Tag Archives: wood engraving

ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY’s solo “Descartes Died in the Snow” reviewed in The Washington Post

18 Mar



In the galleries: Uncovering life’s fragility amid ecological losses

Artist’s works are an enduring reminder of environmental crises within a global consciousness

By Mark Jenkins

Contributing reporter

March 18, 2022 at 6:00 a.m. EDT

Artist Rosemary Feit Covey’s “Stained Grass” incorporates her vision of nature at risk. (Rosemary Feit Covey and Morton Fine Art)
Covey’s “Blossoms Fall II.” (Rosemary Feit Covey and Morton Fine Art)

Somewhere in most of Rosemary Feit Covey’s recent artworks are woodcut prints, detailed renderings of birds, bones and butterfly wings. But the zoological imagery can be deeply submerged in compositions so layered that they verge on being relief sculptures. The South Africa-born local artist’s “Descartes Died in the Snow” show, named for one of her mixed-media pictures on display at Morton Fine Art, both depicts and simulates nature’s fecundity.

The largest piece, and one of the oldest, 2017′s “Black Ice” is a monumental painting of a glacial scene stretched across eight vertical canvases in the manner of a traditional Japanese screen. It is simpler and more direct than many of these artworks, yet shares several qualities. It’s nearly monochromatic, portrays ecological threats and mixes customary artistic materials with shredded plastic, a substance that exemplifies mankind’s intrusions on the natural world.

Inspired in part by the organic networks generated by fungi, Covey fills her pictures with repeated organic forms, whether the animal skeletons of “Broken Earth” or the firefly-like pinpoints of “Panspermia III.” The latter is among the show’s most colorful works, but its many hues are buried in a complex array that appears black and white from a distance. The colors are subordinate to the whole, as are the recycled plastic mixed with pigment, or the tiny black magnets that hold in place the myriad collage pieces. Covey’s vision is of nature at risk, yet nonetheless growing abundantly and every which way.

Rosemary Feit Covey: Descartes Died in the Snow Through March 31 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, No. 302. Open by appointment.

Available artwork by ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY


3 Mar


Responsive to the rise in global climate disasters, Rosemary Feit Covey’s speculative works solemnly imagine the landscapes of the future

Morton Fine Art (52 O St NW #302, Washington, DC) is pleased to present Descartes Died in the Snow, a solo exhibition showcasing work by Washington, D.C.-based artist Rosemary Feit Covey, on view from March 3–March 31, 2022. Marking both the debut of new work and the reactivation of older works, the exhibition uncovers new dimensions within the artist’s vast oeuvre. Taken as a whole, this collection of work illuminates the fragility of life on our embattled planet, recognizing the catastrophic ecological losses that mark our current era while turning a hopeful eye towards altogether new horizons.

Covey’s current focus on environmental concerns is informed by 20 years of collaborations with scientists, during which biology, ecology, and mortality have remained steady themes of the artist’s practice. The past three decades have seen the artist rise as an established wood engraver, followed in recent years by an expansion towards mediums including experimental printmaking and mixed media. From the replication of the printmaking process to the carving of the printing block, Covey’s works attend to personal analogies of physical and emotional fortitude; through the manipulation of absence and presence, lightness and darkness, the artist evokes a darker psychological sensibility within complex figural representations.

While maintaining the artist’s long-standing engagement with psychologically challenging—and oftentimes troubling—subject matter, the diversification of Covey’s mediums highlights the artist’s continued innovation in the arenas of both technique and narrative. In a titular nod to the life and work of 17th century philosopher René Descartes, Descartes Died in the Snow reflects Covey’s own artistic philosophy, that of art-as-exploration. In admiration of Descartes’ unfettered curiosity and his resulting great lengths of inquiry, Covey draws parallels with the experimental potential of artistic practice. “We artists can apply logic and intellectual research, then throw it all to the winds, allowing for alchemy and the unconscious to cross-pollinate with the natural sciences as we create,” Covey says.

Moved by recent climate disaster scenarios in South Africa—the country of her birth—Covey’s most recent work responds to the fleeting nature of news cycles and the failure of journalistic channels to manifest sustained public awareness of such crucial issues. Having witnessed this subject matter quickly fall from the front pages, Covey understands her work to serve as an enduring reminder of environmental crises within a global consciousness. Of this profound responsibility as an artist in the present moment, Covey affirms, “In this manner, I am committed to using my skills to portray this delicate balance as we reach a precipice.”

