Thursday, May 25, 2006

Leonard Baskin and the Gehenna Press

“People like me, who care about printing,
constitute the tiniest lunatic fringe in the nation.”

Published title page and letterpress.
Ted Hughes. Capriccio.
The Gehenna Press, 1990.

Leonard Baskin. Color etchings of Moise Brisquette.
from Jewish Artists of the Early and Late Renaissance
A Book of Etchings and Words. Gehenna Press, 1993.

'The enigmatic, humorous Jewish Artists of the Early & Late Renaissance, is written from the point of view of an imagined art historian, who acts as our guide through esoteric biographical details. This humorous work is in fact a fanciful pantheon of Jewish artists who might have flourished during the Renaissance, but didn’t.'

"Being Jewish confounds things. The people of the book are
intelligently defined as a religion. I, a believing atheist, proudly
declare my jewishness. It is to Yiddish that my spirit warms;
to that heritage of persecution and sensual denial, that Yiddish
so richly expresses. Not religion, but religious texts: not beliefs
or superstition, fear or malignant custom, but the literacy, artistic,
cultural and human relics of that religion."

Of the making of books there is no end.
Watercolor on heavy wove paper.
Illustration of Ecclesiastes 12:12.
[slightly cropped - screencap.]

Richard Michelson. Masks: Poems.
Color etching by Leonard Baskin. The Gehenna Press, 1999.

Leonard Baskin. Etching proof and touched etching proof from:
Diptera: a Book of Flies & Other Insects. The Gehenna Press, 1983.
[I pasted these 2 together]

Leonard Baskin. Bee Fly. Etching from:
Diptera: A Book of Flies & Other Insects. The Gehenna Press, 1983.

Leonard Baskin. Etching proof on vellum of grasshoppers mating from:
Diptera: A Book of Flies & Other Insects. The Gehenna Press, 1983.

Leonard Baskin. Artist’s proof.
Color etching for A Book of Demons.
[published 2001]

Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) was a graphic artist, sculptor, master printer, publisher and teacher and established the private printing house, Gehenna Press sometime between 1942 and 1953 (there are conflicting histories online). 'Gehenna' derives from a pun on Milton's Paradise Lost:
"And black Gehenna call'd, the type of Hell." (Gehenna is 'hell' in hebrew).

Baskin produced many of the prints for the more than 100 books that have been published in limited edition runs by Gehenna since it began. The above sampling seems a fair representation of the themes that run through Baskin's work: dark/nightmare images; natural history, people and more people and with a background and sometimes foreground vein from his Jewish heritage.

All the major art institutions and libraries of the world have works by Baskin who received countless awards for his books, prints and sculptures - which includes a bas relief (detail) for the FD Roosevelt Memorial and a bronze statue for the Michigan Holocaust Memorial. My understanding is that Gehenna Press is still operating in Massachusetts but they don't appear to have a devoted website.
[All images remain © the Estate of Leonard Baskin]

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