Commercial artist Fred Geary was a late bloomer who only began making woodcuts at age 35. But he quickly made up for lost time, becoming a master of the form and turning out beautiful prints that chronicled the world of 1930s and '40s Missouri.
Geary's woodcuts are on display Saturday, May 5, to Wednesday, June 20, 2012, in the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. The exhibit, Missouri Master of the Woodcut, is on loan from the State Historical Society of Missouri. Financial assistance has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.
Born in Clarence, Missouri, and raised in Carrollton, Geary (1894-1946) studied at William Jewell College and the Kansas City Art Institute and was employed as a designer in the Union Station offices of the Fred Harvey Company, which operated restaurants, hotels, and dining cars throughout the Southwest.
Woodcuts - a printmaking process in which the image is cut into a flat piece of wood, which is inked and then run through a hand-operated press to transfer the image to paper - enjoyed a revival in the 1930s and '40s. Easily and cheaply reproduced, woodcuts put art into the hands of working-class Americans. Fred Geary was a gifted practitioner of this style.
His art deco design sensibilities pervade his fine art, as does the influence of Spanish-American art. Geary's woodcuts and wood engravings also have affinities with the Regionalist art of that era produced by Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood. Like those artists, Geary often focused on rural, working-class Midwestern subjects.
But Geary also branched out into public art. He painted a mural for the El Navajo Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, and created pictographs for the interior of the Desert View Watchtower, built by Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railroad in Grand Canyon National Park.
Admission is free. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.