Artwork depicting life in a Mexican village.

Mabel A. Hewit
(American, 1903–1987)
Village Well, 1955
Color woodcut with corresponding woodcut block
Museum purchase

Mabel Hewit’s Cubist-inspired depiction of life in a Mexican village was created through a printmaking technique developed by a small group of modernist artists in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the late 1910s and 20s. In a process known as white-line woodcut (also “Provincetown print”), the method allows multicolor prints to be pulled from a single block of carved wood. Hewit learned the technique in the Provincetown artists’ colony in the 1930s from Blanche Lazzell (1878–1956), perhaps the best-known practitioner of the innovative method.

As clearly seen in the accompanying wood block, from which Village Well was printed, Hewitt delineated her composition with a narrow, gouged outline that forms the discrete shapes of landscape, buildings, and figures. Each section would be brushed separately with varying hues of watercolor paints, and the image transferred one color at a time to a sheet of paper laid atop the block and carefully rubbed.

Artwork depicting life in a Mexican village.
Woodcut block used for printing

The use of watercolor instead of printer’s ink imparts a subtle transparency to the colors and highlights the presence of the wood’s grain, both distinctive characteristics of whiteline woodcuts. The groove remains un-colored, resulting in the paper-white contour line that gives the print medium its name. Due to the slow and laborious process of pulling a finished print, typically involving a dozen or more colors, editions are usually small. Hewit likely produced no more that ten copies of Village Well, one of which is in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Each impression varies in color application, in effect, making every print a unique object. The opportunity to display both finished print with its block is a rare educational opportunity. Note Hewit’s use of the reverse side of the block for another print image, and the residual pigment that has been absorbed into the porous surfaces of the wood plank.

Hewit was born in Conneaut, Ohio, a town northeast of Cleveland on the Lake Erie shore. After her studies in Ohio, Hewit gravitated to Provincetown, a center of avant-garde artists’ activity at the tip of Cape Cod. Hewit undoubtedly would have come in contact with Karl Knaths, represented in JCSM’s Advancing American Art collection and one of the most prominent figures in the coastal bohemian community. Women artists compose a large number of the Provincetown printers, a topic of much current scholarship, and include Ada Gilmore Chaffee, Edna Boies Hopkins, Ethel Mars, Mildred McMillen, Maud Hunt Squire, Grace Martin Taylor, along with Hewit and Lazell. Recent exhibitions of their white-line woodcuts have been held at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, and Elvenhjem Museum of Art.

In anticipation of Auburn’s celebration of 125 Years of Auburn Women, curators will campaign to acquire work by women artists, thus adding to the 54 females currently represented in the collection. Learn more.

Logo celebrating 1892-2017 and Auburn women

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