BOOKS IN PRINT

Oddballs by Jim Westergard  

Oddballs is wood engraver Jim Westergard’s collection of forty portraits and brief biographical sketches of historical figures who gained fame—or notoriety—through curious behavior and circumstance.

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They say truth is stranger than fiction. In Oddballs, Jim Westergard proves it.

This collection of wood engravings accompanied by short, tongue-in-cheek biographies showcases forty fantastically detailed, warts-and-all portraits of some of history’s most peculiar figures. Jim Westergard creates a veritable rogues’ gallery, populated by notorious historical rebels and eccentrics like Rasputin, Pope Joan and Ned Kelly as well as lesser-known oddballs such as octogenarian bank robber Red Roundtree and Mike the headless chicken. From victims of spontaneous human combustion to the masterminds behind archaeological hoaxes, Oddballs pays tribute to the zany, bizarre, mischievous and just plain odd rascals who, by accident or design, have found their way into the annals of history.

prize

2016—ForeWord IndieFab Book of the Year Award,
Long-listed

prize

2016—Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards,
Commended

Review text

All of Oddballs’ wood engravings should be appreciated with second and third glances in recognition of the painstaking, hands-on nature of their medium.

Jim Westergard’s Oddballs is a tribute to humanity’s more unusual members, pairing forty short biographies with black-and-white wood-engraved portraits. Ranging from whimsical to poignant, mysterious to perplexing, Westergard’s oddballs include artists, eccentrics, crusaders, writers, and criminals.

Westergard curated this quirky group over several years, noting how history "has been very generous with its supply of oddballs" and how "the walls of an oddball gallery could stretch to infinity." Some of Oddballs’ accounts involve a few simple paragraphs, while others go on in more detail. Pop art icon Andy Warhol has a brief and quizzical biography, while the tale of the Mad Trapper of Rat River is tragically elaborated.

Also featured are radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson; the Russian monk Rasputin; and sixty-three-year-old widow Annie Taylor, who became the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a pickle barrel. Each story is engagingly written by Westergard, and the oddball assortment is a diverse one.

What makes Oddballs truly memorable, however, are the wood engravings. Clearly a master of the technique, Westergard presents finely wrought likenesses of his subjects. As noted in the introduction by fellow expert wood engraver Barry Moser, the medium uses surgically sharp steel tools and is exacting and "unforgiving," rivaled in difficulty only by mezzotint or fresco.

To enhance his technical finesse, Westergard sometimes adds a touch of relevant humor to his portraits. Germophobe Howard Hughes looks nervously at a cockroach on his shoulder, a man called "Frozen Dead Guy" enjoys a popsicle, and the aforementioned Andy Warhol eats a bowl of (presumably) Campbell’s soup.

The wry humor continues as Lizzie Borden of the many ax whacks poses with a Mona Lisa-like smile, and tiny fairies dance around Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, due to the Sherlock Holmes creator’s tendency to be duped by phony spiritualists.

Journalist Hunter S. Thompson, with his trademark cigarette holder and dark glasses, is one of Oddballs’ best depictions, which might very well have been appreciated by Thompson himself had he not, as the book reveals, committed suicide in 2005 and requested to have his ashes shot skyward out of a cannon.

The lesser-known folks among the pages, such as Canadian conservationist Archie Belaney, also known as Grey Owl, and Emperor Joshua A. Norton of San Francisco, are curiosity-inducing and will doubtless prompt follow-up Google searches.

All of Oddballs’ wood engravings should be appreciated with second and third glances in recognition of the painstaking, hands-on nature of their medium, which flourishes here, even in an otherwise fast-paced and digital world.

—Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews

Review quote

‘With Oddballs Jim’s hands keep up with his prolific imagination and wit, his engraving and writing complementing each other, bringing out the very best of his unique vision. The layout of the book features a spread dedicated to each ‘character’, the title and tale on the left and the engraved portrait on the right. This arrangement works wonderfully, forming a diptych of Westergard’s ingenious and often humorous observations, written and engraved. Ideas expressed in the biographical text often take a visual form in the portrait created.

Oddballs is a master’s class in the art of wood engraved portraiture.’

—Tony Drehfal, Multiples

Introduction or preface

Foreword by Jim Westergard

The dictionary defines ‘odd’ as: ‘a—left over after others are paired or grouped; b—separated from a set or series, c—not regular, expected, or planned; d—encountered or experienced from time to time; e—differing markedly from the usual or ordinary or accepted: PECULIAR. Synonym: see STRANGE.’

This is a collection of forty wood engraving portraits of people who were out of the ordinary, unique, peculiar or strange. There are victims and victors, some worthy and some unworthy, and some who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. History has been very generous with its supply of oddballs and the walls of an oddball gallery could stretch to infinity. There are, no doubt, more oddballs walking the earth today, awaiting their portraits ... and an unlimited supply awaiting us in the future. So how did the oddballs in this collection get here?

When I come across an article in a magazine or newspaper, or a story in a book, about someone who has done something odd or has been in a situation I consider odd, I make a note of it or clip it out. These notes and clippings go in a file in an old grey filing cabinet in my studio, along with other thoughts and ideas that could someday stimulate a print or a drawing. Sometimes I might hear of something during a conversation with a friend, or someone might send me something they find extraordinary. For instance, I found out about Jean Baptiste, the 19th century gravedigger when my sister LoAnn sent me an article from a magazine. I heard about ‘Frozen Dead Guy Days’ in Nederland, Colorado while living in Denver. The story of Emperor Norton was a local tale told around San Francisco when I lived in the Bay Area. I watched Marvin Heemeyer’s bulldozer ride through Granby, Colorado on the TV news one night. When I shared my wood engraving, ‘Burgess & Cogswell’ with Barry Moser he told me that the word ‘blurb’ originated with Gelett Burgess. You never know where you’re going to find out about an oddball.


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Jim Westergard was born in Ogden, Utah in 1939. He was educated at a variety of colleges and universities in California, Arizona and Utah where he completed his BFA and MFA at Utah State. Westergard moved to Red Deer in 1975 and taught at Red Deer College until his retirement in 1999. He became a Canadian citizen in 1980.

Jim Westergard has been creating prints from wood engravings since university days in the late 60s, but had never completed a book-length collection until the original limited letterpress edition of Mother Goose Eggs. The first engraving for this project was finished in 1999. Then, after a four-year struggle which included an unexpected hernia operation and reprinting the press-sheets a second time with helpful hints from Crispin Elsted of the Barbarian Press (Mission, BC), Mother Goose Eggs was finally bound and released in a deluxe edition of eighty copies in 2003.

Westergard continues to create wood engravings on his cantankerous old VanderCook SP-15 proof press which he has affectionately named the ‘Spanish Fly’.

For more information please visit the Author’s website »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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REFERENCE / Curiosities & Wonders

ART / Canadian

ISBN-13: 9780889843899

Publication Date: 2015-11-30

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 104

Price: $18.95