Lou Stovall, an influential printmaker whose services were used by a multitude of art stars, has died at 86. The Washington Post, which first reported the news on Saturday, said he died on March 3 of complications of heart problems.
Stovall, who ran a printmaking studio called Workshop Inc. in Washington, D.C., was well-known in the city’s art scene.
In a 2001 Washington Post article, Paul Richard wrote, “He’s been an art-world rock. Admired for his skill as a master printer, he also gets the sort of gratitude that car owners reserve for a reliable mechanic. The man’s there when you need him. When the glass breaks on a picture, he’ll fix it. When the office art needs rehanging, he’s the one who’s called. He’s on the D.C. Arts Commission. He shows up at art openings and serves on charitable boards. Since then he has taught dozens of apprentices.”
Yet many beyond D.C. also flocked to the Workshop to use Stovall’s talents. Jacob Lawrence worked with Stovall for over a decade. Alexander Calder, Sam Gilliam, Loïs Mailou Jones, Josef Albers, Elizabeth Catlett, and many others also called on Stovall to help them make prints.
“The most important part of what I do is to give artists who have ideas they want to express in a silk-screen print a way of doing it,” Stovall told the New York Times in 1998.
The silkscreens his Workshop produced were made not using a squeegee, as is typical for the process, but with tools like brushes and towels, and sometimes even with his hands, according to the Times.
Born in 1937 in Athens, Georgia, Stovall’s talents as a budding artist were fostered by his mother when his family lived in Springfield, Massachusetts. While working at a grocery store there, he recalled helping out by silkscreening signs. Observing his employer at work, “I just stood there looking, staring, fascinated,” he once told NPR.
Stovall attended the Rhode Island School of Design on a scholarship, but he left school during his first year after his father’s death. Then, in 1962, he attended Howard University, where he took classes with James A. Porter, who has been regarded with one of the leading scholars of African American art history. The Howard University Gallery of Art wound up giving Stovall a retrospective in 2001.
Prior to starting Workshop, Stovall had created activist posters, including some for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In addition to his printmaking practice, Stovall also made paintings.
He also produced posters for the Who. Briefly, Stovall’s workshop was set within the Dupont Center, a now-defunct museum. That short residency was the subject of a Phillips Collection show last year. Stovall was also the subject of a 2022 solo show at the Georgia Museum of Art.
Stovall held a firm belief that his favored medium of printmaking could serve a larger democratic purpose. He told the Times, “I want to make art, through silk-screening, more accessible to more people, and to make it a more honorable and appreciated medium.”