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World Libraries | Volume 19 | Issues 1-2 | Follett6

Storyteller without Words: The Graphic Novels of Lynd Ward
The Sixth Follett Lecture, Graduate School of Library and Information Science,
Dominican University, 14 April 2010
Steven L. Herb

Abstract

This paper examines the life and artistic training of one of the grandfathers of the graphic novel — book illustrator, Lynd Ward. Author of 1929’s Gods’ Man and five other wordless novels in the 1930s, Ward was also one of the most sought after children’s book illustrators of the mid–twentieth century. The significance of Ward’s work in the development of the graphic novel and last century’s transformation of children’s literature are both addressed, as is the profound influence of Ward’s father, social and religious activist, Harry Ward.

Introduction

Lynd Kendall Ward was born in Chicago on June 26, 1905, the second child of Harry Frederick and Daisy Kendall Ward. He was named for Lyndhurst, England where young Harry lived for a time with his aunts to recuperate from ills created by a rheumatic heart.

Lynd’s family lived near the stockyards in Chicago because his Methodist minister father was active in Jane Addams’ settlement house movement. He was sickly as an infant that first hot summer and his parents made a bold decision on behalf of his health and moved to a newly built log cabin on Lonely Lake in the Ontario wilderness north of the Great Lakes, a property still in the family over a century later.

Young Lynd thrived in the woods each summer and his health remained strong as the family returned each fall to the more manageable city. (See Figure 1: Lynd Ward as a toddler in Ontario.) Those days spent in Canada would bring him a lifetime of joy and inspiration, providing settings for many of his books.

 

Figure 1: Lynd Ward as a toddler in Ontario
Figure 1: Photo of young Lynd Ward on the family dock at Lonely Lake, Ontario.
Source: Courtesy of Robin Ward Savage.

 

Lynd decided that he would become an artist when, in the first grade, he realized that the word draw was “Ward” spelled backwards. Unlike all the firemen and cowboys who grow up to be librarians and sewer plant operators, Ward followed through and became one of the foremost graphic artists and children’s book illustrators of the twentieth century.

Will Eisner, the father of the graphic novel, calls Ward’s work “a forerunner of the modern graphic novel. He [Ward] stands out as perhaps the most provocative graphic storyteller in this century” (Eisner, 1996, p. 141).

Childhood/Education

Lynd Ward wrote, “In the Methodist parsonage in which I grew up it was against regulations to play baseball on Sunday, or to indulge in any of the other games that were encouraged on other days of the week. It was also forbidden to read the ‘funny papers’ on Sunday. Books, however, were allowed, and drawing pictures was, happily for me, not ruled out. Limiting though they seemed at the time, in the perspective of later years these strictures on Sunday afternoons now seem not altogether negative in their results, for both books and drawing took on a special aura that they might otherwise have never had” (Ward, 1974, p. 9).

In third grade Lynd made a sign for his school desk —

Lynd Ward, Artist
Pictures Painted While You Wait

But his brief foray into commercial art brought no customers (McNeer, 1953, p. 291). Lynd remembered that when he was small his father gave him the assignment of mapping the area around their cabin in Ontario — an assignment he was delighted to have because he loved to draw, but also because he saw the jealousy on his brother’s and sister’s faces as they attended to the more mundane chores of dishwashing and table setting (Ward, 1974, p. 9).

He studied art at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he did many of the drawings for the Columbia Jester and served as editor–in–chief during his senior year. Those four years at Columbia were spent largely in the theoretical study of design, methods of teaching (Ward’s father wanted him to have the security that the teaching profession would provide), and the history of art (Pitz, 1955).

He married journalism major May Yonge McNeer the week both received their diplomas and sailed for Europe to begin Lynd’s studies at the National Academy for Graphic Arts in Leipzig, Germany. At the Academy, Ward was taught the art of wood engraving by Hans Alexander Müeller. He also studied German every night and made use the next day of everything he had learned, much to the amusement of his fellow students.

Over the course of his career, Ward illustrated over a hundred children’s books, and about a third were collaborations with the versatile May McNeer. (See Figure 2: Photo of Lynd and May with daughters Nanda (left) and Robin.) McNeer was a widely respected writer and a second bread–winner for the family. She proudly told her daughters once that her book, The California Gold Rush from the Landmark series, put them both through college (Savage, 2010).

