As a child, I had some artistic ability and dreamed of growing up and becoming a professional artist. However, I didn’t have any serious instruction until my senior year of high school when I took a class with artist and teacher, James Wright. I had worked in many mediums, but Mr. Wright introduced me to linoleum block printing, which I really enjoyed.
Life intervened and I didn’t pursue an art career, but I still dabbled in art as a hobby over the years. I also liked to periodically visit the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery to admire exhibitions and works in the permanent collection.
In early-2001, I visited the gallery and was pleasantly surprised by a temporary exhibit, “Woodblock Prints by James Havens: A Centennial Celebration,” which included forty prints from local artist, James D. Havens (1900-1960). Wow! Having had some rudimentary training in block printing, I really admired Havens’ masterful work.
Havens was born into privilege in 1900. His father was a U.S. Representative, and afterwards, a legal counsel for the successful Eastman Kodak Company. But young James was a stricken with childhood diabetes at the age of fourteen. The disease was a death sentence in those days, however, through his father’s influence, college-student James became the first person in the United States to receive treatment with the new “miracle” drug, insulin.
Havens began studying art at the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (which later became the Rochester Institute of Technology, my alma mater) and further honed his printmaking skills under the direction of nationally known artists, Troy Kinney and Charles Woodbury. Havens co-founded the Print Club of Rochester in 1930 and became one of the region’s most beloved artists. He died of cancer in 1960.
While recently engaging in some internet sleuthing, I discovered that Havens’ former home and studio, built in 1938, is only two miles from our house.
It’s amazing how gifted artists, like Havens, can take a scene out of nature that we would casually pass by without a second thought, and invite us to focus on the intricate beauty and design of God’s creation. Enjoy a few of James Havens’ woodblock prints below: