The idea of forming the Brooklyn Society of Etchers (as it was first named) came about when Ernest D. Roth, the first president of the Society, spoke with other printmakers in Troy Kinney’s studio in New York City. The half dozen or so artists included Roth, Troy Kinney, Eugene Higgins, Fred Reynolds and Paul Roche. They decided the objective of the Society would be to advance the work of American etchers by holding annual exhibitions open to the public. In 1915 such opportunities, even for well-known artists, hardly existed. Thus, the Society was formed with an active membership of about 25. The inaugural exhibition in 1916 at the Brooklyn Museum featured sixty-five artists including John Taylor Arms, Frank Benson, Mary Cassatt, Anne Goldwaithe, Childe Hassam, Earl Horter, John Marin, Charles Mielatz, Ernest Roth, and Abraham Walkowitz, with a jury of Childe Hassam and Joseph Pennell. By the second year, in addition to artist-members there were also Associate members. These were collectors who received a Presentation Print made by a member in exchange for paying dues.
Back row left to right: Ernest D. Roth, John Taylor Arms, James E. Allen. Front row left to right: C. Jac Young, unknown believed to be David Hendrickson, Lous C. Rosenberg, Chester B. Price
The first of many international shows was held in 1922. The Society had an exchange of print exhibitions with artists from Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Holland, Scotland, Spain, and Sweden, as well as the United States. They included etchings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Albert Besnard, Edmond Blampied, Jean-Louis Forain, Wilhelm Lembruck, Augustus John, C. R. W. Nevinson, Camille Pissarro, Alexandre Steinlen, Hermann Struck, Franz von Struck and many others who exhibited along with Americans Peggy Bacon, Edward Hopper, John Marin and John Sloan.
In 1931, with a membership of 91, the organization became the Society of American Etchers, Inc., reflecting a wider national spread. The group began to show at the National Arts Club in Manhattan where the 16th Annual Exhibition opened in November 1931 with an active membership of 109 (artists and associates). During the 1930’s Lionel Barrymore, Isabel Bishop, Minna Citron, Howard Cook, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Stanley William Hayter, Armin Landeck, Reginald Marsh and Karl Schrag all exhibited. In 1939 a special summer exhibition was held at the Lotos Club, coincident with the New York World’s Fair, featuring work by Peggy Bacon, Paul Cadmus, Howard Cook, and Martin Lewis along with many others. In addition, in 1939 a series of miniature print exhibitions began; this continued through 1960.
To accommodate the interests of artists working in wood and stone, the Society changed its name in 1947 to The Society of American Etchers, Gravers, Lithographers, and Woodcutters, Inc. In that year the Thirty-Second Annual Exhibition presented the largest show in the organization’s history: 658 prints representing the wide variety of aesthetic expression in American art. In expanding, the Society adhered to its original policy of developing a wider audience for prints and printmaking, insisting as always on tolerance for differing points of view. Some of the lithographers and woodcutters admitted to membership at this time were Grace Albee, George Biddle, Fred Castellon, Jean Charlot, Adolph Dehn, Fritz Eichenberg, William Gropper, Rockwell Kent, J. J. Lankes, Louis Lozowick, Andre Racz, Lynd Ward and Stow Wengenroth.
In 1952 the organization became the Society of American Graphic Artists (SAGA) with an active membership of about 250. The name reflected the wide technical interests of printmakers and the general acceptance of various techniques. As the twentieth century progressed, shortly after woodcuts and lithographs joined the intaglio processes, serigraphy, collagraphy, and movable or cut-plate methods made their appearance. Meanwhile, prints were getting larger, as they openly competed with paintings for wall space; they got brighter, especially in the 1950s due to the introduction of new inks in the postwar period.
1950s – 1960s
The exhibition listings of the 1950’s and 60’s continued the mix of old guard members Aldolf Dehn, Gordon W. Gilkey, Gene Kloss, Louis Lozowick, Benton Spruance, and Prentiss Taylor with artists who were expanding printmaking concepts in both technique and style. Vera Berdich from Illinois and Gerson Leiber pushed intaglio methods; Edmond Casarella, Antonio Frasconi, and Ansei Uchima made enormous relief prints; Lee Chesney and Leonard Edmondson, both Californians, pursued modernism in technical experiments; Riva Helfond worked in serigraphy; Clare Romano and John Ross showed collagraphs, and June Wayne advanced lithographic methods.
From the 1970’s members included Sigmund Abeles, Robert Bero, Robert Blackburn, Sidney Chafetz, Robert Kipniss, Chaim Koppelman, Peter Milton, Norma Morgan, Krishna Reddy and Janet E. Turner. They were joined by contemporary artists including Linda Adato, Bill Behnken, Harvey Breverman, Robert Broner, Kathy Caraccio, Ann Chernow, Su Li Hung, Stanley Kaplan, Martin Levine, Bill Murphy, Richard Pantell, Merle Perlmutter, Richard Sloat, Evan Summers, and Emily Trueblood. SAGA is the among the oldest organizations of creative printmakers; for over 100 years its members and supporters have upheld a vital commitment to constantly strive for excellence and inclusivity while removing barriers to the advancement of creative printmaking.
Dr. Mohammad Ajmal, Federal Secretary of Education and Miss Zubeida Agha, Director of Art Galleries, viewing “SAGA Prints” following the inauguration. Islamabad, Pakistan 1974
1990s – 2000s
SAGA is the among the oldest organizations of creative printmakers; for over 100 years its members and supporters have upheld a vital commitment to constantly strive for excellence and inclusivity while removing barriers to the advancement of creative printmaking.
Linda Adato and Emily Trueblood at a SAGA Dinner