 

Figure 2: Photo of Lynd and May with daughters Nanda (left) and Robin
Figure 2: Photo (from left to right) of Nanda Ward, Lynd Ward, May McNeer Ward, and Robin Ward.
Source: Courtesy of Robin Ward Savage.

 

While the newlyweds were browsing in a bookstore in Europe, Ward came upon Die Sonne (The Sun) by the Belgian engraver Frans Masereel, which told a story in woodcuts, and also proved to be a life–changing inspiration. Born on July 30, 1889 in Blankenberge, Belgium of Flemish parents Masereel once wrote, “I don’t think I have been subject to ‘influences,’ for it’s from nature that I draw. What counts for me is to be honest, sincere with myself and with others” (Avermaete, 1977, p. 28). Largely self–taught, Masereel would become one of the world’s outstanding graphic artists.

Lynd Ward was inspired by Masereel’s talent and his subject matter. It was a perfect match with Ward’s own philosophy that grew from Lynd’s respect for his father’s view of the world. The Ward family held a passionate sensitivity to the plight of the people in the world who had less. Lynd’s wood engraving novels and his prints would represent his lifetime search for answers about the condition of humankind and his way of sharing that search with others. He never explained his work. His response when anyone asked, “What did you mean by this?” was, “It isn’t what I intended that matters, it is what you see in it that counts” (Savage, 2010). He also rarely numbered his prints. He remembered how he felt when he couldn’t afford to buy anything on his meager early earnings. His prices for prints over the years have been remarkably low and his numbered prints rare.

Father

Harry F. Ward was a Methodist minister, social activist, and (eventually) the head of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. A leading figure in both the religious and political world on the left, he was a founding member and the first chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union. Henry Sloane Coffin, President of the UTS during Ward’s tenure, once wrote of him, “The wretched plight of the underprivileged in this land of plenty had entered into his soul” (Rassinow, 2005, p. 68).

When asked if her grandfather was proud of Lynd’s work, especially since the content of his art often emulated the philosophy of Harry’s work, Robin Ward Savage answered, “I think he was. He certainly saw my father’s heart and soul and social consciousness in all of his work” (Savage, 2010).

Gods’ Man

Henry Pitz wrote in American Artist in 1955:

“There have been a great many who deserve some share of credit for [the first half of the 20th century] revolution in book–art; illustrators, designers, editors, publishers, librarians, lovers of books, and a receptive audience of book buyers. But let us give major credit to the illustrators and designers, for many of them were prophetic about the future, back in the period of indecision, and were ready with taste, talent and craftsmanship when the times began to move with them. Lynd Ward has been an important name in this group.

He won a foothold in the professional world at the right time, when the conception of the book as a completely designed entity was beginning to make headway. He came equipped, not only with his native pictorial gifts and his qualities of serious idealism and devotion but with a technical knowledge of book structure and design acquired at the National Academy for Graphic Arts in Leipzig. His apprenticeship at the Academy was a brief one of only eight months but it gave him a sense of fundamental craftsmanship that could not have been acquired in any school in this country at the time.

[His training at Columbia was good] but Ward’s instincts questioned an atmosphere that implied that art was something private and removed from life. But at Leipzig, under his professors Hans Alexander Müeller, Alois Kolb, and George Mathey, he saw a constant production of work that was absorbed into the life of the community. He felt that he had encountered a philosophy that fitted his own temperament and talents” (Pitz, 1955, pp. 32–33).

Through his training in Leipzig and his exposure to Masereel, Ward was inspired to create Gods’ Man: A Novel in Woodcuts (1929), his first graphic novel and the first novel–length story told in wood engravings to be published in the United States (See Figure 3: Title page print from Gods’ Man). He would go on to publish five additional novels using wood engraving in the 1930s – Mad Man’s Drum, Wild Pilgrimage, Prelude to a Million Years, Song without Words, and Vertigo. In the autumn of 2010, the Library of America re–issued the six novels in a two–volume boxed set entitled Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts, the first time the nonprofit publisher has included a graphic novelist in its award–winning series. It includes Ward’s brief commentary about his novels from Storyteller without Words: The Wood Engravings of Lynd Ward (1974), several of his essays about wood engraving, a detailed bibliography and biographical chronology, and an essay by Art Spiegelman, “Reading Pictures: A Few Thousand Words on Six Books Without Any,” that speaks to the importance of Ward’s work (See Figure 4: The Library of America boxed set of Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts).

