Stephanie Hnizdovsky remembers the time her husband spotted the bull in the pasture.
He wanted to draw the animal, but sketching in the car wasn’t good enough. He had to get closer.
“He got out of the car to get closer to the bull,” Stephanie Hnizdovsky said. “The bull was scratching himself against a tree at the time. When he realized Jacques was coming toward him, he started making his way to the fence.”
But there was a bigger problem. The bull had already broken the fence, so there was no real barrier between artist and force of nature.
“Jacques had to run to the car for safety, and I had to drive away quickly, so the bull would not attack the car,” Stephanie Hnizdovsky said.
Visitors won’t find the bull in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s exhibit Woodcuts by Jacques Hnizdovsky from the LASM Collection.
This is understandable. Hnizdovsky had to trade his drawing time for a quick escape that day.
But there are plenty of other animals from the menagerie of one of America’s foremost woodcut artists.
Tne show runs through Sunday, June 24, and features prints dating from the 1960s through the early 1980s, revealing the virtuosity and sensitivity with which Hnizdovsky captured plant and animal forms.
Hnizdovsky was born in 1915 in the Ukraine. He first experimented with printmaking media while in art school in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Then, in 1949, Hnizdovsky moved to St. Paul, Minn., where he won a purchase award in a print exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute for Art.
Hnizdovsky gained recognition with his stylized views of nature. He produced more than 375 prints between 1944 and his death in 1985, and almost as many paintings.
Most of his subjects resided at the New York Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo. Yet it was the tree that became Hnizdovsky’s most enduring subject.
“The tree is a symbol of nature’s force,” the museum’s biography stated. “Hnizdovsky’s tree portraits are made all the more poignant by the artist’s choice of process — the woodcut — in which he carves into wood to create a likeness that is later imprinted onto paper.”
The museum purchased 15 Hnizdovsky prints for its collection between 1977 and 1979. It recently has received a donation of 18 additional prints, including three self portraits, from the Hnizdovsky family.
The museum is showing a selection of these prints, along with the award-winning documentary film Sheep in Wood, showing the artist at work.
But there’s something more in Hnizdovsky’s work, a sense of humor and joy that can be found in his wife’s anecdote about the bull.
She and daughter Mira live in New York, where they oversee his collection.
Stephanie met her husband at a party for artists given by her brother, who is a composer.
“I grew up reading children’s magazines that were illustrated by him,” she said. “I was fascinated to meet the artist whose work I had admired for so long. I was a model for many of his paintings.”
Then, when Mira was born, the Hnizdovskys would make family trips to parks.
“We would leave him to his drawing, and would go walking around the botanical gardens or zoo, viewing the exhibitions,” Stephanie said.
“It was closing time, and security often would have to be dispatched to find Jacques, who completely oblivious of the time. This happened very often.”
There are so many other stories to tell, such as the time Hnizdovsky stopped to draw a cornfield only to be accused of stealing corn.
The frantic farmer soon realized Hnizdovsky was only sketching and gave the artist several corn stalks to take home.
And yet another farmer gave Hnizdovsky a shovel when the artist asked to draw the thistles in the farmer’s field.
“Take them all,” the farmer said.
But now the results of those stories can be found in collections throughout the world, even in the movies.
“The ‘Sheep’ print is Jacques’ most famous print,” Stephanie said. “A poster of the ‘Sheep’ can be seen in the movie The Hours, in the kitchen scene with Meryl Streep.”
And the actual print of this gathering of sheep, staring back at the viewer from their puff of wool, can be found in the exhibit at the Louisiana Art & Science Museum.