Printer, Painter, Wanderer

American artist Ellen Day Hale is best known for her skill as a portrait painter, but a body of prints currently on view at NMWA illuminates her printmaking, often based on themes and scenes she encountered on her travels.

Left: Early Morning Vegetables, Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1924; Hand-colored etching on paper; Right: A series of etching plates on view includes a plate for Early Morning Vegetables, allowing gallery visitors to see Hale's preparatory work alongside finished prints

Left: Early Morning Vegetables, Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1924; Hand-colored etching on paper; Right: A series of etching plates on view includes a plate for Early Morning Vegetables, allowing gallery visitors to see Hale’s preparatory work alongside finished prints

From the crumbling stone of missions on the American West Coast to mountains and cities through Europe, to local people in Egypt, South Carolina, and Normandy, Hale’s work demonstrates her keen observations of lives and landscapes.

Milk Delivery, Cairo, 1930; Soft-ground etching with aquatint on paper

Milk Delivery, Cairo, 1930; Soft-ground etching with aquatint on paper

From a prominent Massachusetts family, Hale (1855–1940) was afforded opportunities—training, travel, and independence—that were still rare for a woman of her time. Her family encouraged her artistic education as well as the early travels that allowed her to see the great art and cities of Europe. This beginning seems to have sparked a lifetime love of travel: Hale’s journeys through America, Europe, and the Middle East provided fodder for drawings, paintings, and prints.

On view through January 5, Wanderer: Travel Prints by Ellen Day Hale features original prints, plates, sketches, and preparatory work. The exhibition provides a window into a intriguing time for women artists traveling their world.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

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