H.C. Westermann - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, October 19, 2021 | Phillips
  • The phrase was emblazoned seemingly everywhere; See America First featured prominently in advertisements for railways, national parks and bus lines — as well as in America’s collective consciousness during the 1960s. Expert craftsman and Korean War veteran H.C. Westermann followed the advice by taking a long road trip prior to accepting a coveted invitation to print at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Hollywood. After a transcontinental trek to California, H.C. Westermann wrote about “A NEW RESPECT AND LOVE FOR THIS COUNTRY AFTER TAKING A TRIP ACROSS IT SLOW!/ A Tribute to America/ IT’S BEAUTIFUL.” Several preparatory travel sketches and watercolors preceded See America First, Westermann’s expansive and tightly choreographed portfolio that was both a love letter to America as well as a warning about protecting the environment of the country that he held dear.


    In the portfolio’s fifth plate a globe hovered above a scorched landscape with sharks encircling; Westermann captured the nascent energy of environmentalism during the 1960s. The teetering globe evoked insignia from the 1964 New York World’s Fair while announcing Westermann’s protective impulse amidst a moment of global optimism. In plate 9, seas engulfed one of Los Angeles’ tallest towers; tidal waves actually hit California while the artist and his wife visited. The bubbling stream in plate 12 that twisted along banks dotted with palm trees and under a stone bridge provided respite from the portfolio’s more daunting images in the manner of this picturesque Victorian landscape. Yet, above floated a blank banner; it was an epitaph to the illustrious pre-industrial landscapes that Westermann traversed enroute to California.


    See America First revealed Westermann’s protective perspective. He was a naval gunner in the Pacific theatre at the end of World War II and never shook the vulnerability and responsibility that he felt during attacks by kamikaze. Large ships were frequent subjects for his sculptures that also featured in plates 4 and 16 of the portfolio; as one ship threw out a life preserver and another sat trapped in ice there was a cute polar bear among other swimming creatures. Humor was the life raft that Westermann lobbed to his viewers, which made otherwise alarming images agreeable. In the colophon Westermann dutifully remarked on all of his printer collaborators, writing “These. . .works are sincerely dedicated to the magnificent young men who helped me + printed them <3. . .” and “Now out of due respect for these fine men, + Tamarind please be sure your hands are clean + remember that paper is fragile!!” Before departing the Tamarind printshop Westermann left each of his collaborating printmakers a cash gift and hosted a thank you party.


    With his ambitious print portfolio Westermann aimed to protect America.

    • Provenance

      James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles
      Laura Lee Woods, 1982
      The Museum of Modern Art, 2011

    • Literature

      Tamarind 2425-2444
      Dennis Adrian and Richard A. Born 14B-S

Property from The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Sold to Benefit the Acquisitions Fund


See America First (T. 2425-2444, A. & B. 14B-S)

The complete set of 17 lithographs in colors, on Copperplate Deluxe paper, the full sheets, with title page and colophon, lacking original wood portfolio.
all S. 22 x 30 in. (55.9 x 76.2 cm) five vertical
All signed, dated and numbered 10/20 in pencil (there were also 2-4 artist's proofs for each), published by Tamarind Lithography Workshop (with their blindstamp), Los Angeles, all unframed.

Full Cataloguing

$30,000 - 50,000 

Sold for $47,880

Contact Specialist

212 940 1220


Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 19-21 October 2021