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Lynd Ward: A Centennial Appreciation

Charles Marvin Fairchild Memorial Gallery
July 5, 2005
October 2, 2005

Introduction

This summer, to commemorate the centenary of the birth of award-winning book illustrator and artist Lynd Ward (1905-1985), the Fairchild Gallery presents Lynd Ward: A Centennial Appreciation (through October 5).

The Georgetown University Library is the primary repository of Lynd Ward’s personal papers and artwork, and this is the third exhibition at Georgetown University drawn from this rich collection of materials (preceded by Lynd Ward: A Life in Art in 1983, and Lynd Ward As Illustrator in 2001).

Lynd Ward was a prolific artist, author, and book illustrator whose experiments during the fifty years of his career distinguished him as one of the accomplished craftsmen of the twentieth century. He worked primarily in wood, but also produced consummate illustrations in watercolor, gouache, lithography, pen-and-ink, and several drawing media. Ward produced powerful and dynamic illustrations that set new standards for communication through imagery.

Ward was born in Chicago in 1905, in a century destined for modernization, cultural revolution, and war. Knowing from an early age that he wanted to become an artist, he obtained an advanced degree in fine arts at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University in New York. After graduating, he traveled to Leipzig, Germany with his young bride and eventual artistic collaborator, author May McNeer, where they settled for a year and where Ward studied at the National Academy for the Graphic Arts, acquiring technical knowledge of printmaking and bookmaking. Shortly after their return to the United States in 1927, Lynd Ward began his first professional venture into wood engraving.

Among Ward’s most renowned books were the “wordless novels” Gods’ Man (1929), Madman’s Drum (1930), and Song Without Words (1936), which represent some of the earliest examples of the graphic novel format in the United States. Lynd Ward: A Centennial Celebration includes examples of the original wood-engraved blocks from these landmark works, shown together with the impressions made from them. The exhibition also includes several of his watercolor paintings, drawings, and early and limited-edition books.

Ward received the prestigious Caldecott Medal, given to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children, for The Biggest Bear (1953), as well as numerous other awards and honors. In 1949 he had a solo exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution. Upon accepting his Caldecott prize, Ward remarked, “The book artist is of necessity concerned with making sense and communicating with his fellow men. This not only makes him a functioning part of the community but it makes him feel that the things he is doing have value in the scheme of things.”

In the 1970s, Lynd Ward and May McNeer moved from their longtime home in New Jersey to Reston in to be closer to their daughters and grandchildren. (On an earlier visit, Ward gave a lecture to the Georgetown University Library Associates, on November 12, 1977.) During the years that he lived in the Washington area, until his death in 1985, Ward secured the friendship and acquaintance of numerous artists and admirers of the graphic arts. In 1982, Ward donated his papers, and his daughters donated much of his original artwork, to the University Library. The artist's late widow and other members of the family have continued to provide support for Georgetown’s Lynd Ward collection in the years since.

Self-portrait
1927
Charcoal on paper
44.2 x 30.8 cm

Ward was a newly-wed studying at the National Academy of Graphic Arts in Leipzig when he created this penetrating self-portrait, as well as the untitled etching "Two gentlemen of Leipzig."

Untitled student work (two gentlemen of Leipzig)
1927
Etching
31.8 x 41 cm

In this reproduction of an engraving from Madman's Drum
1930

Note how Ward's use of a rhythmic pattern in the gabled roofs, and the fluid forms of the trees, are reminiscent of "Two gentlemen of Leipzig."

Unpublished illustration for Prince Bantam, being the adventures of Yoshitsune the brave and his faithful henchman, great Benkei of the Western Pagoda
For the book by May McNeer
Published by Macmillan
1929
Watercolor on illustration board
40 x 28 cm

This book represents the artist's first collaboration with his wife, children's book author May McNeer. They went on to produce more than fifty books together, with the last one being Bloomsday for Maggie, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1976.

This cover illustration by Ward for the May 1925 issue
1925

Before he turned to wood engraving during his trip to Europe 1927, Lynd Ward was an accomplished artist and illustrator in other media. He had honed his talents as editor-in-chief and frequent illustrator for the Columbia Jester, a student-published arts, literary, and criticism magazine at Columbia University that often reflected the Asian-influenced "Art Deco" styles of the time. This cover illustration by Ward for the May 1925 issue resembles the style for the Prince Bantam illustration.

Illustration for The Story of Siegfried
For the book by Angela Diller
Published by Cape & Smith, New York
1931
Charcoal on illustration board
37.3 x 27.8 cm

As announced in the promotional booklet shown in the exhibition, Ward's decorations for Siegfried included nine full-page illustrations, such as the one you see here.

  

Two illustrations for Now That the Gods Are Dead
For the book by Llewelyn Powys
Published by Equinox Press, New York
1932
Wood engravings, numbered 8/20
15.5 x 9.6 cm

Ward was a founding member of Equinox Press, a small coöperative that produced limited editions featuring original, block-printed illustrations of volumes with socially or artistically oriented themes during the Depression years. Other publications by Equinox included volumes of poetry by Thomas Mann, a novel about Communist Labor Party founder John Reed, and Ward's third wood-engraved, wordless novel, Prelude to a Million Years (1933).

Also shown in the exhibition:
Now That the Gods Are Dead,
with four wood engravings by Lynd Ward. Copy 230 of an edition of 400 signed by author and artist.
Georgetown University Library, Special Collections.

Illustration for The White Sparrow
For the book by Padraic Colum
Published by Macmillan Co., New York
1933
Watercolor on illustration board
35.8 x 30.5 cm

Frontispiece illustration for book one of Gargantua and Pantagruel
For the book by François Rabelais, translated by Jacques LeClercq
Published by New York, Heritage Press
1936
Ink on illustration board
31.4 x 20.5 cm

Also shown in the exhibition:
A History of Book Illustration; the illuminated manuscript and the printed book,
by David Bland (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), with frontispiece illustration for Gargantua and Pantagruel, page 396.

Pettifoggers
Plate V from Moriae encomium, or, The Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus, translated by Harry Carter
published by The Limited Editions Club, New York
1943
Mezzotint, with original copper plate
19.4 x 12.2 cm

"Consequently the lawyer piles up a fortune while the theologian, having digested the whole body of divinity, sits knawing a crust." [printed in red on tissue guard].

 

Judges
Plate IX from Moriae encomium, or, The Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus, translated by Harry Carter
published by The Limited Editions Club, New York
1943
Mezzotint, with original copper plate
19.4 x 12.2 cm

"By citing sixty statutes in a breath, none relevant, piling precedent on precedent, and taking opinions on opinions, they contrive to make their branch of knowledge appear the most difficult." [printed in red on tissue guard]

(All ten copper mezzotint plates for The Praise of Folly, as well as proofs from them, are in the Georgetown University Library Special Collections Division.)

Also shown in the exhibition:
Moriae Encomium, or, The Praise of Folly, by Desiderius Erasmus (New York: Limited Editions Club, 1943). This limited edition includes ten original mezzotint prints, as well as Ward's marginal "glosses" in red. Lent by Penelope C. and George M. Barringer.

Book jacket design for A Cup of Sky
For the book by Donald Culross Peattie and Noel Peattie
published by Houghton Mifflin, New York
1950
Gouache on illustration board
63 x 52.5 cm

This book on various wonders of nature (butterflies, birdsong, and fireflies, for example) opens with a chapter on St. Francis of Assisi, whom Ward memorialized on the cover. He also decorated each chapter with a lively black line drawing.

Clouded Over
1948
Wood engraving
15.2 x 22.7 cm

This print won a purchase prize of $100 at the sixth national exhibition of prints at the Library of Congress in 1948.

Clouded Over was one of the thirty wood engravings included in Lynd Ward's solo exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in 1949. Curator of the Division of Graphic Arts Jacob Kainen wrote this complimentary letter. (Kainen also was an accomplished woodblock artist; the Georgetown University Library has a strong collection of his work.)

Also shown in the exhibition:

  • Ward's work also was praised handsomely in a review from The Sunday Star (Washington, D.C.; 5 June 1949).
  • American Prize Prints of the Twentieth Century, by Albert Reese (New York: American Artists Group, 1949), with Clouded Over reproduced on page 206.

Seedling
1949
Wood engraving
20 x 15.2 cm

Also shown in the exhibition:

The prospectus for Seedling was written by John Taylor Arms (1887-1953), the foremost etcher in the United States in the early twentieth century. Arms was a founding member and president, to his death in 1953, of the Society of American Etchers, Gravers, Lithographers, and Woodcutters (now the Society of American Graphic Artists). Lynd Ward succeeded Arms as president of SAGA in 1954.

Lynd Ward was invited by Arms to join SAEGLW in 1947. A benefit for dues-paying associate members was to receive a presentation print created specifically for this purpose by one of the active members of the society. Lynd Ward's Seedling was one of those selections for 1950.

