Painter, Printmaker, Illustrator
Active in Detroit, Mich.
Sound recording: 1 sound tape reel ; 7 in.
Transcript: 48 pages
Format: Originally recorded on 3 sound tape cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 5 digital wav files. Duration is 3 hr., 10 min.
Collection Summary: An interview of Robert Broner conducted 1974 May 3-8, by Dennis Barrie, for the Archives of American Art. Broner speaks of growing up in Detroit; his early interest in art due to his brother's influence; attending Cass Technical High School and Wayne University; his U.S. Army service during World War II; getting his Masters' at UCLA; teaching and life at Auburn University; going to New York and working in Stanley William Hayter's studio; taking a course from Stuart Davis at the New School; Hayter and Davis as teachers; printmaking; Robert Blackburn's printing shop; his preference for printmaking over painting; returning to Detroit; the establishment of a printing press and printmaking at the Society of Arts and Crafts; becoming the art critic on the DETROIT TIMES; the development of his work; and printmaking in Michigan. He recalls Sarkis Sarkisian, Robert Blackburn, and Emil Weddige.
Biographical/Historical Note: Robert Broner (1922-) is a painter and printmaker from Detroit, Mich.
These interviews are part of the Archives' Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and others.
Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.
How to Use this Interview
- A transcript of this interview appears below.
- The transcript of this interview is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Robert Broner, 1974 May 3-8, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
- For more information on using the Archives’ resources, see the FAQ or Ask Us.
Also in the Archives
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Robert Broner, 1974 May 3-8, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
ORAL HSITORY INTERVIEW WITH
MAY 3 AND MAY 8, 1974
INTERVIEWER: DENNIS BARRIE
DB: DENNIS BARRIE
RB: ROBERT BRONER
DB: Today is May 3, 1974. I'm here with Robert Broner, artist, printmaker, educator. What else are you Bob?
RB: Husband, father.
DB: Husband, father, all around good guy. We're going to do an interview on Bob Broner's career and some specifics dealing with his training and so forth as a printmaker in New York. I would like to start by asking you some background information. What type of family were you born into? What type of environment were you born into? Urban, rural whatever.
RB: I was born in Detroit.
DB: You're a Detroiter.
RB: I was born here. And not too many people... And my wife also. My family is from Austria. Actually my older brother and two sisters were born in Austria. My father was a blacksmith there. Then he moved up from shoeing horses to opening up a complete kind of business where he was doing fancy ironwork and building safes and all kinds of fancy work. Which was what broke him They were in the part of Austria which is not far from Poland. As a matter of fact, I think sometimes it was Poland and sometimes it was Austria. He got a contract from a Polish count for doing about a year's work. A fancy iron gateway to the estate and fencing around various areas. When he had completed the work the count said he didn't have any money and couldn't pay him. My father was flat busted and decided he would come to the United States and try his luck. He came to New York in 1913 and got a job in some kind of factory. Eventually he ended up in Detroit. I think he spent several years in New York and became a tool and die maker there, which was not unrelated to what he was doing.
DB: A very logical extension.
RB: My father came to this country in 1913, or maybe the beginning of 1914. My mother and older brother and two sisters waited in Austria. He was working and sending money to my mother. Then World War I broke out. They were separated during this whole time. He was sending her whatever he earned and she was collecting all this stuff. Eventually after the war was over, I think it was about 1919 or early 1920 before they could really get the visa stuff straightened out to come to this country. She gathered all the money he sent her and she had constantly changed it into the local currency in Austria. She had a bushel basket full which she used to buy her ticket to the States. My younger brother and I were born out of their reunion.
DB: That sounds good.
RB: But that was a long time to be apart.
DB: I agree.
RB: It's really quite different from the kind of morality today. I mean, if you're apart a year you figure, oh, well, that's as a divorce. They were apart for about seven years.
DB: That's a long time, especially by today's standards.
RB: My mother was living in Vienna. She said that most of the time during the war was spent standing in line for rations and constantly worrying about what was happening.
DB: Your father was in Detroit and you mother came to Detroit with the family?
DB: And he was a tool and die maker here?
RB: A tool and die maker and worked for various companies. At that time in Detroit and really throughout the country, tool and die making was like a two months a year job. As soon as the dies were all completed all the toolmakers were fired and they hired assembly line workers. So he had a sporadic kind of job. He would go from job to job from Detroit to Flint, to, I don't know, South Bend sometimes.
DB: Did you move with him?
RB: No, we stayed here. When I was born my family lived down on Cardoni Street.
DB: I don't know Cardoni.
RB: Cardoni is not so far from the old Society of Arts and Crafts on Watson Street.
DB: Oh, okay. Pretty much inner city of Detroit?
RB: Oh, yes. When I was three we moved to a house we stayed in for twenty years. It was on Martindale. 9718 is what pops into my mind. I imagine that was it. Between Boston Boulevard and Kay Street.
DB: Okay, so for all of us who are no familiar with Detroit, that's a little further out from the inner city.
RB: Not far from us on Martindale, or at the end of Martindale at Boston Boulevard there was this giant vacant lot where the circus used to come when I was a child. They pitched tents there. Then what was it after that? It was, a golf course bought it. It was a driving range. Then it was bought by... Was it a Catholic Central High School? And they turned it into a football stadium.
DB: What kind of environment was it? A good environment?
RB: It was wonderful. Wonderful. There were dozens and dozens of boys to play with. I think until I was eighteen I didn't do much reading of any books. I was playing ball every day after school. It was a gang kind of thing in the neighborhood. It was very interesting. I think that, too, was different from today in that kids from the age of five to eighteen played with each other. The older kids trained the younger ones so that you would really learn how to play each game. We would practice football every day, or baseball, depending on the season. Or we would go to the, where was it? It was like an orphanage and Jewish home for old folks that we would play basketball in.
DB: Did you do any artistic things during this period? Did you want to be an artists while being a basketball player?
RB: No. Actually what I really loved was tennis. I used to play tennis all the time. Spent my summers, the whole summer, doing that.
DB: You didn't draw or paint?
RB: A little bit. A school kind of thing. I got interested in it more and more through my older brother, Paul, who is quite a bit older than I am. About twelve or thirteen years older. He went to law school, didn't like law, started medical school, got sick, dropped out of medical school, and went to art school. To the Society of Arts and Crafts. I think all these things were sort of simultaneous gradually getting more and more involved in art. When I was in the eighth grade or ninth grade, Paul kept telling me that I've got to decide what I was going to be. It was very interesting. By being that much older than I was, and my father going from place to place and coming back, Paul took a sort of semi-father role. And also because he was educated and my father was not. My father was a very bright guy. My mother finished third grade in Austria, my father finished sixth grade in Austria. But he was a very good mathematician. At Ford Motor Company they offered him a job teaching mathematics to tool and die makers who were being trained. But he was afraid that his English was not good enough and he was ashamed of that. He didn't want to take the job. As a child I remember my father and Paul always giving each other mathematical games and playing chess and checkers.
DB: You say Paul sort of assumed a father role. And he kept putting pressure on you to make a decision about what you were going to do?
RB: Yes, at first I thought, well, I'm going to go into chemistry. It interested me. But at the same time I was excited about what my brother was doing with his drawings and painting. When I was in the tenth grade he said, well, you can't wait any longer. You have to decide what you're going to do. I had started the tenth grade at Central High School and finally decided, I think I'd like to be an artist.
DB: Because of him?
RB: Yes. So he said, "All right, for three months I'll give you lessons and see what happens." So he gave me drawing problems every day to work on. Very interesting kinds of drawing problems. To make small drawings, not sketches of anything that I saw, but to create squares, cubes, geometric shapes in perspective. To shade them all in very tiny drawings, and to work in the composition of shapes. I worked on this for a few months. Then he said, "Okay, If you're really interested you have to get out of that high school and you have to go to Cass Technical High School." And he arranged it.
DB: Now, again, for those of us who are not Detroiters, Cass Tech. was at that time what?
RB: It had the big art department. It still is the technical school in Detroit. But let's say it's different from the Music and Art High School in New York in that it also has the dominant science department in the city. Also they teach all kinds of technical subjects. Electric wiring, electrician, draftsman. They have a whole house inside a classroom where kids learn to wire. I thought the Art Department was very good. One of the things I didn't like about it was that its approach was too commercially oriented. It is a commercial art department, that's the degree they give.
DB: Who was teaching there?
RB: Boy, that was a long time ago. Let's see. When was that? I think I was there for two years, 1938, 1940.
DB: Were the two women there? I can't remember their names.
RB: There was someone named Eaton there. I can picture them all, but I don't remember their names any more. There was an interesting gal who taught art history there, a funny fuddy-duddy woman who taught composition. She gave very good kinds of assignments like you have to draw ten trees a week, go out and bring in sketches. How much you did, how complete the drawings were was really up to you. I think she did something important in that she emphasized quantity. I think too many people disdain that and say the important thing is quality. I really believe that quality comes out of quantity. A person who sits around and waits for inspiration doesn't turn out to be an artist. You have to really work at it, you have to turn out lots of things to develop fast. The more you turn out the faster you'll develop. It's not just a matter of sitting around and thinking.
DB: Yes, I tend to agree with that. But, it's very personal. You have to work at things. You objected to its commercial nature?
RB: Well, that what it was. And gradually I began to see that that wasn't my interest. On the other hand, at home the way my brother convinced my parents that it was okay, was that in the meantime he had gotten out of law and got a job as a commercial artist for the Detroit Times.
DB: A now defunct paper.
RB: Yes. He was there for twenty-four years.
DB: You say he convinced your parents. They objected to your being an artist because it was...
