A Brief History of the Graphic Arts Loan Collection at the Morrison Library

The Graphic Arts Loan Collection (GALC) is a collection of framed, original lithographs, etchings, engravings and other works of art that students, faculty, and staff at UC Berkeley can borrow from the Morrison Library. Art For The Asking: 60 Years Of The Graphic Arts Loan Collection At The Morrison Library is currently on display in the Doe Library’s Brown Gallery through February 28, 2019.  This exhibition celebrates 60 years of the Graphic Arts Loan Collection, and includes ephemera and prints from throughout the collection’s history that are rarely seen. Francisco Goya, Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso, Jean Arp, Fernand Léger, Max Beckman, Corita, and Ellsworth Kelly are a few of the artists represented by prints in this exhibition. Detail about the reception on October 5th can be found here.

This program started 60 years ago in 1958 after Herwin Schaefer, professor in the Decorative Arts program at UCB, suggested the Library invest in a print collection instead of reproductions of paintings. Prints are relatively inexpensive when compared to paintings, because the artist makes and sells about 30 to 50 copies of each. The works—whether in the form of lithographs, etchings, woodcuts, or other media—are hand-printed from pictures cut, drawn, or etched on wood, stone, or metal by the artist. Because of this, Professor Schaefer declared that the university could assemble a collection of works touched by the hand of the artist and make them available to students, which would support a meaningful extension of the University’s art teaching program. According to the original catalog created in 1958, “living for a time with a lithograph, an etching, or a woodcut by an artist of our time will awaken or strengthen a desire in the student for art as a natural and necessary part of his life. Should he come to wish to own a work of art, he will find that many original prints are within his reach”.

Funding for the nucleus of the collection was provided by the Columbia foundation and the International Graphic Arts Society. Using the $5,000 grant from the Columbia Foundation in the spring and summer of 1958, Professor Schaefer travelled to San Francisco, New York, and Europe to personally select and purchase 100 original prints for the collection. At the same time, along with 24 other colleges and universities, UC Berkeley became a member of the International Graphic Arts Society rental service program, which had expanded from six colleges and universities during their pilot program in 1956 to 31 participants in the spring of 1958. As a part of this program, UC Berkeley was able to choose 50 framed prints free of charge from the International Graphic Arts Society to start the Graphic Arts Loan Collection with the stipulation that UC Berkeley spend at least $150 each year to grow the collection. Eight other prints were donated to the collection from individual donors to bring the total number of prints in the collection the first year to 158. The works themselves comprised a survey of art movements and artists—from Baroque to Cubism and from Rembrandt to Miró.

During the inaugural exhibition in 1958, more than 5,000 guests passed through the Morrison Library to view this amazing collection of art. The prints were displayed for two weeks for anyone to view before they become available to any registered UC Berkeley students to rent for a single dollar. All of the 158 prints in the collection that first year was borrowed within two hours. Over the years, it was common for students to line up the night before the prints would start circulating in order to get the prints they desired. At the beginning of the spring quarter in 1967, David Smith, a biology student waited 25 hours and 15 minutes to borrow a lithograph by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).

The funds from the rental fees were used primarily for supplies and repairing prints, and so the through the 1960s and 1970s new prints were added to the collection each year using funds given to the Library from Helen and Madeline Pardee. To secure funding for the collection, in 1977 all the prints were appraised and prints that were too valuable to continue circulating were sold to establish an endowment fund for the GALC. During 1983, 32 prints deemed too valuable to continue lending to students were transferred to the University Art Museum (UAM) (now the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive). A show was curated around these prints in celebration of the GALC program’s 25th anniversary at the UAM in the fall of that year. In 1987, the prints were appraised again, and the sale of 40 prints raised $92,000 for the GALC endowment fund, the yearly interest from this fund has sustained the program up to the present day.

Due to the closure of the Morrison Library in 1997 from construction being done in the Doe Library, the collection wasn’t publicized and prints were only lent out on a request basis until the program fully started up again in 2008 to mark its 50th anniversary. At this time, the prints were digitized for students to review on a new online catalog, and the paper check-out cards were replaced with barcodes on the prints that allowed the prints to be checked-out through our library catalog. Since 2008, the GALC online catalog has been updated and improved to make it easier for students to search the collection online, and last year the GALC Experience section of the online catalog was added to allow students to share their experiences living with pieces from the GALC. In recent years, funds usually used for the purchase of new prints have funded a conservation project to preserve the collection, as many older prints were originally framed with acidic matting that can potentially damage the prints irrevocably if not replaced with acid-free matting.

Composition, by Sonia DeLaunay, color lithograph La Grande Idole, Gerard Fitreman, Mixed MediaThere are currently nine other art lending programs at universities and colleges in the United States, but the GALC has the distinction of being the only one of these programs run by a university library. All the others are run by university art museums. As of now, the GALC has more than 1,000 prints in its collection, with around 100 that are too valuable to circulate. 

With the online catalog in place, students might not line up anymore outside the Doe Library to get their prints, but they do get up early to request prints through their computers as soon as the prints begin circulating each year. This usually results in over 200 requests being submitted in the first few days the program is open. Even with all the changes the program has gone through in the last 60 years—including discontinuing rental fees and allowing students to check-out prints for a full the academic year—Professor Schaefer’s vision for the collection remains: to put original art in the hands of students.

The collection can be browsed and prints can be reserved at the Graphic Arts Loan Collection website.

The reception for Art for the Asking: 60 Years of the Graphic Arts Loan Collection at the Morrison Library will take place Friday, October 5th from 4-6pm in the Morrison Library. There will be a pre-reception event in the Printmaking Studio (265 Kroeber Hall) from 2-3:30pm that day. Details can be found here.