Special Collections Department
American Wood Engravers
August 24 - December 17, 2004
Engraving and printing from a block of wood is an ancient technique. In the Western artistic tradition, printing from wood was the first method used for producing illustrations for books after the invention of the printing press. The basic technique, referred to as a woodcut, involves cutting away the area around the design on a plank of wood so that only the raised areas are inked and printed. Knives and chisels are used to cut into a plank of wood, similar to cutting into a board. During the late sixteenth century, a more sophisticated method was developed. Referred to as wood engraving, it uses the end of a block of wood cut across the grain. This technique allows for a harder wood and more refined tools to produce greater detail than is possible in a woodcut. During the nineteenth century, wood engraving was a commonly used book illustration method, but by the beginning of the twentieth century, this process had been almost entirely replaced for commercial illustration by photo-reproductive techniques.
While commercial or reproductive engraving was falling out of favor during the last years of the nineteenth century, the creative use of wood block printing was becoming more popular. America saw a revival of the technique after World War I with artists printing in creative ways. This tradition continued throughout the century with artists and illustrators using wood engraving to produce both prints and book illustrations.
In conjunction with the major exhibition John DePol: Artist and Engraver currently in the Special Collections Gallery, this small exhibition highlights books in the Morris Library's collections illustrated with wood engravings and wood cuts. The exhibition focuses on well-known twentieth-century American artists who use these techniques for book illustration. Each of these artists has a distinctive style, but each follows in the four-hundred-year tradition of wood block printing.
Artist, illustrator and educator Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990) was best known as an illustrator of children's books and classics of Russian literature, although his woodcuts and engravings appeared in many other works as well. In 1982, his illustrations for Rainbows Are Made: Poems by Carl Sandburg was awarded the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book citation as well as a Notable Book citation by the American Library Association. Among his best-known works for adult books are Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment and Stephen Vincent Benét's The Devil and Daniel Webster.
Lynd Ward (1905-1985), a celebrated artist and author, was best known for his wood engraving, although he was skilled in many other media, including watercolor, oils, brush and ink, and lithography. Ward not only illustrated books for adults and children, but also created entire adult novels solely from woodcuts. These graphic novels, which use woodcuts but no text, are powerful reflections on the artist's views of society. During the 1940s Ward continued to illustrate the works of others and do some work of his own. In 1953 he received the Caldecott Medal for The Biggest Bear, a self-illustrated children's book.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), artist, author and political activist, had a long and varied career. During his lifetime he worked as an architectural draftsman, illustrator, printmaker, painter, lobsterman, ship's carpenter and dairy farmer. Kent's paintings, lithographs, and woodcuts often portrayed the bleak and rugged aspects of nature; a reflection of his life in harsh climates. His style is most frequently identified with that of the American Social Realists and the great muralists of the 1920s and 1930s.
Barry Moser, born in 1940, studied art at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and printing and typography with Leonard Baskin. Moser won the American Book Award in 1983 for his engravings and design for Alice in Wonderland. He has illustrated and designed over 250 titles for both children and adults. His Pennyroyal Press produces elegantly designed volumes of such classics as Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter and Frankenstein, as well as The Pennyroyal edition of The Holy Bible (1999), the first major edition of the Bible illustrated by a single artist in over 100 years.
Gaylord Schanilec was born in 1955 and studied at the University of North Dakota before beginning his career as an illustrator and printer in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1987, his book High Bridge became the first successful publication of his private press, Midnight Paper Sales. He has since illustrated more than a hundred books, some written by himself and some by others. He is best known for his multi-colored wood engravings of rural life and scenery. He has taught at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and Penland School in Penland, North Carolina.
Richard Fred Arey.
David Moyer, a graduate of the University of Delaware, is a printmaker and one of the founders of Red Howler Press of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He has a keen interest in the printed word and its relationship to the visual image. His finely printed, limited edition works focus on his black and white wood engraved line drawings. Many of his images have an abstract, fantastic quality.
Daniel's Dream; wood engravings by David Moyer. Lebanon, Pa.: Red Howler Press, 2000.
In Edward's Garden; wood engravings by David Moyer. Lebanon, Pa.: Red Howler Press, 1995.
Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) was a well known American sculptor, print maker, book illustrator and an influential teacher. In 1942, Baskin founded the Gehenna Press, noted for its fine typography and superbly illustrated limited-edition books, in Northampton, Massachusetts, and operated it for more than twenty-five years. In sculptural and graphic works that are figurative in style, Baskin's images of a corrupt, bloated humanity often have an element of sardonic humor. He frequently explored biblical and mythological themes through human and animal figures. His woodcuts are celebrated for their power and expressiveness