SPOTLIGHT: February 1, 2023

Ram and Ewes

The printed works of Ukrainian-American artist Jacques Hnizdovsky are characteristically bold, and typically feature pattern-oriented designs that depict their subjects with intricacy and clarity. The woodcut print Ram and Ewes is an excellent example, exhibiting the artist’s recognizable jovial style and perhaps his best-known subject matter, sheep. Hnizdovsky had a proclivity for picking plants and animals as the subjects of his designs, but his honed focus on flora and fauna, and his dedication to relief printmaking, weren’t realized until later in life as a refugee in New York.

Hnizdovsky was born in Ukraine on January 27, 1915, during a time of great political upheaval in Eastern Europe. In his late adolescence, he became separated from his family and found himself part of the Ukrainian diaspora. Effects of world events would continue to influence the artist’s life and where he lived it. He studied art in Warsaw, Poland, but as a result of Germany bombing the city in 1939—subsequently closing the Academy of Fine Arts—he relocated to Zagreb, Yugoslavia (present-day Croatia). Before emigrating to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1949, he spent time near Munich, Germany, documenting the Weyarn Displaced Persons’ Camp for the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration).

In Minnesota, Hnizdovsky found a job as a commercial artist working for Brown & Bigelow, but it wasn’t long before he moved to New York to pursue his career in fine art. There, he experimented with painting, sculpture, and prints. Printmaking appealed to the artist and once he found success in that area, he didn’t look back. In the late 1950s, he began to develop a series of woodcuts that depict trees, a subject for which he is also well known. In 1962, at the Boston Printmakers annual exhibition, he was awarded for his print The Sheep. The artist explains how necessity influenced the focus of his artworks and their subjects:

In the beginning, trees and animals were only a substitute for the human figure. I turned to them because of the difficulties of obtaining human models. But if trees, plants, and animals were originally only my second love, I found so much beauty in them, that they became my first.

Hnizdovsky’s designs were carved with the precision that his intricate designs demanded. In the process of drawing, and subsequently transferring those drawings to a woodblock or linoleum in preparation for a print, the artist would continually refine his designs. Exaggerated proportions and sensational textures imbue his designs with a certain cheerful quality, while retaining a sophisticated style of refinement and idealism. In a volume of The Yale University Library Gazette from 1977, Aleksis Rannit articulates Hnizdovsky’s synthesis of stylized abstraction and observational representation:

Throughout Hnizdovsky’s work there is the search for philosophical truth as found in nature, and also the quest for an ideal beauty on an absolute level, founded on the study of nature, but actually in opposition to observed reality. Thus, the abstract drawing translated into woodcut becomes a metaphysical principle which is found in all things, visible and invisible, material and spiritual.                                                                                                                                 

In that same article, Rannit likens the composition of a similar print, Herd of Merino Sheep (1975), to “a bouquet of flowers.” This print in the museum’s collection, Ram and Ewes, depicts nine sheep, each a plump oval covered in a pattern of wavy wool, defined by sinuous lines, and dotted with a “T” shaped head. Like dinner rolls, the sheep stand shoulder to shoulder in a grid, so close to one another that they form a single unit. Characteristic of Hnizdovsky’s later work, this print omits any indication of a background, emphasizing the idealized style of the image that, rather than depict a certain plant or animal from any given moment, depicts something more universal or eternal.

Hnizdovsky’s work was exhibited at many one-man shows throughout the United States, including shows at Associated American Artists in 1971 and 1979. Among many others, Hnizdovsky has contributed illustrations to The Poems of John Keats, 1964; The Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1967; Tree Trails of Central Park, 1971; Flora Exotica, 1972, and The Poems of Thomas Hardy, 1979. Today Hnizdovsky’s art is included in such major collections as The Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover; Art Complex Museum, Duxbury; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; The New York Public Library; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Library of Congress and The White House, Washington, DC; Yale University, and others.

Goertz, Katherine. “Jacques Hnizdovsky in Minnesota.” HMML, 1 Dec. 2022,

“Hnizdovsky: Biography.” Hnizdovsky Gallery,

“Hnizdovsky: Reflections of an Artist.” Hnizdovsky Gallery,

Rannit, Aleksis. “Jacques Hnizdovsky A Ukrainian Graphic Artist.” The Yale University Library Gazette, vol. 51, no. 4, 1977, pp. 190–207. JSTOR,

Jacques Hnizdovsky (Ukrainian-American, 1915-1985)
Ram and Ewes, 1976