 

Figure 3: Title page print from Gods' Man
Figure 3: Original print illustration from the title page of Lynd Ward’s Gods’ Man: A Novel in Woodcuts (Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith), 1929.
Source: Used by permission.

 

Gods’ Man: A Novel in Woodcuts was published in October 1929 by Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, the week that also saw the crash of the stock market. Despite that terrible timing, Gods’ Man went through six printings in four years and sold over 20,000 copies. Masereel’s work was not generally known outside of Europe, so the uniqueness of this first work of its kind published in America caught the fancy of many Americans (Beronä, 2003, p. 66). It was a ground–breaking book hailed widely today for its importance in the development of the graphic novel.

 

Figure 4: Library of America boxed set of Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts
Figure 4: Image of Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts, published by the Library of America, 2010.
Source: Used by permission.

 

Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, calls “woodcut artist Lynd Ward [...] a missing link in the development of the graphic novel. Ward’s silent ‘woodcut novels’ are powerful modern fables, now praised by comic book artists, but seldom recognized as comics. Artists like Ward and Belgian Frans Masereel said much through their woodcuts about the potential of comics, but few in the comics community of the day could get the message. Their definition of comics, then as now, was simply too narrow to include such work” (McCloud, 1993, p. 18).

Lynd Ward was twenty–four years old when he created his Faustian tale, Gods’ Man in 139 woodblocks. Twenty–four years later, at his acceptance speech for the Randolph Caldecott Medal, he said, “Gods’ Man was based essentially on the argument that creative talent is the result of a bargain in which the chance to create is exchanged for the blind promise of an early grave. This theory of course was the result of a youthful brooding over the lives of such diverse characters as Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse–Lautrec, Keats, Shelley, and Aubrey Beardsley. But, having long since passed the age implicit in that theory of the quick ascent, the bright light, and the speedy fall, I naturally have some doubts as to whether I should be here at all” (Ward, 1953, pp. 299–300).

About Gods’ Man, Ward’s editor Robert Ballou wrote, “I had thought of it all along chiefly as a collection of beautiful wood–engravings without much thought of its narrative value, but I found myself moved with sudden emotion as the thing went along quite as definitely as I have ever been in reading a story in words, but the emotion was more poignant and quick. There is no question that your medium has narrative qualities of which words are incapable. I felt shaken when I had put aside the last page, as though I had just had an utterly new and rather awful (in the best sense of the word) experience” (Ballou, 1929, p. 66). (See Figures 522: A sampling from opening section of Gods’ Man that establishes the story)

 

Figure 5: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 6: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 7: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 8: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 9: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 10: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 11: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 12: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 13: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 14: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 15: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 16: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 17: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 18: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 19: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 20: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 21: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figure 22: A sampling of the first section of Gods' Man
Figures 5 to 22: A sampling of the first section of Gods’ Man that shows the artist’s arrival in a new land, the disposition of his last coin to a beggar, a meal he cannot pay for, and the resultant connection to the mysterious stranger who offers him a life–changing contract.
Source: Used by permission.

 

The Process

“Wood engraving is at once the simplest and one of the most exquisite forms of printmaking. The print is made, first, by engraving the reversed design or picture to be printed into the mirror–smooth surface of a block of end–grain wood” (Society of Wood Engravers, 2011). Although Lynd Ward called his early works woodcut novels, he was always a practitioner of wood engraving. Robin Ward Savage recalls that Lynd came to prefer to describe his novels as “pictorial narratives” over time (Savage, 2010). (See Figure 23: Photo of Lynd Ward in his studio)

 

Figure 23: Photograph of Lynd Ward in his studio
Figure 23: Photograph of Lynd Ward in his studio.
Source: Courtesy of Robin Ward Savage.

 

Sometimes Ward would sketch in pencil, but he would eventually draw the image on the block in India ink, in reverse of how he wished the final print to appear. When finished with the drawing, Ward coated the block with printer’s ink to darken it, but with the sketched image still appearing through the layer of ink.

