Scope and Content Note
This collection primarily consists of proofs and prints of wood engravings by DePol. Also included are etchings, paintings, correspondence, exhibition announcements, miscellaneous documents, woodblocks and ephemera, as well as publications and other texts that feature his work or were collected by DePol.
Other material related to John DePol is held in Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University, and can be found in the library catalog or in the Stone House Press Archive.
21 Cubic Feet
Language of Materials
Artist and printmaker John DePol was born in 1913 in Greenwich Village in New York City. As a child, DePol sketched views of the downtown area—rivers, piers, parks, architecture. DePol’s life as an artist was complicated by the death of his father, which required him to earn money to help support his mother and sister. Having to work at a young age and turn away from school upbringing remained a conditioning element throughout his life. He would say that at 16 his high school report card showed him flunking every subject but wood–working. In 1935, DePol taught himself etching, a skill he improved in 1938 by enrolling in an evening class in etching and lithography taught by George Picken at the Art Students League. From 1943 to 1945, DePol served in the United States Army Air Force, and while on duty in Northern Ireland made lithographs in the art department of the School of Technology in Belfast. During this period, DePol sketched the sights and scenes of Ireland, images which would later form the basis for a series of wood engravings. He also executed etchings of lonely, rustic village scenes, represented in the Rutgers collection.
Between January 1944 and 1945—the year of his honorable discharge from the service—DePol was also stationed at Chipping Ongar in England and later sent to France and Germany as an Intelligence Specialist with the Headquarters 2nd Air Disarmament Wing. He continued to sketch as he traveled and many scenes from his journeys were later developed as etchings or wood engravings. In August of 1945, DePol executed a series of drawings of Kaufbeuren, Bavaria, which he later painted in water-colors, among the paintings by DePol held by Rutgers.
In 1947, DePol turned his interest to wood engraving, the medium in which he would make his name. In 1950, while working for the L. F. White Company, a print shop, DePol also taught himself printing, under the influence of a number of American private printers.
“I began a second career in 1950 working for the L.F. White Company . . .. Here among other things I worked on a Brower proof press and in 1951 designed, set and printed on it Places & Things, a small booklet advertising my services as a wood engraver. It was the first use of Endgrain Press, my private press imprint.”
In 1950, DePol also illustrated his first book, Liam O’Flaherty’s Two Lovely Beasts and Other Stories and years later a James Plunkett’s The Trusting and the Maimed and Other Irish Stories, proofs of which are in the Rutgers collection.
Among the many kindred spirits DePol would befriend during this period was “the voice of NBC,” between 1930 and 1977, Ben Grauer (1908–1977), called at the time “probably the best known radio and television reporter in America.” When they met, Grauer presided over The Between–Hours Press—a comical allusion perhaps to the famous Hours Press founded between the Wars by the heiress and political activist, Nancy Cunard—and moderated a popular TV show called “Seeing is Believing.” DePol recorded that Grauer came into the office one cold winter’s day “bending under the weight of the little press he was carrying. For some reason it had to be fixed and we had to set a few lines and lock them up with a small engraving of Franklin” that DePol had cut the previous night. In a pamphlet A Brief Account of The Between Hours Press, published by The Privy Council Press (1952), Lew White (owner of L.F. White) remembers that Grauer ordered the engraving as a rush job. DePol, Frank Petrocelli, the managing editor, and White made the necessary repairs and pulled several acceptable proofs, and, thereupon, Grauer hoisted it onto his back again and lugged the press over to NBC where he repeated the performance for the camera on live TV. The date was January 17, 1952, and Grauer—Benjamin Franklin Grauer—had staged the first demonstration of letterpress printing over the television airwaves: a dramatic way to celebrate the birthday of the colonial printer, Benjamin Franklin.
DePol also met professional printers and designers at exclusive gatherings of an informal group (male only, then) calling itself the “Typophiles,” to which White introduced him. Originally dubbed the “Biblio–Beef Eaters,” The Typophiles had been meeting for over two decades when DePol became a member in the early 1950s. Arthur Rushmore (1883–1955), the distinguished art director at Harper & Brothers, who had conceived the new group name in 1930, took an interest in him, and published three books with DePol’s wood engravings under his private imprint, The Golden Hind Press, in Madison, New Jersey: The Ghost Ship by Richard Middleton (1953), The Christmas Tree Auction by Ernst Bacmeister (1954), and Three Wise Men from the West by Jan Naaijkens (1955).
