Silk Screen Stenciling as a Fine Art
J.I. Biegelisen and Max Arthur Cohn, introduction by Rockwell Kent
McGraw Hill Book Company, 1942

Text scanned, OCR’d, and cleaned up by Lincoln Cushing 2/22/2009
Copy of book courtesy Michael McGrorty


It is the summer of 1942 - July. Reports from press and radio drive home to us the fact that our nation and the ideals upon which it is founded, and those ideals as they exist in the hearts of men and women the world over and in the governments that they have formed to give expression to them, face a grave crisis. Yet this crisis appears now to have come upon us as an inescapable expression of conflicting ideologies that were inherent in the world-wide economic crises of the past two decades. Human society is as living an organism as the people who are its components; and progress is its life. The highway of progress had come, not to a dead end, but to a fork with promissory sign-boards pointing RIGHT and LEFT and reading, to the literate, DICTATORSHIP or DEMOCRACY.

To the people of the world-to human beings of flesh and blood and possessed of the aspirations toward freedom and happiness that are inherent to Man-the choice was never a problem. Progress was to them synonymous with more democracy; and more democracy means a fuller participation in Government and culture. And when at last that parting of the ways was reached and war broke out, the will to more democracy, to the further democratization of the institutions that democracy had built, was already in progress. The democratization of culture as expressed in the arts is a recognized phenomenon of the last decade in America.

The democratization of art implies such changes in art forms and, doubtless, in art's content as will make art loved and understood by many rather than by merely few; and it involves such subtle changes in the many as only the promised democratic blessings of education and security of livelihood can effect. Of the artist's will to make the Fine Arts be a peoples' art a recent radio message from the Stalin prize-winning artist, Radlov, to the artists of America gives moving expression. Speaking of the stenciled war cartoons, posters and  “TASS Windows" with which the artists of the Soviet Union are occupied in this critical hour in the life of their country he writes:

This work is a great school, and I don't regret that I have laid aside children's books, which I loved to illustrate, to work on these posters, which require startling silhouette and bright color schemes combined with trenchant characterization and rapidity of form. “I have the feeling that in this somewhat coarse street art we have perhaps the first practical application of the dream of the finest democratic artists: that paintings should be placed on view in public squares and be thus directly presented to large masses of people.”

Radlov is profoundly right.

The stencil process is an ancient one, as the authors of this book reveal. The silk-screen stencil, which is the particular subject of the book, is a modern and, it is claimed, American development of this process that is of revolutionary importance. It removes from the craft of stenciling its serious technical limitations, endows it with the freedom of the artist's brush or pencil and makes it a medium for the expression of those subtle values that distinguish what we term Fine Art from its cruder relative, commercial art. It would be of disservice to my country not, at this time, to deplore our own national neglect of our own silk-screen stencil process in this day when nation-wide visual, educational propaganda is a matter of such desperate necessity.

Consistent with the democratic nature of the craft that is the subject of this book is the authors' treatment of their subject, or, one might say, of their readers. Apparently it has been their whole-hearted intention to bring to the layman an understanding of how silk-screen prints are made; and the realization that anyone - even those who, like myself, "can't draw a straight line" - can make them.

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