About the Illustrator

Wladyslaw Theodor Benda
(1873 - 1948)

Cather took an active interest in the design of her books. For My Ántonia, she commissioned line drawings from the Bohemian-born artist Wladyslaw Theodor Benda. Cather requested that the illustrations be simple pen and ink drawings that resembled old woodcuts. The pictures in the first edition of My Ántonia are not just simple decorations however, but an essential part of Cather's text. Cather hints that W. T. Benda's series of drawings is her most important addition to the "substance" of the book. Ironically, the Benda illustrations, which Cather independently commissioned, received strong opposition from her publishers at Houghton Mifflin.

Wladyslaw Theodor Benda, was born in Pozan, Poland on Jan. 15, 1873 and died on Nov. 30, 1948 in Newark, N.J. He studied at the Art Academy in Kraków, Poland and in Vienna before coming to the United States in 1899. He also studied in San Francisco before settling in New York City and becoming a U.S. citizen in 1911. In addition to decorative works and many illustrations for magazines and books, he created modern masks, which were used in theatre and dance performances throughout the world. The masks premiered in Greenwich Village Follies (1920). Benda also wrote the book, Masks (1944).

Shortly after Jim tells Ántonia that she is "a part of my mind," they walk home across the fields. Jim describes the sunset:

"The sun dropped and lay like a great golden globe in the low west. While it hung there, the moon rose in the east, as big as a cart-wheel, pale silver and streaked with rose colour, thin as a bubble or a ghost-moon. For five, perhaps ten minutes, the two luminaries confronted each other across the level land, resting on opposite edges of the world. 

Pen and ink illustration from My Antonia by W.T. Benda

In that singular light every little tree and shock of wheat, every sunflower stalk and clump of snow-on-the-mountain, drew itself up high and pointed; the very clods and furrows in the fields seemed to stand up sharply. I felt the old pull of the earth, the solemn magic that comes out of these fields at nightfall. I wished I could be a little boy again, and that my way could end there."

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Revised 05/25/10