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Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

Richard V. Correll and the Woodcut Graphics of the Voice of Action

By Brian Grijalva

The art of woodcuts dates back to the ancient civilizations of China and Egypt.  It didn't become popular in the West until the 14th century where is was used as a means of designing and decorating textiles throughout Europe.  Even from the earliest of times, the raw power and beauty of this technique easily lent itself to political or religious imagery.  The middle of the 19th century saw a new form of publication born - the illustrated newspaper - and the woodcut found another fitting way to use its inherent power by gracing the pages of many different papers.

The technique involves having the artist draw his image in reverse on the face of a wood block.  Then the block would be turned over to engravers who would then cut out the design.  This allowed for the drastic and striking contrast between light and dark that is at the heart of the eloquence and power of this type of art.  Woodcuts largely disappeared from 20th century mainstream newspapers, but at the Voice of Action, a newspaper affiliated with Seattle's unemployed movement and the Communist Party, they enjoyed a new burst of popularity and influence.

One of the most talented woodcut artists to grace the pages of the Voice of Action was Richard V. Correll (1904-1990).  He was born in Missouri, but for most of his life he lived on the West Coast, except for a period in the 1940s when he lived in New York City and was employed as a book illustrator and ad designer.  Although not a member of the Communist Party, in 1933, his woodcuts began to appear in the weekly Voice of Action.

He was not the only woodcut artist to contribute to the newspaper. Indeed the Voice of Action woodcuts became so popular that Correll and perhaps other artists began teaching classes in the art form, advertising them in the weekly newspaper.

Correll's blocks are distinguished from those of his fellow artists by the bold use of white space and sharp lines. They were also highly detailed as in his "This is the model city" block that depicted a cabal of top-hatted "employers" redesigning Seattle under martial law to break unions and maintain the "open shop."  He used his talent to illustrate complex scenes and comment on issues and events covered by the radical newspaper.

Richard Correll went on to become a famous artist known for his book illustrations and powerful linoleum cut prints. Read about his career and see his later art in the website managed by Leslie Correll derived from her book, Richard V. Correll Prints and Drawings (Oakland: Correll Studios). In 2012, Leslie Correll donated her collection of her father's work to the Labor Archive of Washington and UW Libraries. The poster at right was prepared for Images of Labor and Social Justice: The Art of Richard V. Correll, a special exhibit of the Labor Archives. Here is a short video about the exhibit and a great way to see some of extraordinary art that Correll created after 1936.


Voice of Action images

Below are some of Correll's woodcuts executed for the Voice of Action from 1934 to 1936, followed by woodcuts by other artists. All appeared in the Voice of Action 1933-1936. Click in the thumbnails for a larger image. Or see the complete repository of 36 images here.

Richard Correll woodcuts:

"Call out the Vigilantees"

"Stop the anti-miscegnation bill"

"Make Seattle a 100% union town"


"Capitalist Press Goes into Action"

"Production for Use"

correll2.jpg (55420 bytes)

'Lumber Strike'

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'Coal Diggers'

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'Divide & Rule'

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'Plenty of Dough'

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'The Frandsen Case'

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'Bloody Thursday'

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'1934 Maritime Strike'

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'Gentlemen of Leisure'

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'World Wide Strikes'

"Facist Soup for America"

Correll also illustrated the 1936 Northwest Labor Calendar published by the Voice of Action. The individual pages below can be enlarged  or click the link above for the full calendar in pdf format.


Woodcuts from the Voice of Action that can't be attributed to a specific artist:

vofawoodcut1.jpg (51794 bytes) vofawoodcut2.jpg (44125 bytes) vofawoodcut3.jpg (68335 bytes) vofawoodcut4.jpg (56914 bytes) vofawoodcut5.jpg (66505 bytes)
vofawoodcut6.jpg (29396 bytes) vofawoodcut7.jpg (56772 bytes) vofawoodcut8.jpg (55691 bytes) vofawoodcut9.jpg (63194 bytes) vofawoodcut10.jpg (53104 bytes)
vofawoodcut11.jpg (56576 bytes) vofawoodcut12.jpg (27305 bytes) vofawoodcut13.jpg (58497 bytes) vofawoodcut14.jpg (50124 bytes)


In one of its final issues, Voice of Action reprinted these highlights of Correll's art: