Paul Landacre began his career as an artist when a life-threatening illness during his sophomore year at Ohio State University left the previously athletic student with a permanent physical handicap. Newly sedentary, Landacre enrolled in drawing classes and upon graduation, relocated to California in pursuit of a better recovery. On long walks through nature to rebuild his strength, Landacre brought his sketchbook and consequently began to develop his oeuvre. Although he began with illustration, Landacre eventually became known for his wood engraving, a skill he learned at Otis Art Institute and refined through trial and error (each print taking years and using a hand press in his home.) With a desire to use the medium expressively rather than as a resource for duplication, Landacre produced stylized prints with strong textures, rhythmic linework, and highly contrasted blacks and whites.
Paul Hambleton Landacre (July 9, 1893, Columbus, Ohio - June 3, 1963, Los Angeles, California) participated in the Southern California artistic Renaissance between the world wars and is regarded as one of the outstanding printmakers of the modern era. His stylistic innovations and technical virtuosity gained wood engraving a foothold as an art form in twentieth-century America. Landacre's linocuts and wood engravings of landscapes, still lifes, nudes, and abstractions are celebrated for their consummate design and mastery of material. He used the finest inks and Japanese papers and, with few exceptions, printed his wood engravings on a nineteenth-century Washington Hand Press, which is now in the collection of the International Printing Museum in Carson, California.
Paul Landacre's indomitable spirit figures prominently in his storied career as an award-winning wood engraver. His early promise as a track and field athlete at Ohio State University was clipped by a debilitating illness that left his right leg permanently stiffened. The crisis spurred him to leave Ohio in 1917 for the more healthful climate of San Diego. He soon resettled in Los Angeles where his diligence and good fortune recast his professional prospects as a budding commercial draftsman. In 1925, Margaret McCreery, an advertising copywriter he met a few years earlier, became his lifelong companion and wife, fully complicit in the realization of his artistic gifts as a draftsman and printmaker.
Although he took some life-drawing classes at the Otis Art Institute between 1923 and 1925, Landacre largely taught himself the art of printmaking. He experimented with the technically demanding art of carving linoleum blocks and, eventually, woodblocks for both wood engravings and woodcuts. His fascination with printmaking and his ambition to make a place for himself in the world of fine art coalesced in the late 1920s when he met Jake Zeitlin. Zeitlin's antiquarian bookshop in Los Angeles--a cultural hub that survived into the 1980s--included a small gallery space for the showing of artworks, primarily prints and drawings, and it is there in 1929 that Landacre's first prints were exhibited. In early 1930 Zeitlin gave Landacre his first significant solo exhibition in southern California. Zeitlin's ever-widening circle of artists included Edward Weston, a photographer, and Henrietta Shore, a painter and printmaker, each of whom shared the modernist vision that so captivated Landacre. Well-connected to the New York art scene, Zeitlin associated himself with the circle of artists represented by Carl Zigrosser, director of the Weyhe Gallery in Manhattan and, later, curator of prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. By 1936 Zigrosser considered Landacre to be "one of the few graphic artists worth watching" in America, and included him among his portraits of 24 contemporary American printmakers in his seminal work, "The Artist in America" (Knopf 1942). Rockwell Kent also praised Landacre as, without exception, the finest wood engraver in America. (Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1939, C7) Elected a member of the National Academy in 1946, Landacre was honored in 1947 with a solo exhibition of his wood engravings at the Smithsonian Museum, its graphic arts division under the curatorial leadership of Jacob Kainen.
Of national and local appeal, many of Landacre's linoleum cuts and wood engravings were inspired by the American Far West, including the hills and mountains of Big Sur, Palm Springs, Monterey, and Berkeley. "California Hills and Other Wood Engravings by Paul Landacre" (Los Angeles: Bruce McCallister, 1931), a limited-edition folio comprising 15 of Landacre's early works printed from the original blocks, was awarded recognition as one of the "Fifty Books of the Year" for 1931. In rapid succession, three books featuring his wood engraved designs also garnered such recognition: "The Boar and the Shibboleth" (1933), "A Gil Blas in California" (1933), and "XV Poems for the Heath Broom" (1934). In the 1950s, the AIGA recognized "A Natural History of Western Trees" (1953) and "Books West Southwest, Essays on Writers, Their Books and Their Land" (1957) as "Fifty Books of the Year", and they became the fifth and sixth books with Landacre designs to win the prestigious award. For "Trees" Landacre contributed more than 200 ink drawings on scratchboard.
As his artistry evolved, Landacre developed a singular style lauded for its formal beauty—meticulously carved fine lines, delicate cross hatching, and flecking—elements in white which strikingly contrast with velvety blacks. His prints, including the early linocuts, gained early and lasting critical recognition, were awarded numerous prizes, and are found in more than a hundred and fifty public collections throughout the United States.
In March 1932, the artist and his wife moved to a rustic house in the Echo Park neighborhood, also known as Edendale, near downtown Los Angeles, where they lived for the remainder of their lives. In 1939 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member and became a full Academician in 1946. Landacre died in 1963 soon after—and emotionally resulting from—the death of his wife who had been an essential working companion for 38 years, even helping the artist late in his life pull impressions from the formidable Washington Hand Press. In March 2006, with the growing appreciation of Landacre's artistic significance, their hillside home was declared a City of Los Angeles landmark (Historic Cultural Monument No. 839).
• California Hills and Other Wood Engravings by Paul Landacre (edition of 500, 1931)
• The Boar and the Shibboleth by Edward Doro (edition of 500, 1933)
• A Gil Blas in California by Alexandre Dumas, père (1934)
• XV Poems for the Heath Broom by Ward Ritchie aka Peter Lum Quince (edition of 50, 1934)
• Farewell Thou Busy World by John Hodgdon Bradley (1935)
• The Year's At The Spring by Ward Ritchie aka Peter Lum Quince (edition of 150, 1938)
• The Road of a Naturalist by Donald Culross Peattie (1941)
• Tales of Soldiers and Civilians by Ambrose Bierce (Limited Editions Club, edition of 1500, 1943; also trade edition, 1943)
• Immortal Village by Donald Culross Peattie (1945)
• A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America by Donald Culross Peattie (1950; 2nd ed 1966; reprint as trade paperback with introduction by Robert Finch, 1991)
• A Natural History of Western Trees by Donald Culross Peattie (1953; reprint as trade paperback with introduction by Robert Finch, 1991)
• The Great Chain of Life by Joseph Wood Krutch (1957)
• De Rerum Natura [On the Nature of Things] by Titus Lucretius Carus (Limited Editions Club, edition of 1500, 1957; also trade edition, 1957)
• On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles G. Darwin (Limited Editions Club, edition of 1500, 1963; also trade edition, 1963)