The final print Leighton executed was Farming. For her 1935 book, Four Hedges: A Gardener's Chronicle, she had engraved an image of a man with a scythe accompanied by an ecstatic text about the joys of mowing. That figure is very English and clearly contemporary. For New England Industries her mower is American and set in a generalized past. This monumental figure swings an antiquated grain cradle while his jug of cider and the image of a sickle articulate the foreground (Fig. 12). The barns and rounded hills in the background were carefully studied from life (see Fig. 13), fusing the historical with the contemporary. If Whaling represents the archetypal New England industry, Farming shows the archetypal New England worker.
Underlying all Leighton's art is her identification with the workers she depicted. Their tools are analogous to her tools. Her labor as an artist is related to their labor in the fields or at trades. As a socialist in the tradition of William Morris and Edward Carpenter she believed in the redeeming value of all craft skills, including her own. The selection of subjects for New England Industries should not be viewed as nostalgia for a bygone era, but as a protest against the losses caused by industrialization.
Indeed, I can see how deeply enriched I have become, how much I have learned in these confused days of technology and mechanization and good to remember that man is still uncomplicated and humble before the power of the earth and sea.
Greater than will to power and more enduring than economic strain and stress is the inevitable shape of the plow deterkined [sic] by necessity. These designs, in which I have tried to show the rhythm of labour, are no sentimental escape from reality.
Leighton probably finished engraving the blocks by the end of 1951. Each block was printed with a press on bright white clay-coated paper to create high contrast impressions for Wedgwood to use for the transfers. A photographic process was used to print the images in underglaze charcoal sepia. Leighton retained the woodblocks and hand-printed her own signed and numbered edition of fifty on cream Japanese paper. Wedgwood released the finished plates for sale in the fall of 1952. The archive at the Yale Center for British Art reveals the incredible amount of work Leighton completed over three years. The final product ranks as one of her major works and as a monument in the history of wood engraving.
ANDREW RAFTERY is an engraver, printmaker, and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.
* All quotations are from Leighton's unpublished typescript in the Collection of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut.