Ted Hughes and Leonard Baskin

Much has been written, discussed, dissected and speculated about the relationship between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and the artistic influence these two celebrated poets may have had on each other. Overshadowed and appearing as a mere footnote in history, by comparison, is any mention of the creative partnership that Hughes enjoyed with the American artist Leonard Baskin, whose illustrations accompany many of his poetic collections, including some of his most acclaimed work.

Baskin (1922-2000) was a renowned sculptor, painter, illustrator and printmaker whose works are owned by many major museums, including the Met, MoMA and British Museum. Examples of his public commissions can be found at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Whilst still a student at Yale he, also, founded Gehenna Press which, during its 50 year existence, produced over 100 limited edition artisan publications.

Ted and Sylvia first met Leonard Baskin in 1958 during their brief residence in the US where they had both taken up university teaching posts. Although different in character, Hughes and Baskin both shared an interest in the natural world and death and soon forged a close friendship that led to a visual and verbal artistic collaborative partnership that would encompass around thirty books and last until the death of Hughes in 1998. For nine years Baskin lived with his family in Devon; partly, to be in closer proximity to Hughes. Baskin did not merely illustrate the work of Hughes; in many cases, he was the one to instigate its creation, including Crow, which is regarded, by many, as one of Hughes’s finest work and developed from Baskin’s invitation to simply make a book about crows.

Their extraordinary relationship was captured in 1976 by the film maker and photographer Noel Channing during recordings at Baskin’s studio in Devon, where Hughes would frequently drop by. In these recordings Baskin described their relationship as an “affinity” and a “presence” rather than “a relationship of influence,” while, the normally reticent, Hughes opened up and described it as “telepathic.”

A testament to the close bond these two men forged over the years is that Baskin was able to publish after the death of Hughes in the Gehenna publication Howls and Whispers poems that were held back from his autobiographical collection Birthday Letters, first published by Faber in 1998.

The book in the photographs is a first edition of Flowers and Insects, published by Faber in 1986.

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