Tompkins County Public Library

Friday, November 25, 2011

Elfriede Abbe - Illustrator, Printer, Sculptor

An Exhibit of Prints, Private Press Books, Botanical Illustrations, Wood Engravings, Carvings and Photographs

Curated by Nancy E. Green, 
The Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University 

A reception and curator's talk, with workshop on wood block printing by Jenny Pope of the Ink Shop, and exhibit tour by James Tyler, PhD, will be held on December 1, 2011, from 6:00 to 7:30 PM in the Thaler/Howell Program Room. The exhibit will be on display until December 31, 2011.

Born in 1919 in Washington, DC, Elfriede Abbe graduated from Cornell in 1940 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and worked as an illustrator for Cornell from 1942 until her retirement in 1974. Since then, she has continued her artistic output from her studio in Manchester Center, Vermont, printing her own private press books, botanical illustrations, and wood engravings, and creating sculptures.  Even today Abbe sets all her type by hand, one letter at a time, and prints on a Chandler & Price platen press which is entirely hand-operated.

Abbe’s remarkable career began with the exhibition of her sculpture The Hunter at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Other awards include the Tiffany Foundation Fellowship (1948), gold medals from Pen and Brush, New York (1964), the National Arts Club (1970), the Academy of Artists Association in Springfield, Massachusetts (1976), and the E. Liskin Cash Award at  the Salmagundi Club (1979), among others.
Even while pursuing her career at Cornell, Abbe continued to maintain an active exhibition schedule with works shown at a variety of venues, including the Hunt Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University (1968, 1972, 1977); the London Chappel Exhibition (1963); the Middle East tour of the Kerlan Collection, sponsored by the State Department (1952); the National Academy of Design (1978); the National Society of Mural Painters, Nashua Art Center, New Hampshire (1981); and at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York (1990). Her sculpture has been placed at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Germany; the Hunt Library in Pittsburgh; at McGill University; and at the Woodrow Wilson School in Binghamton. Her wood engravings and books are in many collections both here and abroad, including the Beineke Library at Yale University, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Grolier Club in New York, the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the Kroch Library at Cornell, and Tompkins County Public Library.

The works in this exhibition are from the collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell, which were given by James Tyler PhD 1969 and the Tyler Family in memory of George Tyler M.D. 1939-2005; from the private collection of James Tyler; from The Bookery, Antiquarian and Used Book Store, Ithaca; and from Auraca Herbarists.

Abbe’s preferred choice of medium has always been wood—both as a basis for her sculpture and as a surface for her engravings, the blocks themselves transforming into works of art. Equally important for her print and book projects is the choice of papers. These are carefully selected to create a harmonious marriage between the image and the surface on which it’s printed, each complimenting the other.

The subjects of Abbe’s work range from the botanical to the Biblical, all carefully thought out and rendered with simple precision. This seeming simplicity is deceptive though; after a longer acquaintance with her work, details are revealed, and it is easy to appreciate the delicate and deft hand that creates these artistic jewel.


  1. Thanks for the wonderful information.

  2. I have a bronze (the Colt) made by her and was wondering was any other works by her on public exhibit