Press Releases Index

October 20, 2005
CONTACT: Jette Englund
Office of University Relations

Kean Professor Co-Authors Book About Woody Guthrie Artworks

UNION, N.J. -- Everyone remembers folk legend Woody Guthrie for his protest songs in the 1940s such as This Land is Your Land and Roll on Columbia, but few people know that the singer possessed a remarkable aesthetic sensibility. Even his daughter, Nora Guthrie, was surprised to find not just a few, but hundreds of drawings, cartoons, illustrations and watercolors when she began unpacking his boxes in 1992. Woody Guthrie Artworks: The Journals, Drawings, and Sketchbook of an American Original by Steven Brower, assistant professor in the Department of Design at Kean University, is the extraordinary compilation of this work and presented as beautiful facsimile style pages. The book will be published by Rizzoli in November.

Brower reveals that “it was in the visual arts that Guthrie first began to express himself creatively” – he painted signs, portraits, drew cartoons, designed advertisements, sculpted, and even created landscape designs. Guthrie said, “I wanted to be my own boss. Have my own job of work whatever it was, and be on my own hook.” Art became not only his way of survival, but his way to participate fully in life – art worked for him, in every sense of the word, according to Brower.

Though it is unclear whether Guthrie ever formally studied art, his striking illustrations blur the line between high art and political cartoons. Part Willem de Kooning and part Pat Oliphant, Guthrie created a powerful portrait of his time in the turbulent first half of the 20th century, and his particular brand of outsider art is impressive and inspiring.

Woody Guthrie Artworks captures the energy that Guthrie found within, and brought to, every aspect of life. As Nora Guthrie writes, “His style of drawing mirrors his style of living: fast, spontaneous, impulsive, self-taught, and straight from the heart.” No fan of Guthrie, no fan of art, and no one who loves the freewheeling, independent spirit will want to miss this fascinating portrait of one of America’s greatest icons.

Brower is an award-winning graphic designer and writer working in New York City. In addition to teaching at Kean, he teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and Marywood

University in Pennsylvania. Nora Guthrie is the co-founder and director of the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York City. Over the years, she has collaborated with many artists and organizations to create new projects using Guthrie’s previously unknown and unpublished works, among them the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue CDs, and The Klezmatics: Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanuka.
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