Through delicate lines that comprise masterful compositions, Covey’s work operates at the intersections of beauty and terror, depicting melancholy aesthetics of mourning. From a mass of opalescent strokes, Covey’s Broken Earth (2020) pictures a heap of carcesses, inspired by Covey’s horror of an imagined parched earth. Elsewhere, blooms of pigment suggest oil spills, and falling petals hint at impending decay. Through a push and pull, characterized by sensorial enticement segueing into gripping existential inquiry, the artist’s foreboding imagery unmasks that which is hidden in plain sight.

While often ominous, Covey’s practice nevertheless evades nihilism; through the elevation of phenomena such as fungal networks, the artist’s work also finds its purpose in illuminating the structures which sustain the planet. Resulting from Covey’s partnerships with mycologists, Amethyst Deceivers (2019) depicts the symbiotic relationships between plant and fungal life, relationships that exude restorative potential amidst times of destruction. Through the artist’s lens, Covey’s audience is issued solemn warnings of a speculative future, yet the possibilities for healing are never voided—viewers need only look closer to find them.

Rosemary Feit Covey, Blossoms Fall II, 2022, 54″x42″, wood engraving, painting and repurposed plastic on canvas
Rosemary Feit Covey, Black Umbrella, 2021, 36″x36″, mixed media, printmaking, painting and magnets on canvas
Rosemary Feit Covey, Black Ice (8 panels), 2017, 72″x240″, wood engraving, acrylic paint, and repurposed plastic on canvas
Rosemary Feit Covey, Panspermia III, 2022, 60″x48″, wood engraving, experimental printmaking and mixed media on canvas


Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Rosemary Feit Covey received degrees from Cornell University and the Maryland Institute College of Art, eventually relocating to Washington, D.C., where she currently lives and works. Covey has been represented by Morton Fine Art since 2010.

Covey has exhibited widely throughout the United States and abroad, including group exhibitions at the National Collection of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Solo exhibitions of her work have been staged at The Butler Institute of American Art; The Delaware Contemporary; the International Museum of Surgical Science; and the Evergreen Museum at Johns Hopkins University. Works by the artist are held in more than forty major museum and library collections worldwide, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art; New York Public Library Print Collection; National Museum of American History; Harvard University; and the Papyrus Institute in Cairo, Egypt.

Across various mediums, Covey has been commissioned by General Electric Astro Space, the National Institute of Science, Georgetown University, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among other institutions and organizations. Covey’s literary illustrations have been commissioned and published by Simon & Schuster and William Morrow. She is the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship and Alpha Delta Kappa Foundation National Fine Art Award, and was the 2007–2008 Artist-in-Residence at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Available artwork by ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY

ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY in the Alexandria Times

20 Dec


City creatives: Rosemary Covey

Rosemary Covey first came to the Torpedo Factory at the age of 22 and has remained an artist at the art center for over 40 years. (Courtesy photo)

FacebooktwittermailBy Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com

Art has never come easy to Rosemary Covey.

The long-time wood engraver and painter has spent the last 40 years at the Torpedo Factory with collections of her work on display around the world, yet the process of making her work hasn’t gotten easier. The challenge – the fear, “the edge,” in Covey’s words – is intrinsic to her work.

“You kind of have to skate this edge between being very uncomfortable and yet still being able to have the skills and be conscious yet almost unconscious at the same time,” Covey said. “As soon as you relax, the thing starts to not work. It can work, but it won’t have life to it.”

Given Covey’s preoccupation with death, fragility and the darker side of the natural world, the sentiment might seem at odds with her work, but her wood engravings and paintings come to life precisely because of that tension.

“My work has that duality to some extent,” Covey said. “It used to be what people always considered very dark with themes connecting to medicine and death and fragility. But out of that came a series of work that surprisingly had great, larger appeal.”

Covey was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1954, a time of intense social and political upheaval. She left the country at age 10 with her family because her father had been invited to pursue a Ph.D. in the U.S.

“Sins of the Fathers” (Courtesy image)

Covey’s formative memories of South Africa are still tinged with nostalgia – the memories of a child unaware of the time in which she was growing up, happy in the self-contained world of her family.

It’s also a nostalgia for the early days of her artistic curiosity. At five years old, Covey was expressing an interest in creative expression both in class and at home, where she worked on crafts with her grandmother.

“She had big boxes of scraps and we made things together all the time, so leaving South Africa was hard for me because she and I spent all our time together,” Covey said. “She was the biggest influence on my life ever.”

Covey and her family ended up moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her father finished his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. The family then moved to Ashfield, Massachusetts, where Covey’s father had secured a position at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In Ashfield, Covey’s passion for the arts continued to blossom. An art teacher at Williston Northampton School introduced her to print engraving at the age of 14; Covey returned years later, after college, to learn wood engraving from the same teacher.

