March 29, 2019

H is for Hercinia

        My theme for this year’s April A-Z Blog Challenge is fantastical creatures, celebrating my upcoming book, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, which will be released by the end of the year.  Please check out my Kickstarter Campaign for this project!  It's got all kinds of extra info, pictures, and other goodies, and I'm super excited about it.
Meanwhile, here’s a teaser about the hercinia from the book:

        “I myself when a traveller was once lost in a dark forest, seeing no way out of the tangle of shadows.  I despaired in the night, until I saw what looked like a very star fallen from the heavens to light the way.  It was a glittering bird, flying before me from branch to branch and dropping, as it went, feathers along the path.  When, thus guided, I finally reached the edge of the wildwood and wept with relief to see the light of dawn spreading across the broad, open hillside that led home, I turned to see the hercinia loose one last feather as a farewell gift, and flit away, a shooting star, back into the depths of the forest to guide another.  I have kept that feather always since then, and still it glows softly in the night to remind me of that hope.”
        You can check out this previous post that explains my process in designing and carving this piece.  The hercinia is sort of a superhero of the fantasy creature world, and we'll encounter a number of other creatures with useful superpowers as the alphabet progresses.
What useful power would you like to find in a magical creature?
And the alphabet of mythical creatures doesn’t stop there.  You can check out this link to read 

[Picture: Feathers to Light the Way, rubber block print by AEGN, 2017 (sold out).]

March 27, 2019

Word of the Month - G is for Gnome

        My theme for this year’s April A-Z Blog Challenge is fantastical creatures, celebrating my upcoming book, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, which will be released by the end of the year.  Please check out my Kickstarter Campaign for the project!

        Gnomes are a bit difficult to define, since they began as elementals of earth but have since morphed into guardians of gardens.  For that reason I wouldn’t have deliberately chosen gnomes to feature in my bestiary, but I had this illustration of a little being, and the question is, what is he?  Not an elf; he’s too stolid and earthy.  Not a dwarf; he’s clearly a denizen of the forest, not a miner and mechanic.  Not a brownie or tomte; he’s in nature, not domestic.  Not a goblin; he’s clearly benign.  Not a pixie, or a fairy, or exactly anything else that sprang to mind.  I imagined him in the illustration without knowing what he was, only that there should be lots of varied creatures going about their business in a magical forest by a magical tree.  And so the best identity I could come up with for him was a gnome, even though gnomes, as I said, are a bit hard to define.  Maybe that’s really precisely why he is a gnome: because he’s a bit hard to define, too.
        He’s not a bad illustration of one of the primary characteristics of European fantasy folk: they tend to morph and blend and shift traits over the centuries, so that the entire population of elves, fairies, farm and household spirits, little folk, and non-human-humanoids gets pretty hard to tease out.  That’s okay.  If you ever meet one you can try asking, politely, what it is, but unless you get a clear answer, you’ll just have to make your best guess.  And hope it doesn’t get offended.

        The other creature representing G in my bestiary is the much easier to define griffin.  But the alphabet of mythical creatures doesn’t stop there.  You have to click the link to read 
Then click through further to read more about the griffin.

        Although this is not quite the last post of the month,  the Word of the Month for March is gnome, which has a very interesting history.  The word gnomus, meaning an elemental spirit of earth, was coined in the early sixteenth century by Paracelsus, in a work that was not published until 1566, after his death.  Paracelsus was the Swiss alchemist who gave names to the elementals of earth, water, fire, and air, and he imagined earth elementals as being about a foot tall and able to move through earth as humans move through air.  The word gnome entered English around 1712, by way of French.  It is generally accepted that Paracelsus came up with the word gnomus under the inspiration of the Greek genomos, meaning “earth-dweller.”  Many scholars believe he left out the E by mistake, but it’s possible that he was also influenced by the Greek gnome, which meant “judgement, the opinion of wise men.”
        That Greek root is related to the English words know and knowledge, as well as uncouth, which originally meant something “unknown”.  The Latin version from the same root gave us notify (“letting someone know”), and notorious (“well-known”), as well as ignorant (“not knowing”) and ignore ("choosing not to know”).  As for gnome, it has another English
definition which you never run into any more: “aphorism”, which is clearly “the opinion of wise men” just as it should be.  You may sometimes encounter the adjectival form gnomic, and gnomes, if they aren’t just a typo by Paracelsus, are also related to the knowledge of the gnostic and the uncertainty of the agnostic.
        I may not have known what my little person is, but clearly he knows plenty.

