NOTE: Please follow this link to view the complete screening schedule for this new film. Following the special preview screening at the Maine Festival of the Book on March 31, the world premiere will be held April 20 at Penn State University Libaries. The DVD will also be available in late April. Clips from the film can be viewed at this link.
By EVE M. KAHN
Published: March 22, 2012
The prolific illustrator Lynd Ward had fans as diverse as superhero-comic-book collectors, the poet Allen Ginsberg and the graphic novelist Art Spiegelman. In the 1920s and ’30s Ward carved woodblocks for wordless books about capitalism’s oppressive side effects.
He showed slave traders, fascists, corrupt policemen and factory bosses victimizing the poor and other innocents, in tales with ominous titles like “Gods’ Man” and “Wild Pilgrimage.” In later years Ward mainly illustrated stories by other authors, but his compassion for the underdog still came through, especially in his 1942 watercolors for Hildegarde H. Swift’s “Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.”
“This man foresaw how corporate greed could possibly bring down a nation,” the documentary filmmaker Michael Maglaras said in a recent phone interview. He has devoted much of the past two years to a new movie, “O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward,” which will have its premiere on March 31 at the Maine Festival of the Book in Portland.
Mr. Maglaras and the producer Terri Templeton based the film partly on archives that the family preserved after Ward’s death in 1985, and they extensively interviewed Ward’s younger daughter, Robin Ward Savage. She remembers watching her father operate an inky press in the basement and engrave wood slabs without preliminary sketches.
Whenever Ward made a carving mistake, he would turn the block into fireplace kindling. But then his wife, May McNeer, a prolific children’s-book writer, would retrieve the singed carvings. “She just couldn’t stand to see them put into the fireplace,” Ms. Savage said in a phone interview.
The new film includes recently rediscovered 1930s footage of Ward flicking away wood shavings while creating a scene of hillside pastures about to be subdivided. “He might work all night long” to finish blocks, Ms. Savage says in the documentary.
In the 1940s her mother clambered around rocks under the George Washington Bridge, while her father sketched the little red lighthouse. In case the police noticed him and accused him of being a wartime saboteur, Ms. Savage says, “My mother would stand guard with a copy of the contract from the book publisher in her purse.”