Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 107
August 1996


Joyce Lancaster Wilson

Long-time Book Club [of California] member Joyce Lancaster Wilson - actress, printer, editor, teacher, artist, author - died on April 11th in San Francisco from complications of hip surgery. She would have been eighty-two years old in August of this year. She was the widow of Adrian Wilson, esteemed book designer and fine printer - perhaps one of the dozen finest of the twentieth century. With her passing, it appears, also dies The Press in Tuscany Alley, which she had strived to save as part of the printing-history program at San Francisco State University. Her generous contributions to the program kept it alive for over five years, most notably under the direction of Peter Rutledge Koch [printer and GBW member].

Theirs, Joyce and Adrian's, was a great love story, taking place against a political background of pacifism during the Second World War and McCarthyism in the decades thereafter. As Joyce Lancaster, she was one of the co-founders of The Interplayers, a dramatic company that dominated San Francisco's theatrical world from 1947 to 1968, usually with Joyce in the leading feminine role.[ The company presented splendid revivals of Lorca, Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, Shaw, and, yes, Gertrude Stein. The intellectual mix became even headier with productions of works by French dramatists Moliere, Jean Anouilh, Jean Giraudoux, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Younger and local dramatists' works were also presented to an enthusiastic, large audience. Through it all, Joyce Lancaster was the reigning star and a leading figure in San Francisco artistic circles.

The programs for The Interplayers' productions were designed and printed by Adrian Wilson and are today some of the most sought-after ephemera among collectors of fine printing. Almost every program is a different size because Adrian used end-lots and leftovers donated by other printers, among them the Grabhorns, especially in the early years. Joyce Lancaster assisted in the production of the programs as well as in the first production of The Press in Tuscany Alley, Printing for Theater, in 1957. She was also editor and co-author with Adrian of numerous works, including The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle, Nico Israel, 1976, and A Medieval Mirror: Speculum Humanae Salvationis 1324-1500, University of California Press, 1984.

Too often overlooked in the achievements of Joyce Lancaster Wilson are her beautiful children's books, written mostly by Joyce and designed and illustrated in many colors with her own wood blocks and linoleum cuts. A trade edition of Joyce's Toby was published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston, and the following were published by The Press in Tuscany Alley: Four Kings of the Forest, 1973; The Ark of Noah, 1975; A Child's Garden of Verses, 1978; and The Swing, 1981. All of these volumes are splendid productions and excellent candidates for reissue.

The love story of Joyce and Adrian is brilliantly reflected in Adrian's book Two Against the Tide, edited and with commentary by Joyce and published by W. Thomas Taylor in 1990. At the time of her death she was working on a compilation, with commentary, of the letters of Adrian and Joyce Wilson. She is survived by their daughter, Melissa Marshall, son-in-law, Craig Marshall, and grandson, Gabriel Marshall. On Monday night, April 15th, at The Book Club of California, a special toast was raised to Joyce Lancaster Wilson by all members assembled. It was presented by Joyce's long-time friend and printing colleague James Wehlage. Joyce Lancaster Wilson: Truly a woman of sovereign parts.

Harlan Kessel

Our thanks to The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter for permission to reprint the above.