[Picture: detail and full image of Tree Palace, rubber block print by AEGN, 2010 (sold out).]

March 25, 2019

F is for Fur-Bearing Trout

        My theme for this year’s April A-Z Blog Challenge is fantastical creatures, celebrating my upcoming book, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, which will be released by the end of the year.  There is a ton more information about it at my Kickstarter Campaign for the project.

        “The fur-bearing trout dwells in the coldest rivers, lakes, and mountain streams of North America, where it grows a thick wool fleece to insulate it from the icy water.  The people of Minnesota attempt to catch these fish in matching pairs so that they can make the fishfurs into mittens or slippers.  The species endemic to Vermont, however, loses its fur instantly upon being taken from the water into the air, much to the chagrin of curious anglers.  Anglers cannot be blamed for curiosity, for a wooly fish may indeed seem strange, but what could be more reasonable than a warm coat for protection from the cold?”

        And from the end notes: “The fur-bearing trout is in the family of Fearsome Critters, creatures of which tall tales were told by the lumberjacks and outdoorsmen of the United States frontier.  Similar species have been attested in Canada and Iceland, and all these fish are said to grow their coat of thick fur because the waters where they live are so cold.  Generally they have their origins as hoaxes and jokes.”

        But the alphabet of mythical creatures doesn’t stop there.  The other creature representing F in my book will be the fairy.  Which fantasy creature makes you happier, fairy or fur-bearing trout?
Plus you can click this link to read 

[Picture: Fur-Bearing Trout, rubber block print on watercolor by AEGN, 2019 (sold out).]

March 22, 2019

E is for Emela-ntouka

        My theme for this year’s April A-Z Blog Challenge is fantastical creatures, celebrating my upcoming book, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, which will be released by the end of the year.  For lots more info, check out my Kickstarter Campaign for this project.

        “In the swamps of the Congo in equatorial Africa there dwells an enormous creature, as large as an elephant, but with a tail like a crocodile and a long, sharp horn upon its nose.  Although the emela-ntouka is vegetarian in diet, the ancient writers say that its name means killer of elephants, for it is so aggressive in defending its territory that it will attack any creature it encounters, slaying even elephants with its horn.  No one knows why emela-ntoukas are so belligerent, but it can be observed that in driving away all whom they consider enemies, they drive away equally all who might have been friends.  Consider that although the emela-ntouka is stronger than the elephant and destroys the elephant in battle, yet the elephant has its herd, while the emela-ntouka is forever alone.
        In the emela-ntouka we observe the lesson that while strength and violence may be effective at gaining power, they are poor indeed at gaining security, for as long as one's power comes from cruelty, one will always feel alone and under constant threat.”

        The emela-ntouka is one of those creatures that cryptozoologists have tried to investigate, with the thought that a real animal, currently unknown to science, is the basis of the folklore.  I agree that it’s cool when science discovers new creatures, but I’m also quite happy to do my exploration in the Realms of Imagination.  Just because something doesn’t exist in the real, material world of science doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any existence at all.  Do you think there could be large undiscovered creatures still out there?
        Remember, the mythical creature goodness doesn’t stop there!  The other creature representing E is the eale, although it’s a sneaky one because it’s better known as the yale.  (And sometimes it’s even known as the jall.)  So, you’ll have to click the link to read 
(But you won’t find the eale/yale until we get to Y.)

[Picture: Unknown to Science, rubber block print by AEGN, 2018.]

March 20, 2019

D is for Dragon

        My theme for this year’s April A-Z Blog Challenge is fantastical creatures, celebrating my upcoming book, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, which will be released by the end of the year.  Please check out my Kickstarter Campaign for this project!

        Of course D is for Dragon!  What other creature could possibly hope to compete?

        “The ancient writer says:  Their cruel cursed enemy, an huge great Dragon horrible in sight, with murdrous ravine, and devouring might, their kingdome spoild, and countrey wasted quite.
        All people have heard such terrifying tales of dragons, and many ancient accounts tell of dragons devouring villagers and in turn being slain by knights.  Pity it is that so few knights were known to take statements from offending dragons before attacking, but those records that survive demonstrate that most dragons who steal farmer’s livestock are simply hungry, as any animal may be.  Dragons are much like humans in being creatures of intelligence and free will.  For this reason you will find some dragons of deep wisdom and benevolence, and others of wickedness most dreadful.  Those dragons who devour livestock may simply be hungry, but those who devour humans do so in the full knowledge that they spread terror.  Surely to deliberately inflict fear and misery upon others is the mark of a monster, whether performed by a dragon or by a knight.”

