New Collections Acquisition – Bascove: Literary Wonders

Stephanie Haboush Plunkett
Deputy Director/Chief Curator

Norman Rockwell Museum was fortunate this year to acquire, by generous donation, a comprehensive and significant collection of more than 500 original artworks by master printmaker, illustrator, painter, and collagist, Bascove. Inspired by the written word throughout her life, she has been a preeminent designer of book jackets that have engaged readers with the writings of many noted authors, including Alice Walker, Robertson Davies, Jerome Charyn, T.C. Boyle, and J.M. Coetzee. Distinctly expressionistic and beautifully designed, her striking woodcut illustrations have graced the pages of many publications, including Redbook, MIMS, Travel & Leisure, Life, and The New York Times, which published her conceptual imagery regularly on the paper’s OpEd pages.

The marriage of text and imagery has been central to some of the most vibrant art of our time, from the work of great twentieth century poster artists to persuasive communications that meld modern graphic design and illustration as a means of clarifying and emphasizing ideas and concepts. Throughout her career, Bascove has treated words and images as two parts of a visual and conceptual whole, moving far beyond ornament.


Published in May 1976, Bascove’s original jacket design for Meridian by American author and activist Alice Walker offers an example of her bold, integrative approach. The author’s second novel, the book is a reflection on the civil rights movement of the 1960s, focusing on the experiences of a young African American college student who seeks to find her place as force for change. Bascove’s jacket design utilizes the bold lines of the woodcut medium, with its hand-hewn quality, to connect typographic elements and an image of Meridian, the story’s protagonist, who appears as a winged being.

Cover illustration for Meridian by Alice Walker, 1976
Woodcut & Watercolor
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection


Bascove’s stark graphic treatment for the cover of Aunt Jeanne by author Georges Simenon captures perfectly the mood of the novel, which traces the life of an unhappy middle-aged woman who returns to her home-town to find that her family is even worse off than she is, giving her new reason to live. In addition to the artist’s original illustration, the woodcut block, among many others, is featured in the collection, offering physical evidence of her artistic and technical process.

Cover illustration for Aunt Jeanne by Georges Simenon, 1983
Woodcut/ink on paper
Published by: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection


In addition to her many published illustrations, Bascove has created a large body of paintings that reflect her fascination with the history and architectural structures of bridges. Three collections of her paintings, accompanied by anthologies of related writings, include Sustenance & Desire: A Food Lover’s Anthology of Sensuality and Humor (2004), Where Books Fall Open: A Reader’s Anthology of Wit and Passion (2001), and Stone and Steel: Paintings and Writings Celebrating the Bridges of New York City (1998). It was a great pleasure to visit with Bascove in her sunny, art-filled New York studio to discuss her work and her desire to preserve the legacy of her exceptional career at Norman Rockwell Museum. We are honored to be the fortunate recipient of this important collection and look forward to sharing it for study and enjoyment for generations to come.