Christopher Sower

Christopher Sower

Sower or Sauer, Christopher, 1693-1758, American printer, b. Germany. In 1724, Sower came to America where he worked first as a tailor and then as a farmer. He learned clockmaking and herbal medicine, and in 1738 he founded a printing shop in Germantown, Pa., using types imported from Germany. A book he printed in 1738 was the first German book printed in America. In the same year he established the first German periodical in America, at first a quarterly, later a monthly. In 1743 he printed a German Bible, the second Bible printed in America (the first was the Bible translated into "the Indian Language" in 1663 by John Eliot). His son Christopher Sower, 1721-84, established in Germantown the first type foundry in America in 1772. He printed the second Sower German Bible in 1763, the third in 1776. He was a bishop of the Baptist Dunker sect and attacked slavery from the pulpit and the family newspaper. Accused of treason, Sower suffered imprisonment, abuse, and confiscation of his property as a result of clearly stating his pacifist principles during the Revolution.

See F. Reichmann, Christopher Sower, Sr., 1694-1758: An Annotated Bibliography (1943).

American painter/etcher E. Stetson Crawford (1877-1965) was born into a prominent Philadelphia family on June 6th 1877. His family tree includes many important Americans, among them grandfather John B. Stetson, hat manufacturer and philanthropist, Christopher Sower, printer of the first foreign language bibles in this country and Abraham Clark signer of the Declaration of Independence. Crawford studied commercial art at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art before beginning his study of fine art at the Pennsylvania Academy. He also pursued studies abroad at many of the fine Parisian schools and ateliers including Julien Academy, Delacluse, Beaux Arts and Colarossi. Upon the opening of the Whistler / MacMonnies Academy, Crawford became the first student to enroll.

In 1898 the longtime goal of James McNeill Whistler to open his own teaching atelier was realized. Whistler and sculptor Frederick MacMonnies began accepting student at No. 6 Passage Stanislas in Paris. The school informally known as Academie Carmen after Carmen Rossi who Whistler hired to manage it, was not without its problems. Whistler seemed disinterested in formal teaching methods or in critiquing his students' work. He had his famous propositions printed on the ateliers walls and he painted among his students. Whatever they would learn had to ba realized in the way an apprentice learns a craft - by watching, listening and helping the master at his work.

Stanley Weintraub in his biography of Whistler noted that Stetson Crawford quickly gained the respect and confidence of Whistler and was appointed "Massier" (literally, the mace bearer) to whom was entrusted the overseeing of new pupils and the explaining to them of the Master's principles. In return for assuming this central role at Academie Carmen, Whistler woul reward Crawford with small personal courtesies and individual instruction in the technique of etching. By offering encouragement and criticism to this young American, Whistler was doing on a personal level what seemed unable to do for the students at the atelier. Crawford's experiences`at Whistler's academy would prove to have long-lasted influence in this young artist's life. He gained artistic insight from his friend and master James McNeill Whistler; plus he won the heart of another gifted American artist, his future wife Brenetta Bimm Herrman (1876-1956) whom he met when he enrolled at Academie Carmen. Brenetta Herrman Crawford was to become best known for her impressionistic landscapes and pointilistic portrait miniatures.

After his stay in Paris Crawford pursued studies in Munich, London, Rome, Florence and Venice, but these experiences did not have the experiences did not have the appeal of his Parisian sessions with Whistler. Returning to the United States, he worked on illustrating special editions of fine books. He went to New York where he taught first at the Art Students' League and then at the School of Applied Design for Women. It was in this period before the First World War that Crawford devoted himself to painting portraits, designing stained glass for churches, illustrating for magazines including a number of covers for Collier's and executing six murals for the courthouse in San Francisco.

After his tour of duty in World War I, Crawford and his wife, Brenetta, returned to Europe in 1923 to live. It was only then that Crawford began to seriously pursue his etching career. His etchings of European people, towns and events, and finally religious subjects were to dominate the rest of his artistic life.

Some mightseek to classify Crawford as an architectural etcher and his renderings of the 1925 Way of the Carmelites, the 1926 Porte des Miracolli or his 1932 Saorge Village all give evidence that he was indeed a master of that genre. Yet his was a populist art, devoted to the people and their everyday lives, and these plates represent some of the best of his work. He drew people at work and at play, bringing their celebration to life with plates like Toto (1932) which depicts a small provincial carnival or the moody Mardi Gras, Menton (1929). He portrayed the simple dignity of work in Return From the Fields (1928), The Old Market at Nice (1926) and his Port at Brittany (1924). He showed them struggling against the elements in the rain-swept Green Umbrallas (1932).

Crawford's work clearly bears the influence of Whistler even to his use of a monogram (the stylized letters S and C topped bu a coronet) to signify approval of a work. However he was an independent spirit and his etchings are distinctly original. He refused to follow Whistler's lead toward a transfer lithography declaring instead that etching was only the true method of printmaking. Whereas Whistler often etched on site, Crawford almost always made a finished drawing prior to putting the needle to copper.

Stetson Crawford created more than 200 etchings in editions of 50 or less most of them between 1923 and 1940. World War II forced him to return to the United States leaving behind his Menton home and much of his art. The house and its contents were destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940. Crawfords work after 1940 includes one maritime plate for the Printmakers' Society of California in 1959 plus a number of religious prints.

Although essentially unknown in the United States, Crawfords work is in the National Gallery, the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library in addition to many international collections, both public and private. Stone and Press will mount a major exhibition of Stetson Crawford's work, drawings, etchings, and copper plates, early in 1989 Fall Season. Print lovers everywhere should look and rediscover this fine American etcher.


  • Journal of the Print World Vol. 12 No. 3 Summer 1989

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