        In this case the “ancient writer” is Edmund Spenser, from 1590.  His dragons, like those of most medieval and renaissance accounts before him, represents sin, evil, Satan, and (in his Faerie Queene) the Evil Empire Spain.  My dragons are no allegories, although these days it is
certainly quite rare to encounter one outside a book.  Which is why we need books.  I’m afraid I have no new pictures of dragons for you, as I’ve shared all mine before, but this is one that will appear in my bestiary.  For more D creatures, you’ll have to click the link to read 

[Picture: Knot-tailed Dragon, rubber block print by AEGN, 2008 (sold out).]

March 18, 2019

C is for Cherufe

        My theme for this year’s April A-Z Blog Challenge is fantastical creatures, celebrating my upcoming book, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, which will be released by the end of the year.  Please take a look at my Kickstarter Campaign for this project!

        “There dwell in the heart of the tall and jagged mountains of Chile in the south, creatures roughly human in form, but with scaly skin of stone, and core of fiery magma.  Cherufes are known for their fierce and angry nature, and they rattle the very mountains from within, and hurl hot rocks from their molten cores.  Their tantrums cause the mountains to smoke and flame, and their discontent shakes the earth.”

        My illustration of the cherufe is a reduction print, meaning that I first carved my block only for the areas that are white, and printed with orange.  (In this case I tried to blend a little yellow near the cherufe’s face for extra glow, although it wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped.)  I then carved the same block further, carving out the areas that would remain orange, and then I printed again with black ink atop the previous first-layer prints.  I had a lot of fun imagining the monster throwing a tantrum in the core of the mountain, personifying rage.
        But the alphabet of mythical creatures doesn’t stop there.  The other animal representing C is the capybureau.  And, as always, you have to click the link to read 

[Picture: Angry Mountain, rubber reduction print by AEGN, 2018.]

March 15, 2019

B is for Bunyip

        My theme for this year’s April A-Z Blog Challenge is fantastical creatures, celebrating my upcoming book, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, which will be released by the end of the year.  Please take a look at my Kickstarter Campaign for this project.

        The two creatures representing B in my bestiary are the bunyip and the baku, both of which you can learn more about by clicking the link to read 
(And clicking through again from there for a little more on the baku!)
        Today, rather than include an excerpt from the book, I want to direct you to another previous post, on the issue of Inclusivity vs Appropriation.  Both of today’s creatures belong to cultures that are not from my own background, and it’s worth giving a little thought to what that means for artists and writers.  Please feel free to add your own thoughts about this in the comments below today’s post, or the post I’ve linked.
        As for today’s block print, I was inspired by the idea of how Aboriginal art is often about diagramming stories and mythologies.  To be clear, those stories being illustrated are not necessarily intended to be shared with people like me, who are outsiders to that culture.  Indeed, it may be that a lot of the visual vocabulary that has become characteristic of Australian Aboriginal art was devised precisely to obscure the deeper meanings from outsiders.  That said, I liked the idea of placing the bunyip in its mythological context and I wanted to show it as being connected with the land and water.  So I placed my bunyip on a shape of the continent of Australia (very abstracted, admittedly), and marked the continent’s larger lakes with circles.  I was not trying to make my illustration “look Australian,” but
rather trying to let my own creativity be sparked by some of the same ideas that inspire Aboriginal Australian artists.  Modern European-Australian adaptations of the bunyip legend are reflected in my making the beast look rather less monstrous and more appealingly quirky, although descriptions of the bunyip are so numerous and widely varied that I was going to have to imagine my own version in any case.

[Picture: Bunyip’s Land, rubber block print by AEGN, 2019.]

March 13, 2019

A is for Amphiptere

        My theme for this year’s April A-Z Blog Challenge is fantastical creatures, celebrating my upcoming book, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, which will be released by the end of the year.  Please check out my Kickstarter Campaign for this project.

