Tarble Arts Center

Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois

217-581-ARTS (-2787)



Charles Turzak on Exhibit at Tarble Arts Center

December 10, 1999 - January 16, 2000


A selection of original woodcuts from the 1930s presents artist Charles Turzak's interpretation of the life of Abraham Lincoln and early Illinois history. The exhibition commemorates the centennial year of the artist's birth. On display are the suites "Abraham Lincoln: Biography in Woodcuts" and "The History of Illinois." These are some of Turzak's best known works. The Lincoln biography, created in 1933, has no text except for titles. It presents Lincoln's life through the graphic images of the artist's woodcuts. Turzak sold the rights to the illustrations. They have been reprinted many times in various other volumes on Lincoln, as recently as 1975.

The History of Illinois portfolio was produced in 1934 under government contract during the Great Depression. Included is the woodcut "Young Abe Lincoln Enters Coles County, Illinois" along with depictions of Marquette, La Salle, George Rogers Clark, and other places and events.

In addition to these suites of woodcuts the exhibition includes preparatory drawings, original wood blocks used to produce some of the prints, and photographs and a life mask of the artist. Except for three woodcuts from the Tarble's collection all of the materials are on loan from the artist's estate.

Turzak was a painter, printmaker, illustrator and designer. He was born in 1899 in Streator, Illinois. Shortly after his birth Turzak's family moved to the south-central Illinois town of Nokomis. While a high school senior Turzak won a national cartoon contest sponsored by Purina Mills. With the prize money and notoriety from the contest he gained admission to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1920. After graduating in 1924 Turzak stayed in Chicago as a free-lance and commercial artist.

Turzak started on Abraham Lincoln: Biography In Woodcuts while struggling through the early years of the depression. He cut the 36 woodblocks in public view at the 1933 Century of Progress Chicago World's Fair. The Lincoln book was printed later that year as an edition of 1,500 copies, signed and numbered by Turzak.

Like many artists, during the Great Depression Turzak participated in various federal art programs. These included painting murals in post offices and government buildings as well as creating woodcuts. One of the prints from The History of Illinois portfolio was redesigned as a mural at the Lemont, Illinois post office in 1937. This is Turzak's only mural still in existence.

With the coming of World War II Turzak's focus began to shift to commercial art. Though he remained active as a painter and printmaker it wasn't until his retirement to Florida in 1958 that Turzak was able to concentrate again on his fine art. He died in 1986. Turzak's studio and estate has remained largely intact and is managed by his daughter, Joan Turzak VanHees.

Turzak's art is included in the collections of the Library of Congress, Yale University Art Gallery, The Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, the Illinois State Historical Library, and other public collections.

Admission to the exhibit is free and the public is invited.

Read more about the Tarble Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University in Resource Library

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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