Artifex: Leonard Baskin and the Gehenna Press


The early years of Gehenna Press

Baskin & Hughes

An Architect of the Page

“Of the making of books…”




Honoring James Baldwin

The Oresteia




Widely recognized as a major figure in twentieth-century American art, Leonard Baskin embodied the essence of the artifex (Latin for “creator”) in blending the roles of master craftsman, artisan, and artist. His sculptures, prints, books, and drawings can be found in the collections of nearly every major research library and art museum. Among his many commissions were a thirty-foot long bas-relief for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., and a Holocaust Memorial statue, erected on the site of the first Jewish cemetery in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although he is best known as a sculptor, Baskin had a lifelong passion for collecting, illustrating, designing, and printing books. His favorite subjects included notable figures from the history of art and bookmaking, natural history, the Bible, and mythology.

A cornerstone of Cornell University Library’s book arts collection, Baskin’s books represent the apex of contemporary letterpress printing. The exhibition features books and fine prints from Baskin’s private press, the Gehenna Press, including wood engravings, woodcuts, and etchings. A collection of Baskin’s own working materials, lent by his wife, Lisa Unger Baskin, enhances this exhibition. These unique sketches, wood blocks, and proofs provide a rare glimpse into the creative process, and illustrate the physical and conceptual construction of books from cover to cover.

The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art is also featuring the exhibition, Earthbound Flight: Winged Creatures in the Art of Leonard Baskin, until November 2, 2003. This is the first time that Cornell’s library and art museum have mounted tandem exhibitions.

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