Covey was set on the path. She knew she wanted to make art, but, like many artists, she found barriers at every turn. Her parents warned her about the scary, impractical path of an artist. Collectors and artists openly questioned her ability at portfolio showings.

The cynics only strengthened Covey’s determination. Covey’s early career was defined by finding a way around the blockades that were thrown up around her, she said.

Covey’s parents refused to pay for her college education, so she left Cornell University after two years. At 18 years old, she married a man who helped support her artistic ambitions, but after divorcing at 21, Covey found herself in need of a way to support herself financially.

“Then I’m on my own at 22 and I have to make a living,” Covey said. “My parents were like, ‘Now you’re on your own.’ So, coming [to Alexandria] I started doing commissions and slowly it became my career and way of making a living.”

Covey immediately fell in love with Alexandria. The history and character of the city were captivating, and the detail of the streets was like catnip for a wood engraver, Covey said.

“Red Handed” (Courtesy image)

Wood engraving, at its most fundamental, involves carving an image into a block of wood, applying ink to the face of the block and pressing the ink onto a surface to leave an impression.

It’s a process that is easy to learn but difficult to master, partially because of the intense concentration it requires, Covey said.

“You can’t make a mistake and if you do, you have to incorporate it, which really creates that panic, nervous energy that I think propels work,” Covey said.

Prints created through wood engraving also need to be designed in reverse, since the print will be ultimately be a reverse image of the original design. The reverse engineering makes executing facial expressions difficult for many engravers, but Covey said her dyslexia helps.

“I have extreme dyslexia. I have problems with all kinds of simple tasks, but the reversing of things comes more naturally [to me] than it might [to others],” Covey said. “It’s very difficult to do facial expression and … to get a likeness of any sort when you reverse it, but it helps to have dyslexia.”

Covey came to the Torpedo Factory in 1976, two years after it opened as an arts center. Although she can trace thematic patterns in her work all the way back to those early days, her work has evolved creatively and procedurally.

Death and fragility are still at the core of her work, but Covey has started to find new ways to explore themes that have captivated artists forcenturies.

In collaboration with botanists, evolutionary biologists and entomologists, Covey now finds new inspiration in the natural world, the duality of decaying lifeforms and life under the microscope.

“Insects” (Courtesy image)

Her series called “Insects” came out of a residency at Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks. Combining printing and painting, Covey depicted the bodies of butterflies and dragonflies as beaten and bruised yet beautiful.

“[One entomologist] said, as a scientist, you see them under the microscope and they’re battered and beaten and their wings and their short life are scratched,” Covey said. “They’re not pristine. And what I had been noticing was that, as they lie dead, they strike these human poses.”

Another series of prints and paintings focused on fungi and lichens and the above ground beauty that masks monumental, monstrous rooted webs just below the surface, Covey said.

“I don’t do it, when I work with a scientist, to be an illustrator or scientific illustrator,” Covey said. “[I’m] not interested in that at all. I’m interested in what they can tell me that sparks my visual imagination.”

Covey’s science-inspired and research-driven work hasn’t been limited to just insects and mushrooms.

“David with Astrocytes (Brain Tumor 8)” was part of an intimate series of portraits that captured the eponymous David, a man Covey had met at her Torpedo Factory studio, in various stages of treatment for a brain tumor.

“He looked really haunted. … He’d had all this surgery and you could sort of see what happened behind his eyes, that something monumental had happened,” Covey said. “He hired me [and] I ended up working for him for three years to do a piece on his brain tumor experience.”

“David with Astrocytes (Brain Tumor 8)” (Courtesy image)

Collaboration has become an integral part of Covey’s process, whether it’s incorporating a partner’s scientific knowledge or pieces from fellow artists.

“The best thing in the world is to find other people that are crazy about what they’re doing and that fits with what you’re doing,” Covey said.

Her process has changed even as she uses the same tools. Covey said she’s still driven by the same unknowable passion to create that drove her when she was alone at 22.

“It’s the same exact thing and I still don’t know quite what it is,” Covey said. “You get the idea in your head and then you have to push it. And you’re hoping that you’re gonna push it and it’s going to be better than anything you ever did before. … Once I’ve done it, I’m not even concerned anymore. It’s getting it there.”

For Covey, the elusive “there” is a place she can’t stop working toward.

“That’s the goal,” Covey said. “You hopefully never stop.”

