José Guadalupe Posada (Mexican, 1852–1913), Calavera with Hourglass, c. 1890–1913. Relief print, 13 11/16 x 9 1/4 in. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, 1978.384.75

José Guadalupe Posada (Mexican, 1852–1913), Tall Calavera Holding Hourglass, c. 1890–1913. Zinc printer block, 11 7/16 x 2 9/16 x 7/8 in. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, 1978.351  

Posada trained first in lithography. Despite his proficiency in the medium, when he moved to Mexico City around 1888 he switched to relief printing on metal plates. Relief etching allowed Posada to draw directly on the plate with an acid-resistant ink. When the plate was bathed in acid, it left behind the finished design in relief, the part that is raised up, which made for easy inking. Once ready for printing, metal plates were nailed to woodblocks that raised them to the same level as typeset text blocks; text and image could then be arrayed together to form a single broadsheet page. Two printers’ blocks, with their corresponding printed impressions, are displayed here.  

Because his etched plates were printed thousands of times—even until they wore out—assigning precise dates to Posada’s works is often difficult. Certain kinds of prints, such as devotional imagery connected with Catholic saints’ days and religious festivals, were in perennial demand for city churches as well as home altars. Other illustrations, designed to accompany specific news incidents, could be reused or adapted as needed to fit new circumstances.