Picasso, Matisse, Henson

Remember Arts & Crafts, before knives became too dangerous for the young? Were you one of the lucky artists who got to make linoleum block prints, and watch the squiggles of soft linoleum curl up at the head of the V-shaped blade as you cut out your design?

Even if you were one of these fortunate young artists, you may not have known that the easy movement of the blade – and the lack of pesky grain that comes with woodblocks – also attracted grownup artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to the medium.

In fact, the linocut printmaking technique, which began circa 1905 in Germany, still thrives, not just as a young student’s introduction to printmaking, but as an established professional print medium.

Kristina Henson, a Senior Graphic Production Specialist, first became interested in printmaking when taking classes in paper-making at the Rittenhouse Paper Mill in Philadelphia. She was delighted by the uniqueness of each piece of handmade paper, and as she experimented with the different methods of relief printing, she found linoleum blocks to be the most congenial. They didn’t require a large studio, and she could take them anywhere for sketching and carving.

Part of the process is the choice of paper, and Kristina has explored everything from 100-year-old dictionary pages (“How can you not love words with art?”) to wallpaper to handmade Japanese paper. Her subjects are drawn from nature, and lately she has been branching out into portraits.

Should Kristina’s work inspire you to revisit the medium, please remember: Always point the blade AWAY from your fingers that are holding the block (or they’ll take away your knives).