He then began to use his engraving tools to scrape and cut and pull the pieces of wood from the image that would allow the black and white contrasts of the drawing to begin to emerge. Wood engravers once used boxwood imported from Turkey or Venezuela, but it became too expensive and Ward moved on to maple. When the engraved image is completed, the artist rolls the block with ink on its top surface and pulls a print onto paper from the block. “The cuts that were made into the wood therefore come out as white, the remaining top surface which gets inked, as black; the artist is, in effect, drawing with light — with a white mark as opposed to the black mark that comes from a pencil, brush or pen” (Society of Wood Engravers, 2011). (See Figures 2431: Photographs of Lynd Ward drawing an image in ink, engraving different blocks of wood, and pulling a print)

 

Figure 24: Photograph of Lynd Ward drawing an image in ink
Figure 25: Photograph of Lynd Ward with tools
Figure 26: Photograph of Lynd Ward at work
Figure 27: Photograph of Lynd Ward at work
Figure 28: Photograph of Lynd Ward engraving block of wood
Figure 29: Photograph of Lynd Ward at work
Figure 30: Photograph of Lynd Ward at the press
Figure 31: Photograph of Lynd Ward at the press
Figures 24 to 31: Photographs of Lynd Ward drawing an image in ink, engraving blocks of wood, and pulling a print. For an excellent and succinct essay entitled, “What is Wood Engraving,” see http://www.woodengravers.co.uk/what.html at the Society of Wood Engravers.
Source: Courtesy of Robin Ward Savage.

 

Over time, Ward was held in such high regard as the preeminent wood engraver in America that he is the only featured artist in the wood engraving section of the industry’s standard textbook, The Complete Printmaker: Techniques, Traditions, Innovations by Ross, Romano, and Ross (1972). A photo of Lynd’s right hand gripping his graver is a wonderful reminder of the nature of the wood engraver’s art — it is, at its heart, a working man’s enterprise (See Figure 32: Lynd Ward holding his graver from The Complete Printmaker).

 

Figure 32: Photograph of Lynd Ward's hand and his graver
Figure 32: Photograph of Lynd Ward’s hand and his graver from The Complete Printmaker by Ross, Romano, and Ross, 1972.
Source: Courtesy of Robin Ward Savage.

 

The Wood Engraving Novels from the 1930s

Mad Man’s Drum was published in 1930 by Cape and Smith. Lynd Ward wrote, “Events as shattering as the Sacco–Vanzetti murder trial and as privately upsetting as my awareness (when I was growing up) that there is often a tragic gulf between a man’s professional success and the reality of his family life — these were all a part of the curious process whereby a handful of disparate happenings became links in a chain ...” (Ward, 1974, p. 78). (See Figures 33 & 34: Title page and illustration from Mad Man’s Drum)

 

Figure 33: Title page from Mad Man's Drum
Figure 34: Illustration from Mad Man's Drum
Figures 33 to 34: Original illustration of title page and a content page from the dummy of Mad Man’s Drum by Lynd Ward.
Source: Courtesy of Robin Ward Savage.

 

Ward’s complex story about relationships actually ended up with twenty fewer engravings than Gods’ Man. He sought “to develop a wider range of tool work and utilized small round gravers to break up a dark area with small jabs of the tool, thus achieving a variety both of tonal effect and textural quality. At the same time, I put more emphasis on decorative patterns in such things as dress material and the walls of interiors, which I hoped would not only result in richer and more varied impact from block to block but also help the reader identify recurring characters and backgrounds more readily as the story developed” (Beronä, 2002, p. 110–11).

In Wild Pilgrimage (Harrison Smith & Robert Haas, 1932), Ward explores the madness — or sanity — of when the daily grind becomes suddenly more abrasive than anyone should be asked to endure, and the urge to pick up and go becomes irresistible. He employed a new technique in the book where black–and–white prints represented the external world and off–red tints moved the reader inside the protagonist’s head (See Figure 35: Internal thought of the protagonist in Wild Pilgrimage).

 

Figure 35: Original illustration from Wild Pilgrimage by Lynd Ward
Figure 35: Original illustration from Wild Pilgrimage by Lynd Ward — note the color indicating this was one of the illustrated thoughts of the protagonist.
Source: Used by permission.

