Josef Zenk  (1904 - 2000) 

Josef Zenk was born in New York City in 1904. After graduating from high school, he studied for three years at the National Academy of Design, followed by further studies at the Art Students League in New York.

In 1926, Zenk moved to Utica, New York, where he began to produce landscape, figurative, and still life paintings. He was part of a small community of artists who, in 1927 and 1928, organized exhibitions with many of the leading American painters, including Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, and Ernest Fiene. In 1930 he was granted a full scholarship to study at the Munson Williams Proctor Institute in Utica, where he later became an instructor until World War II. While there, an exhibition of his work produced the greatest attendance of any show at the institution of that year. In 1942, “Zuni” by Zenk became the first work purchased by the Munson Williams Proctor Institute for its Central New York Artists Collection.

After service in the Armed Forces from 1942 to 1945, Zenk left Utica and moved his studio to Palisades Park, New Jersey. Under the new G.I. Bill, he began to study at the New School in New York City. Along with Louis Schanker, a prominent woodcut artist and teacher at the New School, Zenk and a small group of printmakers formed “Studio 74” for the purpose of exhibiting their color woodblock prints. The group received immediate critical attention. The New York Times described the work of Josef Zenk as “particularly admirable”. One of his prints, “The Kiss”, was chosen in 1949 as one of the “best prints of the year” and was exhibited in the National Exhibition of Prints held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Zenk moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania in the late 1940s, living in Upper Black Eddy, a town along the Delaware River, ten miles north of New Hope. He maintained a studio in Palisades Park for a while after the move, before eventually working full time from his studio in Pennsylvania. Zenk remained active painting and making woodblock prints, while also teaching art classes. He resided in Bucks County until the end of his life at the age of ninety-six.

Like several other important Pennsylvania and New Jersey artists, the works of Josef Zenk were only recently rediscovered and brought to light. For the remaining thirty-five years of his life, he chose a somewhat reclusive lifestyle, away from the frenetic art scene.

Josef Zenk’s works have been shown in over twenty-seven museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Newark Museum, the Seattle Museum of Art, and the National Academy of Design. Through the many exhibitions during his career, Zenk progressed from stylized realism in landscape and figurative painting to a powerful modernist and abstract style with a strong sense of personal expression.