RB: It wasn't that they objected. But they wanted to know what's he going to do, how's he going to make a living. Paul would say, well, he can make a living as a commercial artist. But after about a year there I began to see that, I don't know whether it was just that I didn't have the flair for commercial work, or what it was. It didn't interest me that much. Maybe, again, it was Paul's influence. Even though he was working as a commercial artist, what I would see him doing at home was water color work and work which I think was of an extraordinarily high quality. He was doing semi-abstract water colors here in Detroit at a time when nobody was doing anything like that. Everybody was doing flowers.
DB: This was around 1940 would you say?
DB: Yes. That would be early for here I agree.
RB: And he was really involved in all kinds of abstract problems and color problems. I think he was one of the unusual artists around although never recognized as such, going his own way and doing it quietly while he was working as a commercial artist during the days or during the nights, or whatever crazy schedule he had at the Times. He was doing some illustrations for them, photo retouching, layouts, that kind of thing. Actually, while he was there he invented something that is used in newspapers all over the country. A special mathematical scale, a visual scale. It's like taking a ruler which expands and contracts. It's shaped not like a rubber bank, but like an elevator door which opens and closes. It's a proportional ruler.
DB: What did you do then so far as... Did you decide you wanted to stay in art, but not at Cass Tech? Did you leave or graduate.
RB: I graduated from Cass Tech. Then I asked the family whether or not I could go to Wayne University and become an art teacher. They said okay. So I enrolled at Wayne in art education. Tuition was very cheap at that time. The family had no money. I got on some sort of national program where I could work for my tuition. I showed slides for Professor Ernest Scheyere. I swept out the sculpture studios which were in old garages at that time. I did tasks like that. Actually I don't remember what I earned in salary . Maybe it was something like twenty-six cents an hour or something. But tuition was very cheap. At the time I went to Wayne, tuition was something like fifty dollars a semester.
DB: That's pretty cheap.
RB: Yes, but we have the wrong perspective today. It was a lot of money then.
DB: Yes. You worked in art education, but also were you doing...
RB: I was taking art classes. The thing that I liked about it also was that while the Art Department was very slight, there wasn't much doing there. A guy by the name of Claxton was head of the Art Department.
DB: Wayne Claxton, yes.
RB: Let's see, I was there as a student before Alden Smith came to Wayne. He came while I was a student. There was an old Swedish guy named Jacobson. I remember taking his course in sculpture. He almost never taught you anyway. He would just let you work and he would ramble on telling story after story about his life, but never talking much about sculpture.
DB: What kind of sculpture was it? Clay?
RB: It was clay. A figurative kind of thing.
DB: From models? From life studies?
RB: Yes, when we could get a model. And the interesting thing to me was that you could also take painting and drawing over at the Society of Arts and Crafts for Wayne credit.
DB: Oh, I didn't know that.
RB: They had a reciprocal program. So a good share of my painting in the undergraduate program was really at the Society of Arts and Crafts.
DB: That's interesting. And you did that with Sarkis Sarkisian?
RB: I did that with Sarkis. That setup was much more professional that the Wayne setup at the time. Gradually what was happening to me was that I was shifting more and more and more over to fine arts. I took some courses with Betsy Jane Welling in art education. She was really very nice and very intelligent. I took a group of courses there. But gradually began to take more courses in fine arts.
DB: Did you spend more time at Arts and Crafts then?
RB: And then was spending more time at Arts and Crafts. Let's see, what was happening at that time? It was 1940. World War II broke out. I entered Wayne in January, 1940. In June, 1940 my father died. He was operated on for a goiter. Sent to Mayo Clinic. All of a sudden he disappeared. It was supposed to be a non-serious type of operation, but he died in it of some kind of ether pneumonia or something. Then I needed to work more. I wasn't called up to the Army right away. After my father died, I decided that I'd better get a job and go to school part time. I got a job with the U.S. Army Map Service. I worked the afternoon shift two-thirty to midnight. I went to Wayne in the mornings. Since I didn't have much time for homework I decided to just do all the painting and drawing courses. Those I took almost completely at Arts and Crafts. So for about the next two or three years that was what I was doing. I was called up for an examination by the Army and was declared 4-F. I think it was really just overwork at the time. I don't know what was happening. I guess I was in school from nine in the morning until about two, and then I'd go to work and be there until midnight.
DB: Sort of run down.
RB: Rundown. And I would end up, I had a bad stomach. I was vomiting every morning. And would go to school and paint.
DB: That sounds fairly bad. What types of things were they doing at Arts and Crafts? You say you studied with Sarkis and this is in the forties at the height of the war.
RB: Yes, it was kind of interesting. Sarkis was at the point where he was beginning to admit that abstract art was going on in the world. But what appealed to me was that Braque still-lifes, I think because of the subtle color, not the too abstract earlier Braque Cubist thing, but the little later Braque stuff where the figure is like the earth figure woman where there was a whole sense of continuity of the object. I studied still-life paintings and figure the painting and figure drawing with Sarkis. I was allowed to be a little bit more abstract, but no too abstract. Was allowed to be a little inventive in color. But in general the whole tonality of everything I did at the time was within the dark range of what everybody was allowed to do. You were allowed to have a light colored tablecloth under the fruit, but from there on everything went darker, darker.
DB: Okay, was Sarkis the only person you worked with, or were there others working?
RB: I think he was the only one I studied with there at that time.
DB: It was rather small, wasn't it?
RB: It was a small setup. And I think that what's his name...
DB: Jay Boersma?
RB: Boersma was there teaching water color but I didn't study with him. And what's his name, had left there.
DB: John Carroll?
RB: John Carroll. Painter and muralist. The fashionable man. He had left so Sarkis was really pretty much in charge of the whole thing. I don't think he was director. I think Boersma was still director, but Sarkis was really the painter.
DB: Do you think he influenced you a great deal?
RB: At that time surely. I really painted within the style. Except that I was able to escape. I was also taking classes at Wayne with Claxton and some figure classes there. The contrast was interesting. At Arts and Crafts the model would hold the same pose for three hours and maybe again for the rest of the week. At Wayne in the life drawing classes there were lots of nice five-minute poses, real jazzy stuff. The model moving around to the bead of a drum, more interesting in abstraction. So that I got these two things playing off against each other, which made for an interesting kind of education in that I could escape from the Wayne Art Department's doctrine toward a more academic approach. On the other hand when I was at Arts and Crafts I could look at that more coolly in terms of the more abstract Wayne approach. So that in a sense I could play the outsider at both places.
DB: Right. That's kind of interesting. It really is. You were very fortunate I think. Aside from the escape between the two, did you find the level of art development confining here in Detroit. Did you thing that there were greater things around the corner if you co uld get to New York or Chicago or whatever?
RB: I thought about New York. But I really felt it was beyond my means economically. I stayed on at Wayne to do a master's because I had a scholarship.
DB: Was this a master's in fine arts?
RB: Yes, we just had no money. And I don't know, maybe I wasn't adventurous. My younger brother followed my path and went to Cass Tech, then went to Wayne. And I urged him to go to Cranbook, which he did.
DB: Why did you urge him to go to Cranbook?
RB: I just thought it would be an interesting experience for him. I, myself, thought that Zoltan Sepeshy was a kind of peculiar painter. While he had a national reputation, let's say compared with Sarkis, I didn't really think that he was as sound a painter. I thought Sarkis was a very good painter at the time. Later his work became very decorative. And he himself sort of fell apart under the impact of new ideas, and the importance of abstraction. He played with it and backed off it, and played with it and backed off from it, gradually doing... It just didn't fit his intimate kind of style. He wasn't a monumental painter.
RB: And gradually his paintings instead of getting larger under the impact of what was happening with the abstract expressionists got smaller and smaller.
DB: Yes, that's true; that's very true.
RB: I think it was like a sign of his whole retreat from what as happening in the world. I think his own progress as a painter stopped.
DB: That's interesting. And you felt that Zoltan was keeping up with...
RB: Yes, well, he was an old-fashioned painter, too. That tempera painting he was doing with lots of little tiny brush strokes, with all that crosshatched painting. I though that it just was sort of like anti-paint quality. And that interested me at the time. The whole sense of paint. I was very much interested in material. Maybe that's why I'm still so excited about playing with different kinds of materials. But I felt that what Sepeshy was doing was illustrative. Then why did I urge my brother to go there? I don't know. Maybe to break out of what I was doing and just try something else. And he got a scholarship there.
DB: Well, it did have a very good reputation.
RB: It had an excellent reputation. My younger brother was the bad boy of the family. He would have temper tantrums. I would tease him. I had the calmer nature. He had the more volatile nature. I would kick him under the table. He would hit me over the table. He would get punished by my father. After high school it was interesting that he couldn't go to college right away. He said he had to get away. He went out to New Mexico and worked in a railroad station. I think for Railway Express. He could draw beautifully. When I compare his work with mine I think one of the interesting things is that he has a very talented, I think gifted sense of drawing and with ease. I've always felt that things come harder to me, that I had to construct things more. That his flowed more. At any rate he was in New Mexico painting on his own for a while. Of course, seeing Paul paint at home and seeing me paint at home, Paul had tu rned our garage into a studio and would set up still-lifes for us and we would paint out there. And really, a good share of our instruction came from Paul and from his example, as well as from our schooling and from all kinds of conversations with him and from books that he would give us. It's very interesting in that we had all these different kinds of influence. All right, so Matt came back from New Mexico and went to Cranbrook. I think he got a scholarship which paid for part of his tuition. And he would work, worked in the kitchen or something. He loved it there, and stayed for three years. That was after two years at Wayne because the Cranbrook setup is that you have to get your academic work somewhere else and he got a couple of years of academic work at Wayne. Then went to Cranbrook. It was interesting being able to hear what was going on there and see what was happening to him there and going through my own training.
DB: So was this an influence for you to leave, do you think, to get out of the Detroit area? Why did you finally decide? You did go to New York, didn't you? In 1949.
RB: Yes, but what happened before that was my mother had wanted to go to California. She said, "I'll wait for you to finish school." My older sister had moved out there. She had as asthmatic son and it was healthier. She went first to Arizona and then to the Los Angeles area. When I finished my master's in 1945 or 1946, 1946 I think, she said, "Let's go." I had nothing tieing me so I said, "All right, I'll go out there with you." She sold the house in Detroit. We were still in the same house twenty years later. We went to California. My sister in the meantime had found a group of places and within three days my mother bought a house in Los Angeles. I went to work three days a week for my sister and her husband who had a yard goods shop in Santa Monica right near the beach. I spent the other four days on the beach drawing and painting. Then I decided that was too much fun. So I began taking some courses at UCLA. I took courses in education and art education. I guess I decided that I'd better get a degree in art education or something, that I'd better do something besides just painting because obviously I couldn't make a living that way.
RB: So I took a few courses there; spent a year doing that. But really most of my time out there was spent painting. And there was a big jump, I think, in the painting. I did lots of water colors. Suddenly switched to water color which I had done some of before. I think I did some very interesting things in water color at the time. Beach scenes, figurative stuff, mountains, the ocean. I spent most of the time there on the beach.
DB: You didn't take any formal drawing or painting classes?
RB: No, I didn't. At UCLA I was taking academic courses.
DB: Did you find California expanding in the sense of your own art consciousness? Did you see a lot more happening out there than in Detroit?
RB: Some. I don't think there was that much happening here at that time, 1946-1947. There wasn't really that much going on. There were a few galleries, but that was before the big gallery push. But the galleries there more sophisticated. I would see Renoir show not at a museum, but at a gallery. I remember a beautiful Rounault show which impressed me very much. I guess I should mention a show that I saw in Detroit before I left that impressed me. That was a big Hayter show -- Atelier 17 show that was held in about 1945 or 1946 at the Detroit Institute of Arts in the gallery. That just excited me tremendously. I though about going to study with him at that point.
DB: Had you ever done a print before?
RB: No, I hadn't. Then I decided to do some on my own. I didn't though. There were no facilities at Wayne or at Arts and Crafts or anything for printmaking. I didn't do any prints until, I guess I did my first drypoint stuff in 1948. In Los Angeles I met again the young woman who became my wife, Esther Masserman. I had been seeing a little bit of her before I went to California. She was studying sociology and English at Wayne. But I thought of her as a kid. She was too young. While I was working on my master's I was also teaching in the mortuary science department, teaching anatomy. Anatomy of the head, so they could build up broken features, etcetera. During the whole time I managed to avoid the battered and mutilated body in the next room They kept asking me to give demonstrations on the body and I kept saying, "Well first we have to work with clay." But that was before I got my master's. All right, then I went out to California. And Esther came out there. Let's see, I was twenty-three by that time and she had turned nineteen. I began to think of her a little more seriously, not just as someone to sit in a drugstore and talk with. We began dating out there. It got more serious and so we decided to get married. I fought against it. I kept saying, "I'm not supposed to get married for another ten year. How can I afford to get married? I'm going to be an artist."
At any rate, we decided to come back to Detroit to get married. That's how I happened to leave Los Angeles. I stopped in Chicago on the way home. At a job placement agency I found out that there was a job down in Alabama teaching at Auburn University, which at the time was the Alabama Polytechnic Institute. But that would be available in about six months or something. I came on to Detroit, got married. I did some kind of work. Substitute teaching, did some more painting, and did my first prints. My brother was still at Cranbrook then. He was working on a master's there. I snuc k in at night to print up some of my first drypoints. They had a press. Then I went down to Auburn to teach. I stayed there about a year and a half, two year. It was a very interesting experience. I went to Auburn to teach painting, drawing, design, and really continue the kind of painting direction that I had in California. I forgot about printmaking for a while. Well, no, I did some big etchings down at Auburn. But they had no press, so I got hold of some plates and did some. I printed them with a spoon, inked them up, rubbed them like a woodout, and got some kind of image. Enough to see what they were like
DB: You enjoyed it? I mean you were starting to feel good toward prints?
RB: Yes, that excited me. At the same time, most of my time w as devoted to painting. Oil painting and water colors. The stuff getting more abstract. I began to get away from the earlier sort of semi-abstract figure to much more abstract work, working in flat kinds of colors.
DB: You were teaching painting?
RB: Yes, I was teaching painting. And began to work in more flat colors. I was interested in Stuart Davis's work. That kind of excited me. The more brilliant color, and areas of just blank canvas against shapes of colors and few lines, and the whole thing changing from the more structured, almost cubist kind of thing that I was interested in earlier where there was the whole sense of mass of the form, even though it was abstracted. This was much more open kind of structure. I met some interesting people at Auburn. A guy by the name of Applebee was head of the department. It turned out that he was not a southerner, but was from Boston and had studied for a little while with Hans Hofmann. Actually the art department was a smaller department within the College of Art and Architecture. The architecture was a nationally know department. People like Paul Rudolph graduated from there.
DB: That's right. I forgot all about that.
RB: There was a guy named Givrichion [phon. sp], who was International Secretary of the Society of Architects. He was a friend of Corbusier's. He had come from Paris to teach at Auburn. A very unusual and interesting fellow. Most of the people teaching in the art department did not have national ambitions. There was a little guy teaching there, an Italian who I didn't like. That's why I must be repressing his name. He was from New York and had also studied with Hans Hofmann. I think that's probably why Applebee brought him down to teach. There was a kind of lively atmosphere in this tiny isolated town. The town population was 4,000. The student body was 8,000. There was one movie house in tow. I think later there was a second one.
DB: Pretty isolated.
RB: There was a poolroom and a bowling alley. It was like a one-block thing. Driving down my introduction to it, I drove into town. I stopped a young boy walking along carrying a suitcase. I asked, "Where is downtown of Auburn?~ He said, "This is it such as it is. I'm leaving." But it turned out to be livelier that I thought.
DB: Artistically livelier?
RB: Yes, and there were good people in the English department. People with national connections interested in what was happening elsewhere. My wife began to study there, transferring her credits from Wayne. I think she was finishing her senior year at Wayne. She was a hidden English major. Her parents would let her... So she was ostensibly a sociology major but taking almost all English classes and enough sociology to get by. Her father was a newspaper man and said, "I don't want you to be a newspaperwoman. They swear and talk dirty there and..."
DB: He's got a point.
RB: So, she went to school there. Things were very straight in those days. There we were married. We'd been married only six weeks or something when we went down there. Coming from Detroit where she was secretary/treasurer of the N.A.A.C.P. and going down to Auburn Alabama in 1948.
DB: That's quite a change.
RB: It was quite a change. She was a little afraid. I think really afraid of the whole experience, but it turned out to be good for her, too. There was a very interesting novelist who was teaching in the English department. A woman who was a Mormon. What was her name? As a matter of fact, she's just brought out another book. I saw it advertised in the New York Times. Her husband was also teaching in the English department. He was Shakespeare man. An unusual guy, too. I can't think of their names. At any rate, she was really a fine, professional, serious novelist. She was teaching some creative writing there, but just as a part-time thing. Essentially she was working on her own books. I got involved with her husband in doing some work for him. He was doing something very interesting for the time. Oh, I remember the name. It's Sorensen.
RB: He was doing some interesting introductory studies. There they were, a state university that was the agricultural school in the state. It was quite a good sized school. Alabama University in Tuscaloosa was a fancier school. Auburn got lots of students, a mixed bag of students. Some very bright students, some students that came from rural schools who really had to be raised in terms of their command of English. It was very interesting too. When I first went down there, the students had trouble understanding my accent, as well as I having trouble understanding them.
DB: That's very interesting.
RB: In fact, the first time I came into my classroom I saw on the board, "Detroit" divided with an accent mark on the "troit". In the south you know, they say De' Troit.
DB: Yes, that's funny.
RB: At any rate, Sorensen had an interesting project and he wanted me to work on illustrations for him. It was the teaching of first year students in English where I was to try to design some visual aids for language usage. For example, what he was trying to say, which is done today is though to be such a great new thing, was that there is no unacceptable usage or bad English, but different kinds of usage. That there is colloquial use of language.
DB: That was very courageous.
RB: And that this has its place, but that literature uses a different kind of English and that the student should also be familiar with this, and try to teach them literary English and not force them to give up colloquial English. to get them to write in colloquial English, which was shocking for that time.
DB: Really, yes.
RB: And then try to have them translate it into literary English.
DB: That's an interesting idea.
RB: He had a number of very interesting projects that I worked on with him.
DB: What kind of visual aids?
RB: Painting pictures. Large poster type ones, about 30 by 40 of, let's say, drawing a picture of a house which as an ordinary farmhouse. Then drawing a picture of a mansion, and trying to say that these are two kinds. They're both nice houses, one is a formal structure, one is an informal house. And to try to make a parallel between this and language usage. I can't remember all the other things we did. That kind of thing.
DB: I get the idea. Yes, so you did find it a very creative environment, instead of being a kind of backwater?
