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History of the Santa Fe Etching Club

The painter Eli Levin first moved to Santa Fe in 1964. He grew up in New York where his early inspiration came from the Social Realists of the WPA generation. Consistent with the pre-war realist esthetic, Levin also trained as an intaglio printmaker, in the techniques that had been rediscovered by the mid-19th century Etching Revival.

Levin returned to New York for a summer in 1980 to study anatomy with Robert Beverley Hale at the Art Studentís League. In Haleís class he met artist Sarah McCarty, who had recently trained in Scotland as an engraver. She returned to Santa Fe with him and they formed a community intaglio studio around Levinís etching press, formerly owned and used by Will Shuster. The group would soon be called the Santa Fe Etching Club, after the New York Etching Club of 1877, the first professional organization of etchers to be formed in the U.S. Both groups followed a time-honored pattern of sharing a studio, both for its heavy press and for the purpose of sharing and re-discovering historical intaglio techniques.

Levinís group acquired a life of its own, providing an opportunity for many local artists to work in the medium. Importantly, it also acquired a patron, Dr. Robert Bell, a major prints collector. Dr. Bell undertook to subsidize its purchases of copper, paper, inks and tools, in order to promote intaglio printmaking in the Santa Fe community. Levin managed the Etching Club in an open-studio format, allowing artists flexible access to his studio.

Early on, Thursday was set aside as an open day, when artists could come and go, working in the studio through the day until midnight. This tradition persisted as a regular function through Levinís studio relocation to the Santa Fe Railyard, and later to Canyon Road. It remains a day that many artists set aside for intaglio work, although the studio is now open to members most of the week in its fourth, expanded location on Luisa Street. Dr. Bell remains the Clubís patron, often stopping by on Thursday evenings with a selection of historical prints to pass around for perusal and inspiration. The Club has hosted extensive exhibits of work from his collection, such as the recent showings of Goyaís Los Caprichos and Disasters of War print cycles, and the 2012 survey of portraits and self-portraits across five centuries.

Since 2006, the Etching Club has been closely associated with Argos Gallery, which shows work by members. Eric Thomson operates Argos Gallery while Levin and Thomson jointly manage the operation of the Club. As of 2010, the Etching Club has an expanded, customized work space in its Luisa Street location, offering local artists a low-cost opportunity to work in the intaglio medium. Dr. Bell continues his patronage and overhead costs are managed on a non-profit basis. The function and goal of the Santa Fe Etching Club is to promote and exhibit local work in the medium of copper-plate etching and engraving, and to preserve and pass on those 500-year-old techniques. In a modern art world increasingly concerned with digital and conceptual forms, it is proud to represent the traditional values of draftsmanship, and the time-honored esthetic of intaglio printmaking.

Eric Thomson
Argos Gallery