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Wild Pilgrimage by Lynd Ward April 16, 2009

Posted by leskanturek in Books, Political and Social Art, Printmaking, Student Post.
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Post by Paula Searing

Recently I read Wild Pilgrimage by Lynd Ward. It really blew me away, and I was surprised to have not  heard of him before. Wild Pilgrimage, published in 1932, (by Harrison Smith and Robert Hass, Inc. New York) is comprised of 95 wood engravings and was originally described as a wordless novel. It’s one of the precursors to today’s blogpostpaula1 graphic novel. Ward’s novel tells the story of  a young man as he navigates through the  racism, injustice, and poverty issues America faced during the 1930’s.

(Left) An illustration of the young man from Wild Pilgrimage.

Lynd Ward (b. 1905-d. 1985) was an American artist who worked from the 1920’s well into the 1980’s. While attending the National Academy of Graphic Arts in Leipzig, Germany in the the late 1920’s , Ward was exposed to the work of  German artist Otto Nukel and Belgian artist Frans Masereel.  Also working in woodcuts and engravings, Masereel  is among the first wordless novelists , publishing Passionate Journey in 1919. After studying printmaking in Germany for a year (1926-1927),Ward returned to the U.S. and would eventually  complete five wordless novels in his lifetime; God’s Man 1929, Madman’s Drum 1930, Wild Pilgrimage 1932, Prelude to a Million Years 1933, Song Without Words 1936, and  Vertigo in 1937. His career also encompassed children’s books, and illustrations for classics such as Beowulf and Frankenstein.

“In the American experience there is probably no more basic or recurrent impulse than to leave society. It is a madness- or a sanity- that can take hold of any citizen when the daily grind becomes suddenly more abrasive than anyone should be asked to endure; when the crush of too many people in too small a space is finally more than one can take; when the noise and smells of the city are at last too stifling to be borne. Then the urge to pick up and leave, to get away somehow, is irresistible. Surely, the impulse whispers in your ear, it is not inevitable that I should live and die in this hellhole; surely, there is more to the world and to life than this.”

-Lynd Ward on  Wild Pilgrimage


(Above) Two engravings from the book.

It amazed me how particular the depictions in the novel are to the Great Depression in America, but the story still has a universal message. The dual narrative made it much more of a personal navigation through a political situation or setting.

Below are two consecutive panels from the novel, introducing the main character for the first time. On the left is one of the reality panels, showing the protagonist looking back at an industrial setting, factories blowing smoke in the background, stifling and claustrophobic. The one on the right, printed in a redish- orange, shows an inner narration of the main character, struggling to break through bars. The color narration is used throughout the whole novel, creating metaphors as the story goes on.


(Above Left) “Reality” panel introducing main protagonist in Wild Pilgrimage (Above right) a “Dream” panel of main protagonist in Wild Pilgrimage

The term “Political Art” holds a certain stigma for me, and that may speak for a number of us. Wild Pilgrimage is one of those pieces that  skillfully balances what it is to make political art,  and what it is to be a human. Wards work reminded me of the contemporary poster artist  Luba Lukova, who came to speak at the Picturing Politics Symposium at The New School. During the symposium she referred to herself not as a political artist but as a human expressing her reactions to what is going on in the world.


(Above) Luba Lukova’s “The dried up mother earth, in her arm a screaming baby – a symbol of the self destroying treatment of men with nature.” (www.lukova.net/)

Lynd Ward’s wordless novels are enjoying a resurgence and are available as paperback reprints. Wild Pilgrimage can also be read in  Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels edited by George A. Walker.