- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

Ann Zahn spins haunting stories in prints and poems in her 30-year retrospective at the Strathmore Hall Arts Center in North Bethesda, Md. The text that accompanies the prints of her Bethesda garden and family, portraits of friends and depictions of Assateague Island ponies
and Sugarloaf Mountain sheep isn't actual poetry, but it provides literary context for this work and also her psychologically charged and dream images.
Mrs. Zahn's perception of time and how she shows it are essential to the display and her two principal series: "100 Views of Home," created from 1975 to 1985, and "Garden Journal," produced from 1988 and still ongoing. The prints "100 Views of Home" came from the artist's interest in woodcut and its masters. She thought of the great Japanese woodblock printmaker Katsushika Hokusai and named her "100 Views" after his legendary "100 Views of Mount Fuji."
The show's title, "Ann Zahn: The Deliquescence of Things, 1972-2002," with the subtitle, "A Retrospective Exhibition of Etchings, Lithographs and Relief Prints," also implies time and the ways the artist chooses to express it.
The artist defines the word "deliquescence" in the show's catalog by quoting from a dictionary: "melting away in the course of growth or decay, branching into many fine divisions, becoming liquid by absorbing moisture from the air."
Her 6-foot-high "Garden Journal I" of 1988 belongs to a 12-part assemblage that pictures the months of 1988, clearly a passage of time.
Mrs. Zahn began her career, and the exhibit, with often humorous and deceptively simple-looking etchings of everyday experiences such as a snowy car ride when the windshield wipers don't work ("American Pie," 1972); dolls in a baby carriage ("Song of the Rider II," 1974); and her daughter ("Julie at the Piano," 1974).
The artist taught a woodcut class at American University in 1975 and became aware of Hokusai's "100 Views of Mount Fuji." It was then that she began her own "100 Views" with lithographs of the family at home.
Mrs. Zahn first focused on the kitchen table with its Lazy Susan. "Each day the circular 'still life' at the center of the table was both rearranged and spun around by our family of six," she says.
The artist has lived for 35 years in her Bethesda home that is 1 blocks from the house of her childhood. Mrs. Zahn inherited a summer place in the West Ocean City fishing harbor and visits there often with her family. She likes to capture what she calls "the soaring lines above, around and below their bulky shapes" of the boats as she draws directly into the etching plate ("Sea Quest," etching and aquatint, 1988).
The artist says she extended the parameters of "home" to her rounded backyard fishpond and made aquatint prints from eight places around the pond ("100 Views of Home #27," 1977).
Mrs. Zahn's land and the nearby Potomac River inspired many outstanding prints and the picture of "John, Portrait of a River Man."
She uses engraved dry points with copper plates for her charming "Garden" prints. They, in turn, led to the garden journals such as "Garden Journal I." It's a calendar, and what a calendar it is.
The 6-foot-by-almost-4-foot sensuously textured work, a lithograph and linoleum cut on Tovil paper, has a folk art look but is sophisticated on closer glance.
Mrs. Zahn had taught herself papermaking at the time, using parts of plants and trees from her garden to make the special paper. Accident also played a part. As Mrs. Zahn printed the first color of the litho, the top of the paper folded down for a layered effect that she decided to keep.
Back in 1974 when she made prints of dolls in baby carriages, Mrs. Zahn decided, as she writes in the catalog, "to rediscover my childhood and return 'home.'"
Psychotherapy inspired the "100 Views of Home #76-1: The Family Album," a spooky telling of a traumatic childhood incident in which her best friend was killed accidentally.
"I draw on the stone or zinc with closed eyes and let anything come up. Sometimes I draw with my left hand. My childhood emerged from this unconscious, stream-of-consciousness way of working," she writes in the catalog.
There's more perhaps a bit too much with 105 works spread over two floors of Strathmore Hall, but it's all good. Don't miss the ponies of Assateague Island, happy scenes from Glen Echo Park, beach scenes, handmade books and "The Red House," the former home of her therapist near Sugarloaf Mountain in Frederick County, Md.
Mrs. Zahn works in many print media: woodcut, linoleum cut, etching, aquatint, dry point and lithography, in addition to making her own paper. She uses the aquatint etching process to great effect. She employs a sharp instrument to incise the design into a zinc plate covered with an acid-resistant wax ground. ("It's cheaper than copper and just as good," she says.) Mrs. Zahn covers the plate with a fine dust of rosin particles that she heats for attaching the dust. After the artist immerses the plate into an acid bath, the acid bites around the particles, and Mrs. Zahn achieves her complex tonal effects.
She believes that Spanish artist Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes started the use of aquatint for its subtle tonalities.
Mrs. Zahn arranged her show by themes rather than media, and the sections sometimes appear fragmented.
Would it be a better exhibit to demonstrate the ways white-line woodcuts can simulate colorful watercolors and how lithography gives a rich, sometimes oily, effect? It's hard to know with Mrs. Zahn's considerable accomplishments demonstrated in an ambience such as this. A more coherent, compressed space than the Strathmore Hall Arts Center could have solved the problem.

WHAT: "Ann Zahn: The Deliquescence of Things, 1972-2002"
WHERE: Strathmore Hall Arts Center, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, except Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, through April 13
TICKETS: Free
PHONE: 301/530-0540


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