Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lankes Keepsake Is a Hit at Frost Symposium

   The Tampa Book Arts Studio and the University of Tampa Press have just completed a special limited-edition letterpress print of a previously unpublished sketch of poet Robert Frost made by the wood engraver J.J. Lankes, well-known as the illustrator of Frost's books.

The keepsake folder with its letterpress block print.

     Lankes met with Frost at the South Shaftsbury, Vermont, train station in the summer of 1924—their first time meeting face-to-face after corresponding for almost a year. Frost and his son came to meet Lankes at the station, and they returned by horse and buggy to Frost's home and farm where the two collaborators talked until the early hours of the next morning. It was during this late-night conversation that Lankes made his first, quick sketch of Frost.
     The original drawing, from the collection of Lankes scholar Welford D. Taylor, is reproduced in facsimile with its original pencil notes on the cover of a folder enclosing the letterpress print. The inside pages of the folder include "A Note on First Impressions of Robert Frost”  by Taylor and the transcription of the letter Lankes wrote to his wife describing his first impressions of Frost after their meeting.
    In the letter, Lankes describes Frost as looking like “a granite boulder” and “solid like a field when one is mown.”
    “Well, we talked the night thru,” Lankes writes. “The roosters started to crow as I got into bed and then the birds began to peep, and day came on.”

Lankes’s sketch was converted to a copper engraved block for printing.

     A copper relief block, adapted from the original Lankes sketch, was photo-engraved for us by Owosso Graphic Arts in Owosso, Michigan. Richard Mathews and Joshua Steward then printed our limited edition on the 1848 Hoe Washington hand press that Lankes purchased to print his woodcuts. 

Lankes’s Hoe Washington Press at the Tampa Book Arts Studio.

     An edition of seventy-five prints was pulled on dampened Whatman handmade paper from the Lankes estate. The first 35 prints were presented as keepsakes to participants in the Robert Frost Symposium, held in November 2013 at the University of Richmond, in conjunction with the major exhibition opening there, Julius J. Lankes: Survey of an American Artist.
     The forty remaining copies of the print and folder are available for purchase from the UT Press website.
     According to Welford Taylor, the keepsake was well-received at the symposium. “The Keepsake was more than a hit,” he said. “It became, then and there, a classic.” 

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