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Leonard Baskin (August 15, 1922 – June 3, 2000) was an American sculptor, illustrator, printmaker, writer and teacher. Throughout his career, Baskin maintained a commitment to the superiority of figurative art, and to the theme of human mortality.[1]

Leonard Baskin
Leonard Baskin, Self-Portrait as a Priest, 1952 (cropped).jpg
Self-Portrait as Priest, 1952
Born(1922-08-15)August 15, 1922
New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
DiedJune 3, 2000(2000-06-03) (aged 77)
Northampton, Massachusetts
Known forSculpture, book illustration, printmaking, graphic design


Early lifeEdit

Leonard Baskin was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey,[2] the son of a rabbi who then moved to New York when Baskin was seven.[1] Having vowed to become a sculptor at the age of 15,[1] Baskin studied at the New York University School of Architecture and Applied Arts from 1939 to 1941.[3] In 1941, he won a scholarship to Yale where he studied for two years. At Yale, Baskin discovered the illustrated books of William Blake which so impressed him that he decided to learn to print and make his own books. At Yale, he founded Gehenna Press in 1942, one of the first fine art presses in the US. The name was taken from a line in Paradise Lost: "and black Gehenna call'd, the type of hell".[3] The Gehenna Press printed over 100 books and ran until Baskin's death in 2000.[3]

Baskin served in the US Navy during the final years of World War Two, and then in the Merchant Navy. He then studied at The New School for Social Research, where he obtained his B.A. in 1949.[1] From 1953 until 1974, Baskin taught printmaking and sculpture at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.[4] His first major solo exhibition was at the Boris Mirski Gallery in Boston in 1956.[5]


In 1974, Baskin moved with his family to Britain, to Lurley Manor, near Tiverton, Devon, to be close to his friend Ted Hughes, for whom he had illustrated the poetry volume Crow published in 1970.[6] Baskin and Hughes collaborated on several further works, including A Primer of Birds, published by Gehenna Press in 1981.[3] Other poets who collaborated with the Gehenna Press included James Baldwin, Anthony Hecht and Ruth Fainlight.[7] Sylvia Plath dedicated "Sculptor" to Leonard Baskin in her work, The Colossus and Other Poems (1960). Baskin returned to the United States in 1984, and subsequently taught at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.[1]

The Funeral Contege (1997) bronze, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, D.C.

His public commissions include a bas relief for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and a bronze statue of a seated figure, erected in 1994 for the Holocaust Memorial in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Baskin was Jewish and frequently explored Jewish themes in his work, including memorials to the Holocaust.[8]

His works are owned by many major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the British Museum, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Udinotti Museum of Figurative Art and the Vatican Museums. The archive of his work at the Gehenna Press was acquired by the Bodleian Library at Oxford, England, in 2009.[7] The McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton, Ontario owns over 200 of his works, most of which were donated by his brother Rabbi Bernard Baskin.[9][10]

In 1955, he was one of eleven New York artists featured in the opening exhibition at the Terrain Gallery. In 1966 he was featured in the documentary, "Images of Leonard Baskin" by American filmmaker Warren Forma.


Leonard Baskin was a first cousin of American modern dancer and choreographer Sophie Maslow. He died at age 77 on June 3, 2000, in Northampton, where he resided.[2] The Art Institute of Portland has a memorial to him.

In Baskin's obituary for The New York Times, Roberta Smith wrote that Baskin remained steadfast in his commitment to the superiority of figurative art and to the theme of human mortality, ignoring the changing agenda of his contemporaries which centered on abstraction.[1] Smith quoted Baskin's statement of his artistic credo: "Our human frame, our gutted mansion, our enveloping sack of beef and ash is yet a glory. Glorious in defining our universal sodality and in defining our utter uniqueness. The human figure is the image of all men and of one man. It contains all and can express all."[1]

Awards and honorsEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Roberta Smith (June 6, 2000). "Leonard Baskin Dies at 77; Sculptor of Stark Memorials". The New York Times. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  2. ^ a b LCCN n79--89695 cites an obituary in The New York Times, June 6, 2000.
  3. ^ a b c d "Leonard Baskin biography". your January 10, 2013. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  4. ^ Opitz, Glenn B., Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers, Apollo Books, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1988
  5. ^ Marks, Claude (1984). World Artists 1950-1980. Wilson. p. 53. ISBN 9780824207076.
  6. ^ "Leonard Baskin and the Gehenna Press". March 10, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Catalogue of the Gehenna Press, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford". January 10, 2010. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  8. ^ "Leonard Baskin: The Altar." Berger, Maurice et al. MASTERWORKS OF THE JEWISH MUSEUM. New York: The Jewish Museum, 2004, pp. 156-157. The Jewish Museum Accessed July 4, 2018.
  9. ^ "McMaster Museum of Art". Retrieved 2018-07-11.
  10. ^ "Leonard Baskin at McMaster Museum". McMaster Museum. May 11, 2009. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 20, 2011.

Further readingEdit

  • Lance Hidy, "My Studies at the Free Academy of Gehenna", in Parenthesis; 21 (2011 Autumn), p. 5–11.
  • Barbara Blumenthal, "Arno Werner, Leonard Baskin, Harold P. McGrath and the Tradition of Book Arts in Massachusetts", in Parenthesis; 21 (2011 Autumn), p. 17–20.
  • Sidney Berger, "Leonard Baskin and the Art of Printing (The Ego and the Ecstasy)", in Parenthesis; 17 (2009 Autumn), pp. 13–19.
  • Bruce Chandler, Lance Hidy, Barry Moser, In the School of Baskin (2008. Society of Printers, Boston, USA)
  • Lisa Unger Baskin, The Gehenna Press: The Work of Fifty Years, 1942–1992 [exhibition catalogue].
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis, A Passover Haggadah: The New Union Haggadah with drawings by Leonard Baskin, New York: Viking Press, 1982.
  • Jaffe, Irma B., The Sculpture of Leonard Baskin, New York, Viking Press, 1980.

External linksEdit