7/1/2002 - Mary Thompson

Sherman County Historical Museum's Artist of the Month Series features an exhibition of wood engravings, Great Expectations, by Mary Thompson. These wood engravings are based on Mary’s maternal grandparents' Great Depression-era photographs made on a farm near Grass Valley, Oregon, that was theirs for a while.

The young couple, a farmer and a former school teacher, bought the farm from the local banker intending to raise sheep. There was more sagebrush than grass, more wind than rain on this farm. Even the resident barn cat was thin and wary. They started with a small flock of sheep. Soon a daughter was born. With some of the proceeds from the first sale of spring lambs, they bought a puppy from some neighbor boys and trained her to herd sheep. For a time, the farm prospered. The flock grew ever larger, wool was abundant, market lambs filled the loading chutes for sale in the city, and their little daughter flourished.  The young couple were caught in the poor market conditions of the Great Depression and were  forced to sell their lambs and fleeces at a loss. Disease and drought took a toll. Despite dearly bought wagon loads of turnips for feed, the flock declined. The sheep dog was idle. Rob paced. The little girl watched her mother pack their belongings for the family lost the farm to the bank and they would leave.

Wood engraving is a relief-printmaking process related to wood cut, and these engravings are made with end cut blocks of red maple, and cut with a variety of small specialized tools. To make a print, ink is rolled onto the cut block and then transferred to paper by use of a press or by hand by rubbing with the back of a wooden spoon. The parts of the block that have been removed will be white, while the uncut portions will print black. Wood engraving is unique in printmaking because of the possibility of making prints that combine extreme detail with areas of deepest black. These engravings were hand-rubbed onto Sekishu White paper in an edition of ten.