John Buck exhibit opens Aug. 31 at Marion Gallery

Doug Osborne-Coy
John Buck working in his studio

John Buck working in his studio in 2007 (photo by Dawn Ahlert, courtesy of Buck-Butterfield, Inc., Bozeman, Mont.)

Explore the world of renowned printmaker and sculptor John Buck when the Cathy and Jesse Marion Art Gallery presents the exhibition “John Buck: Prints and Sculptures from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” from Aug. 31 through Nov. 19.

An exhibition reception will be held Friday Sept. 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. Two additional programs are scheduled in conjunction with the exhibition: a lecture by ornithologist and author Scott Weidensaul on Thursday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m., in Fenton Hall Room 105; and a gallery talk by printmaker Brian Shure on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. in the Marion Art Gallery.

The exhibition, reception and all programs are free and open to the public. A catalog is available to visitors free of charge. The Marion Art Gallery is located on the main level of Rockefeller Arts Center on the Fredonia campus at 280 Central Ave. It is most easily accessed from the Symphony Circle side of the building.

Gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

For the past four decades Buck has been creating prodigious woodblock prints and intricately carved wood sculptures that stand apart from any art movement or trend. This exhibition includes four sculptures and 22 woodblock prints dating from the 1980 two-color woodcut “My First Print” to the 2016 nine-color woodcut “The Cat.” The largest woodcut in the exhibition, at 92 x 37 inches, is “Sky Line.”

Buck’s powerful imagery, underscored by his unusual printmaking techniques and mastery of wood carving, prompts viewers to consider socio-political issues such as greed, war, racism, sexism, and environmental degradation. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Buck saw the world going up in flames: the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union faced economic collapse, and the Gulf War was raging in the Middle East. The 1991 woodcut “The Times” features a heap of rolled-up newspapers, the source of Buck’s information about world events, ablaze and set against a dark background incised with death heads, leafless trees, severed bodies, religious symbols, and moths.

John Buck artwork
“Phoenix Rising,” a 2006 print by John Buck, is a seven-color woodcut with pochoir on White Thai Mulberry paper, edition 1/10, 50 x 37 inches; Printed by Shark’s Ink., Lyons, Colo.; Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer.​​​​​

The misuses of religion take center stage in many of Buck’s works. In the woodcut “Phoenix Rising” the central image is not the phoenix, a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, but rather the extinct dodo bird. Behind the dodo are a range of civic and religious buildings from different cultures: a country church, a mosque, a temple, and a cathedral. Interspersed among these symbols are swarms of people, presumably the religious and secular armies mobilized by the ideologies represented by these various structures. In the context of these background images, the dodo stands as a symbol of the consequences of an ill-considered mingling of politics and religion.

“The Reef” woodcut from 2014 refers to the threat of rising sea levels on our coastal cities due to climate change, and the ongoing pollution of our oceans by humankind, themes that Buck has explored in a number of his prints. The glass jar is a visualization of the Earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat and warm the planet. All life, in the seas and in the cities, is trapped and dying in the jar as the temperatures and sea levels rise.

Unlike other woodblock artists, Buck prefers a soft wood (Malaysian jelutong), so that he can use a variety of tools, even a ballpoint pen, to incise thin lines. Due to the size of the prints, together with the unique woodblock and incising methods, the printing process for Buck’s woodcuts is very challenging. This has made it necessary for him to collaborate with master printers. Since 1983 Buck has primarily worked with Bud Shark at Shark’s Ink in Lyons, Colo., who has printed and published 50 of his woodcuts. The exhibition includes the woodblock and rubbing for “Phoenix Rising,” and several narrative labels provide information about Buck’s and Shark’s processes.

Buck’s panels and freestanding sculptures are largely formal explorations of compositional elements. In the panel “Taj Mahal,” the three circles in the lower left abstract form are repeated above it in the model of the Guggenheim Museum, and three is the number of wasps on the upper right. The network of potato roots in the glass jar echoes the system of streets in the center map of Manhattan. The v shape of the beard is repeated in the wasp’s nest. The sphere’s on the upper left and lower right draw our eyes across the composition.

John Buck and his wife, artist Deborah Butterfield, reside in Bozeman, Mont. and Kona, Hawaii. Buck’s prints and sculptures can be found in the collections of major museums across the country, among them: the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Denver Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art in New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art. Buck is represented by Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in Chicago, Robischon Gallery in Denver, Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, and Anglim/Trimble in San Francisco.

All of the artwork in the exhibition is part of the Jordan D. Schnitzer Collection or the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation Collection.

“John Buck loves wood: whether it is a sculpture or woodprint, no artist does it better,” Jordan Schnitzer said. “Artists are always chroniclers of our time and John follows that tradition. His images at first seem lovely and innocuous but look closely and you find the strongest political imagery possible. The environment, war, social injustice, gender inequality – these are all the themes that John constantly explores.”

At age 14, Schnitzer bought his first work of art from his mother’s Portland, Ore. contemporary art gallery, evolving into a lifelong avocation as collector. He began collecting contemporary prints and multiples in earnest in 1988. Today, the collection exceeds 19,000 works and includes many of today’s most important contemporary artists. It has grown to be one of the country’s largest private print collections. He generously lends work from his collection to qualified institutions. The Foundation has organized over 110 exhibitions and has had art exhibited at over 160 museums. Mr. Schnitzer is also President of Harsch Investment Properties, a privately-owned real estate investment company based in Portland, owning and managing office, multi-tenant industrial, multi-family and retail properties in six western states. For more information about the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, please visit

“John Buck: Prints and Sculptures from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” was organized by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. The exhibition is supported by Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, the Fredonia College Foundation’s Cathy and Jesse Marion Endowment Fund and Carnahan Jackson Humanities Fund and the Friends of Rockefeller Arts Center.

For more information or to schedule a group tour, contact Marion Art Gallery director Barbara Racker at 716-673-4897 or email. Please be aware that masks are currently required inside campus buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

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