Morris Blackburn, Philadelphia Printmaker

Morris Blackburn was a 20th century Philadelphia artist. Born in 1902 in Philadelphia, he was a printmaker and painter, and long-time instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  He died in 1979.

His silkscreen print Line-Space is in the Free Library’s Print & Picture Collection. It’s one of the prints I always show my students for its economy of effort.  He only needs three layers to take us through the time-space continuum: a layer with blocks of green color and texture; a 2nd layer with a single yellow circle; and a black curving line as the key image that ties it all together.


Line-Space, Morris Blackburn, color silkscren print, 1942; PAFA Alumni Sales Gallery and Dolan/Maxwell

He was trained in architectural drafting at the Philadelphia Trade School, and worked as a technical draftsman for RCA from 1919-20. His father worked for the Fleisher Yarn Company, and Morris took art classes at Sam Fleisher’s Graphic Sketch Club (now Fleisher Art Memorial) starting in 1922.  He studied at PAFA from 1925-29 where he took classes with Daniel Garber and Arthur B. Carles, said by some to be the father of abstraction in Philadelphia.

While at PAFA, he visited Samuel & Vera White’s collection of European Modernist paintings, which would have opened his eyes to new trends emerging from Europe. The Whites gave their collection to  the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1967. It includes works by Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, and Modigliani, and forms a major part of the museum’s Modern collections.

He travelled in Europe in 1928 and 1929 on Cresson Traveling Scholarships from PAFA. In Vienna he looked at Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. In London he looked at Turner, and in Paris he looked at Cezanne.

His early paintings were flat, bright color, moving toward abstraction. He learned silkscreen printmaking during World War II doing war posters and camouflage.  He also studied printmaking at Stanley William Hayter’s workshops held at the Print Club (now the Print Center).

He began teaching and showing his work after World War II, and taught at PAFA from 1952 until his death. His later work is more figurative. Valdez, a study of a mountain near Taos, NM, done with sumi ink on paper, was included in PMA’s show “Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art” in 1976.

He left his art to PAFA, much of which was accessioned into the collection. The rest of his work is sold by PAFA through Dolan/Maxwell, to benefit the work of the Academy.  Several pieces are now on view for sale at PAFA Alumni Sales Gallery through 4/21/13.


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