Honoring one of Norwalk's own creative families, visitors traveled long distances to attend the opening of "Leona Pierce and Antonio Frasconi: Woodcuts," an exhibit at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking (CCP).
Fellow woodcut printmaker Eve Stockton drove from her new home in Virginia to the Norwalk studio, where she is a member, to see more of Frasconi's and his late wife Leona's artistic work.
"I've seen his prints before but I wanted to see the exhibit in its entirety, and I've always wanted to meet him," Stockton noted.
The couple's son, Miguel, a composer specializing in the glass harmonica, provided music for last Thursday's opening.
Anthony Kirk, CCP's artistic director and master painter, said that although Frasconi's earlier body of work is known for its political commentary, his more recent wood cut prints depict more peaceful themes of nature. Filled with beauty and tranquility, the prints convey marshlands and tidal rivers as viewed from his home in South Norwalk's Village Creek community.
Kirk commented, "Frasconi's woodcuts have long been known to address social issues, and he has used the bold, graphic medium that he mastered, as his voice of protest against wars in Vietnam and Iraq as well as to bring attention to the plight and persecution of the common man as in his magnum opus Los Desaparecidos/The Disappeared. This latter series of prints documented the brutal oppression of thousands of innocent civilians who were tortured, imprisoned and disappeared under a series of military dictatorships in South America, and Uruguay in particular."
A native of Uruguay, Frasconi, 91, and Pierce moved to Norwalk in 1957.
Kirk said that Frasconi told him in 2002 that he would like to have an exhibit at the Norwalk printmaking center one day.
"It's timely that we did this show now," Kirk said.
Using wooden blocks over and over again, Frasconi creatively reinvents new ways to effectively use this medium to produce dynamic pieces. Renee Santhouse, marketing director for CCP, explained that his style involves "putting different woodcut plates on top of each other."
She added, "A lot of his woodcut plates have multiple uses." This was seen in the images of birds, for example, that are visible in several different prints on display.
Chris Shore, associate printmaker and artist, agreed. "He's a master at using the technique in so many different ways."
His latest work features flocks of birds, estuaries, grasslands and marshes in their natural setting.
Kirk noted, "They depict the wetlands of South Norwalk, a stone's throw from his studio windows, as they merge into the distance with the waters of Long Island Sound. This scene is always transforming, and the prints on view change with the seasons as the migrating birds fly across these landscapes/seascapes."
One of Frasconi's neighbors, Jessica Sinha, confirmed that these exquisite images of nature surround their Village Creek neighborhood. "It's very delightful to see because this is what it looks like," she noted.
In addition, Sinha also noted that she enjoyed viewing Leona's prints.
"She was such a joyful person. I remember that she always wore bright colored clothing. Her prints show so much joy and movement, which is exactly what she was like."
Leona's prints featured in the exhibit are of children playing in the streets of New York City in the 1950s. The `movement' that Sinha refers to is conveyed by her use of the print blocks.
Kirk explained, "In one version of Pierce's Bicycle Pull, the children on roller skates are being pulled along almost in single file, and in another version, the same cut blocks of the children are printed stretched out across the width of the road that they are skating on."
Frasconi's brilliance is also seen as he intermixes blocks cut in the 1960s along with wood cuts made more recently.
A woodcut is a relief print, created by a printmaking process in which the surface of a matrix (plate or block) is inked to print, while areas that are not supposed to print are cut away, or otherwise removed. The matrix is placed in form contact with the paper. Although this "sandwich" of matrix and paper can be printed on a roll press, a woodcut is easily printed the way Antonio Frasconi does it: rubbing or pressing the back of the paper with a simple tool such as a brayer, roller, a balled-up rag, or even the palm of the hand.
For color printing, multiple blocks are used; each for one color, and overprinting two colors may produce additional colors on the print.
The Center for Contemporary Printmaking is located at Matthews Park, 299 West Ave., Norwalk
The "Leona Pierce and Antonio Frasconi: Woodcuts' will be on exhibit through Jan. 31.
For information, call 203-899-7000.