The prints of Kerr Eby provide a visual portrayal of the artist's
most profound life experiences and emotions. From his early works as an
art student in New York City and Cos Cob, to depictions of his travels
in Europe, North Africa, Northern Canada, views surrounding his homes
in Connecticut and Maine, and finally to his moving and graphic war images,
Eby recorded scenes significant to him.
Eby's work addresses such universal themes as the beauty of nature or
the horror of war: images that are, nonetheless, intimate depictions of
scenes which moved the artist. Eby avoided the highest mountain, the most
impressive view, the greatest cathedral in favor of a pure New England
snowfall, lights flickering on a quiet evening, simple life along the
Maine Coast, or a stately lone moose standing in the mist. His depth of
emotion is found in these images.
Eby evoked this emotion with the powerful stroke of the drypoint needle
and the delicate etched line - the dramatic darkness of the blackest ink
contrasted with the brilliance of white spaces. A true etcher, Eby was
a consummate technician in every aspect of printmaking.
Bernadette Passi Giardina
Harold Kerr Eby was born to Canadian Methodist missionaries in Tokyo,
Japan, on October 19, 1889. At the age of three his family moved to Vancouver,
B.C.; and by the time he was twelve, he had lived in Vancouver, Kingston,
Toronto, and Bracebridge.
He worked as a "printer's devil" on the Bracebridge paper, and
at fifteen he took his savings and moved to New York with the dream of
becoming an artist. He enrolled in art classes at Pratt Institute while
working for a lithographic firm earning $4.00 a week. His pay barely covered
his room and drawing supplies. Within a year, life became desperate for
the young artist. Starving and feeling defeated, he left in the spring
for hime in Canada. He was employed by a surveying party in Northern Ontario.
While in the northern wilderness, Eby regained his dream of becoming an
artist, and in his spare time he started to draw his surroundings.
By fall he had saved enough money to return to New York. He attended night
classes at the Art Students League while working for another lithographic
firm. He spent several more summers surveying in Northern Ontario before
he was able to make a living as an illustrator.
Drawings of his WWI experiences launched his career. He spent most of
WWI on the front line camouflaging the big guns. During his spare time,
he would sketch everything from the big guns to dead soldiers in the field.
He sent these drawings home each week. Upon his return from the war, these
drawings became his inspiration for his first successful group of etchings.
By the mid 1920's, many galleries exhibited his work, but Frederick Keppel
had the exclusive on his new prints.
He was friends with many artists who marveled at his technical expertise.
He co-produced a print with John Taylor Arms where Arms did the architecture
and Eby did the figures. His friendship with Childe Hassam is not a well
documented, however, Hassam did an etching of Eby's studio in Cos Cob,
Connecticut. Kerr Eby was one of the finest printers in the twentieth-century,
his ability to use plate tone to convey space and mood, is second to none.
Even today artists marvel at his ability to use negative space to convey
distance in his etchings.
Kerr Eby was also one of the few artists to serve on both World Wars.
He was a dedicated pacifist, being born of Missionaries, although he had
great respect for the men and women who served their country. In WWI he
was in the Camouflage Corp's and in WWII he joined the mud-marines retaking
the Philippines Islands as an artist correspondent. It was during in experiences
in WWII that he became ill with what John Taylor Arms described as a "tropical
disease" that eventually clamed his life in 1946.
Robert K. Newman