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Ann Arbor 200

Emil Weddige: Ann Arbor's Pre-eminent Lithographer

Author
Elizabeth Smith
Year
2024

Emil Weddige was known as an impactful artist with a particular finesse with color and shade in his prints, technically skilled, a leader in the field of lithography. Weddige was not only among the first to teach lithography in American universities, but he is also among those credited with the revival of stone lithography in North America and Europe.

Lithographer Emil Weddige in his Studio with his Cat Tarzan, March 1992
Emil Weddige in his Studio with his cat Tarzan, March 1992. Photographed by Carrie Rosema for the Ann Arbor News

In a personal essay for his 1986 retrospective exhibition at Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor’s world-renowned lithographer wrote:

“I have worked without major interruption since a child of one and one-half years old. The records of these drawings are in the Archives of American Art. I was told that I learned to talk by hearing adults say the names of what I had just drawn.” Whether this bit of family lore of Weddige’s artistic origins is true or not, it is clear that he fervently devoted himself to a life of both creating art and sharing his passion with others through teaching. 

1907-1942: The Early Years

Emil Albert Weddige was born to Marie Emma Boismier and Carl Albert Weddige in Sandwich, Ontario on December 23, 1907. By 1909, the Weddige family had immigrated to Detroit, where Emil would grow up and attend Neinas Elementary School and Western High School. 

Emil lived in Ypsilanti by 1928, confirms a January 25 Ann Arbor News article citing his weekend visit to his parents in Pinckney. He also appears in the 1928 Aurora yearbook, having entered Michigan State/Ypsilanti Normal College (now known as Eastern Michigan University) as a freshman that year to study fine arts. Weddige would not stay long, though, and by December 1928, the Ann Arbor News reported that Weddige was attending Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, PA, for a brief period. 

By 1932, Emil’s parents Marie and Carl had relocated to Ypsilanti, where the following year Emil would again begin attending Ypsilanti Normal College to continue studying fine arts. During his junior and senior year there, he was active in the Art Club, acting as treasurer in 1933 and president in 1934.

Emil Weddige, The Aurora Yearbook, 1934
Emil Weddige, Eastern Michigan University Aurora, 1934

He was also involved with the school yearbook, The Aurora, and in 1934 was cited as the staff artist. It was also during this period that Emil won his first award, in 1932, for an oil painting of his grandfather titled “Pipe”.

Emil married his first wife, Ann Marcus, on August 17, 1933 in Crown Point, Indiana. The following year, Weddige graduated from Ypsilanti Normal College with a Bachelor of Arts. 

Education: Toward an “everyperson kind of art”

“I’ve always tried to create art that is accessible to all people. That is why I am a stone lithographer.” – Emil Weddige

Initially, Weddige was interested in pursuing painting, but later wrote of his turn away from the medium: “In the ‘twenties’, I became very interested in the need for an everyperson kind of art.” This kind of art was one that could be, by design, reproduced in high quality and distributed as originals in larger numbers than a single painting. 

Emil Weddige, date unknown, Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library
Emil Weddige, date unknown, photographed by Ralston Crawford, Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Weddige was initially introduced to printmaking by Orlo Gill during his time at Ypsilanti Normal College. Weddige also credited his love of printmaking to a chance encounter with Carl Zigrosser, future curator of prints for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Though he does not cite when this encounter occurred, it is possible that this was during his brief studies at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh at the onset of the Great Depression.

The ever-busy Weddige also studied at the Art Students League in New York, where he experimented with etchings, woodcuts, and silkscreen prints. There, he studied under Morris Kantor and Harry Sternberg. From there, Weddige traveled to Woodstock and met Emil Ganso, a lithographer. Ganso first introduced Weddige to the medium that would define his career as an artist. Weddige wrote “I have been in love with Lithography as a form of Art from that day.” Weddige noted in a September 29, 1989 Central Michigan Life article that he pursued his “most important studies” at both the Art Students League and the Academy Julian in Paris.

