Saturday, April 25, 2015

Archeologist from Helen West Heller's "Woodcuts U.S.A."

Yesterday a new friend gifted me a copy of Helen West Heller's Woodcuts U.S.A., a 44 page, 6.25" x 4.5" paper back collection of woodcuts, originally published in 1947. What a treasure! Each double-page spread pairs Heller's charming woodcut of people engaged in various occupations, from delivering mail to picking fruit to sewing or logging. Everyone is engaged in productive or practical daily activities, and the linework and patterns used to describe them adds a stirring hum to their movements. Each image is paired with a related quote from a famous poet.

Heller was an artist an activist whose work and life has gone largely unsung. Although I did find one brief, though informative and moving biography at Modernism In the New City.

This particular image, which I assume is an archaeologist, was paired with these lines from T.S. Eliot's Burnt Norton, the first in The Four Quartets:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

I was drawn to feature this particular image from Heller's book because of my recent interest in ammonite fossils and extinct fauna. A wealth of information about life in earth's past has been discovered in America, perhaps most notably the Pleistocene megafauna fossils discovered at Big Bone Lick in Kentucky.

I also loved how at first glance it seems the two animals are galloping in the distance, but upon closer inspection, the one on the left is in fact leaping out from the man's hat, which I interpret as his imagination based on the fossil he has just uncovered.

Looking through Heller's book, I, too, feel a more recent past being brought back to life in my mind's eye.

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