Tobias and the Angel

Tobias and the Angel
Leonard Baskin
Wood engraving, 1958

The peculiar story of Tobias and the Angel is recounted in the apocryphal Book of Tobit thought to be written in the second century BCE. American woodcut and book artist Leonard Baskin chose to depict a scene on the bank of the Tigris River. Tobias is shown accompanied by his dog and the angel Raphael whom Tobias mistakes for a member of his tribe. They are at the end of their first day of a journey from Ninevah to Media in Persia on an errand to collect a debt on behalf of Tobias’s blind father Tobit. As Tobias is washing his feet in the river a leaping fish tries to swallow his foot. Raphael instructs Tobias to catch it and he succeeds. The fish provides them food, but also ingredients to cast out a demon and to cure Tobit’s eyes. To an extent the tale echoes the account of Jonah and his reluctant voyage to Ninevah.

Leonard Baskin (1922–2000) was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, grew up in Brooklyn the son of an Orthodox rabbi, and received his early education at a yeshiva. His early ambitions as a sculptor were fostered during an apprenticeship at the age of fifteen to the Romanian muralist and sculptor Maurice Glickman. Leonard was seventeen when the first public exhibition of his sculptures opened at Glickman’s Studio Gallery in New York.

Leonard studied art at Yale where he discovered the work of William Blake, and endeavored to print a book of his own poetry on a friend’s press in 1942, On a Pyre of Withered Roses, the first imprint of his celebrated Gehenna Press. In 1943 he left the Yale program which he described as “Beaux-Arts academic and retardiere” to enlist in the U. S. Navy. He worked in the merchant marine after discharge, and then reinvested himself in his education graduating from the New School in New York in 1949. He studied in Paris and Florence in 1950 and 1951, and having served as instructor at the Worcester Art Museum accepted a position teaching sculpture and printmaking in 1953 at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he remained until 1974. He taught at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1984 to 1994.

Leonard’s press output was a significant stream in the fine press movement during the latter half of the twentieth century. His work as sculptor also left indelible marks on artistic and public firmaments. Among his most important commissions during the final decade of his life were bronze contributions to memorials for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Washington and victims of the Holocaust in Ann Arbor.

Upper Basement Open Study
Tobias and the Angel