James Swann, an artist most known for his extensive output of etchings, was born in Merkel, Texas, and studied printmaking at the Sul Ross College in Alpine, Texas. Swann worked as a commercial artist in Fort Worth and then as a manager of an engraving company in Amarillo, where he completed his first etching. In 1933, Swann moved to Chicago to move forward in his career as an etcher. Swann became an active member of the Chicago Society of Etchers in 1936, and soon held the position of Secretary-Treasurer of that organization.
Being an active participant in the Chicago Society of Etchers created an extensive network of artists and professional contacts for Swann during his career. In 1955, Swann opened a gallery in his home, not only for himself but also to support the arts and his fellow artists. Having his own gallery opened opportunities for Swann to travel, exhibiting his own work, advising print collectors, and researching new assets for his gallery. Swann traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and South America.
Swann produced more than 250 graphic works between 1931 and the 1960s. Umbrella Weather is a drypoint etching on paper. Drypoint is a printmaking technique that started in 15th-century Germany, done with a sharp metal- or diamond-pointed needle into a copper plate. Umbrella Weather reflects Swann’s preference for urban scenes, as well as scenes that recorded the present moment and were free from any sense of nostalgia. Swann, who was also a noted photographer, depicted his graphic works just like photographs, capturing a moment in time.
As the viewer gazes on this etching the imagery seems cold, dreary, and mysterious. It’s a downpour of rain as the people move quickly down and across the street with their umbrellas raised and the tall city buildings surrounding them. The rain almost appears as a blur, as if looking through a lens with water smearing across it. It gives the audience the feeling of a major thunderstorm pouring down so hard that it would be hard to see walking down the street. This is the typical rich blurred line of drypoint. In Umbrella Weather, Swann captures a moment in time: what one may view as a dreary rainy day, others may view as a timeless look on paper.
Morgan Phipps was a student in History of 20th Century Art in Fall 2010.