Brandywine Workshop to mark its 40th anniversary

Master printmaker Allan Edmunds founded Brandywine Workshop in 1972 to foster cultural diversity.
Master printmaker Allan Edmunds founded Brandywine Workshop in 1972 to foster cultural diversity. (SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 07, 2012

The mood at Brandywine Workshop one hot mid-July day was somber. Master printmaker Robert Franklin had died after a brief illness. Allan Edmunds, the organization's founder and executive director, feverishly made arrangements for Franklin's memorial, one befitting the indelible force for 30 years behind the offset printing that has been Brandywine's signature.

Over the years, Edmunds and Franklin gained renown nationally and internationally for their collaborations with more than 200 artists - from the famous, including Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, to visiting artists.

Evidence of Edmunds' vision for Brandywine Workshop, 40 years in the making, and Franklin's collaborative works will be on display from Friday to Nov. 25 in "Full Spectrum: Prints From the Brandywine Workshop." Featured will be excerpts of 100 works the Brandywine donated in 2009 to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in memory of its late director and CEO, Anne D'Harnoncourt, an avid supporter of the workshop.

The showing is an auspicious start for a series of celebrations in Philadelphia marking the 40th anniversary of Brandywine Workshop, which also will include a reception and open house Saturday at its studio at 728 S. Broad St.

Represented in "Full Spectrum" is the work of 53 artists - African, artists of the African diaspora, American Indian, Latin, and Asian.

"Our goal is to be diverse," said Edmunds. "How do you encompass all of the various styles, the techniques, the approaches, and the diversity of the people who produced the prints? It's a spectrum that is full, not infinite. The fullness, the inclusiveness, that's what the title symbolizes to me."

The celebrations give Brandywine a public presence it has never received in its hometown.

Edmunds, 63, started the workshop in 1972, with a mission to foster cultural diversity. Over time, as many as 30 artists a year, across a multicultural spectrum, participated in residencies at the workshop. Brandywine now has a collection of more than 3,000 prints.

Trained as a master printmaker, Edmunds combined his love for his discipline with a commitment to art education. He attended Temple's Tyler School of Art for undergraduate and graduate study.

"It is a very democratic medium and ensconced in certain skills that could be taught, like those that require accuracy and proficiency," said Edmunds. "Printmaking allowed me to tie in all the things I was interested in - process, math, and precision."

His inspiration for Brandywine Workshop came a year after he graduated from Tyler and during a visit to a printmaking workshop started by the MacArthur Award-winning printmaker Robert Blackburn.

Blackburn, who grew up in Harlem as the son of Jamaican immigrants, opened the first multicultural Printmaking Workshop in New York City more than 70 years ago, when such a directive was unheard of. For Blackburn, and eventually for Edmunds, promoting cultural diversity in the arts was not a trend, but a way of life, one that both believed reflected a burgeoning national and international arts landscape.

"There were no black galleries or workshops offering the type of professional opportunities for artists that Blackburn provided," said Edmunds.

"He was one of my inspirations. He had Cuban, Brazilian, Venezuelan, French, and German artists at his workshop, and that's what I wanted for Philadelphia."

Brandywine started in 1972 as a cooperative in the city's Fairmount neighborhood. Two years later, it incorporated, operating on a shoestring budget. That same year, Edmunds received his first grant, for $2,100, from the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts.

Much of Brandywine's focus was working with high school students through mentoring and internship programs. With growing support from PCA and local foundations, Brandywine began employing artists to teach printmaking in community centers all around the city.

The renowned Philadelphia artist and educator Moe Brooker values his experiences with Brandywine in its early years. "I taught silk-screening at Brandywine while in grad school at Tyler," Brooker said. "As a result of that experience, printmaking became a part of what I did. It was one of the ways that I honed my skills as an instructor. Brandywine provided students with an alternative to painting for making art."

The Philadelphia painter Charles Burwell also cites Brandywine's early impact. "It was very influential in the Philadelphia art community by bringing major artists of color to the city," said Burwell. "In 1976, I had the unique opportunity to prepare color separations for a serigraph by Romare Bearden. It was my first introduction to working in a print shop. Working with Brandywine was a culmination of many experiences over the years. Actually, it was more than Brandywine - it was Allan Edmunds helping me."

At the time, Philadelphia was experiencing a cultural revolution, with many young players inhabiting the scene, putting the city on the map of experimentation and community involvement in arts. Brandywine's original Fairmount location was a hot area for artists, including the preeminent dance instructor Faye Snow's studio and an African American theater company led by Germane Wilson, known for his work with Freedom Theatre, Ile Ife, Venture Theater, and the Village of the Arts and Humanities.

Brandywine's primarily African American board of directors, many of whom were art educators - with associations to institutions such as the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Tyler School of Art, the Print Center, the Art Museum, and the Artists Equity Association - helped identify connections to key individuals integral to the Brandywine story, such as John Dowell. The Philadelphia-based master printmaker worked very closely with Edmunds in the early years, exploring the full range of offset-printing techniques.

The internationally renowned painter Sam Gilliam was one of the first artists to make a limited-edition print at the workshop. Gilliam would return over the years to make prints at Brandywine.

Edmunds aligns Brandywine with entities like Philadanco and Freedom Theatre because these institutions offered access to culturally diverse artists during an era in which older organizations in the city were not welcoming blacks or other artists of color. "We saw the need to build our own institutions," Edmunds said. "We were a group of artists who came together to build something that could be sustained."

Brooker said Edmunds "has a far-reaching vision. What has been accomplished at Brandywine demonstrates a vision for future development of the Avenue of the Arts." The workshop relocated in 1993 to North Broad Street.

Despite digital advances in print technology, Edmunds remains committed to the tried-and-true method that emphasizes offset printing at times combined with silk screening - a niche that offers versatility, precision, and cost-effectiveness.

While Brandywine may have existed in the shadows of mainstream art for four decades, Edmunds is satisfied that the workshop has fulfilled its mission.

"Personally, if I stop today, I can say we maintained our integrity," he says. "We worked to the highest quality we could, in spite of financial limitations. There are certain core values that we want to hold onto, and that's quality, integrity, inclusiveness, plus the capacity to connect across generations. Then it becomes more than just a building and bricks and mortar. Then it becomes something with real value. That's the ultimate thing."


 Brandywine Workshop.


728 S. Broad St., Philadelphia 19146. Information: 215-546-3675 or www.brandywineworkshop.com.

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