By Welford D. Taylor
During the fourteen years of their association1, Sherwood Anderson and woodcut artist Julius John Lankes (1884-1960) exchanged frequent compliments on each other’s work. Anderson’s best known accolade is “Mr J. J. Lankes and His Woodcuts,” which he included in No Swank 2(1934). Lankes’ expressions of admiration are not so well known to the modern reader, primarily because his verbal praise is found mainly in unpublished correspondence. However, in the graphic realm, which in Lankes’s case is the more important, the artist’s regard for Anderson is rather voluminously expressed. Of the more than thirteen hundred designs recorded in his “Woodcut Record,” eleven are Anderson-related. By far the best known of these is the dust jacket/frontispiece illustration forPerhaps Women (1931)3. However, more specialized students might recognize two additional images, formerly published in the Winesburg Eagle4: (1) the distinctive book plate that Lankes designed for Anderson in 1929 and (2) “Carolina Village” (originally titled “Winesburg, Ohio”) on which he collaborated with Charles Burchfield.
Most of the other Anderson-inspired images have not been reproduced in a print medium; rather, they exist as proofs, pulled from the original woodblocks. Several months ago, I was able to acquire some Lankes materials long thought to be lost. Contained among them were three connected items bearing a unique connection to Anderson. The first was a manuscript page, written by Lankes, describing a humorous incident that had occurred during a trip he made to “Ripshin” in the autumn of 1930. Although he and Anderson had begun corresponding in late 1927, shortly after the latter had assumed owner-editorship of the Marion Democrat and the Smyth County News, this visit marked their initial meeting. Always curious about new places, especially those out of the mainstream, Lankes, as expected, pulled out his sketching pad. The anecdotal incident he describes occurred while he made a pencil drawing of a row of buildings in Troutdale, the tiny village on State Route 16 where the two-mile mountain road to “Ripshin” begins.
Also contained in the newly acquired materials was the very sketch. that Lankes was making when the incident occurred and, to round out the discovery, there was a finished woodcut print of the village street he had sketched. From his few surviving preliminary drawings, one may infer that Lankes drew his designs in considerable detail, often in the same dimensions that he intended for the woodblock itself. “Mountain Town–Troutdale, Va.” is no exception; however, the dimensions of the finished woodcut design are slightly larger than those of the drawing. The two states of the artistic process reproduced here tell us much of Lankes’ working methods. However, one must bear in mind that between the drawing and the finished proof, a woodblock had to be carved–and that the drawing design had to be cut in reverse on the block, as if a mirror image, in order for the proof to reflect the original design. Good as Lankes was at sketching his subjects, and at printing, perhaps his real genius lay in the actual intricate process of limning woodblocks.
As far as I know, none of the following three items has been published before. I hope that readers of the Eagle will enjoy them as much as I do.
(Taylor is James A. Bostwick Professor of English at the University of Richmond; he and Charles E. Modlin are the editors of A Southern Odyssey: Selected Writings by Sherwood Anderson, to be published this year by the University of Georgia Press.)
- For a more complete discussion of the Anderson-Lankes relationship, see my “Two Dismounted Men: Sherwood Anderson and J.J. Lankes” in Sherwood Anderson: Centennial Studies, ed. Hilbert H. Campbell and Charles E. Modlin. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1976, 224-34.
- The essay, accompanied by four examples of Lankes’ work, had originally appeared as “J.J. Lankes and His Woodcuts” in The Virginia Quarterly Review 7, 1 (January 1931): 18-27.
- The evolution of this design is traced in my “Sherwood Anderson’s Perhaps Women: The Story in Brief,” Midamerica 10 (1983): 110-14.
- See The Winesburg Eagle 4, 1 (November 1978):5, and 10, 1 (November 1984): 8.