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Wladyslaw Benda

 (1873 - 1948)
Wladyslaw Theodor Benda was active/lived in New York, New Jersey / Poland.  Wladyslaw Benda is known for illustrations-figure, portrait, mural paintings, theatrical masks.

Wladyslaw Benda

Biography from the Archives of askART

Cather took an active interest in the design of her books. For My Ántonia, she commissioned line drawings from the Bohemian-born artist Wladyslaw Theodor Benda. Cather requested that the illustrations be simple pen and ink drawings that resembled old woodcuts. The pictures in the first edition of My Ántonia are not just simple decorations however, but an essential part of Cather's text. Cather hints that W. T. Benda's series of drawings is her most important addition to the "substance" of the book. Ironically, the Benda illustrations, which Cather independently commissioned, received strong opposition from her publishers at Houghton Mifflin.

Wladyslaw Theodor Benda, was born in Pozan, Poland on Jan. 15, 1873 and died on Nov. 30, 1948 in Newark, N.J. He studied at the Art Academy in Kraków, Poland and in Vienna before coming to the United States in 1899. He also studied in San Francisco before settling in New York City and becoming a U.S. citizen in 1911. In addition to decorative works and many illustrations for magazines and books, he created modern masks, which were used in theatre and dance performances throughout the world. The masks premiered in Greenwich Village Follies (1920). Benda also wrote the book, Masks (1944).

Shortly after Jim tells Ántonia that she is "a part of my mind," they walk home across the fields. Jim describes the sunset:

"The sun dropped and lay like a great golden globe in the low west. While it hung there, the moon rose in the east, as big as a cart-wheel, pale silver and streaked with rose colour, thin as a bubble or a ghost-moon. For five, perhaps ten minutes, the two luminaries confronted each other across the level land, resting on opposite edges of the world. 

In that singular light every little tree and shock of wheat, every sunflower stalk and clump of snow-on-the-mountain, drew itself up high and pointed; the very clods and furrows in the fields seemed to stand up sharply. I felt the old pull of the earth, the solemn magic that comes out of these fields at nightfall. I wished I could be a little boy again, and that my way could end there."

Website of Timberland Regional Library (About the Illustrator, Wladyslaw Theodor Benda)

Biography from the Archives of askART
Wladslaw Theodor Benda is an illustrator remembered today primarily for his beautiful theatrical masks. These creations occupied the latter part of his career and were used in theatre and dance performances around the world. Altogether, Benda was a painter, muralist, lithographer, set designer, mask maker, woodcarver, author and playwright. Benda illustrated during the "Golden Era" of American Illustration, which ran from approximately 1880-1940. One of the commissions he was noted for was the illustrations he did for the novel, My Antonia, by Willa Cather .

Benda himself had an international background. He was born in Poznan, Poland, and drew from his earliest years. After a false start in civil engineering at the Krakow college of Technology, he switched to the Academy of Fine Arts. In the 1890s he was accepted into Vienna's prestigious School of Fine Arts. In 1898 young Benda moved with his family to America where he attended the Art Students League in New York and the William Merritt Chase School where he studied under Robert Henri and Edward Penfield.

Benda joined the Society of Illustrators in 1907, the Architectural league in 1916, and became a naturalized American in 1911. Benda was proud of his Polish heritage and contributed several poster designs for recruiting Polish patriots during World War I. It was the era of the pretty girl, and his "Benda Girl" work joined the rest, but she stood out as intriguingly exotic among the American types. Her success kept Benda busy working for magazines for many years.

Around 1914 Benda turned to more sculptural pursuits. He began making beautiful and realistic theater masks. He was often referred to as the premier mask maker of the early 20th Century. Four years before his death, he produced a handsome, profusely illustrated book, Masks (Watson-Guptill, 1944).

As his career drew to a close, he did less illustration and spent more time on his masks. Benda died on November 30, 1948, at the age of 75. He had suffered a massive heart attack while waiting to give a demonstration of his masks in the auditorium of the Newark Public School of Fine and Industrial Art.

Source: Illustration Magazine, Winter 2005

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About  Wladyslaw Benda

Born:  1873 - Poznan, Poland
Died:   1948 - Newark, New Jersey
Known for:  illustrations-figure, portrait, mural paintings, theatrical masks