Heart & hands

The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Gus­tave Bau­mann


May 1, 1891, Gus­tave Bau­mann (1881-1971), at the age of ten, de­parted Ham­burg with his fam­ily via the Columbia on a trans-At­lantic voy­age bound for New York. On ar­rival, the sight that greeted them from the deck was Coney Is­land’s Ele­phan­tine Colos­sus, a 31-room ho­tel in the shape of a mas­sive pachy­derm, a Tro­jan horse preg­nant with all the pos­si­bil­i­ties that lay be­fore them. The fam­ily was, in Bau­mann’s own words, “roused by the eco­nomic urge to try their luck some­where in a new land not yet over­crowded.” The Bau­manns hailed from the North Ger­man city of Madge­burg. Gus­tave’s mother, Paulina, and her chil­dren were en route to Chicago where his fa­ther, Gus­tav, had al­ready es­tab­lished a home for them. Bau­mann re­mained in the United States for most of his life. He would not ar­rive in New Mex­ico un­til he was in his late thir­ties. It was here in Santa Fe that, near­ing the age of seventy, he set down his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy in writ­ing.

The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Gus­tave Bau­mann, a color­ful, con­ver­sa­tional col­lec­tion of anec­dotes and rem­i­nis­cences, was pub­lished in Septem­ber by Pomegranate. The task of edit­ing the tome was taken on by Martin Krause, cu­ra­tor of prints, draw­ings, and pho­to­graphs at the In­di­anapo­lis Mu­seum of Art (IMA), work­ing from a piece­meal col­lec­tion of writ­ings that were in the pos­ses­sion of Bau­mann’s daugh­ter, Ann. “I met Ann in 1981 for the first time, be­cause that was the first Bau­mann ex­hi­bi­tion that I or­ga­nized as part of his cen­ten­nial,” Krause told Pasatiempo. “She came to the ex­hibit from Cal­i­for­nia sim­ply be­cause she would sup­port any­thing re­lated to her fa­ther. From that time on we were friends. At some point she pro­vided me and other Bau­mann schol­ars with a type­script of the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.” Ann was re­luc­tant to give the green light for Krause to pub­lish the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy un­til af­ter the release of a planned cat­a­logue raisonné of his prints. “I agreed to that, but af­ter she died I called up the au­thor of the cat­a­logue raisonné, who I’ve known for years and years, too, and I said, ‘Do you mind if I go ahead and pub­lish it?’ and she said, ‘No. I don’t mind at all.’ ” The au­to­bi­og­ra­phy ac­com­pa­nies Gus­tave Bau­mann, Ger­man Crafts­man - Amer­i­can Artist, a show that spans the artist’s ca­reer, on ex­hibit at the In­di­anapo­lis Mu­seum of Art through mid-Fe­bru­ary.

The largest col­lec­tion of works by Bau­mann, one of Santa Fe’s most iconic artists, is in the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art, but that col­lec­tion is now ri­valed by a gift given by Ann Bau­mann to the IMA in 2008 that in­creased its col­lec­tion to 250 works. Like Santa Fe, Brown County, In­di­ana, can lay a claim to the artist who lived there for six years be­fore com­ing to New Mex­ico in 1918. His ex­act­ing print­ing process, work­ing with sev­eral inked wood­blocks to cre­ate a sin­gle poly­chrome print, be­gan as early as 1905. Wood­blocks are the medium for which he’s most well known, right down to his iconic chop mark: a hand in­scribed in­side a heart. He spent most of 1917 in Wy­oming, New York, where he founded the Swanli Press and pro­duced a num­ber of prints: idyl­lic views of up­state New York with rolling hills, and a muted pal­ette. There, he met poet Ly­dia Coon­ley Ward, and he wrote of her in glow­ing terms that could equally ap­ply to Bau­mann him­self:

I of­ten won­der where the artist would be but for the prod­ding en­cour­age­ment of a few op­ti­mistic souls who not only be­lieve in him but in all hu­man­ity as well. Ap­par­ently un­aware of any hu­man frailty they may meet in their path, they never stum­ble but com­plete their des­tined cy­cle with un­shaken op­ti­mism and, as we say, leave the world a bet­ter place to live in.

“He didn’t have any el­e­vated opin­ion of him­self,” Krause said. “I think that was be­cause of his back­ground. He pulled him­self up by his boot­straps, hav­ing to go to work at the age of six­teen, hav­ing only com­pleted the eighth grade, and with no train­ing in art, en­ter­ing the field of com­mer­cial art and be­com­ing quite suc­cess­ful at it. He al­ways said that the one thing that he was thank­ful to com­mer­cial art for was to be mind­ful of his cus­tomers, the peo­ple who were buy­ing his art. He worked for them, es­sen­tially, which is cer­tainly not an ego-driven per­son­al­ity at all.”