RB: Yes, and we started a literary and art magazine there called the Auburn Review. I did the illustrations for it for the first couple of years. It went on for about ten years after we left. It was very interesting starting it. We had it privately printed by a printer in town. Printed up 1,000 copies. Sold them all. We got an editorial board. We got the sponsorship of this, what was her first name? The Sorensen woman. I was the art sponsor of it. Esther was the moving force behind it really. It was very interesting. The role that Esther played in it. She was still a student. Some of her stuff was printed in it. It had an editorial board. We were trying to involve all the student in this. Her function very often was to screen out some the terribly anti-black stuff that would come in. I had to screen out the anti-black cartoons that would come in. I did an illustration for one of the poems that a student wrote. I did it in maybe a Picassoish kind of cubist style where it was a combination of profile, from face, where the light side of the face was a profile, the black added to it as a kind of front face thing. They thought I was putting together a black man and a white man in the same illustration. It created a great furor. After about two or three issues of the magazine had been published I then solicited students and selected student illustrations for it, mostly from my own students.
I tried to make it a student magazine. The magazine continued for many years and there is a Southern Review magazine now which still comes out of that because it remained in the hands of a guy by the name of Norman Britton, who was then in the English department at Auburn University an still is. And another fellow, Current [phon.sp.] Garcia. Both men have published many, many articles in the English field. I think Norman Britton was an editor of various magazines before he came to Auburn. So later he was interested in this magazine which became the Southern Review, which became not a student magazine. It is a scholarly magazine. It has some fiction and poetry also.
DB: Why did you finally decide to leave Auburn? It sounds good despite its racial problems.
RB: It was good. It was the racial thing which was upsetting my wife, couldn't stand it.
DB: Couldn't stand the racial aspect? Or the whole environment?
RB: Yes, and too many battles with the magazine. Racial kinds of battles about the magazine.
RB: And we made it more and more democratic, what was happening was that the fraternities were trying to control it. And this became more and more difficult. And there was no money in it. I mean it was terrible. It was like starvation wages. What was I making? $2,640 was the salary I was making there.
DB: Was that good for 1946?
RB: It wasn't even good for them. I mean we lived on it. We had housing from the university at some minimal rate. Made over Army barracks. Which was interesting too, with other faculty members living there. You could practically hear what was going on in everybody else's bedroom. It was an interesting experience. And it was my first college teaching job. That was interesting too. At any rate, we decided to leave. That was what? The summer of 1949. So I was there only a year and a half. Listen the way I made a living down there the first summer I came up to Detroit and worked in a factory. I got some interesting paintings of the assembly line.
DB: Oh, really.
DB: Did you sketch right there on the line?
RB: Oh, no. No. Sketch on the line? God. I was in the old Packard plant near the end of the line and I was taking hoods which would come down off the line. There was another line in from of me with cars moving by. I had to match up the hoods coming off one line with the cars on the other line. They never came at the same time. So I would be grabbing this one and stacking it and when the car came you'd grab and try to find the right hood. And I was running and jumping constantly. Across the pit from me was this fellow putting gas in the cars. For weeks he would be smiling at me all day long. Finally I had a chance to talk to him. I said, "What ar you laughing about?" He said, "I used to have your job until I got a hernia." All right, I got some good things out of it. I spent the summer there.
DB: So what did you decide? You came back to Detroit, you worked there.
RB: then I went back down to teach again.
DB: Okay, after Alabama, what did you decide?
RB: I wasn't sure what to do. California or New York. I decided to go to New York.
DB: Any particular reason?
RB: There were things going on there. And I knew Hayter's shop was there. And I was interested in Stuart Davis and if he would be teaching any place there. I think Esther that summer had finished up her bachelor's. Off we went to New York to find our fortunes. No, jobs.
DB: I was just about to ask you that. Any connections going to look for jobs?
DB: Did you have friends?
RB: As a matter of fact, before we moved to New York, Esther was up in Detroit trying to finish up the paper work from graduating. We ran up like a two hundred dollar phone bill between us, which we paid off in New York over the months. Well, yes, we had a couple of friends in New York. But nobody special. I found out immediately where Atelier 17 was. I went there immediately and jumped right in. I had no job. I went there and asked if I could work. I talked to Hayter. I showed him the print I had don. He was excited that I had managed to this large plate and print it with a spoon. He had never seen that before. He said, "Come on, I'll take a real print from the plate for you." He printed it for me. A big etching. It was fun to have him print my first big etching. Right from the beginning he was just such a warm, unusual, lively person. I asked him if I could come and study with him. "Yes." I asked, "What's the tuition?" I said I didn't have a job yet. He said, "Well, all right. How would you like to sweep up the place?" So I did that.
DB: You went directly to Hayter? You didn't go to Stuart Davis first?
RB: I was trying to find out where Davis was teaching. Hayter had a place. Davis didn't have his own place where he was teaching. Then I found out that Davis was teaching at the New School. I registered for a course there that would begin in September. I got to New York in July or something so it wasn't very long.
DB: But you had gone to Hayter between those times?
DB: Oh, I didn't realize that.
RB: I registered for Davis's course at the New School. I think he was teaching somewhere else, too, but I didn't know where else. I saw a catalogue there. I guess I also went to sit in... My wife was interested in a literature course. Oh, there was a wonderful course that Fowley [phon. sp] was teaching on the French nineteenth century poets. I sat in on that. He's really a great translator. That was an exciting course. So I studied with Stuart Davis there for that year, and began with Hayter all on like no money. I think I was, was I monitor or something for Davis? Not monitor, I think it was taking tickets or some such thing. Or maybe I paid for that course. I don't know.
DB: At Davis's studio?
DB: You were doing both? You were doing Davis and Hayter at the same time?
RB: Right. Oh, I remember. I did earn some money. I got a substitute teaching job in the public schools. I would pick up a day here and there. Then I did some more substitute teaching. Oh, yes, I got down as a regular substitute for a few months in the art department at one high school, which drove me crazy. I ended up on a milk diet after about three months.
DB: Drive you crazy if you're a substitute?
DB: No. respect?
RB: I remember at the end of that time. It was a home room and I was cleaning off the blackboard or something or putting something up on it. The principal came in and there were students leaning out the window. He was very upset about it and said to me, "They could fall out the window." And I said, "Good. That's just what I want." So you can see that that wasn't what I was cut out for. I didn't stay very long. I did some more substituting until I could find another kind of job. I had done map drafting during the war, so I looked for some kind of drafting job. That was the time of the big push for electronics draftsmen. They were hiring lots of people. So, I went into that, told them I was a draftsman. Didn't say that I wasn't an electronics draftsman. They said, "All right. We'll try you out." So I went in there and looked around to see what everybody was doing. Just learned it on the job. It wasn't very hard. Within a few months I was doing what everybody else was doing.
DB: That was enough to keep you alive?
RB: Well, Esther also got a job at the same place. She was a timekeeper. When I would come in late she would have to dock me. That was a day-time job of course. So I was with Davis one or two nights a week, and with Hayter one or two nights a week.
DB: Now let's talk a little bit about the two types of education. The two types of men. What was your experience with Davis like?
RB: He was more removed that was Bill Hayter. It was a different kind of experience. In the class at the New School a monitor set up the still life for Stuart Davis. And a wonderfully complex still life. Lots of little tiny things piled up, up, up, up. Practically like a junk heap from which we would paint. Really it was painting in the style of Stuart Davis. We would all get in there and get ready to paint like Stuart Davis. He would help each of us. His comments were not too important. Most of us were more involved in his work than in what he was saying. At least that's what I felt. I mean I had been looking at his work and at reproductions of his work for a number of years and was very excited about it. He had cryptic things to say. Like the class joke was... They were quite mature students, a really quite advanced group. Whenever he would walk around from one student's painting to another's he would find a place to put lemon yellow. He would look at your painting. He would talk to you about a certain spacial thing. He would never leave anybody without saying, "Put a little lemon yellow over there." You know, it was ridiculous. Be he would find a nice place, he would find the right place in your painting for lemon yellow. Everybody's was a little different place. Be he would find a nice place for lemon yellow. You know, it was like a joke because he would always find a place for lemon yellow, no matter whose painting it was, or what you were doing, big, small. But it was a less personal kind of experience than with Hayter. If I were to compare the two, it was like Davis was the man who had painted the paintings, but you were really thinking about his paintings. With Hayter it was the prints which attracted me to him at first, but it was the personality and what he said and did that excited you in class. I mean Stuart Davis is, was, a brilliant man. There's no question about it. And his writings are marvelous, his paintings are marvelous. But as a teacher in that particular setup he was a comple tely uninspiring teacher.
DB: How big was the class?
RB: Maybe fifteen.
DB: You said everybody was fairly accomplished, pretty much?
RB: As I recall. They weren't young kids.
DB: And everybody was turning out Stuart Davis's?
RB: Right. I probably should have studied down the street from Hayter at Hans Hofmann's. I would go up there and visit sometimes. That interested me. But I just didn't have the time for anything more. I was getting more and more involved with Hayter as well as with Davis.
DB: Did you feel disappointed in the Davis experience?
RB: I wasn't, because my painting had gone in that direction before. My painting was still going in that direction. It was as if no matter what Davis said, that the direction I was going in anyway, hard edge kind of abstract shapes. A mixture of line, and some suggestion of figure, but strong dark, light reds, greens, blues, this kind of staccato use of color which was characteristic of Davis.
DB: Did you always work from still-life in his class?
RB: Yes. In the class we always did. Of course at the same time I was working on other paintings at home. A whole series of subway scenes.
DB: Was this for this class? Or just for...
RB: No, no. Just for my own painting.
DB: I see. You didn't bring these in to show him?
RB: No, I didn't. Well, I may have brought in something to talk to him about. But really it was just to continue my own painting. After all, by then I had been teaching painting, I had been working on my own painting for a long time. I just wanted to see what I could get out of him in the classroom and what his direction was. I found it in general helpful, but not especially inspiring in the way that Hayter was.
DB: Now what do you mean by "in general helpful"? I'm just asking? What did you get out of it?
