Lynd Ward

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Lynd Ward
Wood engraved image of an early-middle-aged man with a moustache, facing forward left.
1930 self portrait
Lynd Kendall Ward

(1905-06-26)June 26, 1905
DiedJune 28, 1985(1985-06-28) (aged 80)
Known for
Spouse(s)May McNeer

Lynd Kendall Ward (June 26, 1905 – June 28, 1985) was an American artist and novelist, known for his series of wordless novels using wood engraving, and his illustrations for juvenile and adult books. His wordless novels have influenced the development of the graphic novel. Strongly associated with his wood engravings, he also worked in watercolor, oil, brush and ink, lithography and mezzotint.[1] Ward was a son of Methodist minister and political organizer Harry F. Ward.

His most well known books are Gods' Man and his Caldecott-winning The Biggest Bear.

Early life[edit]

Lynd Kendall Ward was born on June 26, 1905, in Chicago, Illinois.[2] His father, Harry F. Ward, was born in Chiswick, England, in 1873; the elder Ward was a Methodist who moved to the United States in 1891 after reading the progressive Social Aspects of Christianity (1889) by Richard T. Ely.[2] He named his son after the rural town of Lyndhurst, located in the south coastal county of Hampshire, where he had lived for two years as a teenager prior to his emigration.[3] Ward's mother, Harriet May "Daisy" Kendall Ward, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1873. The couple met at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, and were married in 1899. Their first child, Gordon Hugh Ward, was born in June 1903, and a third, Muriel Ward, was born February 18, 1907.[2]

Soon after birth, Ward developed tuberculosis; his parents took him north of Sault Ste. Marie in Canada for several months to recover. He partly recovered, and continued to suffer from symptoms of the disease throughout his childhood, as well as from inner ear and mastoid infections. 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.[4]

Ward was early drawn to art, and decided to become an artist when his first-grade teacher told him that "Ward" spelled backward is "draw".[5] Having skipped a grade, Ward graduated from grammar school a year early in 1918. The family moved to Englewood, New Jersey, and Ward entered Englewood High School, where he became art editor of the school newspaper and yearbook, and learned linoleum-block printing. In 1922, he graduated with honors in art, mathematics, and debate.[6]

Ward studied fine arts at Columbia Teachers College in New York. He 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 left for Europe for their honeymoon.[7]

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 [de].[a] He learned etching from Alois Kolb, lithography from Georg Alexander Mathéy [de], and wood engraving from Hans Alexander "Theodore" Mueller; Ward was particularly influenced by Mueller.[8] Ward chanced across a copy of Flemish artist Frans Masereel's wordless novel The Sun[b] (1919), a story told in sixty-three woodcuts without captions.[9]


Ward returned to the United States in September 1927, with a number of book publishers in his portfolio[clarification needed]. In 1928, his first commissioned work illustrated Dorothy Rowe's The Begging Deer: Stories of Japanese Children with eight brush drawings. 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".[10]

In 1929, Ward was inspired to create a wordless novel of his own after he came across German artist Otto Nückel's Destiny[c] (1926). The 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.[11] 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).[12]

In addition to woodcuts, Ward also worked in watercolor, oil, brush and ink, lithography and mezzotint. Ward illustrated over a hundred children's books, several of which were collaborations with his wife, May. Starting in 1938, Ward became a frequent illustrator of the Heritage Limited Editions Club's series of classic works. He was well known for the political themes of his artwork, often addressing labor and class issues. In 1932 he founded Equinox Cooperative Press. He was a member of the Society of Illustrators, a member and President of the Society of American Graphic Artists (SAGA), and the National Academy of Design.

Ward lived with his wife in a home in Cresskill, New Jersey to which they added a studio for their work.[13]


Ward retired to his home in Reston, Virginia, in 1979. He died on June 28, 1985, two days after his 80th birthday, predeceasing his wife.


In celebration of the art and life of this American printmaker and illustrator, independent filmmaker Michael Maglaras of 217 Films produced a 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 seven hours of film and narrated by Maglaras, premiered at Penn State University Library's, 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.


He 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.[14]

Novels in woodcuts[edit]

A wood block engraved by Lynd Ward for plate #29 of his Prelude to a Million Years

Ward is known for his wordless novels told entirely through dramatic wood engravings. Ward's first work, Gods' Man (1929), uses a blend of Art Deco and Expressionist styles to tell 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.[15]

Ward produced six wood engraving novels over the next eight years, including:

Ward left one more wordless novel partially completed at the time of his death in 1985. The 26 completed wood engravings (out of a planned total of 44) were published in a limited edition in 2001, under the title Lynd Ward's Last, Unfinished, Wordless Novel.[16]

Other works[edit]

Beowulf wrestles with Grendel by Lynd Ward (1933)

In 1930 Ward's wood engravings were used to illustrate Alec Waugh's travel book Hot Countries; in 1936 an edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was published with illustrations by Ward. Ward illustrated the 1942 children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, with text by Hildegarde Swift. His work on children's books also included his 1953 Caldecott Medal winning book The Biggest Bear, Nic of the Woods from 1965 which he wrote and illustrated, and his work on Esther Forbes' Johnny Tremain. He also produced a wordless story for children, The Silver Pony, which is told entirely in black, white and shades of gray painted illustrations; it was published in 1973.

