Zimmerli Art Museum At Rutgers Spotlights Graphic Novel Pioneer Lynd Ward

Image: Lynd Ward (American, 1905-1985). “… Davey dove head-first off the springboard” from Nic of the Woods, ca. 1965. Illustration design: gouache. Gift of the artist. Photo Peter Jacobs.

Image: Lynd Ward (American, 1905-1985). “… Davey dove head-first off the springboard” from Nic of the Woods, ca. 1965. Illustration design: gouache. Gift of the artist. Photo Peter Jacobs.

NEW BRUNSWICK – The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers pays tribute to one of America’s great illustrators of the 20th century with “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods.”

A gifted artist-storyteller, Ward illustrated more than 100 books, most of them for children and young adults. Featured in the exhibition are 37 of Ward’s captivating original and printed illustrations selected from the Zimmerli’s collection. On view from July 7 through June 23, 2013, this exhibition is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, as well as during first Wednesday evenings of the month. To reserve a class or group tour Tuesday through Sunday, contact the Education Department, 1-732-932-7237, ext. 615, at least two weeks in advance.

Selected from the Zimmerli’s extensive collection of original children’s book illustrations, this exhibition includes captivating original and printed illustrations for The Biggest Bear (1952), The Mexican Story (1953), America’s Mark Twain (1962), Nic of the Woods (1965), Early Thunder (1967), and Go Tim Go! (1967).

Twenty drawings, watercolors, and lithographic proofs for The Mexican Story – a sweeping history from the Aztec civilization to the 1950s – furnish important insights into Ward’s creative process. A prolific draftsman and printmaker, particularly in wood engraving, Ward pioneered the American graphic novel without text, which he called a “novel in woodcuts” for adults. His earliest books, Gods’ Man (1929) and Mad Man’s Drum (1930), exemplify this genre and also are on display in the exhibition.

Born in 1905 in Chicago, Ward spent his childhood in Illinois and Massachusetts, then graduated from high school in Englewood, New Jersey. According to family lore, upon discovering that his last name spells “draw” backwards, the youngster decided to become an artist. Ward’s father, a Methodist minister who favored social activism championing civil liberties, provided a moral upbringing that shaped his son’s views on society.

Ward studied fine arts at Columbia Teachers College in New York City. After graduating in 1926, he married fellow student May McNeer. They traveled to Europe, where Ward studied printmaking and book design at the National Academy of Graphic Arts in Leipzig, Germany. While abroad, Ward encountered prints and books that powerfully influenced his graphic style and inspired him to create his earliest books, which, in turn, launched the American graphic novel. Gods’ Man and Mad Man’s Drum were modern morality tales about ambition and greed that quickly became popular with readers during the Great Depression. This success prompted four more visionary graphic novels, including Vertigo (1937), Ward’s last and largest in the genre (Ward’s daughters donated a set of the extant woodblocks to the Rutgers University Libraries).

Starting in the 1930s, Ward began creating picture books for younger readers, while also fulfilling commissions to illustrate literary classics. The Biggest Bear brought Ward the prestigious Caldecott Medal, America’s highest award for children’s book illustration. This honor encouraged him to create more books for younger audiences, including The Mexican Story, America’s Mark Twain, and Go Tim Go!, collaborations with his wife May McNeer, who wrote the text. In 1979, Ward retired to Reston, Virginia, where he died in 1985.

This exhibition, organized by Marilyn Symmes, Director, Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings, with Beth McKeown, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, was based in part on work by Gail Aaron, former Assistant Curator for Children’s Illustrations at the Zimmerli. These Lynd Ward children’s book illustrations were donated by May McNeer Ward to Rutgers on her husband’s behalf; in 1985 the Rutgers University Libraries transferred them to the Zimmerli Art Museum.

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