RB: What did I get out of it? It's hard for me to say. Maybe in a sense it was just reinforcement for the direction that I had been going in anyway. In that, that was the way in which he was thinking. And the criticism he gave me in the class on the painting was the way in which my own mind was going. So that if I would be worried about the amount of simplification or the amount of detail I'd be using from the still life, his criticism was really of the nature or, well, maybe add a little bit more, but not too much detail and so on. So it was specifically helpful, not generally informative. His painting had already done that for me.
DB: The things you did outside of class, like the subway scenes, where they in the style of Davis?
RB: To some extent. I think a little bit more geometric and maybe less brilliant in color, but in general, related to the kind of thing he was doing.
DB: How long did you stay with him?
RB: That year. Just that year. It didn't seem very long and I didn't find the influence that terribly important in terms of the class. It was important in terms of his work and the direction that he had really set for me. With Hayter, there was something much more personal. We'd go out drinking afterwards.
DB: You didn't with Davis?
DB: Did he sense himself as a grand master?
RB: Yes. The monitor would set everything up. The monitor was his intermediary. He would slip out and back. It was obviously a way for him to make a living. It wasn't of great importance to him. Hayter, on the other hand, was in a sense gaining descip les. It was a different kind of thing. He was trying to convince you of the importance of prints and the possibility of prints and of the validity of his direction, although interestingly enough while he was much more Messiahan that Davis, he was much more open in terms of the way he wanted to work. He wanted you to learn his techniques, but was open to your working any way you wanted, whereas Davis wanted you to just work within his style and that's all.
DB: Did he ever tolerate another style? Did anybody ever attempt another style in class?
RB: No, no. I think one or two people did and he just didn't bother talking to them about their work, that's all.
DB: That's one way of critique. You've just turned out a bad one. Didn't you find that, mentally, I mean creatively limiting?
RB: Maybe that's why I just abandoned the class and continued with the printmaking.
DB: I think what we'll do is we'll draw to a close here because I would like to devote much more time on Hayter. We're sort of running out of tape.
RB: All right. What time is it now?
DB: Good question, tape recorder...
[Break in taping]
DB: Today is Wednesday, May 8. I am here again with Bob Broner in his studio. We're going to continue our conversation which was started last Friday about his career and contacts int he art world and so forth. We both have colds so we both sound a little strange. We left on Friday with you essentially giving up or leaving the studio of Stuart Davis. What I would like to talk about now is your association with Hayter. We have alluded to it before, and we talked a little bit about your going in to meet Hayter. But if you could expoun d on what it was like there, contacts with the man. Again, how you met him, and how much work you did with him and so forth.
RB: All right. Maybe I'll begin by describing the kind of differences in the two places. The New School of course was very fashionable. Right now they have new studios, but in those days, the places to work were just little boxes, more like ordinary classrooms without the chairs. Hayter's work shop was on Eighth Street at that time, right across from the Art Theatre. That has since been torn down and fancy apartments have been built. But at that time it was on the second floor over an art supply shop. You'd walk up to the studio. There were no classes there in the daytime. People worked on their own. You had to take a class with Hayter for one semester before you'd be given a key. After you were there one semester you were allowed to have a key and could come in any time of day or night and work. It was completely informal in that sense. At Stuart Davis's the students were more likely to be artists already. The also came from a wider variety of background. At Hayter's there were people from South America, France, England, Spain, Germany. There were people from all over in process of regular study and work there. There were also the constant visitors. Many writers and well-known painters would come to talk to Hayter and see what was going on. It was at this shop on Eighth Street, for example, that the movie was made of Niro making a print. There were a number of other films made there. There was a color film made there of Hayter doing a print, an engraving. Was it an engraving that he was doing in that movie? I think so, But maybe it's a combination engraving/etching. Oh yes, I think it's a combination. His earlier kind of standard combinations of techniques. I have a feeling that it's that particular shop. You see, it moved. The reason I'm emphasizing that particular one is that it moved.
Of course it was in Paris before in several locations. And it's in Paris now and has moved to many different locations. But at the same time, the major address, for it was Eighth Street. Then later it moved. After I left and several years after Hayter left, it moved to Fourteenth Street, I think. I think they were ont he corner of Seventh Avenue or something. All right, I came there in the summer of 1949 and showed Hayter these plates that I had worked on. He was generous enough to print my big one for me to show me what it would look like. He was a very warm and demonstrative kind of person. He loved to talk and not just about his work. He loved to talk about your work, about other people's work. It was interesting to me that while he insisted that in the beginning you follow his technique in the sense of to begin with engraving, then to move on to combinations of engraving and soft ground etching and aquatinting, that also those people who had been at the shop longer were working in many different kinds of techniques and images, which he did not look upon as a betrayal. He was very interested in what people were doing.
DB: He did not profess in a style that...
RB: Oh, he was very interested in his style. He was insistent that you try it. Once you had done that and were moving off in other directions, as long as you knew that you knew the skills involved, he wasn't worried about it. And wasn't threatened by it either. He didn't feel that you had to doing his thing. People have told in recent years that he's gotten more worried about his own image and whether or not people are really following his direction any more, which of course, many, most people aren't. Which isn't to say that he isn't important. I think he was terribly important. As I recall, he arrived in the United States around the end of 1939 or the beginning of 1940 and stayed until the end of 1950 or the beginning of 1951. I studied with him really for only one year, but I stayed in the shop for two and a half to three years, something like that.
DB: He had left the shop still there?
RB: He went back to Paris. He came back on trips, but essentially he moved the shop back to Paris. That was in, I don't know, early 1951 or something like that. Essentially what he had said was that it was because of the whole McCarthy hearings. He felt that all his friends were being hounded and kicked out of the country, etcetera. He felt that it was not in a receptive kind of atmosphere for someone who was basically committed to innovation in printmaking, but really to the whole sense of innovation in ideas of the various arts. He was very much interested in literature too, and poetry.
DB: During this period, did you have a great interest in prints? You talked about it before slightly. But you had been making prints?
DB: Before you came to Hayter's?
RB: Well, a little bit. I was interested in prints. I had done a few drypoints and really just a couple of etchings. But at the time, let's say, when I began working with him I was really more committed to painting and more involved with my work with Stuart Davis. It's retrospective in the sense that I gradually became more and more interested in Hayter and in graphics.
DB: Did you copy his style when you first arrived there?
RB: Oh, yes. I began with some small engravings even though that wasn't what I had been doing before I came to the shop. I began with some engravings and mixtures of soft ground etchings and so on. Just doing little plates and fooling around with technique. The whole business of the technical aspect of etching beyond the drawing. What I had done before I came there was primarily an extension of my drawing. It was drypoint work or line etching, no aquatint. So that it used none of the real tonal qualities or more complex techniques of etching. So that when I came there the character of my graphics changed and became more material involved and technique involved to learn the technique. I think that it was something about his approach to technique which excited me in that it was not just "these techniques which I've discovered, but within these techniques there are possibly other techniques and that you, too, can find something." It was this sense of pleasure in innovation and experimentation which I think comes out of his scientific background.
DB: I didn't know that.
RB: Yes. He was a chemist. He came from a family of artists, was determined not to be an artist, but I guess gradually got more and more involved. He went to the Near East as an oil engineer. Began doing paintings and I think drypoints while he was working for one of the oil companies. Something like Gulf Arabian, or something. The names of the oil companies keep changing.
DB: Yes they do.
RB: I think the company gave him a show. They were very impressed with his work. He finally gave up his job there and went to Paris and studied with, who did he study with? An engraver. I can't remember the name. It's in his book. Well, I don't know if he says int he book that he studied with him, but he reproduced one of his in his first book on graphics. Then he opened up his own shop. Right from the beginning his shop in Paris was begun with the idea of "this place is where artists will come and I will help them with their work," not "This is where my disciples will come or my students." So when he began the school, it was really with the idea of trying to bring together a community of artists in a workshop rather that as a school. There were many people that came to him for work with the burin. His really great thing was his control of the burin, which was wonderful. As I recall his telling it, people like Picasso came and worked with him. Many artists in Paris came to work with him. He was quite willing to show people whatever he knew. I think it was coming from science and his approach wasn't that of trade secrets, but that you progress and your field progresses together.
DB: Yes. Two questions. What sort of methods did you learn there. What did he teach you there? Did he critique, and how did he critique?
RB: He didn't critique on a group basis. It was all individual. He would go from one person to another. If you were young and pretty and female, he would visit you a little more often.
DB: Okay, a good man.
RB: But he was very conscientious in terms of seeing each person not on a rotation basis because, you know, there were no giant classes.
DB: How big?
RB: It was hard to tell because people were always coming at different times. Maybe there'd be a dozen people in the twice-a-week night class that he would have.
DB: Fairly small.
RB: But out of the dozen that were in class, probably there would be twenty to twenty-five people who would be coming to the shop. People soon began to avoid the class and would come at other times. Would come in at class time maybe to have a look at something. He didn't come only at class time either. And he often came there to do his own work.
DB: You came there in the class? You were int he class first?
RB: Yes. But since I was out of work when I came to New York and didn't have any money he offered me the chance to sweep up in exchange for tuition, which was very small at the time anyway. I don't remember what it was. So I immediately had a key and was working there a good share of the time.
DB: I see. How often would you go?
RB: In the beginning when I wasn't working on any kind of regular job I would go daily. Then once I'd found some other kind of work I would go in the evenings. I'd go most evenings.
DB: Now as for methods. What kind of printing methods did you learn with Hayter? You don't have to give all of them, but just some idea.
