Final Weeks: Zimmerli Spotlights Graphic Novel Pioneer Lynd Ward

June 25, 2012

Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

Spotlights Graphic Novel Pioneer Lynd Ward

New Brunswick, NJ – The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers pays tribute to one of America’s great illustrators of the twentieth century with "Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods." A gifted artist-storyteller, Ward illustrated more than 100 books, most of them for children and young adults. Featured in the exhibition are thirty-seven of Ward’s captivating original and printed illustrations selected from the Zimmerli’s collection. On view July 7, 2012, through June 30, 2013, this exhibition is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, as well as during first Wednesday evenings of the month. To reserve a class or group tour Tuesday through Sunday, please contact the Education Department at 732.932.7237, at least two weeks in advance.

Selected from the Zimmerli’s extensive collection of original children’s book illustrations, this exhibition includes captivating original and printed illustrations for "The Biggest Bear" (1952), "The Mexican Story" (1953), "America’s Mark Twain" (1962), "Nic of the Woods" (1965), "Early Thunder" (1967), and "Go Tim Go!" (1967).

Twenty drawings, watercolors, and lithographic proofs for "The Mexican Story" – a sweeping history from the Aztec civilization to the 1950s – furnish important insights into Ward’s creative process. A prolific draftsman and printmaker, particularly in wood engraving, Ward pioneered the American graphic novel without text, which he called a “novel in woodcuts” for adults. His earliest books, "Gods’ Man" (1929) and "Mad Man’s Drum" (1930), exemplify this genre and also are on display in the exhibition.

Born in 1905 in Chicago, Ward spent his childhood in Illinois and Massachusetts, then graduated from high school in Englewood, New Jersey. According to family lore, upon discovering that his last name spells “draw” backwards, the youngster decided to become an artist. Ward’s father, a Methodist minister who favored social activism championing civil liberties, provided a moral upbringing that shaped his son’s views on society. 

Ward studied fine arts at Columbia Teachers College in New York City. After graduating in 1926, he married fellow student May McNeer. They traveled to Europe, where Ward studied printmaking and book design at the National Academy of Graphic Arts in Leipzig, Germany. While abroad, Ward encountered prints and books that powerfully influenced his graphic style and inspired him to create his earliest books, which, in turn, launched the American graphic novel. "Gods’ Man" and "Mad Man’s Drum" were modern morality tales about ambition and greed that quickly became popular with readers during the Great Depression. This success prompted four more visionary graphic novels, including "Vertigo" (1937), Ward’s last and largest in the genre (Ward’s daughters donated a set of the extant woodblocks to the Rutgers University Libraries). 

Starting in the 1930s, Ward began creating picture books for younger readers, while also fulfilling commissions to illustrate literary classics. "The Biggest Bear" brought Ward the prestigious Caldecott Medal, America’s highest award for children’s book illustration. This honor encouraged him to create more books for younger audiences, including "The Mexican Story," "America’s Mark Twain," and "Go Tim Go!," collaborations with his wife May McNeer, who wrote the text. In 1979, Ward retired to Reston, Virginia, where he died in 1985.

This exhibition, organized by Marilyn Symmes, Director, Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings, with Beth McKeown, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, was based in part on work by Gail Aaron, former Assistant Curator for Children’s Illustrations at the Zimmerli. These Lynd Ward children’s book illustrations were donated by May McNeer Ward to Rutgers on her husband’s behalf; in 1985 the Rutgers University Libraries transferred them to the Zimmerli Art Museum.


The Zimmerli’s Art After Hours series spotlights "Lynd Ward Draws Stories" with a reception on Wednesday, December, 5, 2012. An exhibition tour led by Marilyn Symmes and Beth McKeown begins at 5:30 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., the Zimmerli hosts a special screening of "O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward," a 2012 documentary by independent filmmakers Michael Maglaras and Terri Templeton of 217 Films, based in Connecticut. A conversation follows with Mr. Maglaras. This 90-minute film, the first about Ward’s fascinating life and career, provides insights into the artist’s printmaking mastery, particularly for depicting stories in black and white wood engravings. As the film’s director Mr. Maglaras remarked, “Lynd Ward was an artist of great gifts and, as a man of conscience, was committed to the portrayal of the human condition. Lynd Ward’s story is the story of America in the 20th century.” Further information is available at Art After Hours is the popular eclectic evening series held on the first Wednesday of the month from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Zimmerli, inviting visitors to explore the galleries, as well as enjoy a variety of entertainment.


The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in nineteenth-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.


The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; Johnson & Johnson; and the donors, members, and friends of the museum.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street at George Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.

Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Wednesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays, major holidays, and the month of August.

Admission is $6 for adults; $5 for adults 65 and over; and free for museum members, Rutgers students, faculty and staff (with ID), and children under 18. Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month. For more information, call 732.932.7237, ext. 610, or visit the museum’s website:


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