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Konrad and Florence Ballin Cramer papers, 1897-1968

Biographical Note

Konrad Cramer was born in Wurtzburg, Germany, in 1888, and studied at the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts from 1906 to 1908 with Ludwig Schmidt-Reutte and Ernest Schurth. After a year in the German army, he returned to Karlsruhe to set up a studio, making frequent trips to Munich, where he was exposed to the experimental artists of the Blaue Reiter group, including Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc.
Florence Ballin was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1884. She studied at the Woodstock, New York, summer school of the Art Students League beginning in 1906 under Birge Harrison along with fellow students John Carlson, Grace Mott Johnson, and Andrew Dasburg. She served as secretary for the League in 1906, and had a studio on 59th Street in Manhattan, where she held her first exhibition in 1909. In 1911, she traveled to Europe and met Konrad Cramer in Munich and joined him on visits to exhibitions and studios of the vanguard artists. The two married, moved to the United States, and settled permanently in Woodstock, New York.
Konrad Cramer is often credited as being an important link between German and American modernism in art, and his experimentations with abstraction and expressionism during his first years in Woodstock would seem to bear this out. In 1912 and 1913, he painted a series he called "Improvisations" (after Kandinsky) which was shown in a group exhibition at the MacDowell Club in 1913 along with Andrew Dasburg, Oliver Chaffee, and Paul Rohland. Cramer was photographed by Alfred Stieglitz and wrote an essay about the 291 Gallery for Stieglitz's magazine, Camera Work, in 1914.
The Cramers had two daughters, in 1914 and 1917, and Konrad Cramer became an American citizen in 1917. For income, he began designing textiles for department stores using stencils and batiks around 1918. In his painting, he turned from abstract experiments to the traditional subjects of landscape, still life, and figure in a more representational style that blended modern and regional influences. Florence Ballin Cramer opened a gallery on 57th Street in 1919, encouraged by the sculptor Elie Nadelman. The mission of the Florence Gallery, as it was called, was to exhibit and sell the work of living artists. Although it only survived the season, it was the first gallery to show work by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Alexander Brook, Ernest Fiene, and Stefan Hirsch, and generated important sales for several young artists in her circle.
Konrad Cramer returned to Europe in 1920 on a Rockefeller grant to study educational methods for craftsmen in Germany and France, and on his return he taught at the Woodstock School of Painting and Allied Arts. Cramer also studied lithography with Bolton Brown in Woodstock around this time, and both Cramers took up printmaking and began publishing prints in local arts magazines. The Cramers were deeply immersed in Woodstock life, participating in the annual Maverick festivals, the Woodstock Artists Association, the Historical Society, and other organizations, hosting meetings and serving as officers of many committees and organizations that presented and supported artwork in their community. They enjoyed a rich social life there among fellow artists at frequent parties and festivals, where Konrad provided entertainment with his fiddle and both Cramers memorialized events in countless photographs.
Konrad Cramer exhibited at the Whitney Studio Club in 1924, and taught at the Children's University School (now the Dalton School), where he painted a mural in 1929. The 1930s were busy years in both Cramers' professional lives. Konrad's exhibitions included the Carnegie International (1929 and 1933), and a two-man show at the Dudensing Gallery (1930), where Cramer and Adolph Gottlieb had been selected the most deserving unknown American painters of the year. He was also included in the exhibit Abstract Painting in America at the Whitney Museum (1935). Florence Ballin Cramer exhibited at Marie Harriman Gallery (1931 and 1933), Macy Galleries (1933), the Pennsylvania Academy (1934 and 1936), and the Corcoran (1935 and 1937). Both Konrad and Florence Ballin Cramer were included in a traveling exhibition of Woodstock artists organized by the College Art Association (1931), the first and second Whitney Biennials (1933 and 1935), and the Wanamaker Regional Art Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting (1934).
In 1934, the Cramers traveled to Mexico, where they produced many paintings and drawings. Konrad Cramer joined the Federal Art Project briefly in 1935, administering the regional program in Woodstock with Judson Smith. It was around this time that he began to learn photography. He became a sort of community photographer, taking photographs of friends' artwork and commissioned portraits, as well as informal photographs of friends. Cramer experimented with photographic techniques such as solarization and collage, using prisms, panes of glass, or composite printing. He first exhibited photographs in 1936 at the Albany Institute, and established the Woodstock School of Miniature Photography (the "miniature" referring to the then-new format of 35mm film) in 1937. He also taught courses in photography at Bard College in the 1940s, and his photographs and articles about photography were published in national magazines.
For the remainder of his life, Cramer continued to teach, write, and produce photographs, occasionally returning to painting, drawing, and printmaking, creating gouaches, wax resist drawings, and stencils of landscapes and figures, with an increasing interest in abstract styles and automatic techniques. Three of his early paintings were included in the 1946 Whitney Museum exhibition Pioneers of Modern Art in America, and the same year, he exhibited abstract photographs at the Woodstock Artists Association. In the late 1940s, he built an automatic drawing machine which he called the sympalmagraph, which rendered precise, geometric forms. In the late 1950s, he collaborated on a traveling exhibition and book of abstract photographs with Manuel Komroff and Nathan Resnik called The Third Eye.
Florence Ballin Cramer held her last exhibitions at the Woodstock Town House gallery (1953) and at Long Island University (1957). She died in 1962. Konrad Cramer died the following year. Both were memorialized in an exhibition at the Woodstock Artists Association Gallery in 1968.