Updated: Feb 18
Notes on a film by Montes-Bradley by Welford Dunaway Taylor
What does it take for a complete novice to approach an unfamiliar artistic subject, read around the edges of it, slowly get drawn into its interior, and then become immersed—to the point that the former naïf is no longer a novice but an initiate, capable of reporting his subject to the world? If the novice is Eduardo Montes-Bradley, and the artistic subject is the work and life of the artist J. J. Lankes (1884-1960), then the process requires subject than two years. But the product of this effort is a film that bids fair to present the full, prolific substance of Lankes' œuvre to the current generation
of art fanciers.
The film is rich in its selection of graphic images, and its storyline carries the viewer through the major courses of Lankes’ career, from his beginnings as a draughtsman through his apprentice years of art study in his native Buffalo and his transformative experiences as a scholarship student at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It also explores Lankes’ artistic and personal connections to contemporary authors such as Robert Frost and Sherwood Anderson.
The figure that emerges is that of a masterful artist who elevated a demanding graphic genre, the woodcut, to unprecedented artistic heights and engaged with his times on significant issues such as social justice, war, and the importance of individual crafts in an industrial age.
More about the film
In J.J.Lankes: Yankee Printmaker in Virginia, Montes-Bradley explores the life and work of J.J. Lankes while examining the connections with his contemporaries. Throughout his life, Lankes worked primarily in woodcut prints. He was recognized for his meticulously refined technique, carving and cutting large wood blocks into detailed masterpieces. His works depict small towns, rural scenes, and captivating landscapes.
Lankes was an integral figure in the interwar period of the 20th century, connected to groundbreaking names like Robert Frost, Sherwood Anderson, and other renowned writers and artists of the day. As we learn more about Lankes's life and works, we can better understand his place in America's art history.
Finally, Montes-Bradley's film explores the circumstances that ultimately led to the decline and eventual disappearance of J.J. Lankes from mainstream consciousness. Working for the Federal government, Lankes fell victim to McCarthyism. As a sympathizer of the American left with ties to the Communist Party in the 1920s, he was fired, forced into retirement, and virtually blocklisted. His unhappiness with a world in which he no longer had a place, a circumstance aggravated by his discontent with modern art, led him to a self-imposed exile in North Carolina, where he lived a torrid romantic affair that lasted until he died in 1960. In his final hours, Robert Frost came to visit Lankes. The story of the final encounter between Frost and Lankes is, as the rest of the film, narrated by Welford Taylor, the foremost expert on J.J.Lankes and a significant presence in J.J.Lankes: Yankee Printmaker in Virginia by Eduardo Montes-Bradley.