Bau­mann of­ten wrote in a jovial spirit, making for an en­gag­ing and, at times, hu­mor­ous read. But he glosses over names and events and, were it not for Krause’s an­no­ta­tions, this might have left the reader want­ing more. Edit­ing an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy en­tails keep­ing the sub­ject in check. Sep­a­rat­ing the wheat from the chaff falls to the ed­i­tor, a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult task when the sub­ject is long dead. “Bau­mann didn’t use a lot of facts, as you’ve prob­a­bly no­ticed while read­ing it,” Krause said. “It’s fairly anec­do­tal. I de­cided, for the peo­ple who wanted that in­for­ma­tion, that I would pro­vide it be­cause he ram­bles on and men­tions peo­ple in pass­ing and doesn’t say who they were. The foot­notes pro­vide that em­broi­dery to his ac­count.”

The book was writ­ten more or less chrono­log­i­cally, start­ing with Bau­mann’s youth. Krause broke down the nar­ra­tive into chap­ters di­vided, as is the ac­com­pa­ny­ing ex­hibit, by place or re­gion rather than by years. It’s also a pro­fusely il­lus­trated work, full of fam­ily pho­to­graphs that be­came avail­able af­ter Ann died in 2011 as well as Bau­mann’s art­work. It’s in the lat­ter that we really see him. In Wil­liam D. Nes­bit’s ar­ti­cle, “The Work of Gus­tave Bau­mann,” which ap­peared in The Graphic

Arts in April 1914, the au­thor states that “To know him is to know his work, and to know his work is to know him.” Bau­mann was an artist pro­foundly af­fected by place and he sought to cap­ture the essence of re­gions

he lived in and vis­ited, along with the aes­thetic ap­peal of their nat­u­ral beauty. You no­tice that prints he made in Brown County or on the East Coast dif­fer in terms of color from his im­ages of the South­west.

In May of 1918 Bau­mann, headed west and hopped on board the Den­ver & Río Grande train bound for Taos. De­scrib­ing his en­thu­si­asm while rid­ing the train en route to North­ern New Mex­ico, he wrote: “Tick­ets please, who wants to go?” “A rolling stone,” said I. “Where to?” “‘Taos,” said I. “Hop on, Rolling Stone, and re­mem­ber me to Ma­bel when you get there.”

When he ar­rived in Taos, the city was still an un­in­cor­po­rated vil­lage. It was also the set­ting for the Taos colony of artists. So­cialite and arts pa­tron Ma­bel Dodge Sterne (soon to be Ma­bel Dodge Luhan) had al­ready founded a Taos-based art and lit­er­ary colony, but it was one that Bau­mann was not com­fort­able in. “If you like the Taos coun­try,” he wrote, “it is fa­tal to stay too long be­cause you’ll never feel at home again any­where else.” Taos artists were fo­cused on paint­ing. Bau­mann was first and fore­most a print­maker, al­though he was a far more well-rounded artist than that moniker be­lies. He found Taos a dif­fi­cult place to live and was at­tracted to Santa Fe’s di­ver­sity. A trav­el­ing show of his prints had just opened at what was then called the “New Mu­seum” (the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art) and he was ea­ger to see the new ex­hi­bi­tion space which had opened the pre­vi­ous year. The show was of­fered as part of of the mu­seum’s open-door pol­icy. He ended up rent­ing a small adobe home in the city the fol­low­ing year. In time, he es­tab­lished a mo­bile mar­i­onette stage that’s still housed in the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art, which also has a num­ber of his whim­si­cal mar­i­onettes, in­clud­ing ones he made of him­self, his wife, Jane, and their daugh­ter Ann. In all, Bau­mann, a crafts­man as much as an artist, hand-carved around 70 mar­i­onettes and com­posed plays that he staged in his liv­ing room, invit­ing his friends. He also crafted his own frames for his art­work as well as making fur­ni­ture. De­spite feel­ing that paint­ing was an over­rated art form, he ex­per­i­mented with can­vas and brush, too, cre­at­ing un­char­ac­ter­is­tic ab­strac­tions as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tional water­col­ors that are, some­how, un­mis­tak­ably Bau­mann’s. “His paint­ings were cer­tainly less known among the Bau­mann col­lec­tors,” Krause said. “Be­cause he had evolved in­de­pen­dently — he had no men­tor, he had no teacher — there was a unique qual­ity to his work that had more in com­mon, per­haps, with the pain­ters he as­so­ci­ated with in Brown County and Taos than with the works of other wood­block print makers. Even so, there’s really noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble be­tween a Bau­mann wood­cut and a Vic­tor Hig­gins paint­ing. Bau­mann has his own lit­tle niche that he de­vel­oped and nur­tured, which makes him a very sin­gu­lar artist.”

“The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Gus­tave Bau­mann,” edited by Martin Krause, was pub­lished by Pomegranate in Septem­ber.

Bau­mann with a mar­i­onette de­pic­tion of him­self

Ann Bau­mann with one of her fa­ther’s mar­i­onettes

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