(Read the first entry in the City Creatives series: Alexis Gomez)

Click HERE to view available mixed media works and rare wood engravings by ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY.

or contact:

Morton Fine Art, 52 O St NW #302, Washington, DC 20001


(202) 628-2787


ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY’s solo “The Dark Re Imagined” opens Saturday 9/14/19

5 Sep
Inspired by evolutionary biology, ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY pushes the boundaries of printmaking in her solo exhibition “The Dark Re Imagined”. In this series of artworks she has collaborated with scientists and integrates fungus, lichens, animals, decay and broken insects.
The Dark Re Imagined
September 14 – October 9, 2019
Opening Reception
Saturday, September 14th from 2-6pm
Artist Talk at 4pm
Morton Fine Art
52 O St NW #302
Washington, DC 20001
Wednesday – Saturday 12pm – 5pm
Sunday – Tuesday by appointment
ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY, Just One Day 2019, 36″x24″, painting, found objects and plastic on canvas
ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY, Amethyst Deceivers 11, 2019, 36″x48″, wood engraving, thread, painting on canvas
About The Dark Re Imagined
My current work on fungus and lichens, broken insects and evolutionary biology is not scientific in the sense of medical illustration but a continuation of a life time artistically reacting to mortality’s hold on our subconscious. My earlier work was more overtly psychological. Now I glory in exploring texture and new methods of printmaking. After decades working alone I embrace collaboration. Working with other artists and scientists who all share passion for their chosen subjects and understand mine, they are generous in answering my questions with care and enthusiasm. As the young entomologist, Rebecca Cathleen Wilson told me in one of our many conversations, “we study insects because we love them but to do so we have to kill them, working with you gives them another life”. – ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY, 2019
Rosemary Feit Covey was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her work is housed in over forty major museum and library collections worldwide, including Yale University Art Gallery, the New York Public Library Print Collection, the National Museum of American History, Harvard University, and the Papyrus Institute in Cairo, Egypt. In 2012 over five-hundred of her prints were acquired for the permanent collection of Georgetown University Library, Special Collections. She is the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship (Bellagio Italy), an Alpha Delta Kappa Foundation National Fine Art Award and a fellowship to Georgetown University Medical Center as the 2007-2008 Artist-in-Residence. Her solo museum exhibitions include the Butler Museum of American Art, the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts and the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago. In 2014, a retrospective of her prints, paintings and installation work was held at Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum. Her larger public art has been installed world wide, including at Burning Man and at Culture Summit 2017 in Abu Dhabi. Articles on her work have been featured in magazines including Art in America, Juxtapoz, and American Artist Magazine. She has fully illustrated books for Simon & Schuster and William Morrow as well as for fine art presses.
While an artist in residence at Georgetown University Medical School, Feit Covey wrote one chapter and illustrated the text for the book, Maldynia: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Illness of Chronic Pain, published by CRC Press. Previously she worked with a brain tumor patient for three years chronicling his illness artistically. This work was featured on Studio 360, Public Radio International, and in articles for The Los Angeles Times and CR Magazine. Since 2017 she has collaborated with evolutionary biologist Paul Andrews working on a ground breaking book using evolutionary biology to understand depression and evaluate pharmacological and psychological treatments for depression. This work will be published by Oxford University Press in 2020 or 2021. An article on this work appeared in Sci-Art Magazine in 2018. Currently, she is working with two botanists and an entomologist who have greatly aided in inspiring and informing her most recent series of work.
She is represented by Morton Fine Art in Washington, DC.
About Morton Fine Art
Founded in 2010 in Washington, DC by curator Amy Morton, Morton Fine Art (MFA) is a fine art gallery and curatorial group that collaborates with art collectors and visual artists to inspire fresh ways of acquiring contemporary art. Firmly committed to the belief that art collecting can be cultivated through an educational stance, MFA’s mission is to provide accessibility to museum-quality contemporary art through a combination of substantive exhibitions and a welcoming platform for dialogue and exchange of original voice. Morton Fine Art specializes in a stellar roster of nationally and internationally renowned artists as well as has an additional focus on artwork of the African Diaspora.
Morton Fine Art
52 O St NW #302
Washington, DC 20001
Wed – Sat 12pm-5pm and Sun-Tues by appointment

ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY and “In Print” in Daily Press

8 May

New prints reinvent old medium on giant scale in Portsmouth

If rare is the word when it comes to noteworthy exhibits of period prints, scarcer still are shows of contemporary printmaking.

Nearly two decades have passed since the last substantial example unfolded anywhere close to Hampton Roads — and for that you had to drive to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

But in a year made remarkable by not just one, but two impressive displays of 17th-century prints at the Peninsula Fine Art Center in Newport News — including three dozen etchings by Rembrandt — fans of this seldom-seen medium are getting a great bonus.

Curated by Gayle Paul of the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center, “In Print” features scores of works you may not associate with the mostly small, deliberately intimate prints of the past — and that’s because the regional and nationally known artists who made them used new tools and hugely expanded scale to reinvent them.