 

Ward viewed Prelude to a Million Years: A Book of Wood Engravings (Equinox Cooperative Press, 1933) as a footnote to Gods’ Man, an acknowledgement that changes had occurred. He wrote, “Our daily fare in those years, served up with scare headlines every morning, was a never–ending story of strikes, lay–offs, lock–outs, demonstrations, counter–demonstrations, and parades, all interlarded with polemical speeches. Inevitably a process of polarization of the citizenry was set in motion ...” (Ward, 1974, p. 178).

Ward founded Equinox Press, a cooperative for established figures in the New York book publishing world — printers, publishers, book artists. Although short–lived, the work of Equinox was admired by book creators and collectors. Prelude was a small volume of thirty images printed directly from the woodblocks on a beautiful rag paper. Each volume of the limited edition run was bound by hand (See Figures 36 & 37: Hand bound Prelude to a Million Years and one illustration).

 

Figure 36: First edition binding of Prelude to a Million Years by Lynd Ward
Figure 37: An original illustration from Prelude to a Million Years by Lynd Ward
Figures 36 to 37: First edition binding and an original illustration from Prelude to a Million Years by Lynd Ward.
Source: Used by permission.

 

Ward wrote, “[B]y the summer of 1936 it was impossible for anyone, artist or not, to remain ignorant of the fact that the world was in trouble and that trouble seemed to be getting worse” (Ward, 1974, p. 191). Song Without Words (Random House, 1936) was Lynd Ward’s prose poem (in twenty–one blocks) that faced the ominous shadow of Fascism and “questioned the morality and wisdom of bringing children into a world that already proved how many hazards it could provide for the newborn — how many varied fates it held in store for those who had the audacity to survive babyhood” (Ward, 1974, p. 192). It is an especially poignant topic when one realizes that Lynd and May were considering having another child (Savage, 2010) — it was a work of personal soul–searching where love wins out in the book and in the birth of their daughter Robin (See Figures 3845: Several of the horrifying reasons to not have a baby in 1936, trumped by love and a child, from Song Without Words).

 

Figure 38: Original illustration from Song Without Words by Lynd Ward
Figure 39: Original illustration from Song Without Words by Lynd Ward
Figure 40: Original illustration from Song Without Words by Lynd Ward
Figure 41: Original illustration from Song Without Words by Lynd Ward
Figure 42: Original illustration from Song Without Words by Lynd Ward
Figure 43: Original illustration from Song Without Words by Lynd Ward
Figure 44: Original illustration from Song Without Words by Lynd Ward
Figure 45: Original illustration from Song Without Words by Lynd Ward
Figures 38 to 45: Original illustrations from Song Without Words by Lynd Ward.
Source: Used by permission.

 

David Beronä wrote: “Finally, in his woodcut novels Ward documented the injustices in the American economic and social system during the Depression era. Ironically, the social ills Ward displayed in his woodcut novels [seventy–five] years ago are evident in today’s culture. Though not as readily visible as the soup lines, today’s economic uncertainties, the breakup of the family, shortage of traditional blue–collar jobs and a general sense of spiritual isolation are realities just as crucial as they were for Americans during the 1930s” (Beronä, 2002, p. 117).

It was only fitting that Lynd Ward was named director of the graphic arts division of the Federal Writers Project in New York City from 1937–39.

Other than a World War II stint assembling gyroscopes for the Bendix Aviation Corporation, Lynd Ward made his living as an artist. His favorite work was when he was able to create an independent print to convey something he was feeling or something he wanted to say. As he wrote in Storyteller without Words, “[A]s the term suggests, the independent print is that fragile piece of printed paper that results when an artist uses one of the many available graphic techniques to create something that exists entirely for its own sake. Quite as much as any painting in oil or watercolor, the print is its own reason for being” (Ward, 1974, p. 307).

