Norma Bassett Hall: A Biography and Study Not To Miss

Art history books are too often like a farmer plowing his field. Occasionally he turns up a arrowhead or pottery shard, but most of the time he’s simply turning over the same ground that other farmers have plowed before him.

Not the case with Joby Patterson and her biography and critical study of the Arts and Crafts woodblock artist and printmaker Norma Bassett Hall (1888-1957).

Hall is not a household name, even among Arts and Crafts collectors, but that fact speaks volumes for the publisher, Pomegranate Communications, who not only undertook this project, but invested heavily in quality paper stock, hardcover binding, extensive color images, copious footnotes, a detailed index, and apparently unrestrained inclusion of all of the discoveries, research, and information Joby Patterson uncovered as she plowed a fresh field for us.

Joby Patterson retraced the very steps Norma Bassett Hall took with her husband and fellow printmaker Arthur William Hall (1889-1991) as they traveled across and lived for periods of their lives in Oregon, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, and even to Europe. She stood where Norma stood sketching in France; she walked the farm where Norma and Arthur worked side by side, drawing, carving, and printing, capturing the beauty of the landscapes surrounding them.

Joby exhibited the determination that is at the core of every dedicated researcher. Her interest was first aroused by a single Norma Basset Hall print (Haystack Rock, top), which started her on a ten-year journey of discovery. Fortunately for us, examples of nearly all of Hall’s woodblock prints had been saved by close friends and family, who welcomed Joby into their homes and shared with her the prints they had carefully preserved.

Documents and letters provided a glimpse into the lives of this dual-artist couple. As Joby states in her introduction about Norma Bassett Hall, “She was educated at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement; we thus see the impact of an Arts and Crafts education on one who chose to pursue the art of woodblock printmaking. Her life informs us of the trained female artist who chose the road of the professional, but who, unlike many others, successfully combined marriage to another artist with a career in art.”

Joby Patterson leaves no ground unplowed, no furrows un-raked, uncovering the details that transform a biographical study into a fascinating and riveting journey of an Arts and Crafts artist and her husband striving to capture the beauty they discovered for others to enjoy.

You’ll never regret reading their story.

Add this one to your personal collection.

– Bruce

Norma Bassett Hall: Catalogue Raisonne of the Block Prints and Serigraphs by Joby Patterson (Pomegranate Communications, Portland, OR; 176 pages, 108 color and 42 b&w reproductions; $50.)

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Top: Haystack Rock (1933).

Middle: Mt. Hood – Oregon (1928)