Sunday, April 07, 2013

H. N. Werkman

Alston W. Purvis's volume in Yale's Monographics series brought this interesting Dutch printmaker to my attention. Hendrik Werkman was born in Leens in the Netherlands in 1882 and lived most of his life in the city of Groningen. A professional printer, he apparently didn't have much of a head for business, but he did have a rich talent for design and typographical experimentation. Though he became associated with a Dutch art circle called De Ploeg (The Plough), he retained a prickly independence, and his work was not widely distributed or recognized during his lifetime. One of his best-known projects was a kind of chapbook periodical entitled The Next Call, much of which (there were nine installments, some printed on a single folded sheet) is reproduced in Purvis's book. He was particularly adept at using found materials and printing furniture as elements in his work; in the image immediatly below, for example, the black element was printed using the key plate from a door.

Prolific and resourceful even in the face of difficult circumstances, he created a series of some 600 monoprints that he called "druksels," a name derived from the Dutch drukken (to print), for calendars, bookplates, and other ephemera, and for a suite of prints illustrating stories from Martin Buber's Chassidische legenden (published as Tales of the Hasidim in English). Though Werkman was not Jewish, these last, published under German occupation in 1942, may have contributed to his arrest and execution in March 1945, just days before the Allied liberation of Grondingen. A substantial portion of his work, which had been seized by the Nazis at the time of his arrest, was destroyed during the fighting for the city. Fortunately, much of it remains.

Purvis's H. N. Werkman seems to be the best current source on the artist's life and work. There is a substantial online collection at the Groningen Museum and a nice selection at

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