Duval Printing
This 1849 advertisement by Christian Schüssele called attention to the new color printing technologies available at P.S. Duval’s Colour Printing & Lithographic Establishment. (Library Company of Philadelphia)

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Philadelphia became a leading center of printmaking in the United States. While publishing companies had operated in the city since the eighteenth century, the technological innovations of the firm of Peter S. Duval (1804/5-86) transformed Philadelphia’s lithographic trade into a booming industry. Duval’s commitment to improving printmaking methods and achieving complex artistic expression was taken up in the twentieth century by the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. Then, following World War II, a flourishing of printmaking centers, including the Brandywine Workshop and the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions, enabled a new generation of artists to experiment with a variety of techniques and materials, cementing the Philadelphia region’s reputation as a pioneer in the field of printmaking.

Philadelphia witnessed the birth of American lithography in 1819 when Bass Otis (1784-1861) produced the country’s first lithograph. Invented in Germany in 1798 by Alois Senefelder (1771-1834), lithography is a planographic process that relies on the inability of oil and water to mix. A greasy crayon is applied to a smooth limestone or metal plate, which is then treated with a chemical solution, sponged with water, inked, and sent through a printing press. As American artists and printers experimented with the technique in the 1820s, they discovered that it allowed for long print runs, large sizes, and the easy combination of text and image. Commercial lithographic production began in Philadelphia in 1828 with the founding of Kennedy & Lucas (active 1828-33). Within just a few years, the industry dramatically expanded. By 1878, over 500 artists, lithographers, printers, and publishers had participated in the city’s lithographic trade.

Richards Grandpa's Pet
John H. Richard, working for Duval, produced the country’s first lithotint, Grandpapa’s Pet, in 1843. (Library Company of Philadelphia)

No publisher was more influential in transforming the art and the business of lithography than Peter Duval. The French lithographer arrived in Philadelphia in 1831 to work for the publisher Cephas G. Childs (1793-1871) Although only twenty-six years old, Duval brought a level of expertise that few Americans could match. In fact, he was the only lithographer in Philadelphia who had received professional training. After quickly achieving success with Childs, he partnered with George Lehman (ca. 1800-70) to found Lehman & Duval (Dock Street and Bank Alley) in 1834. Three years later, he opened his own firm, P.S. Duval’s Lithographic Establishment, at the same location. It then moved to the Artisans’ Building between Fourth and Fifth Streets, between Chestnut and Market Streets, from 1848 to 1857.

A Wide Range of Printing Services

In contrast to Philadelphia firms in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that specialized in one product, Duval offered a wide range of services, including advertisements, billheads, certificates, checks, circulars, labels, maps, pamphlets, sheet music covers, and title pages. His workshop also served as a training ground for a generation of printmakers, whose artistic abilities, he believed, should match those of fine artists. Through on-the-job instruction, lithographers not only developed their technical skills but also their drawing and painting skills. Because of Duval’s dedication to technological improvement, Philadelphia became one of the first cities in the United States to utilize steam power in lithographic printing. He successfully mechanized one step of the printing process—the pulling of the stone through the press—in 1850 in an attempt to save muscle power and increase efficiency. By the 1860s, he managed to automate the rest of the procedure, including the dampening and inking of the stone.

In addition to streamlining lithographic practices, Duval was a forerunner in color printing. To find an alternative to the costly and time-consuming process of hand coloring, he experimented with tinted lithography in the 1840s. A tinted lithograph, also known as a lithotint, is a monochromatic lithograph printed in several hues from one stone. However, although the method allows for printing numerous inks in various gradations, it cannot print bright, bold colors. Duval finally achieved success with true color printing, or chromolithography, in 1849, printing three or more colors from separate stones. His firm immediately began producing portraits, landscapes, illustrations, advertisements, and title pages with a wide variety of hues. His artists’ skillful reproductions of oil paintings, also known as “chromos,” became so popular that an entire industry arose in Philadelphia dedicated to manufacturing mass-produced, affordable replicas of paintings. Duval’s foremost “chromo” rivals included Thomas Sinclair (active 1838-81), Wagner & McGuigan (active 1845-57), and L.N. Rosenthal (active 1852-84). Overall, Duval and his contemporaries not only elevated lithography from a practical to a fine art but also helped make works of art more available to the multitudes.

The Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop

Thrash WPA Print
Defense Worker, 1941, was produced by Dox Thrash using the Carborundum printmaking method. (Free Library of Philadelphia)

Continuing in the tradition of nineteenth-century printmaking firms, the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop (311 Broad Street) of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project increased the accessibility of art to the public during the mid-1930s and early 1940s. The primary aim of this New Deal program was to provide employment to artists during the Great Depression. Yet it also sought to introduce art into the everyday lives of Americans by offering the use of its facilities and materials to the local community. It distributed editions to public institutions, such as schools, libraries, and post offices, and held exhibitions in unconventional spaces, such as parks, settlement houses, and subway stations, to allow people of all socioeconomic backgrounds the chance to encounter art outside of a museum or gallery.

The Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop was the only graphic art center of the Federal Art Project specifically devoted to the creation of fine art prints. While other workshops manufactured commercial products, such as posters, brochures, maps, and charts, the artists of the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop created etchings, engravings, woodcuts, lithographs, dry points, mezzotints, and aquatints for their own creative endeavors. They saw printmaking not simply as a means of mechanical reproduction but as an imaginative process that helped them reconceptualize their approaches to art-making.

Furthermore, the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop was one of the most racially diverse graphic art centers in the country. African American artists such as Dox Thrash (1893-1965), Claude Clark (1915-2001), and Raymond Steth (1917-97) acquired unparalleled access to costly tools and equipment as well as to a community of artists with a wide range of technical expertise. In an oral history interview for the Archives of American Art, Philadelphia printmaker Hugh Mesibov (b. 1916) explained that a strong sense of community developed among workshop artists, regardless of race. They consistently shared knowledge and exchanged ideas as they explored the possibilities of printmaking technologies together.

As a result of this collaborative environment, the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop became a center of innovation. Its most significant accomplishment was the invention of the Carborundum printmaking technique, which the Philadelphia Tribune called “the first important innovation in the printmaker’s art in a century.” Carborundum is a coarse, granular industrial product traditionally used to clean lithographic plates. Thrash discovered its ability to produce images of great tonal richness while experimenting at the workshop in 1937. After rubbing the material onto a copper plate with a heavy flatiron, he realized that the Carborundum crystals created a rough, pitted surface that held ink. Mesibov, who was looking over his shoulder, suggested that he use a knife-like tool called a burnisher to polish the surface to create lighter tonalities. Thrash took Mesibov’s advice and sketched a nude. After this initial collaboration, Thrash and his colleagues continued to explore the artistic potential of Carborundum together, developing the Carborundum relief etching and the color Carborundum relief etching. Although these processes never gained popularity outside of the Philadelphia region, the Federal Art Project administration and newspapers across the country, from Time to Popular Mechanics to Magazine of Art, hailed the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop for its pioneering discovery. Approximately 108 Carborundum prints were created for the Federal Art Project between 1937 and the project’s termination in 1943.

Post-War Printmaking Centers

Allan Edmunds, MLK’s Humanity of Man, 2001(Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts)
In MLK’s Humanity of Man, Allan Edmunds combined offset lithography with screenprinting, stenciling, and collage. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)

Building upon the legacy of the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop, artists founded numerous graphic art centers devoted to artistic collaboration and community engagement during the 1970s and 1980s, including the Fabric Workshop and Museum (1214 Arch Street), the Ettinger Studio (2215 South Street), and the Printmaking Center of New Jersey (440 River Road, Branchburg, New Jersey). Two of the most prolific, which continue to operate today, are the Brandywine Workshop (730 South Broad Street) and the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey). The founder of the Brandywine Workshop, Allan Edmunds (b. 1949), studied with Sam Brown (1907-94), one of the African American artists employed by the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop.

Like the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop, the Brandywine Workshop and the Brodsky Center have aimed to educate the public on printmaking processes through classes and lectures. Additionally, they have sought to introduce artists to new technologies by offering equipment and technical expertise for a wide range of methods, from traditional processes, such as etching, engraving, woodcut, and lithography, to more recent methods, such as electroplating, photo-emulsion screenprinting, and video imaging. Edmunds and Judith Brodsky, the founder of the Brodsky Center, have established non-hierarchical environments to encourage artists to work with printers, papermakers, students, and fellow artists. They believe that through such exchanges, artists will come across new, inventive ways to conceive of their work. The Brodsky Center, with its university location, has also taken on the role of a research facility where people can think creatively, develop ideas, and investigate alternative media.

