Luther (Lou) McKinley Stovall

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Luther (Lou) McKinley Stovall

Lou Stovall (born 1937) was credited by artists and critics alike with helping to transform the concept of silkscreen printmaking from a commercial craft to a true art form. He was also an accomplished draftsman, as well as a designer and builder of fine furniture.

Luther McKinley (Lou) Stovall was born in Athens, Georgia, on New Year's Day, 1937. When he was still a young boy his family moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where Stovall's interest in printmaking was born. It was while working at a summer job in a grocery store that young Stovall discovered a printmaker making "Sale" signs for the store. Before returning to school at summer's end, he had begun assisting the printer.

Stovall's formal art education began in 1956 at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied for a semester before having to return home to help his family. In 1962 he enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., under James A. Porter, the department head who became Stovall's adviser and mentor and who had written the definitive book on African American art. Stovall continued his printmaking studies at Howard under James Lesesne Wells, himself a renowned printmaker. When he graduated in 1966 with a BFA degree in art history Stovall had already established himself as a talented printmaker.

Following his graduation, Stovall began working as head designer at a sign shop in a Washington, D.C., suburb. He fulfilled his job responsibilities during the day and would then work on his own designs after hours. It was during this period at Botkin's Sign Shop in Silver Spring, Maryland, that Stovall produced countless posters for community, government, and labor groups and collaborated with Lloyd McNeill, a musician and fellow artist, on posters for jazz workshops.

By 1968 Stovall had opened his own studio (Workshop, Inc.), teaching silkscreen techniques to other artists while further refining his own style. He was joined thereafter by his assistant, Diane (Di) Bagley, who was later to become his wife and occasional collaborator.

Traditionally, the silkscreening process entails the cutting of a stencil, which is attached to the silkscreen in areas where the artist wishes to prevent the color from coming through. The color is then spread over the stencil with a rubber blade, where it passes onto the exposed silkscreen underneath. For each additional color used in a particular print, the artist must cut a new stencil. It is not unusual for a printmaker to cut dozens of stencils in order to complete a single silkscreen design.

By utilizing tools and techniques not customarily associated with silkscreening, Stovall's prints exhibit an intricacy not usually attained with the medium. In addition to the use of the traditional stencil and rubber blade, or "squeegee," Stovall painted directly on the silkscreen, using a color blocking lacquer. On other occasions he used sponges and large brushes to achieve subtle shading. When customary tools proved insufficient for his needs, Stovall created his own instruments in order to produce the thin, engraving-like lines found in many of his works.

Although he readily admitted to a fascination with the human form, Stovall's art never depicted people. Instead, he imbued his birds and landscapes with a human gracefulness.

It is from nature that Stovall received much of his inspiration. He was perhaps best known for his circular prints of flowers and landscapes, depicting flowing streams and graceful trees. In his trees, a favorite subject, Stovall's intricate style can be easily detected. One can almost feel the textures he has depicted on the trunks. In 1986, upon request, he made the print, American Beauty Rose for the Washington, D.C., Area Host Committee 1988 Democratic National Convention.

Besides producing his own designs, Stovall was frequently commissioned to make silkscreen prints of other artists' work, including that of Joseph Albers, Leon Berkowitz, Peter Blume, Alexander Calder, Chun Chen, Gene Davis, Tom Downing, Sam Gilliam, Sidney T. Guberman, Selma Hurwitz, Jacob Kainen, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Mangold, Mathieu Mategot, Pat Buckley Moss, Robert Newman, Paul Reed, Reuben Rubin, Roy Slade, Brockie Stevenson, Di Stovall, Franklin White, and James L. Wells.

Stovall's sensitivity to line and form was repeated in the furniture which he designed and built in his studio. He was sometimes commissioned to create both the furniture and artwork for a client and frequently built the frames for displaying his silkscreens.

Stovall's work has enjoyed exhibition throughout the United States, as well as in Japan and Moscow, USSR. (now part of the Federation of Russian Republics). He has also been featured in various fundraising events and benefits, making special contributions to diverse groups from Amnesty International to The Environmental Law Institute.

Further Reading

Stovall is listed in Who's Who in American Art (various editions).Keith Morrison, Art in Washington and Its Afro-American Presence: 1940-1970 (1985) offers a look at the work of Stovall, his contemporaries, and some of the artists who influenced them. Jacquelyn Bontemps' catalogue, Choosing, offers another view of Stovall's silkscreens. Through Their Eyes: The Art of Lou and Di Stovall was published in conjunction with the Stovalls' exhibit at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, Washington, D.C., in 1983. Also available through the Smithsonian Museum/Anacostia Neighborhood Museum is a video in which Stovall explains his craft. It was shown in conjunction with Through Their Eyes. In 1993, Stovall was interviewed for Ken Oda's Newsletter, a monthly newsletter for art collectors and professionals in the Washington, D. C., area. □

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Luther (Lou) McKinley Stovall

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