Thursday, December 18, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - X for Xylography

It is the profile picture that I chose for the Quaker Alphabet Blog Facebook page that has inspired this post. Q for Quaker (and X for Xylographer) were both originally woodcuts made in the late 1890s for the first edition of An Illustrated Alphabet by William Nicholson (1872-1949). Xylography is the art of cutting woodblocks for printing and Nicholson's originals were so popular that they were converted to lithographs and printed in bound volumes. Nicholson's style is instantly recognisable, with the broad strokes from his original woodcuts printed with subtle variations of earth tones, harking back to earlier British chap book illustrations. The characterisations of his alphabet are also done in broad strokes with the Q representing an old-fashioned, archetypal Quaker.
Nicholson was not a Quaker but I have found at least two examples of Quaker xylographers and would be glad to hear of any more.  

Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990) was born in Cologne and trained as an artist, choosing wood engraving as his special medium. With the rise of Hitler, Eichenberg, who came from an assimilated Jewish background, decided he had no future in Germany so in 1933 he managed to get his family out of the country and emigrate to the United States. In 1938 the tragic death of his wife prompted an emotional breakdown but he found solace in his conversion to Quakerism. In the Society of Friends he was attracted by the spirit of simplicity and stillness and the quest for the Peaceable Kingdom. 

The Peaceable Kingdom by Fritz Eichenberg
Another major event in his life was his meeting in 1949 with Dorothy Day, editor of the pacifist Catholic Worker newspaper. By this time Eichenberg had achieved some renown for his illustrations of the Russian classics, a passion for which he shared with Day. There was an instantaneous communion of spirits between the two, and Eichenberg gladly responded to Day’s invitation to contribute his art to her paper. Day felt strongly that images could touch people emotionally and communicate the Catholic Worker spirit to people who, perhaps, could not read the articles. For his part, Eichenberg felt that in this Catholic newspaper, with its emphasis on the works of mercy and the witness for peace, he had found the expression of his own spiritual and moral convictions. He made woodcuts for the paper throughout his life although he always remained a Quaker.

Mary Packer Harris was born in 1891 in Middlesborough in Yorkshire to Quaker parents. She trained as an artist in Edinburgh and graduated from the School of Art there in 1913, going on to take a postgraduate course in woodblock printing under F. Morley Fletcher. Mary taught in Scotland until 1921 when she and her parents travelled to Australia to join her brother who was living in Adelaide. She took up a teaching post at the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts in 1922 and remained there until 1953.

Nocturne Elder Gardens 1927
Mary Packer Harris was enthusiastic about all forms of visual arts. In keeping with her Arts and Crafts training, she practiced a wide variety of arts including painting, xylography and other kinds of printing, and also produced printed fabrics, tapestry, stained glass (in the 1930s) and needlework. Mary exhibited for many years with the Royal South Australian Society of Arts (1922-67) and in many other exhibitions. She also wrote and published books on art and Quaker philosophy and edited the Arts and Crafts magazine, The Forerunner.  In her retirement Mary Packer Harris published In One Splendour Spun: Autobiography of a Quaker Artist in 1971. She died at Adelaide on 26 August 1978.

And all this because I was looking for a word beginning with X!


Anonymous said...

I think William Nicholson WAS a Quaker.

Gil S said...

I don't believe he was. His father was a Conservative MP and there are no obvious Quaker names in his family as far as I can see.