Interpretive Resource

Turning the Pages: Joseph E. Yoakum (American, 1890–1972), <em>Workbook D</em>, 1972

Turning the Pages: Joseph E. Yoakum (American, 1890–1972), Workbook D, 1972

Joseph Elmer Yoakum was an artist who started drawing in his seventies, creating inventive landscape drawings between the early 1960s and his death in 1972. Unlike most self-taught artists, Yoakum enjoyed a degree of success and attention while he was alive due to his association with the Chicago Imagists. Artists such as Roger Brown, Lori Gunn, Phil Hanson, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Christina Ramberg, Karl Wirsum, Ray Yoshida, and others avidly collected his drawings. Whitney Halstead, an art historian, artist, and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was the greatest collector and chronicler of Yoakum’s work. Halstead entrusted four of Yoakum’s five known sketchbooks to the Art Institute of Chicago. These books are titled Workbooks A through D, due to the high level of finish of the drawings. These four Workbooks join hundreds of single sheets gifted by Halstead, Yoshida, and others, making Chicago the largest repository of the artist’s oeuvre.

Yoakum described his inspiration to draw as a “spiritual unfoldment,” and his drawings are frequently regarded as anthropomorphic landscapes. He never addressed the anthropomorphic qualities evident in his landscapes, but viewers often associate elements in his drawings to animals or animistic figures.


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