Richard Wagener

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Richard Wagener (born 1944) is a notable American wood engraver known for his prints and fine press books. His work has been collected by over seventy-five public institutions. One of his books was included in Artist books in the Modern Era, 1870 -2000 at the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.[1] Victoria Dailey has called Wagener the first California artist since Paul Landacre to achieve prominence in the art of wood engraving.[2]


Wagener’s early engravings juxtaposed realistic elements against a field of abstract imagery, frequently incorporating letterforms. In 1990, while teaching at Kala Institute, he met Peter Koch, fine press printer, Berkeley. California. Their collaboration resulted in the publication of Zebra Noise with a Flatted Seventh, Peter Koch, Printers, 1998.[3] Zebra Noise included 26 wood engravings of a zoological alphabet as well as a text by Wagener that is evocative of the American West. Simon Brett, one of the most articulate observers of wood engraving, wrote that “No one else I know of is making such avant-garde grand opera in wood-engraved prints.”[4] Mark Dimunation, Head of Special Collections at the Library of Congress, referred to the book as a “work of maturity and grace.”[5]

In 1999 Wagener was elected as a member of the Society of Wood Engravers in England. This organization was started in 1920 by a group of artists including Lucien Pisarro and Eric Gill.

In 2003, Wagener contributed abstract color wood engravings to accompany The Fragments of Parmenides,[6] Editions Koch, Berkeley. This book, some ten years in the making, features a new translation of the Parmenides fragments by Robert Bringhurst, Canadian poet, typographer and author, and uses two new Greek typefaces commissioned for this project by Peter Koch. The first typeface was designed by Christopher Stinehour in a digital format. The second typeface was cut in steel and cast in metal by Dan Carr at the Golgonooza Typefoundry in Ashuelot, New Hampshire.

In 2006, Wagener established the imprint Mixolydian Editions for his own fine press projects. The first publication was Cracked Sidewalks,[7] vignettes and prose poems about growing up in Los Angeles. The second book was Mountains & Religion,[8] twenty engravings based on imagery from a journey to Nepal and Tibet in 1995, published in 2011. His print Kathmandu Alley, from Mountains and Religion, is a prime example of realistic imagery informed by an abstract sensibility.[9]

The Book Club of California published California in Relief,[10] 2009, thirty wood engravings by Wagener with a foreword by Victoria Dailey. Peter Koch collaborated in the design and printing of this book. Jan Elsted noted: “Wagener’s essential engravings of an outer landscape remind us of the echo within ourselves of an interior one, and we respond with grateful recognition.”[11]

In 2009 Wagener was invited to Magnolia Editions, Oakland, California,[12] to develop large-scale woodcut interpretations of his wood engravings. Four images, two from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and two from Nepal, were published in limited editions.

Wagener has produced a number of engraved bookplates that have been collected internationally. He designed the logo for the XXVII FISAE Congress held in Boston, 2000. His bookplates have been featured in Print Magazine; Contemporary Ex-Libris Artists, article by James Keenan, published in Portugal, 2003;[13] California Bookplates by Robert Dickover, published by the Book Club of California, 2006;[14] and Three Centuries of the American Bookplate by James Goode, the catalog accompanying a show of bookplates at the University of Virginia in 2010.[15]

In 2013 Wagener again collaborated with Peter Koch to create a companion book, The Sierra Nevada Suite: Thirty-One Wood Engravings, published by the Book Club of California.[13] This book continued Wagener’s observations of the sometimes stark and austere details of California’s landscape and featured two fold-out panoramic engravings of Yosemite. It received a Juror’s Choice award at the Fine Press show in Oxford, England.

At the 2013 Codex Book Fair and Symposium held at the Craneway Pavilion, Richmond, California, Wagener met the New Zealand poet Alan Loney. After seeing Wagener’s new suite of prints based on the idea of weaving, Loney agreed to write a poetic response. The resultant book, "Loom", was collaboratively designed and published by David Pascoe, Nawakum Press, Santa Rosa, California and Richard Wagener, Mixolydian Editions, Petaluma, California.[14] Craig Jensen at Booklab II in San Marcos, Texas did the binding. Loom had its debut at Codex Australia Book Fair held in Melbourne, March 2014.[15] David Pascoe made a short film about the making of this book that focuses on Wagener, the engraver, Patrick Reagh, the printer, and Craig Jensen, the bookbinder.