        “The amphiptere is a winged serpent.  The ancient writer says: The trees which bear frankincense are guarded by winged serpents, small in size, and of varied colours, a great number round each tree.  There is nothing but the smoke of bitter wood that will drive them away from the trees.
        So say ancient writers, describing how merchants of Arabia obtain the highly valued frankincense, for their chief interest is in the use humans may make of the natural world.  But what shall I say of the amphiptere, for it is the purpose of this work not only to describe the strange and wondrous creatures of the Realms of Imagination, but also to learn from them such lessons as may guide and nourish our own spirits.  The amphiptere, then, is a creature about which learned men have little to say except how to eradicate it, and yet is it not marvelous that a creature can be possessed of deadly venom yet also possessed of protecting wings?  Like the snake it sheds its skin to be born anew, and like the bird it flies free of earth in image of the soul.  Surely there must be more to understand and celebrate in a creature so remarkable.”

        Thus begins the entry for the amphiptere, the first creature in my bestiary.  (The “ancient writer” quoted is Herodotus, in his History from about 440 BCE.)  My illustration of the amphiptere doesn’t have a particular story associated with it because, to tell the truth, I made the image more as a doodle while I was running a printmaking workshop and had a bit of time while all my students were happily carving their own blocks and didn’t need me!  The other creature for the letter A has much more of a story behind it, but to read about it you’ll have to click the link to see
(And in fact, from there you’ll have to click through again to read more about the aspidochelone.  Here’s a shortcut, but I hope to lead you down some interesting and entertaining wormholes during the A to Z Challenge this year!)

[Picture: Amphiptere, rubber block print by AEGN, 2018.]

March 11, 2019


        I will once again be participating in the April A to Z Blog Challenge this year, and it’s time for the Theme Revelation.  *Cue the fanfare*  For 2019 I will be featuring fantastical creatures from my upcoming bestiary, On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination.  I’ve featured lots of these wonderful animals before, plus lots of other alphabetical mythical creatures, too.  On the one hand, it would be no fun merely to copy previous posts, but on the other, I want to make sure interested readers get the maximum alphabetical creature goodness,  so this year’s A-Z posts will be heavy on the links.  If you want to get the full content for each letter, you will have to click through to additional posts.  Of course I hope to entice you by including lots of new content, as well.
        So, what exactly is a bestiary, and what is my book all about?  From the explanation in the book:  Especially popular around the twelfth century, bestiaries were best-sellers of Medieval Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.  Bestiaries are, of course, collections of beasts, but the medieval ones that the word "bestiary" usually implies include not only natural history, but also all sorts of symbolism, moral lessons, and what we now believe to be sheer fairy tale.

        My take on it for this project is a beast for every letter of the alphabet (plus half the letters ended up with two), which are all fantastical creatures from mythologies and folklore all around the world.  Each animal is illustrated with an original relief block print, a description and a little vignette or story, and a moral lesson.  The whole thing is written in a deliberately old-fashioned style, but with stories and morals that I hope will resonate with modern readers.  It’s a bit quirky and doesn’t necessarily fit into any easy marketing category — it’s a picture book but it’s not really for children; it’s fantasy, but not really a story; it's an alphabetized collection of mythical creatures, but not really an encyclopedia or reference work; it’s got moralizing, but it’s not really a sermon, or a religious book, or self-help… — but nevertheless I hope it will catch your fancy!
        “Okay,” you say, “Nice Theme Reveal, but I can’t help but notice that the banner above says ‘March 18’, and this happens to be March 11.”  My, aren’t you observant!  I hope you read all my other posts so carefully.  Yes, I am officially Revealing my Theme early because, as always, I’m tweaking the official schedule the better to suit my own blogging habits.  Once again I’ll be starting the challenge early, and this year the hard-working and innovative A-Z Challenge Team have announced that there will not be a separate daily list for each letter.  That means that if you’re coming from the Challenge you’ll be using the Master List, and that means that for every day except Y and Z you will find the wrong letter when you land here.  I’ll provide yet more links to help you find your way, and I trust you can roll with it.  So, welcome back to the A to Z Challenge.  Enjoy!

[Picture: draft cover design for On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, by AEGN, 2019.]