Ward’s view of the art he created using wood engraving took on an interesting perspective: “[T]he undeniable fact [is] that working with a woodblock takes on the aspects of a struggle between antagonists. The wood is reluctant, the artist determined, and it is reasonable to suggest that the battle of wills brings about a result quite different from those media in which the hand of the artist moves brush or pencil or crayon freely over the working surface. With wood, every movement of the tool involves overcoming resistance and demands the use of a certain amount of sheer physical force. Every block and every subject is a new challenge. The result is an emotional involvement between man and material that, enduring over the years, somehow takes on the character of an addiction, or a love affair, or something similarly irrational. At any rate, there seems to be no known cure” (Ward, 1974, p. 15–16).

Children’s Books

Lynd Ward was a prolific children’s book illustrator. During the middle part of the 20th Century he was among the most sought after artists working in the field. His remarkable output included illustrations for five Newbery Honor books as well as the illustrations for two Newbery winners – The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan, 1930) and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (Houghton Mifflin, 1943). Ward has been associated with more Newbery award books than any other children’s book creator [2].

Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward’s wonderful collaboration on The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge (Harcourt Brace, 1942) is not only still in print today, but is credited with saving Manhattan’s only lighthouse, the Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge. The crimson lighthouse, with its blinking light and fog bell, operated from 1921, when it was moved from New Jersey and placed at the edge of Fort Washington Park, until 1932, when the lights of the “great gray bridge,” drowned out its beam. When the plans to auction off the lighthouse became known, the public outcry forced the Coast Guard to donate it to the city instead. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, in 2002 it was fitted with a new lens to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the book that helped save it (Lodge, 2002, p. 28).

While Ward sketched the bridge and lighthouse in early 1942, May stood lookout with the book’s contract in her purse in case the military guards assigned to most federal facilities following the attack on Pearl Harbor would get suspicious (Savage, 2010).

Sara Willoughby–Herb has taught young children for over four decades and one of her favorite stories involves this very book. A tough little preschooler named Matthew was the son of a pig farmer and he didn’t let much bother him. He was listening to her read the book one day — the parts about the little red lighthouse growing sadder and sadder at his uselessness as the great gray bridge takes over the lighthouse’s role. At this page:

“Now I am needed no longer, thought the little red lighthouse. My light is so little and this one so big!

Perhaps they will give me up.

Perhaps they will tear me down.

Perhaps they will forget to turn my light on!

That night it stood waiting and waiting.

It felt glum and anxious and queer.

The night drew darker and darker.

Why did the man not come?

The little red lighthouse could neither speak nor shine” (Swift, 1942, unpaged).

Matthew squirmed and fidgeted and finally called out, “Stop. I can’t stand it anymore!” and threw his head in the lap of a teacher’s aide, sobbing uncontrollably (Willoughby–Herb, 2009). (See Figure 46: Cover of The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Swift and Ward)

 

Figure 46: Cover of The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
Figure 46: Cover of The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, by Hildegarde H. Swift and illustrated by Lynd Ward (published by Harcourt, Brace in 1942).

 

Ward’s work with Hildegarde Hoyt Swift is especially noteworthy in capturing their mutual respect for all the people of the world and in highlighting the struggles of the individual against whatever power was attempting to suppress individuality. Swift’s maternal grandmother, Louise Woodcock, was one of the founders of the Bank Street College of Education, which had a profound effect on the development of children’s literature in the middle part of the twentieth century. Swift’s husband, Arthur, was a professor at Union Theological Seminary with Harry Ward, Lynd’s father.

Ward once said, “Although I have a special fondness for wood engraving, I would not want to limit myself to that one medium alone, and I feel that working in materials such as watercolor, oil, lithography and brush drawing in black and white has an important effect on my work in wood when I return to it after a sojourn with a less obdurate medium. It is partly a matter of side–tracking the human tendency to fall into ruts — in the way we think, in the way we solve our problems of both subject matter and rendering. It is also a matter, I believe, of being challenged to try to get in wood some of the freer qualities of the more easily manipulated materials” (Pitz, 1955, p. 34).

The Biggest Bear

The Biggest Bear tells the story of young Johnny Orchard who wishes his barn had a bear skin drying on its wall like everyone else’s does. When he goes out looking for one with his gun he finds an adorable cub with a strong interest in maple sugar. The cub grows into an insatiable consumption machine, much to the consternation of Johnny’s family and neighbors (1952).

The Biggest Bear received many positive reviews following its release in late 1952. Booklist called it “a perfect collaboration between Lynd Ward, distinguished artist, and Lynd Ward, writer. [T]his first story written for small children has everything they will love — imagination, humor, excitement, and beautiful and dramatic full–page illustrations” (Book Review Digest, 1952, p. 928). Library Journal said, “The monochrome effect is handled with stunning variety of tone values, and handsomely printed. It all manages to be both funny and beautiful” (Book Review Digest, 1952, p. 928). Horn Book Magazine captured the artist’s remarkable strength in its review, “This is one of my favorite books of the year. Mr. Ward has told a story full of action, suspense and humor, in the fewest possible words (not another word is needed and not one should be left out)” (Lindquist, 1953, p. 45). (See Figure 47: Original illustration from The Biggest Bear)

 

Figure 47: Original illustration of Johnny Orchard and the bear from The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward
Figure 47: Original illustration of Johnny Orchard and the bear from The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward.
Source: Courtesy of Robin Ward Savage.

 

The library community agreed with the accolades for The Biggest Bear. That spring of 1953, Lynd Ward received the Randolph Caldecott Medal given to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children by the Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association (See Figures 48 & 49: The Randolph Caldecott Medal given to Lynd Ward for The Biggest Bear in 1953).

 

Figure 48: Front of the Randolph Caldecott Medal awarded to Lynd Ward for The Biggest Bear
Figure 49: Back of the Randolph Caldecott Medal awarded to Lynd Ward for The Biggest Bear
Figures 48 to 49: The front and back of the Randolph Caldecott Medal awarded to Lynd Ward for The Biggest Bear in 1953.
Source: Courtesy of Robin Ward Savage.

 

The furry book shown in Figures 50 & 51 is an actual bear–bound copy of The Biggest Bear presented to Mr. Ward by his publisher, Houghton Mifflin. He once said it was the only book that the family dog, Boots, ever liked (Ward, 1953, p. 298). (See Figures 50 & 51 of the bear–bound The Biggest Bear).

 

Figure 50: Photo of the bear-bound edition of The Biggest Bear
Figure 51: Photo of the bear-bound edition of The Biggest Bear
Figures 50 to 51: Photos of the bear–bound edition of The Biggest Bear presented to Lynd Ward by his publisher, Houghton Mifflin, in December 1952.
Source: Courtesy of Robin Ward Savage.

 

The painter Joseph H. Lindsley wrote in 1976: ”At the end of many hours and days all my thoughts keep returning to one inescapable fact: Lynd Ward is a man with profound and abiding concern for the human spirit. And just as inescapable is the fact that having said that about a man, there is little else that needs to be said. To see his work is to know the man; to know the man is to enrich your life“ (Lindsley, 1976, p. 35).

Notes

1. This lecture was a delivered with an accompanying slide show of 100 images. To help capture the feel of the lecture and to show the amazing work of Lynd Ward, I have included fifty–two of those images. All images are used in connection with this World Libraries paper and cannot be reproduced, retransmitted, or reused in another form without permission from Penn State University or Robin Ward Savage. Contact information can be provided by writing to the author at slh18 [at] psu [dot] edu.

2. In addition to illustrating the two Newbery Medal winning books, Lynd Ward illustrated five Newbery Honor Books:

  • Little Black Nose (1930)
  • Spice and the Devil’s Cave (1931)
  • Bright Island (1938)
  • Runner of the Mountain Tops (1940)
  • Fog Magic (1944)

References

Avermaete, Roger. Frans Masereel. New York: Fonds Mercator/Rizzoli, 1977.

Ballou, Robert. Letter to Lynd Ward dated 30 August 1929. Lynd Ward and May McNeer Papers, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. Cited in David A. Beronä. “Wordless Novels in Woodcuts.” Print Quarterly 20, no. 1 (March 2003): 61–74.

Beronä, David A. “The Woodcut Novels of Lynd Ward.” Matrix: A Review for Printers and Bibliophiles, no. 22 (2002): 105–21.

Coatsworth, Elizabeth. The Cat Who Went to Heaven. Illustrated by Lynd Ward. New York: Macmillan, 1930.

Eisner, Will. Graphic Storytelling. Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse, 1996.

Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain, A Novel for Old and Young. Illustrated by Lynd Ward. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1943.

