gehenna press


Leonard Baskin (August 15, 1922 – June 3, 2000) was an American sculptor, book-illustrator, wood-engraver, printmaker, graphic artist, writer and teacher. He was the founder of such notable fine presses as Gehenna (“Hell” in Yiddish) and Eremite, and lived for many years in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. His portrait is the bottom frame here. I own prints of his and had the pleasure of meeting him on more than one occasion. His unique artistic style moved easily between sculpture and prints, and book illustration for such classics of literature as Moby Dick and the works of Ted Hughes and James Baldwin. He lived most of his life in the U.S., but spent nine years in Devon at Lurley Manor, Lurley, near Tiverton, close to his friend Ted Hughes, for whom he illustrated Crow. Sylvia Plath dedicated “Sculptor” to Leonard Baskin. It was the penultimate poem in The Colossus (1960). His sculptures include the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. and a bronze statue of a seated figure, erected in 1994 for the Holocaust Memorial in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I personally collect his prints and had the pleasure of meeting him when I was in the rare book trade. 


Besides being Halloween, it’s also Fine Press Friday!!

Today we present a 1968 reprint of an early Gehenna Press title: Auguries of Innocence by William Blake. Legendary surrealist sculptor, printmaker, graphic artist, letterpress printer, and book artist Leonard Baskin produced his first Gehenna Press imprint in 1942. The Press, however, didn’t really take off until the 1950s. 1959’s Auguries of Innocence was a turning point in the esthetics of Baskin’s style and production. In The Gehenna Press, The Work of Fifty Years he writes, “I began to invent typographic structures of originality & sensitivity… .  There is a newer sensibility in type choice, its sizes in relation to the book’s eight wood engravings… .   This is a crucial book in the growth of the printer’s typographic insight … in the making & ordering of books.”

The original printing of the book was produced for the Print Club of Philadelphia in an edition of 250 copies in Northampton, Massachusetts.  The wood engravings and the Monotype Bembo were printed by the equally legendary master printer Harold McGrath. This later printing on Rives French mold-made paper was produced for Grossman Publishers of New York in an edition of 100 copies quarter-bound in gold-stamped goatskin and grey Fabriano papers over boards, and includes an additional, signed wood engraving laid in. The edition is signed and numbered by the artist. This copy is a gift of Jerry Buff.

Special Collections currently holds 21 Gehenna Press imprints.