Shapiro Frida
Miriam Schapiro collaborated on Frida and Me with printer Eileen Foti at the Brodsky Center. (The Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions)

As the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop granted opportunities to artists who had been marginalized because of their race, the Brandywine Workshop and Brodsky Center have actively reached out to artists of color. Edmunds and Brodsky have recognized that few African American artists, especially women, have had the chance to master the technical processes of printmaking. Their artist residency programs have exposed artists of all backgrounds to the possibilities of media technologies and have provided extensive professional development. Since the time of their founding, over three hundred artists have passed through the doors of the Brandywine Workshop and the Brodsky Center, including Will Barnet (1911-2012), Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), Barbara Chase-Riboud (b. 1939), Spencer Finch (b. 1962), William Kentridge (b. 1955), Glenn Ligon (b. 1960), Howardena Pindell (b. 1943), Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939), Kiki Smith (b. 1954), Miriam Schapiro (b. 1923), Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971), and Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953). Through their emphases on creative collaboration and technical innovation, the Brandywine Workshop and Brodsky Center have built upon the rich legacies of Peter S. Duval and the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop to continue the tradition of printmaking in the Philadelphia region.

Michelle Donnelly earned her M.A. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania. As a Curatorial Assistant at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she curated the exhibition “Art for Society’s Sake: The WPA and Its Legacy” in 2013. She is a Samuel H. Kress Interpretive Fellow at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

Copyright 2015, Rutgers University


Grandpapa's Pet, by John H. Richard

Library Company of Philadelphia

The German-born lithographer John H. Richard worked for Peter S. Duval between 1841 and 1843. After a series of experiments with color printing, they successfully produced the country’s first lithotint, Grandpapa’s Pet, in 1843. Using a single stone, they printed various strengths of brown, red, blue, and black inks to describe a genre scene of an elderly man beside his grandchild and a sleeping dog. The gradated washes resemble the effects of a watercolor or aquatint.

Grandpapa’s Pet was published in the April 1843 issue of Miss Leslie’s Magazine as a testament to Richard and Duval’s achievement. The inscription accompanying the print declared that it was “The First Specimen of This Art Ever Produced in the United States.” However, despite Richard and Duval’s technical triumph, they did not have the capability of printing bright, solid colors. It was not until 1849 that Duval produced a true chromolithograph.

P.S. Duval Printing Company Promotional Card

Library Company of Philadelphia

In 1849, Peter S. Duval recruited Christian Schüssele, one of Europe’s leading chromolithographers, to pioneer color printing at his firm in Philadelphia. This advertisement promoted the addition of chromolithography to Duval’s services through a tangible demonstration of Schüssele’s skills. Exhibiting a rich palette of reds, blues, greens, and yellows, it announces that Duval has added “Chromo-Lithography (printing in Colours), for all kinds of fancy & ornamental printing of which this Card is a Specimen.” The intricate composition resembles an illuminated manuscript. Aside from displaying Schüssele’s artistic abilities, it also exhibits the range of subjects in which Duval’s company specialized. A group of classically inspired figures reside within a landscape to the left, while an allegorical figure, emerging from a Gothic-style decorative frame, paints a portrait of George Washington at the lower right.

Smoke n' Gin, by Hugh Mesibov

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Hugh Mesibov worked for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project from 1937 to 1940. During his tenure at the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop, he co-invented the Carborundum printmaking technique with Dox Thrash and Michael Gallagher. Mesibov claimed that his self-portrait Mystic (1937) was the first finished Carborundum print. He also took sole credit for inventing the Carborundum relief etching. Instead of using a burnisher, he employed an acid-resistant varnish to draw on a copper plate prepared with Carborundum. He then immersed the plate in an acid solution, causing the drawn marks to stand above the bitten background. Finally, he inked the plate and printed it in relief. Mesibov discovered that up to twelve inks could be used on a single plate.

Whereas a Carborundum mezzotint exhibits a smooth, velvety texture, a Carborundum relief etching bears a rougher aesthetic. In Smoke n’ Gin, the quivering lines of varying thickness express the age and exhaustion of the working-class men at a local bar. Yet the energetic marks also convey a sense of their inner vitality. While Mesibov used his prints of the 1930s to draw attention to the struggling poor, he also sought to capture the optimism of his subjects.

MLK’s Humanity of Man, by Allan Edmunds

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Allan Edmunds, the founder and executive director of the Brandywine Workshop, sought to expand the limits of printmaking by combining traditional processes with new technologies. He first explored the potential of offset lithography in 1981 with printmaker John E. Dowell Jr. First, they separated the colors of their imagery onto sheets of mylar with inked brushes, waxed pencils, pens, or spray paint. They then transferred their imagery onto a metal plate through a light-sensitive process. Finally, they rolled the plate onto a rubber cylinder, which applied their imagery onto a flat surface in its original orientation. By experimenting with an array of materials, Edmunds and Dowell discovered offset lithography’s unique capacity for the precise registration of forms, the retention of fine lines, and subtle tonal gradations. Edmunds established the Offset Institute at Brandywine in 1982 to encourage others to experiment with the technically demanding process.

