Osprey, Mono Lake © Robert Sommers 2023

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lowell Naeve

Sometimes the narrative is equal to, if not more interesting than, the artwork itself.

Steve and I bought this impressive large woodblock print recently. I have been doing this a long time and this might be the biggest woodblock I have ever handled, short of the Baskin anyway, about 18 x 30". Signed Lowell Naeve, titled Red Barn. Numbered, 28, edition of 100. Modern regionalist, Paul Sample meets Ben Shahn.

I went on Askart.com, Artprice, nothing, no info, no auction record. Hmmm. A quick search on google and the man unfolded before my eyes.

The very print. Created in 1968. But it gets more interesting.

A conscientious objector, Naeve had two stints in jail. From Molly Fair's Justseeds:
Naeve objected to all forms of oppression, and his personal identification as an anarchist resulted from his own observations from every day occurrences. He was opposed to the indiscriminate killing of animals for sport or so called necessity, the celebration of war in children’s schoolbooks, and US control over foreign resources, which he learned of from his travels in Mexico. After registering for the draft, he refused to serve, and was subsequently imprisoned twice, serving a total of four and a half years in nine prisons.
While serving time, he continued to engage in political activity, and protested against censorship, poor food quality, and the segregation of black prisoners. He also wrote a prison newsletter called The Clink. Naeve resisted through his artwork, created by wiping ink off of copies of Life magazines and drawing with whatever tool he could find.
While serving a year long sentence in Danbury Prison, he decided to ask the warden for art supplies. Surprisingly the warden agreed, but with the ulterior motive of making an example of Naeve as a model prisoner to visiting authorities. In addition the warden tried to make Naeve produce portraits of his family. Naeve refused to comply and said he will instead draw lots between the prisoners and officials to see who will get a portrait painted, refusing to place the oppressors on a pedestal.
He published his books with David Wieck, an anarchist he met in prison and life long friend. Together they later formed the anarchist group WHY?. I’ve had trouble finding out more info on Naeve, but know that he continued to be involved in activism with his wife, and his son, who was later accused of resisting the draft during the Vietnam War.
He died in British Columbia in 2014. See his obit here.

More later...


Anonymous said...

Fascinating Robert. Beth c"

Sanoguy said...

Great print.... Even better story!

Unknown said...

I encountered this work at the Good Life Center in Brooksville, Maine where there is a fascinating painting he did for the owners of the house, Helen and Scott Nearing (political and environmental activists). It is a view of a prison where Naeve was held as a CO but he painted a benign landscape over the view of the cell block since images of the prison were not allowed. Naeve instructed the Nearings how to remove the overpainting to reveal the image of the prison.

Julie said...

My father, Albert Ebeling, was a CO and was imprisoned also, probably with Naeve. There is a book called A Field of Broken Stones that was illustrated by Naeve and is about the prison and what went on during that time.