Rushmore’s patronage established DePol in a career that forty years later, John Randle, founder of The Whittington Press, would characterize as a “survey of American private press activity of” the second half of the twentieth century. Printers younger than Rushmore (DePol’s peers), such as John Fass (Hammer Creek Press), Donald von R. Drenner (The Zauberberg Press), John Anderson (The Pickering Press), Frank Petrocelli (The Press of the Iron Horse), and Joseph Graves (The Gravesend Press) sought out his engravings whose bold compositions, tactility and muscularity attest to a rapidly growing confidence in the medium as well as lyrical and narrative gifts. While mid–century America could boast of a number of technically and artistically gifted wood engravers and woodcut artists, such as Bernard Brussel–Smith, Rudolf Ruzicka (1883–1978), J. J. Lankes (1884–1960), Paul Landacre (1893–1963), Clare Leighton (1898–1989), Fritz Kredel (1900–1973), Fritz Eichenberg (1901–1990), and Lynd Ward (1905–1985), it was John DePol’s style that became the signature look of the American press book.
Also through Lew White, who designed the first Ben Franklin keepsake in 1953, DePol became the illustrator for a series that produced 30 keepsakes, of which Rutgers has a complete set. The keepsakes were issued every year to celebrate Printing Week in New York. DePol, a worker of indefatigable energies, would engrave more than 400 engravings for these.
In the mid ‘50s, DePol became a freelance engraver. His work designing pieces for Security-Columbian Banknote Company (later United States Banknote Corporation and Pandick Press) earned him a position at the company, which he kept until his retirement in 1978. Roughly during this period, DePol collaborated with writer, Don Weseley, on a series of keepsakes (1976-1981) that feature his two-color engravings, many returning to his theme of New York views.
DePol retired in 1978 and left New York City for Park Ridge, New Jersey. In John DePol and the Typophiles, A Memoir and Record of Friendships, Catherine Tyler Brody writes, “The joy and freedom of this so–called retirement brought forth an almost miraculous creativity and energy.” Retirement heralded a personal renaissance for DePol, a period of unprecedented accomplishment, experimentation, collaboration and influence. He now had the freedom to direct the boundless energy, which perhaps was his most distinctive trait, in whatever direction he pleased. He made new prints, editioned blocks he’d engraved decades earlier in Germany, France and Ireland, strengthened and renewed old friendships with printers such as John Anderson, and reached out to yet another generation of emerging printers and artists, as well as book–lovers, bibliophilic organizations, printing historians and rare book librarians for whom he became a dear friend, mentor, drinking companion and a treasured link to a golden age. During this period, John became involved in the printmaking workshops,exhibitions and conferences organized by James Fraser, Librarian at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey. In the 1990s, DePol organized a series of workshops at Bowne & Co, Stationers, a part of the Southstreet Seaport Museum, and collaborated with their master printer, Barbara Henry on several books and prints, for which Rutgers possesses documentation. Writing in 2000, Cathy Baker notes that in the twenty years between 1979 and 1998, DePol nearly doubled the output of books and ephemera he’d illustrated in the previous twenty-nine years, between 1950 and 1978. “And these numbers do not include numerous press marks, The Typophiles meeting keepsakes, or the images cut for pattern papers.”
His work is part of the permanent collections of libraries and museums throughout the United States and abroad, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Georgetown University and the University of Delaware. DePol’s work has been the focus of numerous exhibitions, at Bowne & Co., Stationers, of the South Street Seaport Museum, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Bucknell University, Syracuse University, Juniata University, and Rutgers University. DePol was the subject of a major exhibition at The University of Delaware shortly before his death in 2004.
John DePol has been honored for his work by his colleagues. He was named an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1954 and in 1980 to the New York Printers Wall of Fame.
- Guide to the John DePol Collection
- Michael Joseph and Catherine Carey
- Language of description note
- Finding aid is written in English.
- Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.
Part of the New Brunswick Special Collections Repository