century Wood Engraving Revival,” under contract with the University of Minnesota Press.