Emil notes in his personal writings that “During the three years after graduation, there was a rapid advancement.” In this time, he received his first job teaching art, English, mathematics, and civics at an intermediate school in Dearborn. Weddige worked as a self-described unorthodox teacher at

Emil Weddige, Dearborn High School Yearbook, 1937
Emil Weddige, Art Teacher, Dearborn High School Yearbook, 1937

Dearborn High School before being appointed Art Supervisor for Dearborn Schools, where he worked for one year before becoming a teaching fellow and graduate student at University of Michigan in 1937. Many biographical accounts suggest that he began his graduate work at the University of Michigan and received his Master of Arts in 1937. However, as reported by the Ann Arbor News on June 17, 1938, he officially earned a Master of Design degree a year after he began his graduate work. 

By October 12, 1939, the Michigan Daily announced the appointment of Emil Weddige to instructor at the College of Architecture and Design. By 1941, he had received an additional promotion at the university, and was involved with the Ann Arbor Art Association, acting as vice president.

In the early 1940s, Emil would go through several significant life changes. In August 1942, at the time of his father Carl Weddige’s death, Emil was living at 1404 Broadway. There, he lived with his first wife Ann until their divorce (after ten years of marriage) on August 27, 1943. Then, on December 29, 1943,

Emil and Juanita Weddige, date unknown, Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library
Emil and Juanita Weddige, date unknown, Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Emil married his second wife, Juanita G. Pardon; she would play a crucial role in his life as his partner of 48 years until her death on October 6, 1990. Juanita acted as Emil’s business manager, and is said to have organized over 600 one-man shows for the artist while she was alive. The newly-married couple then moved next door to 1400 Broadway, where they would remain until 1949.

Lithography: A True Painters Medium

Weddige deemed lithography “a painter’s medium, alive to every whim of the artist and anything in painting or drawing or in combinations is possible."

Lithography was first developed in in the late 1790s by Alois Senefelder in Germany. The process of lithography was the first mass-production printing process for images, aside from hand engraving. The process also allowed for greater control over the image than previously possible. This new technique revolutionized printing until the introduction of offset printing in 1875 on tin, and 1903-04 on paper. When Weddige was first introduced to the lithographic process, it was a holdover from a bygone era.

The process of lithography involves one or more polished stones (in the U.S., historically Bavarian limestone) that act as the composition surface. The stones are heavy, typically weighing anywhere from just over 10 pounds to over one thousand pounds.

G. Ruse and C. Straker. Printing and its Accessories. London: S. Straker & Son., 1860. Robertson Davies Library, Massey College. University of Toronto.
G. Ruse and C. Straker. Printing and its Accessories. London: S. Straker & Son., 1860. Robertson Davies Library, Massey College. University of Toronto.

Before working, Weddige would grind the surface of his stones to make them more receptive to the grease-based pigment. Using a wax crayon or “tousche”, a liquid crayon, the artist applies his drawing. Then, the stone is treated with an acidic wash and gum arabic that helps the areas untouched by the wax further absorb water, and those with wax repel it. Water is placed on the surface of the stone before adding ink. The oil-based ink sticks to the grease left by the crayon, and the spaces untouched by crayon repel ink, creating an imprint of the artists’ drawing.

It was typical for Weddige to use at least six to eight stones and 12 colors for one composition in order to incorporate several layers of complex drawings. Developing the precision and skill required to produce these prints was a lifelong process. He was creating lithographs as early as 1939, but was dissatisfied with his technical skills and continued to seek training to perfect his approach.

Lithographs by Emil Weddige, December 14, 1945, The Ann Arbor News
Lithographs by Emil Weddige, December 14, 1945, The Ann Arbor News

Because the process of color lithography was so uncommon, and his approach so tied to painterly tradition, Weddige wrote that in an early exhibition he participated in, his work was taken off the wall. He was charged with using watercolor. He said “The work was removed from the frame and it was verified that the work was an original from stone in color and instead of being disqualified, it was given an award.”