Hindsley, Joseph H. “On Lynd Ward.” Bibliognost: The Book Collectors Little Magazine: Special Lynd Ward Issue 2, no. 2 (1976): 35.

Lindquist, Jennie D. Horn Book Magazine 29, no.1 (February, 1953): 45.

Lodge, Sally. “A Lighthouse Shines Again,” Publishers Weekly 249, no. 42 (2002): 28.

Masereel, Frans. Die Sonne. Munich, Germany: Kurt Wolff, 1926.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993.

McNeer, May. The California Gold Rush. Illustrated by Lynd Ward. New York: Random House, 1950.

——. “Lynd Ward.” Horn Book Magazine 29, no. 3 (August 1953): 291–296.

Pitz, Henry C. “The Illustrations of Lynd Ward.” American Artist 19, no. 3 (March 1955): 32–37.

Rassinow, Doug. “The Radicalization of the Social Gospel: Harry F. Ward and the Search for a New Social Order, 1898–1936,” Religion and American Culture 15, no. 1 (Winter 2005): 63–106.

“Review of The Biggest Bear by Lynd Kendall Ward.” Book Review Digest 48 (1952): 928.

Ross, John, Clare Romano, and Tim Ross. The Complete Printmaker: Techniques, Traditions, Innovations. New York: Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 1972.

Savage, Robin Ward. Telephone interview, January 5, 2010.

Society of Wood Engravers. “What is Wood Engraving,” Society of Wood Engravers. http://www.woodengravers.co.uk/what.html (accessed 28 July 2011).

Swift, Hildegarde. The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. Illustrated by Lynd Ward. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1942.

Ward, Lynd. “Caldecott Award Acceptance.” Horn Book Magazine 29, no. 3 (August 1953): 297–303.

——. Gods’ Man. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1929.

——. Mad Man’s Drum. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1930.

——. Prelude to a Million Years: A Book of Wood Engravings. New York: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1933.

——. Song Without Words. New York: Random House, 1936.

——. Storyteller Without Words: The Wood Engravings of Lynd Ward. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1974.

——. Wild Pilgrimage. New York: Harrison Smith & Robert Haas, 1932.

Willoughby–Herb, Sara. Personal anecdote, November 2009.

Acknowledgements

Most of the images used in association with this article are part of the Lynd Ward collection of wood engravings, original book illustrations, and other graphic art donated to the Penn State University Libraries by his daughters, Robin Ward Savage and Nanda Weedon Ward. The remaining items were provided by Robin Ward Savage. All are used with permission.

The Penn State University Libraries and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book now present the annual Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize which honors Ward’s seminal influence in the development of the graphic novel. Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines (AdHouse Books) was the inaugural winner in 2011. Set to Sea by Drew Weing (Fantagraphics) was the sole honor book.

Thanks also to Sandra Stelts, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, and Timothy Babcock, Coordinator of the Waring Archives of the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, for their assistance accessing and researching the Lynd Ward collection at Penn State University. And also to Rosa Freeman Frank, bibliographic/research intern at the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, and Suzanne Shamrock, volunteer extraordinaire at the Education and Behavioral Sciences Library at Penn State.

On the evening of the lecture, April 14, 2010, I acknowledged the generosity of the Follett Corporation and thanked President and CEO Christopher Traut who introduced me for my third and final Follett Lecture. I also thanked Dominican University President Donna M. Carroll for her ongoing support. I also expressed appreciation to Dr. Susan Roman, the Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican, for her friendship and the opportunities provided by my appointment as the Follett Chair. And, finally, I acknowledged the presence of Kara Robertson, Penn State graduate and an Internet Librarian at Vivisimo in Pittsburgh. Kara was the first intern and the first full–time employee of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book at Penn State.

About the author

Steven L. Herb is head of the Education and Behavioral Sciences Library and affiliate professor of Language, Culture and Society in the College of Education at Penn State University. Dr. Herb is also the director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. From 2007 to 2010, he held the Follett Chair in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University, the third professor to hold the appointment. Herb is the chair of the 2012 Randolph Caldecott Committee for the Association for Library Service to Children of the American Library Association. Mr. Ward won the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book of the year in 1953 for The Biggest Bear.

E–mail: slh18 [at] psu [dot] edu



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