Lion and Lamb
1974
Wood engraving
26.5 x 37 cm

Also shown in the exhibition:
Bibliognost,
Vol. II, No. II, ed. Denis Carbonneau (New York: Three Mountain Press), May 1976. Special Lynd Ward issue with Lion and Lamb reproduced on cover.

Number thirty-three in a series of wood blocks engraved in 1977 for an untitled and unpublished story
1977
Wood engraving
20.5 x 13 cm

A dedication print by the artist, for Face to Face: Twelve Contemporary American Artists Interpret Themselves in a Limited Edition of Original Wood Engravings.

Also shown in the exhibition:

  • Face to Face: Twelve Contemporary American Artists Interpret Themselves in a Limited Edition of Original Wood Engravings. With an introduction by Leonard Baskin and a dedication print by Lynd Ward (Great Barrington, Mass.: Penmaen/Busyhaus Publications, 1985; ed. 25/250)
  • Prospectus for Face to Face, from Penmaen/Busyhaus Publications, including a reproduction of the dedication print by Lynd Ward. Several of the artists whose work is included in the portfolio are represented in the Georgetown University Fine Print Collection. Photography by Nicholas Whitman.
  • A greeting card designed by Lynd Ward, and sent by himself and May McNeer in 1961, features a wood-engraved design similar in theme and conception to the 1977 print that would be included in Face to Face.

Say, Mary, what's a good name for the heroine working girl who marries the millionaire?
ca. late 1920s
Woodcut
18.4 x 13.5 cm

This woodcut - presumed to be an illustration for a magazine - shows one of Lynd Ward's earliest uses of woodcut (prior to his later adoption of wood engraving); and reflects the bold contrasts and "expressionist" style of Belgian woodblock artist Franz Masereel (1889-1972), whose work influenced Ward during his year as an art student in Germany. Scholar David A. Berona, writing about Ward and Masereel in Print Quarterly, notes that Masereel's novels were not distributed in the United States by 1926, so that it was "unlikely that Ward would have found the genre of the woodcut novel had he not visited Germany." (David A. Berona, "Wordless Novels in Woodcuts," in Print Quarterly (March 2003) Vol. 20, No. 1, p. 66; see the article in exhibit case W1.)

Also shown in the exhibition:
Reproductions of two prints, which depict contemporary urban imagery, from La Vie by Franz Masereel (1925), an album of one hundred woodblock plates published simultaneously in Paris and Munich.

Lynd Ward's Wood-Engraved Novels

Lynd Ward was a prolific artist, author, and book illustrator whose experiments during the fifty years of his career distinguish him as an accomplished craftsman of the twentieth century. Working primarily in wood, Ward produced powerful and dynamic illustrations that set new standards for communication through imagery. With the conviction that images can communicate more effectively than words, Lynd Ward chose a medium which could convey expressively the moral and social issues of his time. His purposeful absence of text and use of the wood-engraved medium as a narrative enabled a particular type of communication, leaving much to the autonomous interpretation of the reader.

Though Ward worked in various media throughout his long career as an illustrator, his work in wood is among his most imaginative and remarkable. In the six wood-engraved novels the artist created in the late 1920s and 1930s, he explored the human condition in its ranges of glories and disappointments. His graphic representations of the many social concerns of his era demonstrated his keen ability to convey the emotional and conflicting overtones of the mid-twentieth century. In his pioneering novels, Ward foresook words and color - two commonly employed techniques of storytelling - communicating solely through dynamic black-and-white images to dramatize universal human emotions. The three wordless novels displayed in this exhibit - Gods' Man (1929), Madman's Drum (1930), and Song Without Words (1936) - are prime examples of his accomplishments in graphic design and the art of the book.

Lynd Ward was born in Chicago in 1905, in a century destined for modernization, cultural revolution, and war. In his early life, he faced environmental, educational, and social forces that would shape him as an individual and an artist. Knowing from an early age that he wanted to become an artist, he obtained an advanced degree in fine arts at the Teacher's College of Columbia University in New York. After graduating, he traveled to Leipzig, Germany with his young bride, May McNeer, where they settled for a year. There, Ward studied at the National Academy for the Graphic Arts, where he acquired technical knowledge of printmaking and bookmaking. An important discovery in Germany which had a great impact on his career was the work of Belgian engraver Franz Masereel, who crafted stories through woodcut illustrations. Shortly after his return to the United States in 1927, Lynd Ward began his first professional venture into wood engraving.

Ward's wood-engraved novels defied the conventional categories of his time and constitute probably the earliest manifestation of what has come to be known as the graphic novel. In his outstanding wood-engraved narratives, Ward juxtaposed the beauty and violence of life, contrasts of which his audience most certainly was aware. Today, we also can appreciate these timeless themes that evoke the struggle of the human experience. His creative achievements are honored in this exhibition which coincides with the centennial of the artist's birth.