The development of a special print for the deluxe edition of Loom led to a small series of prints that looked at weaving from a different point of view. Alan Loney subsequently wrote a poetic response to these engravings. Mixolydian Editions published the poem and the prints in a book titled Vestige. This book was entirely printed and bound using handmade paper from Twinrocker Paper, Brookston, Indiana and Papeterie St. Armand, Montreal, Canada. Lisa Van Pelt, Philo, California, bound the limited edition of the book. Vestige had its debut at the 2015 Codex Book Fair.

Edwin Dobb, independent writer and lecturer at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, interviewed Wagener about his development as a book artist engaged in wood engraving. A highlight of this interview is an examination of the relationship between abstract and realistic imagery in his engravings. This interview was published in the Book Club of California Quarterly, Winter 2015.[16]

Wagener created an engraving of Festival Hall from the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco during 1915. Wagener printed the engraving for a broadside published by the Book Club of California in commemoration of the centennial of this event. The broadside was designed and printed by Fred and Barbara Voltmer and Li Jiang at Havilah Press, Emeryville, California.

Richard Wagener and David Pascoe again collaborated to create Trading Eights, The Faces of Jazz, a book of jazz portraits engraved by Jim Todd of Missoula, Montana. Also included in the book is an essay by jazz critic and musical historian Ted Gioia and a poem by his brother Dana Gioia, Poet Laureate of California. Lisa Van Pelt, Philo, California created the paste papers for the covers and did the binding for the edition. Mixolydian Editions and Nawakum Press published Trading Eights in 2106.

In 2016 Richard Wagener and David Pascoe were awarded the 15th Carl Hertzog Award for Excellence in Book Design for their book Loom, published by Nawakum Press/Mixolydian Editions 2014.[17] This national award honors the lifework of one of this country’s most accomplished book designers and printers, Carl Hertzog, 1902 -1984. The award is sponsored by the Friends of the University Library of the University of Texas at El Paso.

The Book Club of California awarded Wagener the 2016 Oscar Lewis Award for his contributions to the field of Book Arts. Past recipients of this award include Ward Ritchie, Jack Stauffacher, Peter Rutledge Koch, Carolee Campbell, and Sandra and Harry Reese.


He studied Biology at the University of San Diego and earned an MFA in painting from Art Center School, Los Angeles (now Pasadena), California.

Notable writings

His interview of artist Robert Motherwell, conducted in 1974, was first published in a catalog for an exhibition Robert Motherwell in California Collections at the Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, and later included in The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell.[18]

Wagener wrote an essay for Carving the Elements, a companion to The Fragments of Parmenides, discussing the development of his engravings to illuminate the text.[6][19]


  1. Artist’s Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 2001. p. 276. ISBN 0-88401-103-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Peter Koch Catalog | Printer".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "University of Delaware Library: ABC: An Alphabet Exhibition > Fine Press Alphabets".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Brett, Simon (May 1999). "Zebra Noise with a Flatted Seventh". Parenthesis, the Journal of the Fine Press Book Association: 33.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Dimunation, Mark. "A Printer's Geography". Imprint. The Associates of the Stanford University Libraries. 19 (2): 25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Elsted, Crispin (2005). "The Fragments of Parmenides". Parenthesis, the Journal of the Fine Press Book Association (Autumn): 24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Whiteman, Bruce (2006). Book Club of California Quarterly. LXXII (1). Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Whiteman, Bruce (2013). "Mountains & Religion". Parenthesis, the Journal of the Fine Press Book Association (Autumn): 42.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Richard Wagener, Wood Engraver".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Yale University Library Catalog".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Elsted, Jan (2010). "California in Relief". Parenthesis, the Journal of the Fine Press Book Association (Autumn): 65.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Magnolia Editions - Richard Wagener".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "BBC Books, The Sierra Nevada Suite".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Sime, Jennifer (2015). "North Bay Warp & Weft". The Journal of the Fine Press Book Association (Autumn): 29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Martin, Colin (2015). "Loom". Parenthesis, The Journal of the Fine Press Book Association (Spring): 28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Dobb, Edwin (2015). "Richard Wagener in Conversation with Edwin Dobb". The Book Club of California Quarterly. LXXX, Winter.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "UTEP Announces Winners of Hertzog Award for Excellence in Book Design". El Paso Herald Post. January 22, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Stephanie, Terenzio (1992). The collected writings of Robert Motherwell. Oxford University Press. p. 214. ISBN 9780520221796.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Parenthesis, The Journal of the Fine Press Book Association".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links