“This exhibit is about artists who create the image as an original print, then see it through the entire printmaking process,” Paul said.

“And they’re using advanced and improved printmaking technology to create works you couldn’t make just a few years ago.”

A year in the making, “In Print” explores works by numerous Hampton Roads and Virginia artists, as well as talents from Ohio, Tennessee and the West Coast.

Unexpected scale is a defining characteristic of the collection here, where your eyes may pop and your breath be taken away by the sheer size and ambition of such pieces as a 14-foot-tall installation by Washington artist Nicole Pietrantoni.

Cascading down from the wall just a foot shy of the gallery’s high ceilings, five hand-bound accordion-style books unfurl into the air and fall to the floor, their synchronized pages forming a huge vertical view of ocean swells rumbling in from a distant horizon toward the viewer.

Dark clouds trace ominous patterns in the sky overhead, while barely submerged rocks lurk just below the frothy surface.

Passages of words pour down the pages in fragments, riding the currents with the menacing conclusions of a climate change and water report.

“The scale is just spectacular,” Paul says, describing a work so large it nudges you back on you heels if you get too close.

“And it creates this giant image that’s not just seen but felt.”

That impact is made all the more striking by the much smaller, even intimate scale of “Precipitous” before it was unpacked.

“It arrived in an Office Depot box maybe 16-by-20-by-16 inches in size,” Paul said, “yet it expanded into this huge piece measuring 6 feet wide and 14 feet high.”

Even bigger and more muscular is “Black Ice,” a 20-foot-wide Arctic landscape engraved, painted and assembled by Alexandria artist Rosemary Feit Covey.

Though her “Gingko” and “Fish” images are substantially smaller, the same curious combination of elvish craftsmanship and robust size makes you stop to look — and if you do it closely you will find hundreds if not thousands of small wood engravings that have been pulled through a press, cut out and then collaged into complex and arresting images.

“Wood engraving is a very old process,” Paul said, “but this is an entirely new way to do it.”

Old Dominion University artist Domenica Webb takes a similar tack with her oversize cyanotype prints, using an early photographic medium and direct printing to make otherworldly images of veils, dresses and blouses once worn by Webb or various family members.

Burned into the blue paper with sunlight, some images are then embellished with pins, stitching and buttons, too, adding the presence of the artist’s hand to these ethereal surrogates of her childhood and family.

“They’re beautiful,” Paul says, “and very personal.”

“In Print”

Where: Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center, 1846 Courthouse, 400 High St., Portsmouth.

When: Through May 28.

Cost: $3 adults, $2 children ages 2-17.

Info: 757-393-8543 or portsmouthartcenter.com.

Click here to view these featured and available pieces by ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY. Please contact Morton Fine Art for pricing and details. 

ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY Featured in the James Renwick Alliance Craft Quarterly, Winter 2018!

6 Feb

Artist ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY is featured in the upcoming print and online editions of the Winter 2018 issue of the James Renwick Alliance Craft Quarterly. You can get a sneak peek below. To see available work by Rosemary, please visit our website or stop in and see us at the gallery!

Rosemary Renwick 1 web

Rosemary Renwick 2 web

Rosemary Renwick 3 web

Rosemary Renwick 4 web

ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY’s wood engraving “Vanity” on view at Yale University Art Gallery

2 Jan

Morton Fine Art is proud to announce that ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY’s wood engraving “Vanity” is on display at the Yale University Art Gallery.

ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY, Vanity, wood engraving

Rosemary Feit Covey
South African and American, born 1954
Wood engraving
Edition 35/80
In this domestic tableau, the dressing room and table of Washington D.C.–based printmaker Rosemary Feit Covey are transformed into the stage set for a vanitas—traditionally, a type of still-life painting in which skeletons, skulls, and decaying objects serve to caution against the transience of earthly pleasures. One of the premier wood engravers of the contemporary period, Covey here makes an allegory of herself by drawing a parallel between the artist’s laborious process of direct carving into a wood block to render the black-and-white portrait and her similarly difficult work of maintaining the appearance of youth and beauty, with the aid of colorful makeup and jewelry.
Self-Portrait Prints from the Jane N. Haslem Collection
Curator’s Statement
Scholars have debated whether William Shakespeare’s well-known words “This above all, to thine own self be true,” spoken by the courtier Polonius to his son Laertes in the first act of Hamlet, were meant ironically. In any case, the words were not directed at artists. But when we look at an artist’s self-portrait, we assume that he or she is conveying something truthful—even if, indeed, the image is clearly ironic, as is Robert Arneson’s self- portrait as a classical bust, or if the artist refers to the biblical story of Salome, as does Larry Day, or if the figure appears in the age-old guise of an allegory of Vanity, as does Rosemary Feit Covey. Covey’s print, in fact, speaks to one of the fundamental reasons artists make self- portraits: to assert, in defiance of the skeletal figure lurking behind each of us, “I am here,” in the present, and—even more importantly—in the future, “I was here.”
These works, selected from a recent gift to the Gallery from Jane N. Haslem of sixty-eight printed self-portraits by twentieth-century American artists, range in mood from contented to haunted, in tone from earnest to sardonic, in composition from a straightforward head and shoulders to the complex scenarios of John Wilde or Peter Milton. They vary significantly in size, and they were produced by a broad gamut of printmaking media— woodcut, etching, engraving, drypoint, and lithography. Yet, with all of these variations, each print persuades us that it is true to the artist’s self.
Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009
(202) 628-2787



