September 17, 2013

Fisher's Factories

        Leonard Everett Fisher (USA, 1924) is a man who writes books and illustrates them with block prints, so he must be pretty cool, right?  Actually, he's an artist who illustrated many books in a variety of media, but I ran into his work in a series of books about nineteenth century America.  The pieces I have for you today come from his book about the history of factories.
        There are some interesting textures in these pieces.  The use of curves in the background shading is somewhat unusual, as straight lines are easier to carve than curves.  I'm also interested in the texture of the mill's foundation, which looks more scraped than carved.  Both those techniques are characteristic of engraving tools.  In any case, I like the way Fisher has given the clapboard a look of handmade irregularity and the water a look of controlled current.
        The street scene shows a skillful use of lines and textures to suggest a vast amount of detail without really being very precisely detailed.  I love how efficiently the people are sketched.  That takes a surety that I don't have.  I never trust my images to show
what I want them to show unless I really spell everything out.  I like the architectural details on the different tenements, and the laundry flapping on lines and railings.
        One of the things that interests me about this third piece is the composition of the objects laid against a partial background.  The black block behind the objects provides the background for the white outlines of cart wheels and horses and the side of the building, but it doesn't surround the picture entirely, and it fades away at its edges.  The picture reminds me, too, how attractive many of those old factory buildings are, designed and built with care and attention to decorative detail rather than just slapped-together boxes of concrete.  (The other thing I like is the name of the company: Mr Ovens's Bakery.  That man was born to bake.)
        I suppose nowadays publishers want full color illustrations, and non-fiction books are usually illustrated with photographs.  I certainly like full color and photography, too, but in my opinion block prints never go out of style.

[Pictures: The Almy, Brown & Slater Company, wood engraving by Leonard Everett Fisher;
Tenements, wood engraving by Fisher;
A bakery, wood engraving by Fisher (all images from The Factories, written and illustrated by Fisher, Holiday House, 1979).]

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