Thursday, April 9, 2020

From Printmaking to Making Books

     Not everyone knows what it means to retire. After saying goodbye to the 9-to-5 routine, some people find new ways to stay as busy as ever, either by beginning second careers, or pursuing avocations purely for pleasure. One person who didn’t know what it means to slow down after reaching retirement age is the subject of this post: Herschel C. Logan.

Herschel and Anne Logan with their Baby Reliance press.
      Herschel Logan came to our attention through another of Lee Harrer’s generous gifts. The TBAS library includes miniature books published under the Log-Anne Press imprint, a name made by compounding Herschel's surname and the first name of his (second) wife, Anne. These were published between 1966 and 1987, after the Logans retired to Santa Ana, California. Each was printed by hand on a Baby Reliance Washington Press, as seen in the photograph above. Their books are a charming mix of unpretentious titles, many written by Herschel, on subjects ranging from the Gold Rush and Kansas to patriotism and Native American culture. One is a bit of fun titled What I Know About Printing Miniature Books, made up of blank pages with a note that reads: “If you know any more than this, here is your chance to write a book.” The humor is a touch disingenuous, though, since a perusal of the thirty-five Log-Anne Press books in the Harrer collection shows that Herschel and Anne could easily have filled those blank pages with good advice.

A selection of Log-Anne Press miniature books.
     If Herschel Logan was so productive during his Golden Years, one wonders what he achieved during his first 65 years. The story begins in Missouri, where Herschel was born in 1901. His family soon moved to Kansas, where he lived and worked until retirement. As a boy Herschel began to draw, and his first formal schooling in art was by way of a correspondence course. In 1920 he went to Chicago to study for a year at the Chicago Academy of Art, then returned to Wichita, Kansas, to work for the printing firm McCormick Armstrong as a commercial and advertising artist. His love of art led him to pursue more personal avenues of expression, and he found his m├ętier in printmaking as a woodcut artist.

     Herschel produced his first woodcut in 1921. From the beginning, his work revealed a sensitive appreciation for the Kansas landscape. In crisp, carefully composed images, Herschel portrayed scenes like farmhouses nestled in untouched foothills, cows grazing beneath the cool shade of a tree, the play of light and shadow in a field, a woodland hut half-built into the earth, apple trees in brilliant bloom, and a sod shanty on the open prairie. By 1928 he’d produced enough prints to illustrate a book. Other Days: In Pictures and Verse (Burton Publishing, Kansas City), a collection of prose poems by Everett Scrogin, includes twelve of Herschel’s woodcuts and page decorations by C. A. Seward.

"Noonday Rest"
"Apple Blossoms"
        He was making a reputation for himself as the “Prairie Woodcutter” when he joined with other artists to found The Prairie Print Makers. It was organized in Wichita, Kansas, on December 28, 1930, with ten charter members: Charles M. Capps, Leo Courtney, Lloyd C. Foltz, Arthur W. Hall, Norma Bassett Hall, C. A Hotvedt, Edmund Kopietz, Birger Sandzen, C. A. Seward, and Herschel Logan. Between 1931 and 1964, the society issued thirty-four annual “Presentation Prints” to its members. Strangely, none of them were by Herschel.

     Herschel produced 140 or so prints from 1921 to 1938. Many of them were issued in editions of fifty or fewer. While the majority of his prints were wood engravings, Herschel also worked with rubber and linoleum, and produced one lithograph and a few etchings. Though he lived for nearly fifty years more, Herschel never produced another woodcut print after 1938. He is said to have abandoned printmaking following the death of his mentor and fellow Prairie Print Maker, C. A. Seward. Herschel did not abandon art, though. 

     He continued to produce illustrations for books, including The Muzzle Loading Rifle Then and Now (1942) by Walter M. Cline and his own books: Hand Cannon to Automatic: A Pictorial Parade of Hand Arms (1944), Cartridges (1948), Buckskin and Satin: The Life of Texas Jack (1954), and Underhammer Guns (1960). Most of Herschel’s miniatures also feature his illustrations. They are stripped down and spare compared to his wood engravings or the detailed line work of his earlier book illustrations. But their simpler, cartoon-like style suits the small format and lighter subjects of the tiny books.

A woodcut by J. J. Lankes from 1930

Farmhouse by Herschel Logan (circa 1930s)
    The printmaking aspect of Herschel Logan’s career brings to mind the large number of J. J. Lankes woodcut prints in the TBAS collections, most of them gifts from the Lankes scholar Welford D. Taylor and J. B. Lankes, the artist’s son. Anyone familiar with J. J. Lankes’s work could be excused, upon first encountering Logan’s woodcuts, for attributing a Logan print to Lankes. The same subjects predominate in both artists’ work: pastoral and rustic scenes animated by the lives of modest people who live close to the land. Both men responded to the rapid changes they witnessed as they grew up and came of age in the early decades of the twentieth century. The America celebrated in their prints is made up of landscapes gently marked by dirt roads and rough stone walls or crooked fences. In the most populated and developed parts of the country, that idyllic America gave way to a country scarred by endless miles of paved roads to accommodate the ever-growing number of automobiles; skylines became grossly interrupted in every direction by telephone and power lines. Aside from the subject matter, one also notices that some prints by both men are “signed” with similar “L” monograms. The two prints above show examples of these monograms. One wonders if collectors and researchers have ever confused the work of one man for another. And though there is no evidence, one likes to imagine that Lankes and Logan could have known one another. They would have had much to discuss!

     This isn’t the first time that Lee Harrer’s miniature books have been the subject of a TBAS blog. We previously examined our rich holdings of Achille St. Onge’s elegant leather-bound minis, as well as those commissioned by Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus. (In case you missed the earlier post, you will find it at this link.) We’re sure this won’t be the last time, either, since there are many other parts of the Harrer miniature collection that deserve and reward close attention.