Scott Ponemone’s article “Rosemary Feit Covey : Printmaker’s Journey”

2 Jan



  • Rosemary Feit Covey: Printmaker’s Journey

  • 1 December 2014

This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of the Newsletter of the Print Drawing & Photography Society of the Baltimore Museum of Art. This blog post enables me to offer color imagery as well as additional images.


Thanks to an exhibition this spring at Evergreen Museum & Library, curated by James Archer Abbott, its Director and Curator, I finally got to meet artist Rosemary Feit Covey. You would think that with my longstanding interest in wood engraving, with my first seeing her work some 30 years ago, and with her studio just down the road at Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory, I would have made an effort to meet her long ago. But I didn’t. I offer no excuses. At least I didn’t let this opportunity slip by.


I went to the exhibition opening expecting to see a sequence of individually framed wood engravings. Was I ever wrong. Yes, there were several pieces just how I expected. But Rosemary’s expressions as a printmaker were not limited to traditionally presented relief prints. There were painted-over collages of prints. There were strips of prints made to look to like hanging lengths of film housed in a light box. And there was an installation involving drawings multiplied by photocopying.

How did the wood engraver whose images I first saw decades ago become such a multidimensional artist? This is what I wanted to know when I sent her a sequence of questions. Here are her answers:


Could you give a brief account of your childhood and when you started thinking of yourself as a visually creative person?

I have no memory of a time before I made things. My grandmother on my father’s side, a transplant to South Africa from Vienna, was my soulmate from birth. She had big boxes of fabric scraps. She made my clothes, and I made my dolls’ clothes. She taught my sister and me to embroider and crotchet, and she never used a pattern. My nursery school teacher told my mother I was talented. My mother was surprised. The teacher then showed her what the other kids were doing. My first memory of working on my own on paper was a pastel I made of the abandoned gold mine dumps outside Johannesburg. I drew them teeming with miners.

I lived in a fantasy world of my own creation much of my childhood. The days home sick, which I coveted, were my real education. My room was my sanctuary. With parents warring endlessly outside the door, I drew and read and played complex games with dolls.

WEB covey portrait

< Photo by Rusty Kennedy

I first saw your work some 30 years ago. These were wood engravings. Did you think of yourself primarily as a wood engraver? Who influenced you to practice wood engraving?

I was taught wood engraving in three days by Barry Moser, my high school art teacher and now a famous wood engraver/illustrator. I had studied printmaking at Cornell and MICA. Afterwards [while living in D.C.] I went up to New England for a few days with Barry, and he gave me basic pointers. Those few days were not followed by any other formal engraving training. I figured it out on my own. I like the quote: “Wood engraving is the easiest to learn and the hardest to master of the printmaking techniques.” I’m not sure who said it, but I think it is true.

I liked the enforced concentration of engraving, pulling lightness from the dark on a block of beautiful but unmalleable wood. It was all a means to convey emotion. I never have felt any form of wood engraving fetishism, but I did feel an immediate knowledge from my first engraving that I had found my path artistically. My grounding in the prints of the past, Dürer, Hogarth, the WPA artists—studied from childhood—gave me a high bar to aim for. With the exception of one Doré image (done to teach myself technique), I never tried to copy or approximate any other artist. I also gravitated towards line work. The lack of color seemed more connected to dreams and internal landscapes. None of this was an intellectual decision. It all came out of just doing.

I had to make a living, not easy doing something so esoteric. So I did lots of commissions for years: Christmas cards, baby announcements, book illustrations. In most of these I had to curb my natural tendency towards the macabre. I remember the Musical Heritage Society chairman pleading that I not do a sad looking Christmas and Easter for their magazine cover. None the less, glimmers of my natural tendency to go in this direction would slip in even to these benign subjects.

What was it about wood engraving in either production process or as a finished product that made it the right medium for you?

