January 17, 2014

Happy Birthday, Ben

        Today is Benjamin Franklin’s birthday, and, as previously mentioned, I’ve had Franklin much on my mind in the past year as he’s featured in my new middle grade fantasy.  You can see my post on Franklin’s magical abilities here.  But of course Benjamin Franklin fits into this blog’s other theme, too, being a printer.  It’s unclear whether he ever did any printmaking - that is, designing and carving images as opposed to composing lines of type.  Probably he would have left that to others trained in the art, although certainly he was the type who liked to try his hand at everything, training or no training.  In any case, he doesn’t seem to have had any particular interest in the artistic side of printing, but he was undoubtedly a man who spent a lot of time inking and pressing.  Even when he was a respected scientist and a famous statesmen, he still always considered himself a printer.
        I came across this series of woodcut illustrations of Benjamin Franklin’s life, so I thought I’d share them.  Charles Turzak (USA 1899-1985) began as a woodcarver, but eventually went to art school, worked for the WPA, and became famous for images of Chicago and woodcut histories, including a biography of Franklin.  I think these wood block prints are notable for their large proportion of black.  It tends to make them look quite dramatic, which is especially fitting for the scenes of storm and discovery.  I find the sky especially interesting in the view of Franklin’s birthplace - half the sky is black and half white, based purely on artistic composition, rather than corresponding with anything in the real world.  It balances the white and black walls of the house and makes a better picture than either an all-white sky or an all-black sky.
        Benjamin Franklin would be 308 years old today, and he’s still going strong!

[Pictures: Key Experiment, woodcut by Charles Turzak;
Experimenting with Electricity, woodcut by C. Turzak;
The Young Printers Apprentice, woodcut by C. Turzak;
Birth Place - B. Franklin, woodcut by C. Turzak, all from Benjamin Franklin: A Biography in Woodcuts, 1935.  (Images from live auctioneers.)]

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