March 28, 2023
Eugene Larkin (1921 – 2010) brought lithography to Minneapolis. He ardently supported art history, loved artistic experimentation, and was an educator through and through. Whether in the classroom or in the newspapers, Larkin did his best to make printmaking accessible to the layperson.
Larkin grew up on his grandfather’s homestead in Wayzata, Minnesota. In his youth, he wanted to study literature, hoping to become an author. This led to Larkin’s fascination with book illustrations, and his eye turned to printmaking. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, he went on to teach at Kansas State College for six years, before returning to Minnesota.
Upon his return in 1954, Larking taught printmaking at the Minneapolis School of Art, now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Fifteen years later, he became a Professor of Design at UMN. His teaching wasn’t restricted to the classroom, though. Larkin had several articles on printmaking and the importance of art history in the Star Tribune.
In his instructional articles, Larkin outlined the basic steps of lithography. He provided tips for beginners, such as what paper to use (Larkin preferred Japanese rice paper but mentioned a Minnesota manufacturer’s paper that was more readily available to the masses), what wood was malleable and cheap (he suggested pine), and knife safety.
Larkin also wrote about why each print is a unique work of art, even if it came from the same woodcut as dozens of other prints. He explained how the ink is set in the paper differently with each press. The wood blocks can be placed differently or the paper itself might shift during the pressing process. All these elements contribute to differences between prints, whether noticeable or not.
Larkin’s subject matter greatly varied, but he often focused on musicians. In the print displayed here, he abstractly depicts a violinist from the Minnesota Orchestra. Larkin was so inspired, he often hosted local musicians at his home where he would sketch them while performing and later create prints based on these live action depictions.
Larkin was unafraid of technical experimentation. His works were praised for their elegance in simplicity. Larkin used textures to add depth to his prints. Texture could come from the grain of the woodcuts, or from the inclusion of plant matter into the pressing process.
Ultimately, Larkin endeavored to make his art and passion open to people who otherwise might never have known about it. His prints are in many collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Chicago Art Institute, and the Library of Congress. The work highlighted in this blog post is from Hennepin History Museum’s own art collection.
Author Bio: Written by Summer Erickson, former Visitor Services Manager and Collections Assistant at Hennepin History Museum. Erickson graduated with a B.A. in Art History and Museum Studies from the University of St. Thomas in 2020. They cataloged HHM’s art collection in 2021. Erickson is currently working as a receptionist for MSS.
Larkin, Eugene. “Art is Long and Time is Fleeting.” Star Tribune. Nov. 06, 1966. https://startribune.newspapers.com/clip/90565096/
“Making Woodcut is Easy – When You Know How.” Star Tribune. April 01, 1962. https://startribune.newspapers.com/clip/90565420/
McKinney, Matt. “Eugene Larkin was a ‘gold standard’ artist.” Star Tribune. Dec. 09, 2010. https://startribune.newspapers.com/clip/90565191/
Morrison, Don. “Artist Larkin works, resides contentedly away from ‘big town’.” The Minneapolis Star. Nov. 06, 1969. https://startribune.newspapers.com/clip/90347015/
Morrison, Don. “Natural forms coaxed into graceful abstracts.” The Minneapolis Star. Feb. 02, 1978. https://startribune.newspapers.com/clip/90347385/
Sherman, John K. “Art in Review.” Star Tribune. May 27, 1945. https://startribune.newspapers.com/clip/90565286/
“Wood Cut Lends Medieval Touch to Yule.” Star Tribune. Oct. 20, 1957. https://startribune.newspapers.com/clip/90347752/
This blog was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.