RB: Well, it was the bruin work, how to etch with soft ground, the aquatint, the roulette work, the rocker, but essentially his technique was based on your being able not to put a soft ground on, but to be able to build a transparent, gauzy kinds of layers of tone over tone, over tone. So it was a matter of being able to acquire a certain kind of delicacy of control over it, not just a matter of how it was done. Of course, all of these things are now available in every one of the standard books. At that time soft ground etching was a technique that had been used in the past, but by individual artists and was not really much written up, except for a funny kind of soft ground technique where you put soft ground down on the plate and put paper on top of that, and draw with a pencil. And it creates the effect of a pencil line in the way in which it lifts the soft ground off, attaching it to the back of that pencilly effect, which is kind of interesting, but is a very special technique.
That wasn't what Hayter taught. He taught the use of soft ground to build up tonal qualities and, let's say, the difference between that and the tonal qualities and, let's say, the difference between that and the tones that you would build up by aquatinting is that in general as you would go darker the aquatinting becomes much more opaque and heavy than the so ft ground etching. On the other hand, an interesting thing is that the soft ground etching is much sturdier physically and more permanent on the plate. You can yield a much greater edition because it doesn't have the raised points that aquatint has that c an break down.
DB: Did Hayter often work with you? Would there ever be situations in which he would...
RB: He would give demonstrations. Demonstrations of how to use the burin. Also he demonstrated once something which a year later ended up as not exactly, but in another way part of a technique which I spent a lot of time on. He was very much interested in a kind of character of line. I mean his whole being is practically line from the burin. In his paintings everything is linear. He took a tin can, filled it with liquid asphaltum, which is an acid resist, punched a hole in the bottom, had it tied to a string first, and then swung it back and forth over the plate in many different ways, and got not exactly, but something like a Jackson Pollock kind of effect. But not the kind of whipped line that Pollock might get with a brush and wrist motion. This was a bigger swinging kind of thing. Hayter did this on a few small plates, about four by five. He then dried these and bit them in acid so that where the stopout was, these lines would be raised; printed them, and did a complicated thing of color over color, over color, etcetera. Essentially the thing that seemed to remain in my mind, I didn't know it would at the time, was this deep biting effect and what would happen with that in the way you ink it, and so on. And that became part of a technique which I worked on later, first with heavy aquatint and then many years later just by itself.
DB: Were you conscious of it at that point when you...?
RB: No, I mean it was a demonstration of another technique. "Here's another trick that's open, maybe there's something you can do with it" That was his whole approach. Not, "This is what you must do," or "I have just discovered something great," but "here's something to entice you."
DB: We talked a little bit about this before, did he ever profess theory? Was he strong on theory?
RB: Yes, he was very much interested in the theory of the character of lines. He writes about it in his first book which came out about the same time. I think it came out in 1948. Certain kinds of line effects will be cold and certain kinds will be warm. At the same time, he was very much interested in the color of the black in, a little bit cooler or a little bit warmer, etcete ra. He was very much involved in color theory, both in his painting and in his prints he advocated a theory of the use of secondary colors rather than primary colors. I don't remember if he writes about this in his book. I think he does, if not in the first one, then maybe in some of the succeeding ones. We're dealing not with red, yellow, blue, but with orange, blue-green, and purple. And he didn't just talk about it, he utilized these things in his prints. He really made it work. He'd take this blue-green and the purple and use them in overlaps. Take the oranges and use them in overlaps. Really try to build primaries out of the secondaries. At the same time, the dominance of this blue-green, very much like a viridian green, the purple and the orange I think became almost like a trademark of many of his color prints.
DB: Did you find yourself using the same colors?
RB: No. I never got involved in using that color system of his. I went off in different directions. You remember too, that I was still primarily involved in painting at that time. You see, after he left, let's say, a couple a the things that happened from the soft ground technique, where you cut fabric, which was his technique, usually or often the same material that you would wipe the plates with, this tarleton or starched cheesecloth, or silk stockings would give you a fine texture and so on. Using these materials for the soft ground, which is the way he worked it and the way we were doing it in class. Of course, many people were playing with those things. Sometimes people would run off a proof of just what was left over on the piece of material after it had picked up the soft ground etching. I was especially taken with this, and developed a technique out of it which was a monotype technique or monoprint technique.
DB: Monoprint. Okay.
RB: Now monoprint is the favorite word. It used to be that monotype was the favorite word. In this I would take the fabrics, cut them out ahead of time. With Hayter we would do that only sometimes, usually what we did was stretch the fabric over the whole plate and then stop-out areas that we didn't want to, but occasionally we would cut them. Well, at any rate, what I did was I built up a technique of cutting fabrics. I still have a few of my prints, the monotypes from 1952, where I would put color on the fabric, put the paper on top, and run it through so that I was printing from the fabrics. I put this on top of a plate which was rolled in ink instead of in ground. I did a whole series of this and became almost more involved in this that in my etching. I guess I really only did a few good sized ones, while I was still at Hayter's. I left Hayter's in 1952 to go to Bob Blackburn and set up the etching shop for him. Then I did a lot of monotypes there. My first one man show in New York was all monotypes. It was in 1956. My first big-time sales were out of that show. I sold to the Museum of Modern Art out of that show and to a whole group of private collectors to oh, what's her name? Jean Lipman and her husband, and to some other guy, I forget his name, who was head of the American Federation of Arts, a number of things.
DB: I notice here a change in your career. At what point did you become so heavily committed to graphics?
RB: Yes, well, I was still painting at the same time and using the same themes. I had become enormously involved with the subway. Not that you can escape it. I just was very excited about it visually and many of my paintings at the time, as well as prints and monoprints were involved with the subway. After I did the first few engraving combinations with soft ground and so on for Hayter in the style of Hayter I began to be more and more involved with aquatint. First mixing it with other soft ground etching altogether for a complete aquatint technique. There I used the asphaltum, but rather than this kind of a drip technique, which Hayter had demonstrated that one day a couple of years earlier, I was using it to paint on, which we often used to paint as a stopout. But I was using it not to cover the plate, but as a direct painting kind of thing; linear and area painting with a sable brush, using a water color brush and handling it very much like that a painting brush, but painting of course was stopped-out areas which are reverse, you know, light instead of dark the areas you have painted. Very deeply bitten etches.
And I began at that time using the halo effect of a deep bite where I wouldn't aquatint immediately. First thing after the stopout I would just put it in a tray of acid and open bite to a lower depth to get it started. And then I would aquatint. Otherwise they would just eat off all the aquatint anyway by the time I got down to where I wanted to go in terms of this almost sculptural kind of relief effect of the plate. Because I liked what happens there with the differences of level. That, of course, was perhaps also out of Hayter in the sense that he did some of the early experimentation and he demonstrated it for us. He said, "Look, one day you may not have at etching press and you'll want to print a plate." So he demonstrated the technique of a plaster cast, inking up a plate, wiping it, and building a form around it, pouring wet plaster over the inked up surface of the plate. The head of the reaction of the plaster, which as you probably know gets warm as there is this chemical reaction in the plaster, loosens the ink. When it's all hard and dry you take it off. If you're successful, you've got the print on the surface of the plaster. What Hayter had done many years earlier. Some people say, well it was one of his art students that fist hit on the idea and then he took it. But at any rate it came out of his doing the plaster cast. This was to carve into that also to make a kind of combination sculpture-print. But in that s ense it wasn't multiple, the print was part of it, was, but the carving wasn't. That was a unique thing. There were other kinds of sculptural things, people playing with plastic, taking dental tools and cutting into plastic surfaces to create roughened surfaces to print on and so on.
DB: At the point that you left Hayter's, he was no longer there? You were just using it as a workshop?
RB: Right. Other people had taken over in the meantime. First, immediately after he left I think Terry Haas and Harry Holhn shared responsibility for running the shop. They had both been students in the shop, were quite competent technically, and were willing to accept the responsibility of running it. I think they took it over for six months. Then I think Karl Schrag did it for a year, maybe more. Later on after I left, Peter Grippe took it over. That may be been a number of years later. There was another old guy that took it over. As a matter of fact, at one point I was supposed to take the shop and run it. It was on Fourteenth Street then. But I couldn't afford to give up my job where I was earning about thirty dollars a week.
DB: Your teaching job?
RB: No, I was a draftsman then. Electronics draftsman.
DB: Oh, right, right. So why did you decide then to go to Bob Blackburn? Was it simply because he made the offer of setting up the shop?
RB: Yes, it was a chance to set up an etching facility there. Blackburn's shop was at the time, and now is even, more etching that lithography. At the time Bob invited me over it was all lithography, which was Bob Blackburn's specialty. Let's see, he invited me and another guy whose name I can't remember, who was studying at the Brooklyn Museum School, to take it over. Well, not to take it over, but to start the etching facility there. He had a press, which he inherited from somebody and we were to set up the shop. As I recall, the other guy never materialized. Maybe he came by once or twice. A young friend of his then became my monitor, a printmaker who you may know by the name of Gerson Leiber.
DB: Gerson Leiber, yes.
RB: A nice guy. So he became my monitor at that point at Bob Blackburn's, in the etching. We worked together for a long time there and we're still good friends.
DB: Who was the greatest influence on you? Would you say Hayter was?
DB: Of the people you've known, the artists you've know?
DB: Do you think without him you would have gone into prints? That's hard to say, I guess.
RB: No, I wouldn't have because in order to... Before I even did my first tentative print things it was as a result of having seen the Hayter Atelier 17 show maybe back in 1945.
DB: Right. Here at the Detroit Institute of Arts?
DB: But you had done almost nothing, or just a little, until your contract with him?
DB: Did you finally give up painting? Do you paint now and then? Did you give it up in 1956?
