Leonard Baskin, American (1922 - 2000)

A sculpture demonstration at Macy's proved a turning point for fourteen-year-old Leonard Baskin. The boy returned home with five pounds of plasticene clay and the notion that he would become a sculptor. Over the course of a career that spanned the better part of the twentieth century, Baskin would earn the distinction he sought as a teenager. Numbered among his works are sculpture commissions for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Holocaust Memorial in Ann Arbor, Michigan. However, concurrent accomplishments as a printmaker, typographer and printer complicate the task of assigning Baskin to any one neatly-defined niche.

Each of Baskin's works reveals an artist in possession of enormous visual and literary vocabularies. The pluralistic nature of his abilities is echoed in wide-ranging (and often recurring) subjects. Baskin's attraction to Old Testament themes perhaps comes as no surprise, considering that he was the son of an orthodox rabbi. However, Greek mythological personages, predatory birds, Native Americans and figures of death and the dead also number among Baskin's considerable cast of characters. Social consciousness and a high regard for humanity connect the numerous and apparently diverse artworks that comprise Baskin's oeuvre. The second of Rabbi Samuel and wife May Guss Baskin's three children, Leonard Baskin was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on August 15, 1922. The family relocated to Brooklyn, New York, when Leonard was seven years of age. From this time, he studied at yeshiva, until his father permitted him to transfer to a public high school at age sixteen. After becoming enamored of sculpture, Baskin took on extracurricular artistic studies at Manhattan's Educational Alliance under Maurice Glickman, who arranged the boy's first exhibition in 1939.

Baskin attended the Yale University School of Fine Arts on scholarship. While at Yale, he began printing and founded The Gehenna Press, which over the course of his lifetime issued over a hundred finely printed books of textual and artistic importance. Following three years of service in the United States Navy, Baskin traveled to France and Italy to study art under the GI Bill. In the 1950s, he began to receive recognition for his monumental woodcuts, the first of their size executed by any modern artist. Between 1953 and 1974, Baskin taught art at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. It was here, in 1958, that he made the acquaintance of British poet Ted Hughes, with whom he forged a lifelong friendship and collaborated on some thirty books. In 1974, the artist moved with his family to Lurley, in Devon, England, which brought him into closer proximity to Hughes. The two had a special creative synergy: image inspired poem, and poem inspired image. In 1983, Baskin returned with his family to the United States, and he became a Visiting Professor of Printmaking at Hampshire College in Leeds, Massachusetts. Baskin died in Northampton in 2000.

Baskin was at odds with the dominant artistic trends of his time. He abhorred Abstract Expressionism, the devaluation of figural humanism and the practice of specialization. As a lecturer, writer, and public figure, Baskin verbalized his contrarian opinions, consciously separating himself from those who differed with his beliefs, yet never alienating himself from a sizable devoted public.


1922 Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, August 15
1929 Family moves to Brooklyn: Baskin begins studies at Yeshiva
1937-1939 Studies at the Educational Alliance with Maurice Glickman
1939 First exhibition of scultpure, Glickman Studio Gallery, New York
1939-1941 New York University School of Architecture and Allied Arts
1940 Prix de Rome: Honorable Mention for Sculpture
Exhibits sculpture, NYU School of Architecture and Allied Arts
1941-1943 Attends Yale University School of Fine Arts on scholarship (New Haven, Connecticut)
1942 Founds the Gehenna Press while at Yale
1943-1946 Serves in the United States Navy
1946 Marries Esther Tane
1947 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship for Sculpture
1949 Receives a BA from the New School for Social Research, New York
1950 Academie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris
1951 Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence, Italy
1951 First exhibition of prints at Galleria Numero, Florence, Italy
1952 Instructor of Printmaking, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts
1952 Purchase Prize, Print Club of Philadelphia
Library of Congress Prize
First exhibition, Boris Mirski Gallery, Boston
1953 Professor of Art, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (1953-1974)
1953 Purchase Prize, Brooklyn Museum Print Annual
John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
Xylon, International Society of Wood Engravers, Zurich, Switzerland
1954 O'Hara Museum Prize, Japanese National Museum of Tokyo, Japan
First exhibition, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York, New York
1957 Son, Tobias, born
1961 Awarded a grant from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
Receives Alonzo C. Mather Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago
Best Foreign Engraver, Sao Paulo Bienal, Brazil
Exhibition, Boymans-van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands
1963 Elected, American Academy of Arts anad Letters
1965 Awarded the Widener Medal by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1966 Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, New School for Social Research, New York, New York
Honarary Doctor of Humane Laws, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts
1967 Divorces Ester Tane
Marries Lisa Unger
Honorary LHD, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
1968 Son, Hosea, born
Honarary DFA, Universityof Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts
1969 XXXIV International Biennial Exhibition of Art, Venice, Italy (1968-1969)
Gold Medal for Graphic Arts, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
Exhibitin, Stockholm National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden
1970 Comprehensive exhibition of drawings and prints, National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.
1971 Honorary LHD, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn
1973 Skowhegan Gold Medal for Graphics, Skowkegan School, Maine
Caldecott Honor, Hosie's Alphabet Book
1974 Moves to Lurley in Devon, England
Daughter, Lucretia, born
1978 Selected to the Royal Academy, Belgium
1979-1991 Sculpture Commission, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, D.C. Collaboration with George Segal and Robert Graham. Design by Lawrence Halprin.
1981 Reactivation of The Gehenna Press at Lurley, Devon, England
1983 Returns to the United States, Leeds, Massachusetts
1984 Visiting Professor of Art, Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts (to 1994)
Retrospective Exhibition, Albertina Museum, Vienna
1985 Honorary DFA, Portland School of Art, Portland, Oregon
Elected, Royal Academy, Belgium
Elected, Accademia del Disegno, Florence, Italy
1986 Associate, National Academy of Design
1987 Honorary LHD, University of Judaism, Los Angeles, California
1988 Sculpture Medal, National Accademy of Design, New York, New York
1989 Gold Medal, National Academy of Design
1992 The Gehenna Press: Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition
1994 Holocaust Memorial, Ann Arbor, Michigan
1997 Installation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, D.C.
2000 Dies in Northampton, Massachusetts, on June 3, aged 77 years

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