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IN MEMORIAM: Robert Blackburn

Robert Blackburn, an art professor at Columbia from 1970–90 who helped redefine the way the art community viewed printmaking, died April 21 in Manhattan. He was 82. Blackburn also taught at Brooklyn College, Cooper Union, NYU and the School of Visual Arts.

Blackburn’s parents were from Jamaica, and he grew up in Harlem during the Depression. He first learned about printmaking in 1938 at the Harlem Community Art Center. In 1941, he studied lithography at the Art Students League with Will Barnet. Barnet set Blackburn’s opinion that printmaking was an art form deserving of his career goals.

Blackburn’s legacy is the influential Printmaking Workshop, which he established in 1948. This early incarnation of his life’s work was based in his Chelsea studio, and it served as an informal cooperative where he and other artists experimented with new lithographic techniques. In 1957, after supporting himself with teaching and printing jobs, Blackburn became the first master printer at Universal Limited Art Editions on Long Island. Although he developed a reputation as an important American art lithographer, he left the job in 1963 to focus on his art and on running the Printmaking Workshop. The workshop played a central role in the 1960s print explosion but retained a community-oriented approach — artists could use the presses, inks and papers for a token fee.

The workshop switched to a not-for-profit in 1971. Blackburn asked the Manhattan-based not-for-profit group The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts to provide a new home in 2001. The foundation is raising funds to establish a permanent Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop at its headquarters at West 39th Street. It plans to acquire more than 12,000 prints and Blackburn’s papers for the Library of Congress.

Blackburn received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1992 and a Lee Krasner Award from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 2000.

Blackburn is survived by a sister, Gertrude Moore.

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