Wood Engraving on Paper, circa 1935.
Alexander Simeon Masley grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where he began a long career as an artist, student, and educator. During the early 1930s, after attending the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis School of Art, Masley moved to Munich, Germany and began to study with Hans Hofmann, presently known as an abstract expressionist. Throughout these years and beyond, Masley developed both his formal compositional skills and technical printmaking abilities, especially in the area of wood engraving.
Wood engraving is a relief printmaking process similar to other woodblock printing methods; a picture is composed and engraved into a piece of wood. When preparing a standard woodcut for printing, an artist uses the side grain of a soft wood; however, when the wood engraving technique is utilized, the end-grain of a hardwood is used. This allows the printed image much more intricacy in detail, as can be seen here.
During the 1930s Masley used these techniques to produce prints which often featured Minnesota landscapes as subjects. In many of his prints from this period, he used a shifting, stacked perspective, an example of which is a prominent feature in this composition.
The confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers has historically been important to different groups of people for disparate reasons. The Dakota word for the confluence of the rivers is B’dote, which means “where the waters meet” or “where one river joins another.” Historically it has and continues to be considered a sacred place, and held by some Dakota to be an area of their origin.
Near the time of the founding of Fort Snelling, one of the first permanent non-Indian settlements developed across the Minnesota River. Settlers and fur traders transformed “B’dote” into “Mendota” and the settlement retains that name today. Currently the city of Mendota houses Saint Peter’s Catholic Church, home to the oldest parish in the state. It is also home to the Henry Hastings Sibley house, the Faribault house, and several buildings associated with the American Fur Company.
The wood engraving presented here is of a view of the city of Mendota, completed by Masley circa 1935.
Benjamin Gessner, Collections Assistant