In post-WWII Paris, what Weddige would later deem a “renaissance” of lithography was taking place. He asked the dean of the University of Michigan to take a semester leave to study lithography in Paris, unsure if he would have a job when he came back. Selling his car and their home, Juanita and Emil traveled on the RMS Queen Elizabeth from New York to Cherbourg, France on February 18, 1949 for a duration of five months. During this time, the couple stayed in Paris, where Emil studied under Edmond Desjobert. Thus began a long tradition of travel to Paris, where Emil would visit yearly for around 4-6 weeks. In a personal essay, Weddige wrote: “Without question, the work and friendship of Edmond and Madam Desjobert changed the entire course of my life.” 

Eastern Today Cover, Winter 1987
Eastern Today Cover, Winter 1987

And so, in 1949, Weddige began a multi-decade partnership with the Atelier Desjobert, where artists such as Fernand Léger, Jean Cocteau, and many others were working. In the Winter 1987 edition of Eastern Today, Weddige said “[to create] a catalog of the names of the artists who have worked in this studio would be equivalent to naming the printmakers of the 20th century”. This relationship was advantageous for many reasons, but particularly because artists’ assistants helped with much of the heavy lifting, literally moving the stones and providing materials and equipment. 

"Le Colosseum", 1949, color lithograph on paper
"Le Colosseum", 1949, color lithograph on paper, Krannert Art Museum

In 1998, George H. Roeder Jr., an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, wrote for Weddige’s one-man show at Jean Paul Slusser Gallery: “his long relation with Desjobert studio is one of the most successful examples of trans-Atlantic collaboration in all of art history.” By the time he was collaborating with Desjobert studio, Weddige had already achieved numerous honors, including his sale of the print “Le Colosseum”, which was purchased by the Library of Congress in 1950

Mid-Century: Making a Life of Art

Though threatened when he proposed a leave in 1949, Weddige did not lose his position at the university. He was instead promoted within the College of Architecture and Design, announced in the July 22, 1949 issue of the Michigan Daily. Upon their return to Ann Arbor, the Weddiges built a home at 870 Stein Road, where they would live together for many years, eventually expanding to include an on-site studio at 850 Stein Rd

In a 1956 article by the Ann Arbor News, Weddige was interviewed about his process. At this time, the artist had made around 100 lithographs, only considering 40 of those successes. He noted that the process of lithography is difficult to learn, stating: “One could read all the books on lithography and still not be able to print, everywhere I kept running into a closed shop attitude.” He would work to change this over the course of his career. Weddige often referred to lithography as a “democratic art”, stating that “it would be impossible for many of us to buy a drawing or painting by many artists, and yet we can afford lithographs, which are the direct product of an artists’ work”. In 1975 Weddige said “the older I got, the more I believed that art belonged to the people.” In keeping with this ethos, Weddige taught stone lithography at the University of Michigan as long as he was there.

Lithography in the Classroom, from The Michigan Daily, November 6, 1955
Lithography in the Classroom, from the Michigan Daily, November 6, 1955

In another attempt to bring art to the public sphere, Weddige was active in several local and state-wide organizations dedicated to the arts. Early in his career while he was still an assistant professor at U of M, he was elected to membership for the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters. He co-founded the Michigan Printmakers’ Society in 1952, and acted as founder, president and chairman of the Michigan Watercolor Society in 1947.

In addition to his involvement in community groups and development of his own artistic practice, Weddige also worked on art restoration. In 1963, a touring collection of restored lithographs debuted at the Dearborn Historical Museum. The show--which was commissioned by Heritage Workshop--selected a sampling of stones from over 5,000 specimens, and was the culmination of several years of work spent researching and developing a chemical process to pull prints from a collection of “abandoned limestone lithographs.” Weddige used a hand press that “is as old or older than many of the stones themselves.” The process of lithography also relies on the artist’s skill and knowledge, as the “chemical balance of the work and the stone can alter radically with the slightest change in technique.” Weddige published a book three years later, in 1966, titled Lithography. This volume cataloged his technique and approach to printmaking, and is considered a definitive work on the medium.