The act of carving—the struggle to deal with the nature of wood—is very different from drawing. (Fig. 1) The concentration needed and the difficulty of showing facial expression or skin tone as one carves it all in reverse, somehow draws from a deeper reserve than painting can. Now that I am older I appreciate the freedom of a quickly drawn line and endless chances to get it right. But when I was younger, my soul resonated only while I engraved. It pulled something deeply felt to the surface. The need to get this out forced me to develop some skills in doing so. It was a hunger and need to find expression.

WEB Covey at work

Fig. 1 Rosemary Feit Covey in her Topedo Factory (Alexandria VA) studio demonstrates how she cuts a block. (Photo by Scott Ponemone) >

What subject matter attracted you initially? And how did you represent that in your images? Can you offer particular prints as examples?

I have always tried to convey an internal life and not shy away from difficult emotions. I’ve tried to create pictures that could be real but actually are about something else. For example, I did the print based on my childhood in South Africa. I was at a swimming pool one day. A black man walked passed, doing nothing more than walking in front of me to the water, but I protectively placed my kick board in front of my body. It was a knee-jerk reaction. I was horrified and confused that I had done this. So I explored the emotion and found the link back to my childhood in Apartheid South Africa where fear and sexual tension were conveyed even to an innocent child. The remnants of this training sadly still remained in my unconscious—not a pleasant thing to face. So I created the image about that—a difficult subject. At the same time the print can be viewed as a slice of life genre piece, if the viewer wishes it.

In a later work called Porcupine Girl (Standing) (Fig. 2), the message is about the strange nature of pleasure and pain often connecting.  Just having gone through life-threatening emergency surgery, I flew to Italy for a Rockefeller Fellowship on Lake Como—one of the scariest and happiest times of my life butting up on each other and making for a strange intensity. Hopefully if the work is honest, it will resonate with others, but I do not worry about others. For me it’s just about getting it all down. David, a guy who hired me to chronicle artistically his brain tumor experiences over three years, certainly believed this to be true. He wanted to use himself as a model of a specific case that could move beyond his death.

Web Covey Porcupine

< Fig. 2

Porcupine Girl (Standing)


wood engraving

14″ x 10″

Ed. 60

photo by Eric L. Mackenzie
How did your imagery evolve (as a formal printmaker)? What topics became important to you and why? Can you also offer me particular examples?

As one gets older the neurosis of childhood recedes and larger issues become artistically interesting. But usually ideas still start with the personal. I have now done large installations which have no genre elements. The most recent is on non-culpable guilt called Red Handed(Fig. 3), a subject that consumes me. By non-culpable I mean guilt at a remove. For example, in the case, as documented, of the children and grandchildren of Nazis commandants, they feel guilt but bear no personal responsibility. Or true stories of car accidents where passengers or pedestrians are killed but it was not the driver’s fault, how does one live with these things? In my artist’s statement I tried hard to link this to societal responsibility, but really it is about personal situations. If the personal is removed, nothing is felt. I have my own reasons why this subject resonates. Art has to come from something real, or why do it? Anyway, why one does it is a whole other issue with possibly no answer.

As with most artists my themes reappear through my work in different forms over time. For example, the light boxes in the Evergreen show are again on how pleasure and pain can mesh. (Fig. 4) This time the story is based on an actual couple’s relationship. Starting as a commission it grew into a large project that stretched my ideas about wood engraving, marriage and storytelling. I wanted the hand-pulled prints to look like film noir strips of photographs hanging to dry. I used wax and light boxes to convey the feeling. I was helped by Director Andrea Harris of Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, CA. She gave me a residency and encouraged me to try something really different. When I mentioned light boxes, she ran down to the art center’s basement and produced a couple of them.

Eventually they were custom designed, and it took two years of work to create the final project.

WEB Covey floor painting

Fig 3 Rosemary painting Red Handed. (Photo by Graham Scott)

WEB covey films

Fig 4 Light Box is composed of wood engravings printed on vertical lengths of paper and makes reference to rolls of film hanging to dry. To enhance this effect Rosemary backlit this piece. BELOW A closeup of one of her Light Box pieces. (Photos by Graham Scott)

WEB covey film closeup

At Evergreen, formal, individually framed wood engravings are in the minority. Can you talk about your other means of presentation: when and how they came about, technical hurdles needed for each?

Small wood engravings began to look dated to me as the world changed. I was stretching for more ways to convey ideas as a printmaker. This happened organically, not in a bolt.

