American artist Lynd Ward is known for his series of dramatic woodengraved wordless novels and illustrations for juvenile and adult books. His wordless novels have influenced the development of the graphic novel.
Lynd Kendall Ward was born on June 26, 1905, in Chicago, Illinois. Soon after birth, Ward developed tuberculosis; his parents took him north of Sault Ste. Marie in Canada for several months to recover. In the hope of improving his health, the family moved to Oak Park, Illinois, where his father became a pastor at the Euclid Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church.
Ward was early drawn to art. He decided to become an artist when his first-grade teacher told him that "Ward" spelled backward is "draw". Having skipped a grade, Ward graduated from grammar school in 1918. The Ward moved with his family to Englewood, New Jersey. Ward entered Englewood High School,where he became art editor of the school newspaper, the yearbook and learned linoleum-block printing. By 1922, he graduated with honors in art, mathematics and debate. Ward entered Columbia Teachers College in New York and edited the Jester of Columbia, to which he contributed arts and crafts how-to articles.
His roommate arranged a blind date for Ward and May Yonge McNeer (1902–1994) in 1923; May had been the first female undergraduate at the University of Georgia in her freshman year. The two married on June 11, 1926, shortly after their graduation, and honeymooned in Europe.
After four months in eastern Europe, the couple settled in Leipzig in Germany for a year, where Ward studied as a special one-year student at the National Academy of Graphic Arts and Bookmaking. He learned etching from Alois Kolb, lithography from Georg Alexander Mathé and wood engraving from Hans Alexander "Theodore" Mueller; Ward was particularly influenced by Mueller] Ward chanced across a copy of Flemish artist Frans Masereel's wordless novel The Sun (1919), a story told in sixty-three woodcuts.
Ward returned to the United States in September 1927 with a number of book publishers in his portfolio. In 1928, his first commissioned work illustrated Dorothy Rowe's The Begging Deer -stories of Japanese Children illustrated with with eight brush drawings. His wife, May, helped with background research for the illustrations, and wrote another book of Japanese folk tales, Prince Bantam (1929), with illustrations by Ward. Other work at the time included illustrations for the children's book Little Blacknose by Hildegarde Swift, and an illustrated edition of Oscar Wilde's poem "Ballad of Reading Gaol".
In 1929, Ward was inspired to create a wordless novel of his own after he came across German artist Otto Nückel's Destiny (1926). His first American wordless novel, Gods' Man was published by Smith & Cape that October, the week before the Wall Street Crash of 1929; over the next four years, it sold more than 20,000 copies! He made five more such works: Madman's Drum (1930), Wild Pilgrimage (1932), Prelude to a Million Years (1933), Song Without Words (1936), and Vertigo (1937).
He was well known for the political themes of his artwork, often addressing labor and class issues.
In celebration of the art and life of this American printmaker and illustrator, independent filmmaker Michael Maglaras of 217 Films produced a new film titled “O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward.” The documentary features an interview with the artist’s daughter Robin Ward Savage, as well as more than 150 works from all periods of Ward's career. The 94-minute documentary, culled from over 7 hours of film and narrated by Maglaras, premiered at Penn State University Libraries, Foster Auditorium, on April 20, 2012, where it was warmly received. Penn State's Special Collections Library has also become the repository for much Lynd Ward material, and may continue to receive material from Ward family collections.
Lynd Ward won a number of awards, including a Library of Congress Award for wood engraving, the Caldecott Medal for The Biggest Bear in 1953 (with a runner-up for America's Ethan Allen in 1950), and a Rutgers University award for Distinguished Contribution to Children's Literature. He also illustrated two Newbery Medal books and six runners-up. In 2011, Ward was listed as a Judges' Choice for The Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame.
Ward's first work, Gods' Man (1929), tells the story of an artist's struggle with his craft, his seduction and subsequent abuse by money and power, his escape to innocence, and his unavoidable doom. Ward, in employing the concept of the wordless pictorial narrative, acknowledged as his predecessors the European artists Frans Masereel and Otto Nückel. Released the week of the 1929 stock market crash, Gods' Man would continue to exert influence well beyond the Depression era, becoming an important source of inspiration for Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg. Both Rockwell Kent and Paul Landacre, renowned woodengraving artists, acknowledged Ward as ‘the master’.
In 1979, Ward retired to his home in Reston, Virginia. He died on June 28, 1985, two days after his 80th birthday.