The Sailors Dream

Sue Fuller (American, 1914–2006)


Platemark: 22.6 x 15.1 cm (8 7/8 x 5 15/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Soft ground etching printed in relief

Not On View


Americas, Prints and Drawings



Soft ground etching made using cloth, ribbon, and string to impress the ground.

Constructivist sculptor and printmaker Sue Fuller was born in Pittsburgh. Beginning in 1932, she studied painting under Joe Jones at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Jones taught her to paint in the American Scene style, and her watercolors in that mode won prizes. Her reorientation towards Modernism began when she took classes with Hans Hofmann at to the Thurn School of Art in Gloucester, MA, during the summer of 1934. In 1937, she went to Europe and in Munich saw the “German Degenerate Art” exhibition. She later said, “In that exhibition all the Great German Expressionists and other modernist artists were derided for their work. A companion exhibition approved by the Nazis was embarrassingly bad academic work. With clarity, I realized just how much freedom of expression meant to me.”

Printmaking became a primary means of expression for Fuller during the 1940s. In 1943, she studied with Stanley William Hayter in New York, where he had recreated Atelier 17 after the onset of war had prompted the closure of his Paris studio in 1939. Hayter’s new printmaking workshop was a haven for refugee artists such as Joan Miró, André Masson, Jacques Lipchitz, and Marc Chagall; so, Fuller came into direct contact with Modernist artists of the first rank. At that time, she also taught children’s classes at the Museum of Modern Art. When Anni and Josef Albers conducted a workshop for MoMA teachers, they introduced her to Bauhaus techniques, collage in printmaking, and experimental weaving. The work with textiles tapped into deep-seated emotions, for Fuller had inherited her mother’s sewing basket, which was filled with lace, thread, ribbon, and other odds and ends.

Fuller soon began to arrange cloth, thread, and cords on softground etching plates to produce highly textured abstract and representational images. “The Sailors Dream” is an early example from 1944. Evocative of lines, knots, and sailcloth, the image also presents and abstract cosmic space, both intimate and infinite. Though one is tempted to read the title as “The Sailor’s Dream,” Fuller inscribed the title on the print with no possessive apostrophe. The technique testifies to Fuller’s adsorption of Hayter’s printing wizardry. Impressing textiles and threads in soft etching ground produces recesses that usually transfer black ink to the paper, but Fuller has inverted the darks and lights by rolling ink onto the surface of the plate and printing it in relief. As a result, the stuffs glow against the deep, dark background.

Later in the 1940s, Fuller would begin to make sculptures by stretching string on frames. She gave up etching and devoted herself to pursuing mathematically based compositions redolent of those by Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner. Fuller’s print predates Gabo’s wood engravings, which also consist of glowing forms floating in dark spaces. One is given to wonder whether he was influenced by her prints just as she was influenced by his sculpture.

Much of the biographical information in this statement is closely based on Charlotte Streifer Rubenstein’s article in “American Women Artists.”


Lower left in graphite pencil: IV State 1/8
Lower center in graphite pencil: The Sailors Dream
Lower right in graphite pencil: Sue Fuller '44
Lower right in graphite pencil: 45.526
Verso lower right in graphite pencil: 45.526


Possibly the Bertha Schaefer Gallery, (New York, NY); Priscilla Cunningham (New York, NY); by whom given to MFA, April 2006.

Credit Line

Gift of Priscilla Cunningham in honor of Sue Welsh Reed


The Estate of Sue Fuller and the Susan Teller Gallery, NY, NY
Online Collections Database: Courtesy of the Estate of Sue Fuller and the Susan Teller Gallery, NY, NY