The Wolfsonian-Florida International University museum’s collections acquisition committee met earlier this week to review a number of prospective gifts and strategic purchases of rare materials intended to fill in some gaps and build on the strengths of our rare book and special collections library. Today’s blog post will feature just of few of these additions: books and periodicals illustrated by the American artist, Lynd Ward (1905-1985) which have now become part of the patrimony of the state.

The son of the politically outspoken Methodist minister, Harry F. Ward, young Lynd was drawn to art early on, reputedly when he discovered in the first grade that his last name in reverse spelled “draw.” Ward followed through on that early dream of becoming an artist by studying the fine arts at Columbia Teacher’s College in New York. After graduation, Ward and his new bride traveled to Europe in 1926, where Ward studied printmaking and book design at the National Academy of Graphic Arts, Leipzig.  It was there that Ward encountered a book designed by Belgian engraver Frans Masereel that was to inspire him to publish the graphic novels for which he won fame.

Ward’s first “wordless novel,” God’s Man, is the story of a struggling young artist’s Faustian bargain with Death told entirely through pictures made by the artist’s wood engravings.

Published in the same week as the Stock Market Crash in October 1929, the black and white images detailing the corrupting influence of money must have struck a chord with many ordinary Americans still reeling from the revelations of the economic disaster on Wall Street. The Wolfsonian possesses copies of this and the five other graphic novels he produced over the course of a lifetime, and a couple of dozen other books and ephemeral items featuring his designs and illustrations.

Always eager to find and add other works with Ward illustrations to the library, I happened to discover a few such items to complement our collection. The first is North Star Shining, a “pictorial history of the American Negro” written by Hildegarde Hoyt Swift and illustrated by Lynd Ward. Like his father, Ward was left-leaning in his politics and very much interested and involved in the progressive causes of combating economic and racial injustice during the Depression years and beyond. I was personally struck by the similarity of the African-American pictured on the dust jacket to President Obama, and decided to purchase it and donate it to the museum to commemorate the birthday of museum founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Although he traveled in Socialist circles, and remained deeply concerned with labor and class issues throughout his life, Lynd Ward never felt that this in any way contradicted his love for his country. In fact, it was that love for country that impelled him during the dark days of the depression and war years to contribute artistically to works that demanded that America live up to her cherished ideals of liberty, equality, and opportunity for all.


Many of the dust jackets, decorative lining papers, and illustrations he produced for books published in the 1940s reveal his love and admiration for the democratic culture, institutions, and revolutionary war heroes of the young republic.


During the war years, when the United States and the Soviet Union became allies, Ward lent his talents to the cause of promoting cordial relations with cover illustrations for his father’s book lauding The Soviet Spirit, and for the cover of Soviet Russia Today.



Of course, almost immediately after the war was won, the two uneasy allies once again began to look at one another through jaundiced eyes. Although Franklin Roosevelt’s former Vice President and later Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace advocated maintaining a friendly rapport with the Soviets, his new boss President Truman called for his resignation and his Progressive Party candidacy in 1948 failed to win the support of the American people. That same year found the committed social activist Lynd Ward providing illustrations for a pamphlet entitled, How to End the Cold War and Build the Peace. It, too, received a rather chilly reception outside the constricting circles of the Socialist faithful.


While many Socialists, Communists, and “fellow travelers” were hounded, blacklisted, and harassed during the “Red Scare” that followed, Lynd Ward appears to have continued to practice his art unabated.


~ by "The Chief" on November 9, 2011.

2 Responses to “WARDS OF THE STATE”

  1. You can feel from the block prints in this blog how Ward was drawn to artistic endeavor.

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