I had rubbed my prints and was throwing on the floor large sheets with multiple images as I corrected my prints. They had some faces printed over and over, and soft and hard printings all put together. These I usually threw away, but my husband loved them and kept some. From his interest began to emerge a new way of working. I used my blocks as a library of images and combined parts of them into new complex works printed on one sheet. The Dark Backward is the best example of how this looked. In Santa Ana I had created a large image on Tyvek. The Arlington (VA) Art Center awarded me a chance to print this to wrap around a huge building—total dimensions: 15 feet x 300 feet. (Fig. 5) It was again a new way of thinking about printmaking. I used large commercial printers and found this just as challenging and requiring just as much trial and error as hand rubbing. Now I use a mixture of commercial printers and my Vandercook proofing press to create images that combine prints from both sources. I continue to create additions to my library of images and often work in parts, carving multiple blocks for each one-of-a-kind piece. I am still very much a printmaker but also a painter. I hate the word “collage,” maybe associating it to decoupage, but I guess I will have to live with it.

WEB covey wrap

Fig. 5 The O Project, 2007, Arlington (VA) Arts Center, Dupont ™ Tyrek ® banner, 15′ x 300′. (Photo by Rosemary Feit Covey) BELOW Closeup of the banner. (Photo by Doug Sanford)

WEB covey heads

The columns (Fig. 6) are again a new means of using printed images to create a forest of forms—sculpture from prints. These were created for the Evergreen exhibition as an installation. There are nine of them and they range in height from seven to ten feet.

WEB covey columns 2

Fig. 6 Rosemary’s columns standing in the main hall of Evergreen Museum & Library. (Photo courtesy of Evergreen Museum & Library)

How did this expansion of your presentations change you as an artist? What new artistic concerns/topics are you able to tackle (or old topics better to present) now that you’re no longer solely a formal printmaker?

Mainly I can work much larger, and this frees me to do work that feels much more right to me now.

I saw giclee reproductions of your collages in your Alexandria studio. Why are you OK with offering them?

A few years ago I had a show at Morton Fine Arts (Washington, DC) called Death of the Fine Art Print.

It was meant to raise the question: What is fine art printmaking now? I had degraded images on the floor to walk on and hand-pulled prints of the same thing. I made cardboard rats out of xeroxed prints and painted each one so they were all different. So it was all a question of what was original, what was hand made. Was it the rats or the editioned prints, and why were we walking on images of those prints? I love gray areas in everything.

When I studied printmaking, we had to make an edition that was consistent: No. 1 had to look the same as No. X. Over the years this has broken down. Now everything in the print world is multimedia. Things change. Pigment prints have become archival and much higher quality. Most museums display them. I love the way they look, and I cut them up and use them in new work. So the original is a combination of old images, hand printed, some parts painted. But to me this is much more interesting than a plain wood engraving.

Also I will not deny there is a commercial component. I am a working artist, and this is a way I can sell prints to people who cannot afford my print/painting one-of-a-kinds and make a living myself. Is this not what prints were created for in the Middle Ages? It is only recently that print collecting has become an elitist pursuit. I still have handpulled wood engravings in my studio, and the Georgetown University library has my complete works of 512 or so prints in their permanent collection. But I am always interested in the thing I am doing right now. So I am still experimenting.

Do you see formal printmaking in your future?

I do not think there is such a thing anymore.


WEB covey Ndonke sub copy

In 1996, 1997 and 1998 Rosemary created a series of five large wood engravings on the Vanitas theme. This print Nkonde, based on the traditional African image of a terrifying being covered in nails, was the first in the series. A copy of this print was included in Rosemary’s Evergreen exhibition. (Photo by Scott Ponemone)



14″ x 10″

#45 in an edition of 60


Please contact Morton Fine Art for available artwork by ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY.



(202) 628-2787

New Work by Rosemary Feit Covey

20 Sep

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The exact medium is hand & machine printed wood engraving with acrylic paint & ink on japanese paper mounted on panel.  To view more available works by Rosemary Feit Covey please click on the following link:

http://www.mortonfineart.com/#/Collaborating Artists/Rosemary FEIT COVEY/1/caption

When is an image no longer art?

23 Feb

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I thought I had my answer. But alas, what drives art acquisition? Emotion and connection to an image. And price. I am, admittedly, a stickler for supporting the mission of living artists who create original art. Perhaps its because I am accustomed to collecting contemporary fine art (and have become familiar with the pricing – recognizing that many living artists accept nominal and variable pay checks for the greater mission of creating art), or perhaps because I come from a lineage of collectors who have valued art above other material possessions? Regardless, it is fascinating to ponder (and observe) when original art collides with reproduction and note how, and why, collectors chose what to acquire. No answer to this question, but rather a very stimulating topic to consider.
Again, when is an image no longer art?

Here are some opening night photos taken by Julia Benton for BrightestYoungThings. The photos give a wonderful feel for the exhibition installation atmosphere as well as for the artwork used as an example. Enjoy!