Around the Quads
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
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.