Ward's work included an awareness of the racial injustice to be found in the United States. This is first apparent in the lynching scenes from Wild Pilgrimage and appears again in his drawings for North Star Shining: A Pictorial History of the American Negro, by Hildegarde Hoyt Swift, published in 1947. Ward uses African American characters, as well as several different Native ones, in his book The Silver Pony.

Ward also illustrated Little Baptiste, My Friend Mac and The Wolf of Lamb's Lane which were all written by his wife, May McNeer.

In 1941 his illustrations were used in Great Ghost Stories of the World: The Haunted Omnibus, edited by Alexander Laing.[17]

In 1974 Harry N. Abrams published Storyteller Without Words, a book that included Ward's six novels plus an assortment of his illustrations from other books. Ward himself broke his silence and wrote brief prologues to each of his works. In 2010, the Library of America published Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts, with a new chronology of Ward's life and an introduction by Art Spiegelman.[citation needed]


Ward's work had an important influence on the work of later graphic artists such as George Walker, Clifford Harper, Eric Drooker, Jarrett Heckbert, Steven McCabe and Megan Speers. His works have been praised by R. Crumb, filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, and Alan Moore.

Since 2011, Ward has been honored and his name has been attached to the prestigious annual Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by Penn State University Libraries and administered by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Center for the Book at the US Library of Congress. Previous winners of the Lynd Ward Prize—given in recognition of the best graphic novel or comic book, fiction or nonfiction, published in the previous calendar year by a living US or Canadian citizen or resident—have been Nick Sousanis, Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki, Jim Woodring, Chris Ware, Anders Nilsen, Adam Hines, Nora Krug, Travis Dandro, and Emil Ferris.[18][19][20]


  1. ^ German: Staatliche Akademie für graphische Kunst und Buchgewerbe[8]
  2. ^ German: Die Sonne
  3. ^ German: Schicksal : eine Geschichte in Bildern


  1. ^ "Lynd Ward." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Vol. 80. Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Spiegelman 2010, p. 799.
  3. ^ Link 1984, p. 4; Spiegelman 2010, p. 799.
  4. ^ Spiegelman 2010, p. 800.
  5. ^ Spiegelman 2010, p. 801.
  6. ^ Spiegelman 2010, p. 802.
  7. ^ Spiegelman 2010, p. 803.
  8. ^ a b Spiegelman 2010, pp. 803–804.
  9. ^ Spiegelman 2010, p. 804.
  10. ^ Spiegelman 2010, pp. 804–805.
  11. ^ Spiegelman 2010, p. 805.
  12. ^ Cohen 1977, p. 191.
  13. ^ Halasz, Piri. "Ward Engravings on View", The New York Times, October 27, 1974. Accessed September 12, 2017. "Since then, Mr. Ward has illustrated more than 100 books for adults and children; they range from editions of Goethe's Faust and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to a number of children's books written by his wife, May McNeer Ward.... For the last 16 years, Mr. and Mrs. Ward have lived on Lambs Lane, in Cresskill, in a small house to which they have added a much larger studio."
  14. ^ Archived June 11, 2011, at WebCite
  15. ^ Allen Ginsberg, Illuminated Poems, illus, Eric Drooker (New York: Four Walls, 1996), xii
  16. ^ "Lynd Ward".
  17. ^ Laing, Alexander, ed. Great Ghost Stories of the World:The Haunted Omnibus Blue Ribbon Books, Garden City, NY 1941
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ "Penn State announces winner of the Lynd Ward Prize for Graphic Novel of the Year | Penn State University".
  20. ^ {{Cite web | url=,Pennsylvania%20Center%20for%20the%20Book.

Works cited[edit]

  • Cohen, Martin S. (April 1977). "The Novel in Woodcuts: A Handbook". Journal of Modern Literature. 6 (2): 171–195. JSTOR 3831165.
  • Link, Eugene P. (1984). Labor-Religion Prophet: The Times and Life of Harry F. Ward. Westview Press.
  • Spiegelman, Art (2010). "Chronology". In Spiegelman, Art (ed.). Lynd Ward: God's Man, Madman's Drum, Wild Pilgrimage. Library of America. pp. 799–833. ISBN 978-1-59853-080-3.

External links[edit]