* What: "Twenty Original American Etchings."
* Where: Hunter Museum of American Art, 10 Bluff View.
* When: Through summer.
* Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday.
* Admission: $9.95 adults, $4.95 ages 3-17; free ages 3 and under.
* Phone: 267-0968.
* Website: www.huntermuseum.org.
Of the 5,000 objects that comprise the Hunter Museum's collection, about half are prints. Throughout the summer, the museum will display an exhibit of prints from its collection representing 14 printmakers whose work, collectively, provides insight into the cultural and artistic zeitgeist of America at the end of the 19th century.
"They're really typical of British and French prints of the time," says chief curator Nandini Makrandi. "These are American artists who are looking at European print- makers and emulating that style here to bring it to an American public."
Etchings are created with a sharp implement, which is used to carve away an acid-resistant coating applied to a metal plate. Then, acid is applied to the exposed areas, etching the plate and creating an image that later can be inked and pressed to create copies.
"Twenty Original American Etchings" was previously displayed in the museum about seven years ago, Makrandi says.
The collection, which largely depicts portraits and landscapes, has been revived in part, she says, because the age of the etchings, which were created in 1884 by members of the New York Etching Club, dovetails nicely with that of the museum's mansion wing, which was built in 1904. The etchings, most of which are 12-by-18 inches, have been framed and are housed in Gallery 9 in the mansion.
Artists represented in the collection include noteworthy print makers such as Charles A. Platt, Frederick Stuart Church and Thomas Moran, an English-born landscape painter of the Hudson River School and famous for his depictions of the American West.
Makrandi says printmaking became popular during the late Victorian era, when interest in owning art grew but photography was in its nascent stages and the price of paintings remained prohibitively high for the average collector. Prints could be more easily and cheaply reproduced, allowing an artist's work to be broadly disseminated and collected.
The prints in the American etchings portfolio are originals, which indicates that they were "artistic images, not prints in the service of commerce," according to a museum news release.
"I think it's like a drawing was once considered a preliminary step to a painting, which was a 'real' art product. A sketch didn't have the same value," Makrandi says. "[With these prints] instead of copying a painting in etching form and disseminating it, we're looking at artists who viewed etching as the art form."
Makrandi says she is inspired by the minute details that reveal themselves when the prints are scrutinized.
"Not only are they just beautiful, but there's such great detail there," she says. "It tells you about life in late Victorian times, and some of them are enormously intricate and beautifully done."
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.