Born in 1888, Luigi Rist was an American printmaker whose contribution to printmaking lay in combining traditional Japanese woodcutting methods with his own Yankee ingenuity. His enviable reputation as a printmaker was earned rather late in his life when, at the age of 41, he went to Brittany as monitor for the painter, Sigurd Skou. Philadelphia painter, Morris Blackburn was in Brittany at the same time and the two began a friendship that lasted until Rist’s death in 1959. Blackburn introduced Rist to the techniques of the Japanese woodcut print.
In the early 1930s, Blackburn and Rist went to the old Comerford Gallery to see an exhibition of Japanese prints and Rist was so fascinated that he returned to see them again and again. Subsequently, he began experimenting with the medium. In contrast to the traditional method, whereas one artists does the drawing, another the carving and yet, another the printing, Rist completed all three steps himself from the beginning. His earliest prints display a great simplicity compared to his later works which show evidence of an artist aptly skilled in his medium.
In 1941, Rist wrote to Morris Blackburn concerning his complete fascination with the medium of printmaking and during the same year he won his first prizes. Rist commonly used flowers, fruits and vegetables, many of them grown by his wife, Ida, for his subject matter. Of these simple objects he would make preparatory sketches and drawings in Conte crayon. He drew the subjects in their true size and then gave the drawings shade and tone. He gave the subjects a monumental quality by compressing them into a relatively small area of the woodcut.
Rist made all of his blocks from cherry wood planks, which he bought from various sources and then cut to size. With a cabinet scraper, he would scrape the surfaces of both sides smooth. He never sanded his blocks, as the scratches would have been reproduced in the print. To make a finished print, Rist required between 50 and 100 impressions, so it was necessary to size his Hosho paper with gelatin so that it could withstand this abuse. Rist invented a device to insure the exact registry of paper and blocks, he referred to it as a “tympan” (a tympan is actually the material which is placed between the paper to be printed and the platen or roller delivering the pressure in a press). He always mixed fresh rice paste to mix with his pigments and the pigments were measured by weight according to the proportions he had worked out. During one printing session, he might use 30 to 60 sheets of paper, inspecting and discarding the prints that didn’t satisfy him. As far as is known, only two of his prints ever approached the top edition limit of 150.