Book Illustrations and Pattern Papers

Book Illustrations for Private Presses

In 1950, John DePol cut wood engravings for the first book that featured his work, not surprisingly about Ireland, the country he grew to love during the War; it was Liam O’Flaherty’s Two Lovely Beast and Other Stories. The exposure that DePol’s work received from this book resulted in numerous yearly commissions that extended into the late 1990s. Featured here is California Flora by Elizabeth McClintock (San Francisco: The Book Club of California, 1995) illustrated with 12 flowers and 2 smaller blocks for the patterned endpapers and cover decoration. (The book, its accompanying suite of individual flower prints in a portfolio, and all of the blocks were gifted by the curator to the Art, Architecture, and Engineering Library’s Special Collections in 2011.)

CA flora cover
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DePol's Pattern Papers

The use of images arranged in a pattern to decorate books has a long history, primarily typecast ornaments or fleurons that were printed along with type. In the late nineteenth century, the Kelmscott and Eragny Presses employed repeated decorations cut into wood that became popular, and these were followed by commercially available pattern papers through the Curwen Press. One of DePol’s little heralded creative endeavors was to cut small blocks from scraps of wood to make into pattern papers; this aspects of his work was only hinted at in John DePol: A Catalogue Raisonné of his Graphic Work 1935–1998 (San Francisco: The Book Club of California, 2001). To make a pattern, he engraved the block, printed many of these units so they could be cut-and-pasted into a pattern. From a photograph of this pattern, printing plates were made to print cover and endpapers using letterpress or offset lithography.

As mentioned in the Introduction, the curator’s initial visit to the DePols in 1998 was to decide on a topic for her MFA thesis. Knowing that the Catalogue Raisonné would not include his pattern papers, she decided to focus on that part of John’s work, especially after a box full of those charming tiny prints fell into her lap. The co-authored thesis is titled Engrain Designs & Repetitions: The Pattern Papers of John DePol (Tuscaloosa: The Legacy Press, 2000), and it was printed by hand in a limited edition of 130 copies. This title page shows the unit and the complex pattern made from it; the accompanying images are among the 117 units/patterns included in the book.

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About John DePol