Emil Weddige,Still Life with Lemons, color lithograph, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Emil Weddige, Still Life with Lemons, color lithograph, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Commissions & ArtTrain: Bringing Art to the Public

In another effort to make his art “work” for the people, Weddige participated in fundraising and scholarships over the course of his lifetime. Among Weddige’s numerous significant commissions was his 1967 series observing the sesquicentennial of the University of Michigan. Over a two year period, he produced 300 sets of lithographs which consisted of 11 prints, for a total of 3333 individual works. The prints were produced in his Paris studio using 74 individual stones, with each print being run through 6-8 times, requiring precise registration, or the “matching of images”. For this series, Weddige pulled somewhere around 23,000 individual prints to create the final sets.

In March of 1992, Weddige exhibited 74 works at The Workbench in Kerrytown in order to raise funds for the University Musical Society. In the end, Weddige raised $43,500 for UMS. By October, Weddige was collaborating with John W. Barfield of Ypsilanti in hopes of raising $150,000 for the United Nego College Fund.  In 1974, Weddige donated 10 works to Eastern Michigan University, including “Still Life With Lemons”

In keeping with Weddige’s mission toward a democratic art, in 1971, Weddige helped form ArtTrain (also spelled ArTrain) with an eye toward exposing small, rural communities without museums to artworks that they might not otherwise get to engage with. On October 8, 1999 in Detroit, Weddige was honored as artist of the year by Artrain USA and recognized for his work conceptualizing the initial exhibit that launched ArtTrain.

Detail from The Ann Arbor News, December 25, 1969
Detail from the Ann Arbor News, December 25, 1969

He was tasked with the creation of the original designs for the inaugural exhibition in 1971, when it made its first tour. Stopping first in Traverse City, the train was dedicated by then governor William Milliken and first lady Helen Milliken. Weddige designed three of four exhibit cars in the first run, which included “an Egyptian mummy,” that today we would likely not encounter in any museum setting, and “a Greek head of Apollo over 2,000 years old, a Ming Dynasty Chinese terra cotta, African carvings and a group of contemporary paintings.” 

Also during this time period, Emil Weddige was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Fine Art, from EMU on April 15, 1973 at the same time as Fred Rogers of PBS fame. Then, in 1974, Weddige was named Professor Emeritus of Art and retired from University of Michigan, but remained active in the local arts community. 

First Day UNICEF Stamp, 1982
"...and a Host of Angels", First Day UNICEF Stamp Cover, 1982

Weddige’s work, having been internationally renowned for decades, was awarded a new honor in 1982. A few years before, in 1979, Weddige had been commissioned by the Methodist Children's Home in Detroit to create a series of lithographs, among them “… and a host of Angels”, which was selected for the “first day” collection of UNICEF flag stamps released September 24, 1982. 

The Final Years & Ongoing Legacy

Weddige was, even in his lifetime, considered a very accomplished artist with immense devotion to his craft. His works remain in countless collections across the globe. At the age of 90, Weddige recalled that he could “modestly” estimate that over his lifetime he created over 700 print editions. His lithographs were typically released in small editions of 300 or less, but even with a conservative estimate of 700 editions at 100 prints in each edition, he would have personally pulled at least 70,000 prints. 

Weddige died in Ann Arbor, Michigan on February 11, 2001 at the age of 93. Upon his death, he left charitable gifts to many organizations, and left scholarship funds at Washtenaw Community College, Eastern Michigan University, and the Schools of Music and Art at University of Michigan. Emil remained active in art up until the end of his life. His final show while he was alive was held in December, 2000 in Saline, just months before his death. 

Not only was Weddige a true leader in his field, he was committed to a democratic art, to conservation of the environment, of historical art processes and artworks, and bringing his love of art to a wider audience. 

Emil Weddige, date unknown, Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library
Emil Weddige, date unknown, Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library
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