The Library of Virginia


Block. Ink. Paper.


J.J. Lankes & Charles W. Smith

The Lane. J.J. Lankes. 1929. Woodcut.

Home of Edgeworth Smoking Tobacco and Radio Station WRVA
The Lane. 
J. J. Lankes. 1929. Woodcut. 
The Library of Virginia 
Home of Edgeworth 
Smoking Tobacco 
and Radio Station WRVA. 
Charles W. Smith. 1927. 
Colored linoleum

4 June 2001 - 1 December 2001

An exhibition at The Library of Virginia


Southern Scene. J. J. Lankes. 1930.



Julius John Lankes (1884-1960)

Southern Scene. J. J. Lankes. 1930.

A native of Buffalo, New York, Julius John Lankes (1884-1960) achieved national recognition for his mastery of woodcut printing. His works, numbering about thirteen hundred, helped elevate woodblock prints beyond illustrations in commercial productions to recognition as a fine art. Lankes graduated from the Buffalo Commercial and Electro-Mechanical Institute in 1902 and worked as a draftsman specializing in patent drawings before continuing his art studies at the Art Students' League of Buffalo and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School. Unsuccessful in painting, Lankes turned his attention to woodblock printing and recorded his first woodcut in 1917. His skill was recognized early. Bolton Brown, a respected lithographer, published a pamphlet on Lankes's work in 1921 and the following year Wilbur Macey Stone's book on Lankes's bookplate designs was published by Frank J. Lankes, the artist's brother. In 1923 Lankes and poet Robert Frost began a friendship and artistic collaboration that lasted more than forty years. Lankes produced woodcuts to illustrate not only Frost's poems but also works by Roark Bradford, R. P. T. Coffin, August Derleth, and Ellen Glasgow. In 1925, after a brief visit to Europe, Lankes and his family moved to Hilton Village, near Newport News, Virginia. He accepted a lectureship at Wells College in Aurora, New York, in 1932. For the next seven years, Lankes taught at Wells College and visited his family in Virginia only during the summers. Lankes joined the reproduction section of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1943, where he remained until 1950. In 1951 Lankes moved to Durham, North Carolina. He suffered a debilitating stroke in 1959 and died on 22 April 1960 in Durham. J. J. Lankes was buried in Buffalo on 25 April 1960. 


Lankes in his workshop, Hilton Village

Lankes worked exclusively in woodcut, making his own blocks out of fruitwoods such as apple and pear. He distinguished between woodcuts, which were cut with gouges along the grain, and wood engravings, which were cut with gravers against the end-grain.

His work was praised for its fidelity to nature and for its evocation of mood. In a review published in Woodcut Bulletin, Genevieve Taggard wrote that Lankes "has caught the South-children swinging in old gardens, washing flapping, hound-dogs scratching, horses drooping; and none too soon; just in time, in fact, before it passes imperceptibly, and is quite gone." Another reviewer wrote that "whether he knows it or not, Mr. Lankes' work fills us with a sense of tragedy . . . [that] is the result of a deep sympathy for unattractive conditions of life." In his 1934 book No Swank, Sherwood Anderson wrote of Lankes's woodcuts, "I like things in my dining-room that arouse, that awaken thoughts in me. So I have these Lankes woodcuts. . . . I honor him for his realism. The man has feeling. He has that odd quality, so infinitely valuable, the feeling for things, for the reflected life in things."

Lankes in his workshop, Hilton Village.
Virginia Chamber of Commerce,
The Library of Virginia

Interior of Cellophane Plant in Virginia

Charles William Smith (1893-1987)

Interior of Cellophane Plant in Virginia.
Charles W. 1930.
Colored linoleum. The Library of Virginia

Born in Lofton, Virginia, in 1893, Charles William Smith studied at the University of Virginia summer school, the Corcoran Art School, and Yale University's School of Fine Arts. He taught at the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and the New York School of Printing. Smith moved to Richmond in 1925 where he worked as an artist for Whittet & Shepperson, a local printing firm. In 1929 he taught art at the Richmond Division of the College of William and Mary. For the next four years, Smith worked out of his apartment on Monument Avenue as a commercial artist. He became chair of the art department at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, in 1936 and taught there until 1947. Smith taught at the University of Virginia from 1947 until his retirement in 1963 and was the first chairman of the art department. Charles W. Smith died in Charlottesville in 1987.


Charles W. Smith, 1959. Smith learned how to use gouges and chisels from his father, a patternmaker for local industries. Early in his career he turned to linoleum block printing. He explained in his 1926 book, Linoleum Block Printing, that the basic techniques for linoleum block and wood block were similar. The artist transferred his design to the block and then cut the design in relief. Areas not to be printed were cut away. The difference lay in the inability of the linoleum to permit fine lines or much detail. Linoleum blocks produced prints with large areas of color and minimal lines.

Unlike Lankes, Smith was often experimental. A nationally recognized printmaker, Smith also was an accomplished book designer. His Old Virginia in Block Prints, chosen as one of the "Fifty Books of the Year" for 1929 by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, was a collection of linoleum block prints. He published woodcuts in his books on Charleston (1933) and the University of Virginia (1937), but ventured beyond representational printmaking in the 1940s. Smith created a method of block painting to explore abstract forms. He published two books of his block paintings, Animal Fare and My Zoological Garden.

Charles W. Smith, 1959.
University of Virginia Media Services


Suggested activities for Teachers

Sectional of a Pulp Mill, West Point, Va. 
Sectional of a Pulp Mill, West Point, Va. 
Charles W. Smith. ca. 1930. 
Colored linoleum.
The following activities support the Library of Virginia exhibition Block. Ink. Paper.: The Prints of J.J. Lankes and Charles W. Smith.

Printmaking is art, created when an original source image on one surface is transferred to another surface, usually paper.

  • Students should define the following terms and distinguish the difference in techniques: woodcut, wood engraving, lithography, linoleum block prints. Have students identify other methods of printmaking.
  • Students can develop their own technique of transferring an image to create a print. Encourage them to evoke mood in their work as did artist J.J. Lankes.
  • Students can write a poem and create a print to accompany it. As a group project, compile poems and prints into a bound book.
  • Students should research 20th-century poets and writers and identify works that are accompanied by prints. Identify the role the print played in conveying the message of the written word.
  • Students should research the history of printmaking and the development of illustrated books (here's a hint, the school of Ukiyo-e in Japan).