When Jacques Hnizdovsky, born in what is now Ukraine in 1915, passed away in 1985, the New York Times published an obituary in which pointed out that the artist was known for this woodcut prints exhibited in museums and galleries across the country and elsewhere in the world, but also underscored that he illustrated books by John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Frost.
Of course, this was not the only three books the artist illustrated. As the recent bibliographical guide on Hnizdovsky suggest, the artist worked on more than two hundred books (he began as early as in the 1930s and worked until the end of his life). Most of his book cover designs and illustrations were commissioned by various Ukrainian publishing house operating in the diaspora in the United States, Canada and Europe. However, Hnizdovsky also cooperated with American publishing houses—and this cooperation, and the result of this cooperation, is a focal point of my research.
Hnizdovsky’s artworks have their special place in both Ukrainian and American art. And his artworks are interesting for several reasons. First, he really managed to create his own style, a style that is quite recognizable. Second, he was successful in finding his own niche and place in the US, and many American art scholars and critics highly regarded his works—something very unusual for artists of his generations who came to this country as refugees after the end of World War II. Third, throughout his whole career, Hnizdovsky had special attention to books and, more importantly, work on books was a significant part of his creative output.
The visual part of the book—specifically, its cover and illustrations—shapes the way we look at books. They are both fragments and details of these books. As Hnizdovsky himself said: “An artist should not interpret the text. A book illustrator should merely suggest.” The artist’s observation should be formulated in such a manner they don’t create a distorted or limited image of the book.