RB: No, I'm still painting, but less than what I used to. Really, much less that what I used to. But I go through periods when I push aside the prints and I'll do more painting. Somehow I just find more challenge in the prints of various kinds. I think it's the resist ance of the materials. Sometimes I think it's that I like the indirection of printmaking; that you're doing something backwards; you're doing something that is like a mental chess game in the sense that what you're looking at is not what it's going to be.
DB: It's the opposite.
RB: Whereas in the role of the painter, you're constantly judging everything you're doing immediately in terms of its final effect. But maybe I like the guessing game which is that technique I developed, the monotype. Got very complex after a while. That's even more of a guessing game because you've got to one try. It may take a half day of just inking pieces of fabrics for a big one and preparing the whole thing. I mean that's after maybe weeks of planning it. It may take a half day just to pull one and either it works or it doesn't. And then you're in great trouble if it doesn't because if the fabrics are wet with inc, they won't take more ink the same way. If you let them dry they harden up and they won't take ink the same way.
DB: You're damned if you do...
RB: So you can try again. I have tried again when it didn't work out the first time, or modified and so on. Sometimes you have to throw away that piece of material. Some of the pieces just can't be used again.
DB: During this period of the early fifties, how would you classify most of your work? Was it representational?
RB: Oh, yes, it was figurative. My subways had subways in them. My subway stations had all the tile bricks, not always, but sometimes. There were figures running and pushing. But they were highly abstracted.
DB: Was this typical of what was going on in Hayter's classes?
RB: No, not at all. And this was after I had left his classes. The first subway things I did were done while I was still there and I still have a couple that are really engraving and aquatint and soft ground etching in the traditional Hayter style.
DB: Were you experimenting more with technique at this time than with your artistic statement? Or a little of both? Obviously a little of both.
RB: As I think about it at the moment, I would say that what happened was that my painting was ahead of my graphics technique in that I was doing the subway scenes, making my drawings and so on essentially from the paintings. The first prints that came out of it were just a spin off. The were, "All right, while I'm working with this theme I'll do it in the print also while I'm learning the etching techniques. Then as I abandoned the engraving and moved toward aquatint the whole approach was really painting was stop out and very close to the painting that I was doing. So that technically, and maybe not the total effect, but I think the ways in which figures were abstracted were directly out of the paintings that I was doing.
DB: You said your first show was in 1956 in New York?
DB: And that was while you were still at Blackburn's?
RB: Yes, it was 1956. 1955 I think it was. Well, I'm confused now. It must have been in 1955. Each time I've said 1956, haven't I. But it was early in 1956 that I left New York for Detroit.
DB: That's just what I was going to ask you. Why did you leave New York?
RB: By that time we had three children. I was beginning to see less and less of them. I became more involved in my daily job. I became a top-notch draftsman, worked fifty hours a week, was in my studio. Fifty hours a week was ten hours a day, five days a week, went from there sometimes to the chess club, and then on to Blackburn's shop where I would work most evenings. I would come home to my wife around midnight. The poor thing was still hanging diapers. Let's see, the children were born when? I'm a terrible father.
DB: You had three young children. Did you have an offer to come back?
RB: No, what happened was that the kids got terribly sick. At that time the twin boys were maybe three and our daughter was fifteen months older. That's Sari and Adam and Jeremy. They were quite sickly. They looked great, nice and fat and healthy looking, but they had ciliac disease. All three of them.
DB: What is that?
RB: Ciliac is an inability... We now know, at that time it was not know just what it was. People who had ciliac disease at that time were put on a complete banana diet. They had constant diarrhea. Various other kinds of side effects would come from it. That is, it was an inability actually to digest gluton. It wasn't found out until maybe ten years later. They were often in the hospital with extremely high temperatures, becoming dehydrated from the diarrhea and various other things. So they were constantly sick. And since my wife's mother was here in Detroit I felt it wasn't fair to keep her there, that I could be of so little help. She had no family in New York, that it was just too hard. So what I did after the last wild illness of one of the kids, where he had a temperature of something like 105 degrees, I said, "Okay, let's go back to Detroit." I called up my brother who was working at the Detroit Times and said, "Can you get me a job?" He said, "Yes." Within a short time we left New York.
DB: Artistically would you have liked to have stayed in New York?
RB: Oh, yes, All my friends were there. Still, in Detroit I have many young printmaking students and ex-students as friends. But really I look upon printmaking friends as being in New York.
DB: Have any of them gone on to be major printmakers?
RB: Karl Schrag, Gus Leiber, Harry Hoehn has done a lot of work. Let's see, who else was there at that time that I knew. Michael Ponde de Leo. A lot of people. I don't know the names. I'm terrible at names.
DB: Do you thing the move...
RB: Fred Becker. But I knew him only slightly there. He was mostly before I came there.
DB: When you came back once you were established and working, did you continue to print again?
RB: Well, that was a problem. I came back and first I was just doing paintings. Then I missed the prints terribly. I began doing plates, but there was no place I could print them.
DB: That's what I wanted to know.
RB: Arts and Crafts had a little press, but it was sort of like in storage somewhere where they couldn't use it, or I couldn't get at it. I wanted to use the press out at Cranbrook and, what's his name who was teaching out there then? I think he's still up at Michigan State. He used to go to Cranbrook once a week. He was a lithographer who was teaching both kinds of prints, intaglio and lithography, at Cranbrook.
DB: You aren't thinking of Emil Weddige?
RB: No, no. He never taught there.
DB: I didn't think he did. But I just don't know who's at Michigan State right now.
RB: He's a guy who's been around for a long time. A marvelous technician in lithography. He may be ready to retire from there. I think he's been sick.
DB: I don't know him.
RB: A good guy. And more interested in modern directions in art than Emil Weddige. Emil Weddige is very old- fashioned. I mean he always was a technician primarily. At any rate I wanted to go out to Cranbrook to use the etching press there. The teacher invited me, but then the school didn't want me to. They wouldn't let me, stopped me from using the press. Why I don't know. But they wouldn't let me. Maybe they were afraid of an onslaught of printmakers from...
DB: Could be.
RB: There weren't any in Detroit then. No one was teaching it.
DB: No one was teaching printmaking?
RB: No, there wasn't any printmaking at Arts and Crafts. I set it up there about a year later. Wayne University didn't have any printmaking setup. No one in the area was teaching it.
DB: This is in 1956-1957?
RB: Right, right. Arts and Crafts had had the etching press earlier and they had used it. Some students would get excited and pull a few things and then they would push it off into storage again. It was maybe the end of 1956 of the beginning of 1957 when I went to Arts and Crafts to set up the etching.
DB: That's interesting because it became such a big thing around here.
RB: Yes, it has. But that was the first real shop. The one that I set up in the old building on Watson Street.
DB: What kind of presses did you have there?
RB: First we had a deroller press. That's all they had. And they had gotten it from an old print shop that was next door to them which did engraved invitations. They got the press. I think a student was instrumental in getting it. Oh, I wonder if it was Dave Rubella maybe. It could have been Dave. I knew him when I was teaching there. He was a student. Do you know Dave Rubella?
DB: Yes, I do.
RB: Nice guy, talented. I think he and another student of mine from Arts and Crafts went off to Italy together to study. Well, at any rate, at Arts and Crafts I set up with that and a lithopress. Then I talked them into buying a press from Bob Blackburn in New York. And we did buy a press for him. They still have it there, they're still using it. That's a nice press. It's a little small maybe, but it's a nice press.
DB: Was printmaking welcomed here? I mean, did you have a lot of students at Arts and Crafts? Was it a popular area in the late fifties?
RB: I think so. I taught the etching and lithography and woodcuts and the whole range of activities. No silkscreen. Well, it was popular with the students. At the same time, the school always did, and I think technically, still look upon it as not a major area like painting and sculpture. I think you can get a major in jewelry, but you still can't get a major in printmaking.
DB: When did the other printmaking departments come into fruition here? At Wayne University for example?
RB: I don`t really know the dates.
DB: But considerably after that?
RB: I think so. I mean they may have had some woodcut before, but not etching. As I recall, Tom Woodward who began teaching the woodcut then, learned a little bit of etching, and a little bit of lithography and he's the one I think who's expanded. I think he studied some lithography with Weddgie. I don't know who he learned some of his etching from. But, for many, many years, there was no real operation, because first of all, I don't know how committed Tom Woodward was to printmaking. Because he didn't set out to be a printmaker. He just sort of had to teach it and gradually had to keep his skills ahead of what he was teaching.
DB: How long did you stay with Arts and Crafts?
RB: I taught there sort of on and off. Sometimes part time, sometimes full-time, leaving it for a year or two. Until maybe 1964, I think was the last time I taught there. I began teaching there only part time, just teaching printmaking.
DB: Were you turning out a lot of your own work while teaching? Were you doing a lot of shows and so forth?
RB: Well, while I was teaching there, that was a small operation essentially in terms of drain on my time. I was working full time as an artist and art critic on the newspaper to make a living for my three children. And before long I had a fourth.
DB: That's right. This is the Detroit Times folks. Ancient history here.
RB: But that turned out to be very interesting. First of all, I got involved as a critic which was interesting for me; turning out a weekly column for a couple of years. Then I used their etching room. And it was magnificent.
DB: I would think so.
RB: At night there was very little doing there. I would go in and I would have a complete shop at my disposal. All built on speed. An etching machine, like the difference between doing a deep bite, and kind of deep bit that I would do at Blackburn's shop was nitric acid, which isn't too weak. It's a traditional proportion. I would put the plate in the tray for a deep bite and go out and have dinner, come back and take another look at it. In the Times shop where they had the etching machines, where the acid was thrown against the plate, I would watch a minute hand, the second sweep hand, and what would take an hour would take about a minute.
