Waynesboro, Pa., native Robert Ecker’s ‘Archetype, for VFJ’ serves up a tiny turkey

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

In celebration of Thanksgiving, we hope that you enjoy this print in our collection.

Robert Ecker


Robert Ecker (American, 1936‒2017)
Archetype, for VFJ, 1979
3 7/8″h x 3 7/8″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of the Artist in honor of the Museum’s 75th Anniversary, A4249,06.3317

In Archetype, for VFJ, painter and printmaker Robert Ecker created an atmospheric, enigmatic still life. He represented a small sculpture of a turkey that is placed atop a carefully draped tablecloth. Through his masterful use of chiaroscuro (contrast between light and dark), Ecker emphasized the highlights of the bird’s feathers and subtle folds of the fabric, which are juxtaposed with its black surroundings.

After teaching in a Semester at Sea program in 1977, the artist returned and decided to explore mezzotint printmaking, a new artistic medium for Ecker. As he stated:

I guess the world was so big and overwhelming,
I wanted to do something small and intimate;
I thought, I’m just going to do nothing but this for a year.
I actually ended up doing it for five years.

The miniature scale of Ecker’s mezzotints invites close examination, reflects his deep interest in the intricacy of this laborious printmaking technique, and demonstrates his love for small objects of all kinds.

A type of engraving, a mezzotint is produced by using a rocker (a teethed metal tool) to roughen a metal plate with thousands of small raised metal burrs. A fully-rocked plate prints a rich, dark black from the ink captured in the burrs. The artist, unlike in other printing techniques, works from dark to light—smoothing the areas which are intended to print in a lighter tonality. Mezzotint was a very popular technique in the eighteenth century, prized for its ability to mimic painterly tonalities and frequently used for reproductive prints after the leading portrait artists of the day. During the twentieth century, numerous artists rediscovered and revived the mezzotint process, most notably Peter Ilsted, M.C. Escher, Yozo Hamaguchi, and Robert Kipniss.

A Waynesboro, Pennsylvania native, Ecker grew up there and also spent much time in Hagerstown with his relatives. During his childhood, he was first exposed to the visual arts from visits he made to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. Later, Ecker studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and Shippensburg University, PA. For much of his career, he taught art at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In 2006, Ecker donated 132 of his mezzotints to the museum, and in 2008, the museum held a solo exhibition of the artist’s work, Robert Ecker: Mezzotints and Quirauk Mountain Paintings.

This WeekendArt is sponsored by Mr. & Mrs. William P. Young, Jr.