March 8, 2019

Poetry for Worldbuilding

        At Boskone I presented a workshop on how poetry is a great tool for worldbuilding, both in the sense of helping the creator create the world and in the sense of helping the reader be more immersed in the world.  I thought I’d post my main points here today.  Let’s start with a reminder about how pervasive poetry actually is in the real world, something people often don’t seem to notice.  You can check out previous posts Poetry is Everywhere Part I and II.  Think about all the different forms poetry can take: songs (including lullabies, hymns, love songs, ballads, drinking songs, work songs), riddles, epics and historical lays, casual snippets, advertising jingles, laments, children’s games, prophesies, mnemonic lists, psalms, satires, proverbs, challenges/taunts/trash-talking…
        Now consider how all those different forms of poetic language can gives clues about culture
- by referring to gods, historical or legendary figures, or pop figures
- by showing what metaphors are meaningful
            what images are striking
- by hinting at what’s an insult, what’s a compliment, what’s amusing
- by highlighting what’s important
            what everyone recognizes and knows
            proverbs, idioms, clich├ęs, wisdom
        Poetry is a great place to use “archaic” or untranslated words such as names of people (gods, historical or legendary figures, or pop figures, as mentioned above), strange creatures, plants, tools, etc.  Generally in writing fantasy if you lard your prose with too many of these words, it gets in the way of the story, makes things hard to understand, and seems jarring because, after all, your story may be set in another world but it’s all supposed to be “translated” into English.  On the other hand, fantasy words can be a fantastic tool for helping the reader feel that they really are in a different place and not just the everyday, ordinary world; too few strange creatures or mythic characters and the world you’ve created just doesn’t seem very magical or marvelous or different.  Poetry to the rescue, because it is a perfect place to refer to things with which the reader won’t already be familiar.  Firstly, it works because within the created world of the story, poetry is a place where archaic words and unexplained allusions really would turn up, so it doesn’t seem jarring or artificial to encounter them there.  Secondly , it works because in the meta sense it doesn’t matter if a reader doesn’t understand everything in a song or poem within the story.  The gist and purpose of the poem can be clear without understanding every word.
        Poetry can also be a great way to help establish the differences between different cultures within a world.  All the elements of poetry:
   structure – form, line length and meter, stanzas, refrains
   sound patterns – rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, onomatopoeia, repetition, parallel structure
   meaning – simile, metaphor, allegory, symbol
   image – description, senses, emotions
   register - the varieties of language that a speaker uses in a particular social context
can vary from culture to culture or from era to era.  Of course these elements can also vary widely within a single culture, but think, for example, of how Old English poetry tends to use alliteration across two halves of each line, while Japanese poetry tends to be built around stress patterns, classic English poetry loves rhyme, while modern English poetry tends to favor blank verse.  Considering how your different invented cultures might use poetry is a great discipline to help the creator to think about what’s important in each culture, what metaphors or images will be meaningful to them (and what won’t), what gods or historical figures will people allude to, and so on.  It’s also a great way to show  these things to the reader, which gives cultures much more feeling of depth.
        And finally, poetry can be used to give clues about individual characters.
What sorts of verse would this character know?
How learned are they in the history, religion, pop culture, or literature of their own culture?
How seriously do they take it?
What’s meaningful to them?
        Ultimately, what poetry requires of you is that you truly observe the world, both the physical world and the internal landscapes of people - and that’s also exactly what you need to be doing to create new worlds and the characters within them.

[Pictures: Sibyl Reading, chiaroscuro woodcut by Ugo da Carpi, between 1500-1530 (Image from the Library of Congress);
Girl Reading a Book, woodcut by Weaver Hawkins, c.1926-8 (Image from Centre for Australian Art);
Ovid, woodcut from Metamorphoses by Ovid, probably 1549, although seriously, Penn Libraries, you didn’t think to give a proper source for your own picture??? (Image from Penn Libraries).]

