Antonio Frasconi self portrait

Since last week we honored the death of one of the most famous historical figures, we thought today we’d celebrating the birth of someone much, much less known, though still very deserving of our attention.

The above quote comes from Art Journal, though I was personally introduced to the work of Antonio Frasconi as a teen, when I purchased the Folksways LP “The Ballads of Sacco and Venzetti,” by Woody Guthrie. Frasconi’s portraits of the two political martyrs graced not only the cover (front and back) but also the booklet inside; his rough-hewn imagery complemented Guthrie’s music perfectly.

Born in Buenos Aires of Italian descent, Frasconi was actually raised in Uruguay. Largely self-taught, he dropped out of art school at age 12 and became a printer’s apprentice. In 1945 he emigrated to New York on a one-year scholarship to the Art Students League.

The following year he headed out West and worked as a gardener and security guard at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Within months of his employment he had his first show at the museum, then an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art the next year. In 1953, Time magazine declared him to be “America’s foremost practitioner of the ancient art of the woodcut.” Politically active, he created a series of woodcut portraits of people who were tortured and killed under the military dictatorship in Uruguay, and later created works on the subject of Vietnam and the Ohio National Guard’s killing of four students at Kent State University in 1970. On his choice of subject matter, he explained in a 1994 interview:

“A sort of anger builds in you, so you try to spill it back in your work.”

In addition to his personal art, he designed scores of commercial work, including books, magazine and album covers, holiday cards, posters, calendars, and a U.S. postage stamp that honored the centennial of the National Academy of Sciences.

The AIGA Design Archives holds 14 of his works, which evidence the scope of his oeuvre, including children’s books he not only illustrated but authored, among them The House That Jack Built and See and Say: Guarda e parla; Mira y habla; Regarde et parle, which taught kids how to speak in four languages.

Antonio Frasconi died on January 8, 2013 at the age of 93, leaving behind over 100 book illustrations and work in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian Institute. Click through a few of my all-time favorites here.