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Fall exhibition on work of wood engraver John DePol

Members of the Rutgers community and the general public are welcome to view the fall 2010 exhibition: "Out of Retirement: The Later Wood Engravings of John DePol." The exhibition will be on view in the galleries of Special Collections and University Archives, on the first floor and lower level of Alexander Library on Rutgers' College Ave. Campus in New Brunswick. The exhibition will run October 6 - January 14, 2011.

Audioguide podcast for "Out of Retirement"

An illustration from the book Under Open Sky: Poets on William Cullen Bryant, 1986.

The exhibition opening reception will be Wednesday October 6th starting at 5:00 pm, in the Scholarly Communication Center on the 4th floor Remigio U. Pane Room, on the 1st floor of Alexander Library. Barbara Henry, a typographer, printer, and exhibitor in the New Jersey Book Arts Symposium held annually by the Rutgers University Libraries, will speak at the reception about: "John DePol's Manhattan."

To RSVP for the exhibition opening reception, call 732/932-7505 or send email to

John DePol was an American artist and wood engraver who played a significant role in the private press movement during the second half of the twentieth century. Wood engraving, the medium in which DePol was an acknowledged virtuoso, is a graphic process that consists of cutting images into the hard end-grain of boxwood using a burin, and printing them in relief. In the hand press era, wood engraving provided printers with an ideal way of illustrating books, since wooden blocks could be printed alongside of metal or wood type in a single press run. For all but the final decade of the nineteenth century, wood engraving was the standard method for producing images in every sort of paper publication: books, broadsides journals, almanacs, newspapers, etc.

In the early 1890s, as photography superseded wood engraving for most commercial purposes, gentlemen typographers, most notably William Morris, adopted wood engraving as part of a profoundly influential nostalgic campaign to recapture the vigor and beauty of the Renaissance book. Morris and his cohort in the Arts and Crafts Movement sought to repel the corrupting influences of modernism, of capitalism, even, one might suggest, time itself.

When John DePol taught himself wood engraving in 1947, there were a number of small presses operating in America, such as The Golden Hind Press of Arthur Rushmore, in Madison, New Jersey. This generation of printers had inherited a reverence for traditional hand-operated technologies (letterpress printing, handmade paper, non-photographic illustrational processes) and aspired to modest ideological and aesthetic goals.

DePol was the wood-engraver. He attracted the attentions of "well-known printers and designers." Arthur Rushmore published three books with DePol illustrations: The Ghost Ship by Richard Middleton (1953), The Christmas Tree Auction by Ernst Bacmeister (1954), and Three Wise Men from the West by Jan Naaijkens (1955). As new printers entered the field, they discovered in DePol a deft and willing collaborator, and the books of this younger generation attest to DePol's growing skill and indefatigable energies. While America could boast of a number of technically and artistically gifted wood engravers at this period DePol's work became the face of the American private press book.

There are many stories that can be told from the wood engravings of John DePol. The one that we have chosen to tell with "Out of Retirement: The Late Engravings of John DePol," concerns the last two decades of DePol's career, beginning with his retirement in 1978, at the age of 65. Retirement began a period of unprecedented accomplishment for DePol. Leisure allowed him the opportunity to engrave new prints for sale, to return to sketches he had engraved 33 years earlier while a GI and immediately afterward, in Germany, France and Ireland, to cultivate new relationships with bibliophiles and bibliophilic organizations, who prized an earlier and purer typography, to devote more time to established friendships, and to reach out to yet another new generation of printers and typographers for whom DePol became a friend, mentor and a treasured link to a glorious tradition.

Other artistic interests that shaped DePol's retirement include architectural views, notably those of New York City; landscapes and cityscapes; and images for Christmas cards, which DePol engraved and sent out on behalf of his wife and also engraved for the use of others.

To view additional images of John DePol's wood-engravings, please see: Images from the John DePol Collection and Related Web Resources

Posted August 6, 2010; August 9, 2010; October 6, 2010