March 5, 2019

Creature Collections: Dracopedia

        As work continues apace on my own creature collection, it’s time for another review of some of the cool books already available.  Today I’m looking at three books by the same author/illustrator.  The premise of the Dracopedia books by William O’Connor is a blend between the genres of “how to draw” guides and “field guides” to mythical creatures.  In some ways these two genres are contradictory because instructions for drawing have to mention that you’re making things up, while field guides claim that you’re reporting what has really been seen in the world.  I think O’Connor does a surprisingly good job at the uneasy balance between the two ways of presenting mythical creatures.  All the Dracopedia books follow the format of presenting a creature and the “facts” about it, followed by a break-down of the process O’Connor used to create his illustration.  Most of his illustrations are done with a pencil sketch scanned into the computer and then painted digitally.
        The first Dracopedia book is subtitled A Guide to Drawing the Dragons of the World, and is organized as thirteen families of dragon, each with its biology, habitat, history, and different species, followed by the drawing lesson.  O’Connor’s illustrations are beautifully detailed and lifelike, although they tend to be a little too monochromatic for my idea of perfection.  His natural history is well thought out and includes lots of good information, and it would have pleased my mythical-field-guide-loving children very much back in the day.  My one caveat is that O’Connor does indulge in a bit of mythical revisionism, reinterpreting as dragons all sorts of creatures that, in my opinion, are their own separate families.  This includes quetzalcoatl (which has now become somewhat standard as a dragon species in field guides), sea serpent, and hydra, but also the claim that the kilin is an Arctic dragon, the salamander is a species of basilisk (which in turn is a type of dragon), and tales of fairies and will-o’-the-wisps are really based on sightings of dragons.  This irked my purist heart a bit!  On the other hand, I really enjoyed O’Connor’s inclusion of the tiny feydragons, as well as riding dragons, which he calls dragonettes.
        The second book appears to be Dracopedia: The Great Dragons, but my library system doesn’t have it, so I can’t tell you about it and we move on to…
        The third book is subtitled The Bestiary and broadens its scope to 26 mythical creatures selected, after my own heart, as one for each letter of the alphabet.  Each creature has a section on history, followed by the art demonstration.  This time the art demos include a fair amount about concept sketches, and it’s interesting to see how the artist tried out a few different ideas for the creature and the composition of the piece, before selecting one to complete.  O’Connor selects creatures from around the world, including several of the oddities from European heraldry, but he definitely gives them his own spin and interpretations.  He has a tendency to stick wings on everything, including the chimera, enfield, and manticore.  I get it - everything’s cooler with wings - and I certainly
can’t complain about his wanting to reimagine things, as I’m busily reimagining things in my own bestiary, but some of his reinterpretations go a little too far for me.  They also end up with a number of the creatures looking a little samey, with no fewer than seven winged lion-and/or-horse things.  These criticisms should not be taken as too damning, though; on the whole this is an excellent book, with loads of wonderful content to satisfy the lover of mythical creatures.  I especially love the way he’s done the questing beast and the xenobeast.  (Fun note: out of the entire alphabet, O’Connor and I share only four creatures!  Although a few of his others were on my short list.)
        The fourth book is Dracopedia: Legends, and is organized around thirteen famous dragon legends from Europe and Asia.  Each story is retold, followed by the art demonstration, which includes a nice section on “Research and Concept Design.”  O’Connor assigns each of these legendary dragons to one of the families he defined in the first Dracopedia book.  Again, don’t look to this book for faithful retellings to satisfy the scholarly purist, but take it as a rip-roaring collection of monster adventures and illustrations, and enjoy.

[Pictures: Fronstispiece from Dracopedia: Legends by William O’Connor, 2018;
Feydragon Biology, from Dracopedia by O’Connor, 2009;
Questing Beast, from Dracopedia: The Bestiary by O’Connor, 2013;
Xenobeast, from Dracopedia: The Bestiary by O’Connor, 2013.]

March 1, 2019

Stories by Rebuffo

        Here are two wood block prints by Victor Rebuffo (Italy-Argentina, 1903-1983).  Rebuffo was very interested in the use of art and printmaking specifically to offer narratives and social commentary, and his pieces often seem to tell a story.  This first piece looks almost surreal, but when combined with the title, “Music of the Village” it suggests a whole scenario of character and plot.  I imagine that people are boarding the ship to emigrate, and are listening to the song that reminds them of their home, sung to them in farewell.  The side of the ship is like a wall separating the people, but the image evoked by the song cuts right through the steel wall with its vision of the village.  Rebuffo’s style is bold and somewhat rough, but at the same time it’s quite detailed and carefully shaded.
        I can’t tell quite as clear a story about the second piece.  It’s set in a city, under looming smokestacks, but the buildings in the foreground suggest more traditional village homes.  It’s hard to see in this small version, but at the end of the little street a whole crowd of men are gathered.  Are they simply the bustle of people living life in the city, or are they an unruly, frightening mob?  Are they looking for the woman?  And then what is the connection between the woman on the street and the indistinct figure inside the building?  The image of people holding out their hands to one another is always evocative, and I imagine the woman being invited inside to take refuge.  Unlike the first piece, where the title seems to clarify the story, in this piece the title “The Comment” doesn’t offer me much explanation.
        I find Rebuffo’s work interesting and thought-provoking, and I appreciate that he seems to be offering social commentary by telling stories and evoking ideas rather than by shouting out the rather bombastic imagery so common in political art.  I’ll be looking out for more by Rebuffo.

[Pictures: Musica de la Aldea (Music of the Village), woodcut by Victor Rebuffo, 1943;
El Comentario (The Comment), woodcut by Rebuffo, 1947 (Images from the Davis Museum at Wellesley College).]