Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940, Jill Brett (202) 707-2905
Public contact: American Folklife Center (202) 707-6590

August 5, 1993

Library of Congress To Open Rare Book Exhibition of "Caprices, Grotesques, and Leonard Baskin and the Gehenna Press"

The Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division is preparing an exhibition celebrating the work of 50 years at The Gehenna Press, the private press established by artist Leonard Baskin. "Caprices, Grotesques, and Leonard Baskin and The Gehenna Press" will open to the public on February 17, 1994, on the first floor, Madison Building, and will remain on view through August 1, 1994.

This exhibition of fine books, drawings, prints, proofs, woodblocks, etching plates, photographs, and manuscripts is drawn from one of the country's most comprehensive collections of Gehenna Press materials and demonstrates the Library's interest in collecting and displaying the best examples of 20th century printing.

Leonard Baskin launched the Gehenna Press while he was a student at the Yale School of Art in 1942. (The name is a pun on a line in Paradise Lost: "And black Gehenna call'd, the type of Hell.") Baskin has credited his early determination to learn printing to his fascination with the work of the English artist, poet and mystic William Blake. His first hand-printed book, like Blake's was a slim volume of his own verse, On a Pyre of Withered Roses. Several of his later books are homages to Blake.

Baskin's bookwork is but one aspect of his artistic life. A renowned sculptor (he is currently working on bas reliefs commissioned for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.) and printmaker, he is also a noted collector of prints and books, and a scholar, teacher, and writer. His powerful graphic style, often realized in brilliant color, and his erudition have been driving forces in the projects that he has developed and revisited in all his work: natural history (particularly winged creatures), homage portraits of artists whom he admires, poetry and other literature, socially conscious tracts, grotesques, and printers' decorations.

Over the 50 year period, approximately 100 books, as well as broadsides and ephemera, have been issued by the Gehenna Press both in America and for a few years in England. Many have been collaborations with other artists, poets, writers, and editors. For example, Baskin has produced three extraordinary books with British Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, with whom he shares a marked empathy for birds, particularly crows. Baskin's current work in progress is a book on imaginary butterflies.

Baskin's books and his separate editions of prints have always had many themes and techniques in common. The Library of Congress exhibition will follow a thematic arrangement that demonstrates how Baskin has advanced the tradition of earlier masters of fine printing by pulling together varied strands of influence and invention.

The Library will publish a brochure and checklist for visitors to accompany this exhibition. A separate traveling exhibition, drawn from various other collections, is being shown at a number of American libraries. A catalog of this exhibition was prepared by Lisa Unger Baskin and copies will be available for sale in the Library's Sales Shop for $50.

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PR 93-102
ISSN 0731-3527

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