John Frederic Greenwood, watercolour artist, wood engraver and printmaker, was born in Rochdale, but studied between 1904-8 at Shipley School of Art and Bradford School of Art, then at the Royal College of Art (RCA), 1908-11. He lived for most of his life at Ilkley and died there. He is best remembered for his distinctive wood engravings.
He taught in schools and art colleges in Yorkshire and was elected a member of the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers in 1939 and a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1940.
He exhibited in the UK and overseas and gave early support to the Society of Wood Engravers (SWE). Wood engraving was not taught officially at the RCA during Greenwood’s time there, but he was introduced to the medium by a fellow student, C.W. Taylor, and became an enthusiastic champion of this art and craft.
In 1921 his first wood engraving was exhibited with the SWE, but in 1926 he became involved with Gordon Craig’s rival group, the English Wood Engraving Society (EWES), along with other artists including Percy Bliss, Gertrude Hermes, Blair Hughes-Stanton and Leon Underwood. The members of te EWES broke away from tradition to use wood engraving in more abstract ways, but Greenwood’s style remained more in the tradition of Thomas Bewick, characterised by its realism and skilfully rendered attention to detail.
Four of his wood engravings of Wharfedale scenes were shown at the the First International Exhibition of Lithography and Wood Engraving, 1929, in Chicago. His work appeared as book illustrations, including books published by the Cambridge University Press.
In addition to his own work, John Greenwood was an art lecturer at Battersea Polytechnic for 15 years, then served as head of design at the Bradford School of Art from 1928 – 1937, before moving Leeds College of Art, where he was the Head of Industrial Design & Crafts until his retirement in 1948.
On leaving Bradford College, he expressed disappointment to the Yorkshire Observer on ‘Bradford’s failure to support artist craftsmen’. He observed that the ‘city could turn out artists, but it did not encourage and maintain them. Bradfordians had to leave their native city to gain any recognition’. He felt though that ‘south-country students of art did not work so well as Northerners, though they were generally better instinctive artists when they began their training. By sheer grit and determination, however, the Northerners ultimately proved to be better and were, for the most part, more capable’ (Yorkshire Observer, February 4, 1937)
Examples of his work are in the collections of the Ashmolean, Glasgow, British Museum, V&A, Leeds Art Gallery, and Bradford Museums and Galleries.
Wood Engravings and Woodcuts by John F. Greenwood and his contemporaries. A catalogue of an exhibition held at and published by Bradford Art Galleries and Museums, 1982.
The Dales are Mine by John F Greenwood. Published by Skeffington and Son, London, 1952.
Twenty-four Woodcuts of Cambridge by John F Greenwood. Published by J. Lane, the Bodley Head, London , 1926.