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Kathan Brown
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Birth Place: 
New York, New York
Kathan Brown, founder of Crown Point Press, was born in New York City in 1935, and grew up in Florida. In 1958 she graduated from Antioch College (Ohio), a liberal campus where she became interested in Zen. A commitment to Eastern philosophy, Zen in particular, continues to influence her approach to life. At Antioch she majored in art and participated in the junior year abroad program at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. It was there that she was captivated by intaglio printmaking which, as she described it, “was tactile, and I enjoyed developing the skill. The Zen idea is that you become so skillful that you don’t even have to think about what you are doing while you are doing it. I really was trying to develop etching skills to that point...I believed, and still believe, in a devotion to it and in the discipline of it.” After graduation she returned to the Central School of Arts and Crafts to study etching for another year. While in Europe, she discovered a dismantled etching press, which she brought back to San Francisco by freighter. Brown and fellow Central School student, Jeryl Parker, set up a press in the studio of Parker’s friend. There they shared techniques learned in England with members of the California Society of Etchers (now part of the California Society of Printmakers). Brown married Parker in 1960. A son, Kevin, was born in 1961. CROWN POINT PRESS: Brown and Parker set up a new printing press in a rented storefront studio in Richmond, California, in 1962. This marked the start of Crown Point Press, which was named after a nineteenth century gold mine. In 1963 Brown moved the Press to the basement of her North Berkeley home, where it remained until 1972. Brown and Parker separated. In addition to running the workshop and printing for other artists, Brown taught etching classes at Crown Point and the San Francisco Art Institute, serving as chair of the printmaking department for two years. Crown Point began publishing prints in 1965 with etching portfolios by Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud. It functioned as a workshop and publisher until 1971, when Brown formed an alliance with Parasol Press in New York. The relationship between Crown Point and Parasol Press brought major East Coast artists to the San Francisco Bay Area where they produced etchings with an emphasis on Minimalism. In 1972 Brown moved the Press to an industrial building in Oakland, where it remained until 1986. Conceptual sculptor Tom Marioni began making prints there in 1974. Since then he has collaborated with Brown on many Crown Point projects. (They were married in 1983.) In 1977 Brown shifted the Press’s emphasis back to its own publishing program and began working with Conceptual artists. Beginning in the 1980s, Brown published more prints by artists based outside of the United States, reflecting her concern with art from all parts of the world. She added Asian woodcut techniques to the Crown Point Press program, taking artists to Japan, and later China, to work with printers in those countries. Since 1986 Crown Point Press has been located in San Francisco, first on Folsom Street, then in a building on Howard Street, where Brown operates a public art gallery and two large etching studios. With a staff of eight, the Press currently publishes etchings by five or six invited artists a year, and holds summer workshops open to all artists. In 1987 the Museum of Modern Art in New York honored Crown Point Press with a 25th anniversary exhibition. An accomplished author and teacher, Brown wrote the book, Ink, Paper, Metal, Wood: Painters and Sculptors at Crown Point Press (Chronicle Books, 1996), which includes technical data and a recollection of Brown’s life as a print publisher. HONORS: Kathan Brown holds a Master of Fine Arts and an Honorary Doctorate from the California College of Arts and Crafts, and an Honorary Doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1983 she received an Award of Honor from the City of San Francisco, and in 1997 the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce presented Crown Point Press with its Award for Arts Business Excellence. CROWN POINT PRESS ARCHIVE: In 1991 the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco acquired the Crown Point Press Archive, one impression of every print the press produced since 1962, as well as Working Proofs and preparatory sketches. This arrangement is ongoing, with Crown Point Press continuing to donate an impression from every edition produced. This valuable resource effectively documents the success of Brown’s efforts to promote etching as a flexible and modern printmaking medium for artists involved in all manner of art-making. In 1996 the National Gallery of Art acquired a collection of Crown Point Press “OK to Print” Proofs and other impressions dating from 1977 to the present.