In MLK’s Humanity of Man, Edmunds combines offset lithography with screenprinting, stenciling, and collage. Through the juxtaposition of quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches and his family, as well as images from his public and private life, he captures the compassion of the civil rights leader. The subject also reveals Edmunds’s interest in the advancement of people of color.

Defense Worker, by Dox Thrash

The Free Library of Philadelphia

Dox Thrash worked at the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop from 1937 to 1942, during which time he developed the Carborundum printmaking process with the help of Hugh Mesibov and Michael Gallagher. The technique, which involves roughening a metal plate with Carborundum crystals, produced prints with rich, nuanced tones and velvety textures. Thrash initially named the works he created Opheliagraphs, after his mother.

Using the Carborundum process he pioneered, Thrash created Defense Worker around 1941. Although African Americans faced rampant discrimination in the World War II rearmament program, Thrash portrays an African American male employing a riveter—the tool most commonly associated with the defense industry. The figure’s downward facial expression and forward thrusting body suggest his total devotion to his job. Viewed from below, his hefty body takes on a heroic, dignified stature.

Frida and Me, by Miriam Schapiro

The Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions

A leader of the Feminist Art Movement and the Pattern and Decoration Movement of the 1970s, Miriam Schapiro employed materials traditionally associated with women’s crafts. Her experience at the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions in the 1990s led her to investigate media and techniques she had rarely explored. Schapiro created Frida and Me with the help of printer Eileen Foti at the Brodsky Center.

The work is part of Schapiro’s Collaborations series, which pays homage to female artists of the past. This collaboration, however, not only explores Schapiro’s relationship to the artist Frida Kahlo, but also to Foti. Schapiro explained that Foti was key to helping her achieve her artistic vision. Together, they experimented with a variety of printmaking techniques and searched for fabrics in the garment district to build up the surfaces of her work. The result is a technically complex print that evokes the subject matter of Kahlo’s paintings but features an array of textures, decorative patterns, and vibrant colors that speak to Schapiro and Foti’s aesthetic sensibilities.

Related Topics


Time Periods


Related Reading

Duval, Pierre. “Lithography.” In American Encyclopedia of Printing. Edited by J. Luther Ringwalt. Philadelphia: Menamin & Ringwalt, 1871.

Edmunds, Allan L. Three Decades of American Printmaking: The Brandywine Workshop Collection. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2004.

Farmer, Jane M. Crossing Over, Changing Places. Riverdale, Maryland: Pyramid Atlantic, 1992.

Ittmann, John W., ed. Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, in association with the University of Washington Press, 2001.

Jarvis, Arthur R. “Opportunity, Experience, and Recognition: Black Participation in Philadelphia’s New Deal Arts Projects, 1936-1942.” The Journal of Negro History 85, no. 4 (Autumn 2000): 241-59.

King-Hammond, Leslie. “Black Printmakers and the W.P.A.” In Alone in a Crowd: Prints of the 1930s-40s by African-American Artists; From the Collection of Reba and Dave Williams. Edited by Stephen M. Doherty. New York: Washburn Press, 1993.

Langdale, Shelley R., ed. Full Spectrum: Prints from the Brandywine Workshop. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, in association with Yale University Press, 2012.

Marzio, Peter C. The Democratic Art: Pictures for a 19th-Century America, Chromolithography, 1840-1900. Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum of Art, 1979.

Medley-Buckner, Cindy. “Carborundum Mezzotint and Carborundum Etching.” Print Quarterly 16, no. 1 (March 1999): 34-49.

Piola, Erika, ed. Philadelphia on Stone: Commercial Lithography in Philadelphia, 1828-1878. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, in association with the Library Company of Philadelphia, 2012.

Related Collections

Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Perelman Building, 2525 Pennsylvania Avenue, Philadelphia.

Prints and Photographs Collection, Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia.

Rare Book & Manuscript Collection, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, University of Pennsylvania, 3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia.

Works on Paper Collection, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118 North Broad Street, Philadelphia.

WPA Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia.

Related Places

Brandywine Workshop, 730 South Broad Street, Philadelphia.

Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 33 Livingston Avenue, Room 203, New Brunswick, N.J.

The Ettinger Studio, 2215 South Street, Philadelphia.

The Fabric Workshop and Museum, 1214 Arch Street, Philadelphia.

Masthead Print Studio, 737 N. Fourth Street, Philadelphia.

The Print Center, 1614 Latimer Street, Philadelphia.

The Printmaking Center of New Jersey, 440 River Road, Branchburg, N.J.

Second State Press, 1400 N. American Street #103, Philadelphia.



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