Vintage photos and etchings at the Bohemia

Photogravures from the early 20th century, along with vintage 17th-century etchings, are showing at Bohemia Framing and Fine Arts gallery in Ashland. A friend told me about the collection and encouraged me to take a peek. I promised to go, and hoped it wasn't too obvious as we spoke that I had no idea what a photogravure was. I admit I was a little intimidated just walking in, but the Bohemia is an open and welcoming space, and its owner Zach Ehlert was happy to answer any of my questions.

At the gallery, I learned that photogravure printing was invented in 1879 and the basic process is to photographically transfer an image to a metal plate, etch the image on the plate then print from it. As Ehlert points out, the effect is distinctive. "The photos are both detailed and warm. There's a softness in many of these," he said.

The show, called MasterWorks, is aptly named as the prints on display are by artists who are now considered the masters of their art form, with some of the originals selling for millions of dollars. Featured artists include: Eduard (or Edward) J. Steichen, Roelant Savery, J.M.W. Turner, Clarence White and others. There's also a print from contemporary photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto.

The works are from the collection of Ashland artist Robert Beckmann. Beckmann's work can be seen all over the country and he created the Shakespeare portrait on the Bard's Inn in Ashland. A painter and muralist, he is also known for his Las Vegas work, with murals in many of the hotels and the city's McCarran Airport.

Ehlert explained that some of Beckmann's paintings have been inspired by many of the etchings and photos in the collection. "Beckmann did a series of paintings in Vegas where he combined aspects of old masters like Turner with modern images of Vegas," said Ehlert. The gallery is preparing a future exhibit of Beckmann's work, so Ehlert had photos of some of Beckmann's work handy. It's fascinating to look at J.M.W. Turner's 1802 etching "The Tenth Plague of Egypt" and see its spirit in Beckmann's modern Vegas-themed painting, "The Death of the First Born." I especially enjoyed the photos. Ehlert, who is also a photographer, pointed out one of his favorites, a modern photo by artist Hiroshi Sugimoto called Ionian Sea, Santa Caesara. "I'm constantly drawn to Sugimoto," he said. "The simplicity really pulls you in." There is a timelessness about all the works, from Sugimoto's 1990 gray-hued seascape to Alvin Langdon Coburn's 1913 New York skyline. It's as if those temporal cues we use to distinguish between the antique and the modern are removed during the photogravure process.

The etchings are nearly as detailed as the photos, deceptive in their seeming simplicity. Etching involves using a strong acid to cut a design onto a metal plate. The technique has been around since the middle ages. There's one by 17th century Dutch artist Antonie Waterloo called "Resting Travelers and Their Dogs in the Woods." No need to guess what this one is about. It's hard not to marvel at all the tiny details the artist captured, from the leaves on the trees to the ruffled fur on the dog's broad backs.

Whether you are already a fan of these master artists or, like me, just curious, the small Bohemia show is a great sampler. If you want to learn more, Ehlert suggested a couple of books which he had at the gallery. He recommends "Steiglitz: The Photo-Secession," by William Innes Homer. It examines the careers of famous photographers, including most of those represented in the show, and tells how, under the leadership of famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz, they influenced American photography and elevated it to a serious art form.

The show runs through March 31. Bohemia Framing and Fine Art is at 552 A St. For more information call 541-488-5227.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at

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