November – December 1993

John De Pol, who turned 80 years old in 1993, has spent his careers with books. From working as a printing production assistant in the 1950s he developed friendships among the proprietors of many of America’s finest private presses: John Fass of The Hammer Creek Press, John Anderson of the Pickering Press, Arthur Rushmore of The Golden Hind Press, Carroll Coleman of Iowa’s Prairie Press, Joseph Graves of The Gravesend Press, James Weygand of The Press of The Indiana Kid, and Morris Gelfand of the Stone House Press. He has also produced wood engravings for illustrations in publications of Cleveland’s Rowfant Club, Fordham University Press, and Michigan State University Press.

De Pol did not begin his wood engraving career until he was in his mid-forties, but this second career has been very full. De Pol has crafted wood engravings for all manner of publications. He has illustrated keepsakes, Christmas cards, broadsides, pamphlets, and prospectuses, and has designed decorative endpapers and cover papers. Though most of his work h as been showcased by fine presses, his illustrations have also been used in a variety of trade books.

John De Pol’s most fruitful association has been with Neil Shaver of the Yellow Barn Press in Council Bluffs, Iowa. De Pol and Shaver met at the book arts program of the Library at Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1983. Since that time De Pol has engraved illustrations on wood for sixteen of Shaver’s nineteen books. In a forthcoming history of The Yellow Barn Press, Shaver writes:

The first book that we collaborated on was The Old Printing Office. This book was a revelation to me. I discovered there was a good market for books about books and/or printing. The second book was John’s Patterns Drawn and Engraved on Wood. Patterns confirmed what I had learned from The Old Printing Office. One book dealer ordered twenty-five copies.

I suppose the success of these first two books led me to feel that this De Pol connection was a pretty good thing. Besides, like many printers, I felt that wood engraving was the most compatible style of illustration for a seriously printed letterpress book.

However, of the various benefits that I have enjoyed from working with John, the most satisfying is the friendship that has grown between us and this friendship includes the delightful and patient Thelma. I have enjoyed their hospitality more than once as John and I gathered to concoct ideas for further projects. Since there is no obligatory five o’clock cocktail, I am sure many projects lie completely lost – for John and I “have heard the chimes at midnight.”

John De Pol’s work is represented in permanent collections of many libraries and museums in the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and of course, the University of Iowa Libraries.

A Short History of Wood Engraving

Wood cut illustrations have been used throughout the history of printing. The first printed books, called “block books,” which pre-date movable type, were printed from cut blocks of wood. Wood cut illustrations, which were cut across the grain of the wood, were used extensively in early typeset books, but wood cuts lacked the fineness of line that characterized illustrations engraved on metal. In the eighteenth century, Thomas Bewick discovered that a much finer line could be achieved by engraving designs on the end grain of boxwood, and that the block (cut type high) could be incorporated into the press with the type which allowed for faster, more efficient printing. Bewick achieved great success with the new technique in his series of illustrations of birds and other wildlife. William Blake took up Bewick’s discovery and created many fine lined illustrations for his book of Job. De Pol continues this tradition of wood engraving.

This exhibition was prepared by Catherine A. Larsen, Jay Satterfield, David E. Schoonover, and Pamela Spitzmueller.