DB: Oh, well, you could really do a lot of experimentation.
RB: It was too fast. I mean you didn't have time to think about it. You would put it in there and have to watch it very closely, and quickly take it out and then spend maybe an hour thinking about what else you were going to do to it. Whereas I was used to the other pace, where you'd be staring at the plate in the acid thinking, well, what am I going to do to it next?
DB: Yes, How did you get the job as the art critic at the Detroit Times?
RB: I was working in the art department first doing layouts and various kinds of things. They needed an art critic. I guess at the time a new publisher had come in. I forget the name of the gal who was writing criticism at the time.
DB: On the Times? I wouldn't know the Times. Florence Davies was the critic for the Detroit News. The Times I wouldn't know.
RB: There were a number of people. At any rate, there was a young woman who was doing it who knew a little bit, but really didn't know enough. It so happened that this new publisher who came in knew something about art and was upset at what she was writing. Most publishers wouldn't bother reading the art column in their own newspaper anyway. I don't remember how he knew me, but he did and asked me if I would be willing to do it. So I did. It led to great complications on the job where I was in two different roles and two different types of emergencies. Newspapers are full of emergencies anyway. And deadlines. It was upsetting to the guy who was head of the commercial art department that was in. Then I was art editor. He didn't know how to deal with me. So that made for social problems.
DB: Was there conflict as far as being an artist in that you were judging other artists in the area?
RB: He didn't care about that. He just didn't like mail coming to me as art editor. He was an insecure person. That's all.
DB: Was it a problem for you?
RB: Yes, I finally quit.
DB: Did it interfere with your being an artist? I think what I'm trying to get at is: did it bother you to be a critic and artist at the same time? Did you feel that you might...
RB: It took up a lot of my time. I don't write easily. As a matter of fact, during the whole period, it was my wife who really taught me how to write. She would make me rewrite stuff. I couldn't type. She would have to type it for me and if she didn't like it she wouldn't type it for me. So I'd have to rewrite it.
DB: Did you turn out much work during the period?
RB: I always worked. I would work at night, or weekends, or whenever I had free time.
DB: Let's comment on and I think we'll draw this to a close. I'd like first of all if you would comment on what you consider your most important work. What period. Or do you think it's now? There were a couple of series of joint exhibitions.
RB: Let me say that one of the things that happened at that time was that I came back from New York and I continued doing the same kinds of aquantints, dark, heavy aquantints deeply bitten that I was doing in New York. When I working at the Times i wend through kind of a shift. Well, when I did this one, the Moraine. That was the first switch in subject.
DB: Switch in subject?
RB: So that I abandoned subject matter completely. What I mean to say is that at this point where I was doing the very deep etchings I thought wouldn't it be interesting to eliminate all the aquantint completely and just do this deep bite stuff and get rid of this like overly rich darkness and range of tones? Well, as I was getting tired of that kind of direction of aquantint also, I no longer had the subway, right. So I was kind of looking around for new kinds of things. First it was like skid row characters. Maybe that's an extension of the subway.
DB: Yes, I guess it is.
RB: Also, it was an extension of the downtown area, what it was like in those days. The Times was right on the edge of a skid row area. At the same time I was sort of running out of that. It was at that point that I decided to break with the figurative stuff completely and went toward this kind f thing evolving the stone shapes. Really evolving directly out of the stopped-out areas. Working with stopout and the deep bite.
The Moraine in 1958, being the first one, and that one ended up as a big break in terms of printmaking for me too. That was exhibited in the first Print Council of America show. Or maybe it was the second show. I can get you the date. It was the show where, and I don't know why they don't do it today any more, if you were selected for the show, this was the Print Council of America, which is museum people from all over. You had to submit seven more identical prints of your image and the show opened in eight museums on the same day.
DB: Oh, yes. We talked about that.
RB: And a few months later, in eight more museums and then traveled all over europe, and so on.
DB: Yes, quite a display, quite a range of audiences.
RB: Yes, as I recall. It also went to the Detroit Institute of Arts. As a matter of fact, I picked the things from the show which the Detroit Institute of Arts acquired. I was asked to pick them out.
DB: From that point on then you went through a series of, well, I don't know. You've done found objects, and you've done... I have a few others down here. Is it texture imprints.
RB: Imprints. That was the fabric thing that I was talking about earlier. The monotype.
DB: Oh, so that was before this.
RB: But continued all the way through it.
DB: I see, this time being more abstract.
RB: It was something which I still feel badly about not doing more, but which I haven't done. It was figurative and I loved it as a chance to use some figurative ideas when the rest of my work in terms of painting or in the etchings was all non-objective. So I would use that as a kind of figurative outlet at times.
DB: When did you start the found object technique?
RB: Well, in a sense the whole of the fabric was found object. I began a very elaborate collection of all kinds of fabrics and began to know what would happen with the structure of a fabric; whether it would cru flat and allow more ink through from underneath from a lower level, or whether it was rigid in the weave and therefore wouldn't allow lower colors to come through, which was a wider mesh and smaller. What would happen to this, what would take color well and what wouldn't. That also in a sense was like the mental chess game that I spoke of where you might be rolling a blue on a piece of fabric to print an area in blue, but the piece of fabric that you like might be a pair of red underpants or something. Well, if red is in the dye, of course that won't transfer, but visually you can be assembling all these pieced with color you've rolled on, but you've got to remember how much color and how oily that color is one very piece that you're assembling as you adjust them to each other. So again, it becomes more of an act of memory, rather than of direct perception and judgement of what you see in front of you.
DB: Would you comment on the state of printmaking in Michigan and in the Midwest today? How do you see it?
RB: There are many, many students in printmaking. I was going to say too many, but I don't really believe that there are too many ever, because I think it's a rich field and people can do wonderful things in it. In the midwest there are many students in it, but very few artists who are serious about it beyond keeping up with the technique so they can continue their teaching. There are many teachers of printmaking who really do just a few prints. This is like teachers of painting and various other things who aren't really serious as artists. I don't know, there aren't that many who really are of any national significance. And maybe if there are, they were in the sense that they were here and they left. I used to advise all my students anyway. Get out of here. Not because it's so bad here, but because you've learned something here. Now go somewhere else and see what you can learn somewhere else. That there isn't enough happening for an artist in Detroit. I think that the only way I have been able to survive as an artist in Detroit is by switching more and more over to printmaking, which is shippable. I can ship it out into the world, which doesn't always include Detroit.
DB: You could not rely on Detroit alone as a market?
RB: I couldn't. Maybe it is that after spending, what was it? Maybe seven years in New York in a stretch, that I couldn't feel that Detroit was the center. Maybe I'm not commercially oriented enough. I still don't sell enough prints. I was more interested in who would see my print and who would buy the print than would I sell it. So that to me printmaking is like the kind of communication with other people who I feel are doing significant things. Other printmakers, other artists, collectors, and museums. Like a voice in the area of arts, not just a means of making a living.
DB: And you don't think there's much of a voice here?
RB: Well, it isn't that. It's who are you talking to here.
DB: Do you still show in New York and places like that.=?
DB: One final question. I know you're associated with the Michigan Association of Printmakers. What value do they serve in 1974 in Michigan?
RB: Oh, that's a sore point.
DB: All right, maybe I shouldn't have asked.
RB: I started it along with Bill Woolfaden and some of the people from the museum. I was the first president and have continued all the wavy through as president. The club is really inactive at the moment. I guess I'm still president of it. As a matter of fact, I happened to be up at Michigan State the other day and I was talking to somebody about it. I said that we should get going again. I keep saying we to all the other printmakers in the state. But they say, "Gee, what are you going to do about it?" And that's why I stopped. We had some wonderful exhibitions.
DB: What was the idea behind it? To create exhibition and to foster communication?
RB: Yes. And I wanted to set up a shop where people getting out of school could come and work because students can't afford to buy their own presses. That I did set up for a while through Common Ground. In general, most of the artists in the state looked upon the function of the organization as a place to show. I ended up as the guy who has to arrange the show. I had to get the jurors. I had to get the gallery where we would have the show. Two or three of my former students became secretary and treasurer and were willing to work with me and do the brunt of the work. Collect the dues from the people, which were really like entry fees. Set up prizes, and get people to give prizes. It all was on me. I kept trying to get other people to do it, but really most artists don't want to be involved. They want to show. They don't want to do any work which is really for other artists. I, of course, in the meantime by setting up the show, invited the jurors, soliciting the prizes, could not be eligible for the prizes.
DB: So at that point it lies rather dormant and there is really no organization functioning on behalf of printmakers?
RB: Right, but it's not dead. There is still a mailing list somewhere. A year ago I had a commitment from the Drawing and Print Club at the Detroit Institute of Arts for $150 for a prize for the show, which I didn't put on. We did have five biennial shows.
DB: Yes, I'm aware of that.
RB: Actually, part of it is where to have the show. I'm just worried that I've worn out my welcome at the galleries of all my friends in town. Those shows don't sell. I think that they've been beautiful shows. I don't know if I've shown you any of the catalogues from them.
DB: Yes, you have.
RB: The people who have juried them were really very pleased with the shows. These shows circulated around the state, around the country once. And we had wonderful reports from the people who saw them. People were very much interested in the printmaking going on in Michigan. These shows made for a kind of rallying point and way of exchanging views of each other. I think this is really very valuable and good for a state. Otherwise, the printmakers sit here and wonder what shows are going on elsewhere, rather than, let's say, what going to be happening here.
DB: That's true. So now it's sort of at rest.
DB: Well, I thank you. I think we'll draw it to a close. We're running out of tape.
RB: Okay, thank you, Dennis.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Robert Broner, 1974 May 3-8, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.