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A proficient and creative printmaker and a distinguished professor, J. Boyd Saunders is also the author of books featuring fellow South Carolina printmakers Alfred Hutty and James Fowler Cooper, two artists who helped rediscover and reignite the Charleston Renaissance. Saunders has a known affinity for story-telling and literature; having met William Faulkner while at the University of Mississippi, he illustrated publication of his Spotted Horses with 34 original lithographs, as well as The Bear and The Sound and the Fury. Of his multifaceted accomplishments, Saunders has said: “Indeed, I consider myself a product of a long Southern tradition of story-telling, preaching, and oratory. As if being a narrative artist were not bad enough, I am also a printmaker. This, too, seems to mystify and confuse the unenlightened. Certainly, from the beginning, the printed word and the printed image have been closely associated with one another.” He has also produced a number of bronze sculptures that are similar to his prints: narrative and rooted in southern culture.

The first of four sons, Saunders was born on a large working farm in Rossville, a small rural community in western Tennessee. He obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from nearby Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) in 1959. After graduation he served in the United States Marine Corps. The University of Mississippi awarded him a master’s degree in 1962, and it was there he met Faulkner while walking in the woods. Although he did not know the author, nor was he familiar with his work, the two developed a collaborative relationship, and Saunders completed companion illustrations for several of Faulkner’s written works, inevitably submitting these as part of his master’s thesis. Saunders did additional study at the Universities of Alabama and Arizona and in 1967 was at the Bottega d’arte grafica in Florence. During 1959–1960, he was a staff artist for Dan Kilgo & Associates, an advertising agency in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He took a position as an instructor at his alma mater, the University of Mississippi, 1960-1961, and from 1962 to 1965 he taught at Southwest Texas State College (now Texas State University), in San Marcos. In honor of its famous alumnus, the college’s press published Lyndon Baines Johnson: The Formative Years with five illustrations on the cover by Saunders. Between 1963 and 1965, he also worked as a designer and illustrator at Chaparral Press in Tyler, Texas.

In 1965 the University of South Carolina in Columbia beckoned, and it was there that Saunders spent the rest of his career until his retirement in 2001. His first assigned studio space was a converted men’s bathroom, hardly comfortable for thirty students. With his typical sense of humor, Saunders declared: “We got to know each other real well. We knew what each other looked like and felt like and smelled like.” He went on to establish a significant printmaking program that offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in facilities that include equipment for a variety of processes such as, relief, intaglio, serigraphy, lithography, and digital imaging.

With a preference for etching, aquatint, and lithography Saunders has created a body of work that embraces layered and sometimes symbolic imagery, much of which relates to his experiences as a Southerner. Many of his prints are colorful and include action, whether that of horses or trains. Furthermore, his prints demonstrate great technical facility with media that can be very challenging, especially when processes are combined. In an interview he admitted: “There’s a lot of stuff in these plates—philosophical and contemplative. Look at them up close and personal.”

In 1972 Saunders was a co-founder of the Southeastern Graphics Council (now called the Southern Graphics Council) which has reached a membership totaling 2500. In 2002 the Council recognized Saunders with the annual printmaker emeritus award. Beginning in 1985 he taught for the summer program of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts in Greenville, reaching high school students who aspired to be artists. Two mixed media prints, his signature Canyon Wall (1969) and Blackberry Winter (1970) represent Saunders in the state art collection of the South Carolina Arts Commission.