This recent article from the academic journal Print Quarterly describes the European influences, chiefly of Frans Masereel, on Lynd Ward's woodcut novels, and Ward's stature as an innovator. Among the observations:

[T]he wordless novels played an important role in the development of narrative theory, and are the cornerstone for today's genre of wordless comics and children's wordless picture books....Gods' Man...sold 20,000 copies and went through six printings in four years. This publishing history is even more extraordinary considering that Gods' Man was published at the beginning of the Depression....The novel had an impact not only on the general public, but also on many artists at the time....With the publication of Gods' Man, Ward's reputation as a skilful engraver and the innovator of the woodcut novel in the United States was firmly established.

David A. Berona, "Wordless Novels in Woodcuts," in Print Quarterly (March 2003) Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 61-73.

Intern Jennifer A. Zitner '05 contributed to much of the research, writing, and organization of this exhibition.

Gods' Man: A Novel in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward
© 1929 by Lynd Ward. First edition.
New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, Inc., 1930
Copy 99 of the edition of 409 copies printed from the original blocks and signed by the artist.

Gods' Man, published in 1929 within one week of the New York stock market crash, was Lynd Ward's first of six wood-engraved novels. Influenced by many European artists such as Daumier, Goya, Masereel, and Nuckel, Ward was attracted to the pictorial narrative as an art form in which subject matter was predominant. In Gods' Man, the narrative depicts the travails of the young protagonist, a struggling artist. Despite the close resemblance with the character in the novel, Ward insisted that Gods' Man was not autobiographical, and that many readers - not just artists - could identify with the character. As with all of his novels, the author represented universal themes such as the often self defeating combinations of human qualities.

Gods' Man tells the story of a young artist confronted with the struggles of urban life. Based on Goethe's Faust legend, the story follows the young man as he sells his soul to the devil in exchange for artistic talent. With brush in hand, the protagonist tackles the commercial, modern city in hopes of finding fame and fortune. His new talent brings him recognition and money, but he still does not find happiness in the big city. After facing disappointments in fame, love, religion, and the law, he escapes the city to find true love and nature - but despite his apparent escape and its happy outcome, the devil returns to claim the young artist's soul that had been promised.

Set in a recognizable, contemporary world, Gods' Man makes an immediate connection with its viewers using symbolic characters to represent archetypes - the young and naïve artist, the greedy capitalist, the deceiving temptress, and corrupt authorities. These characters apparently represent the evils of a consumer society that can lead to the demise of young talent in the commercial milieu.

Madman's Drum: A Novel in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward
© 1930 by Lynd Ward. First edition.
New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, Inc., 1930
Unnumbered copy, of an edition of 309 copies printed from the original blocks and signed by the artist

Ward's second woordless novel chronicles the life of a man tormented by various misfortunes and death. Ward hoped that Madman's Drum would be an extension of many of the themes suggested in Gods' Man. In this novel, Ward develops further dimensions of each of the characters. He explores human relationships such as those between child and parent, and man and wife. The story follows the protagonist from childhood through old age, and the misfortunes he and his family face. We see the triumph of sin, evil, and death over everyone in his life and, ultimately, himself.


Madman's Drum unfolds in an unspecified European setting in the distant past. The reader follows the life of an unfortunate character who faces only disappointment in his life. The story begins with his father's discovery of a drum - which forms a visual motif for the novel's themes - once belonging to a slave from Africa. Seeking order and meaning in his studies, he is distraught by the constant chaos and death that surrounds him. Throughout his life he is confronted with the injustices that befall his loved ones. He hopes to be able to save them by finding answers in his books, but his efforts are to no avail. Corruption and accidents claim the honor and lives of his entire family. Realizing there are no rational answers to the chaos of his life, he goes mad and ultimately faces the triumph of death.

Song Without Words: A Book of Engravings on Wood by Lynd Ward
© 1936 by Lynd Ward. First edition.
New York: Random House, Inc.; printed by the L. F. White Co., and bound by H. Wolff, 1936
Copy 1083 of the edition of 1250 copies printed from the original blocks and signed by the artist

These nine impressions from Song Without Words were printed ca. 1980 by Alex Weedon Haynes, Ward's grandson, from the original wood-engraved blocks. Two are inscribed by May McNeer and signed by Lynd Ward.

Acknowledgments: 

Intern Jennifer A. Zitner '05 contributed to much of the research, writing, and organization of this exhibition.