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Escher’s little spoon

M.C. Escher decided at a young age that he wanted to become a printmaker, rather than a painter or sculptor. By the end of his career, he had produced 449 prints. Of these, there are around five times more woodcuts and wood engravings than lithographs.

Bone egg spoon, used by Escher
Bone egg spoon, used by Escher

A woodcut is a relief print of an image that the artist has carved into a wooden block. Imagine, if you will, that Escher is placing his left hand on the wood, with his thumb on the right-hand side. He cuts out a contour line, rubs ink onto the block, places a piece of paper on top and presses the ink down on the paper. Once this is done, he carefully pulls the paper from the block and a miracle unfolds: the thumb is now on the left-hand side! In other words, each woodcut represents the mirror image of the image that the artist has cut into the block. Even the letters of his name had to be inserted in mirror image so that his name is clearly legible to those admiring his artwork!

Anyone viewing a print by Escher in this museum will marvel even more at his craftsmanship. Why? Because we can’t help but feel that each print has been made ‘just’ as we see it. It is only when we truly realise that complex representations such as Relativity (1953) and Metamorphosis I (1937) were created in mirror image that we are left speechless.

Escher working on his wood engraving Three Spheres I, filmstill.
Jetta in the living room at Via Alessandro Poerio in Rome, spring 1931. Objects used for printing can be seen in front, amongst them the spoon.

The wooden egg spoon above is now on display at the museum. Escher used it as a printing aid to create his woodcuts. He printed every woodcut by hand. To transfer the ink from the wood block onto the paper, a tool is needed. Escher used egg spoons made of bone. So how did we acquire this little valuable object? It is a very special gift, donated by a grand-niece of M.C. Escher. As a little girl, she occasionally accompanied her parents to Escher’s studio in Baarn. Her mother was the daughter of Escher’s half-brother Beer (Berend). During her visit, Escher gifted the little girl the spoon, because he was no longer able to use it. It had become a little bit worn and flat. If you look carefully, you can still see the printing ink on the flat bottom. Mrs Visser lovingly kept that spoon for many years, until she donated it to the museum in 2014. The history behind this spoon makes it even more special. Not only did Escher use it to render his prints, this little spoon was kept for 50 years by his grand-niece before she gifted it to our museum. We are very grateful for this generous bequest.

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