About Joe Illick

My Story Begins

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, attended Princeton University (Class of ’56) and the University of Pennsylvania (where I took my Ph. D. in American history), and began teaching in the history department at San Francisco State University in 1963.  I have also taught at Kalamazoo [MI] College, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, New York University, Haverford College, University of Vermont, University of Caliifornia in Berkeley, the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, and — as the Fulbright Professor of American Studies — at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.  I am the author of five books and numerous articles and book reviews in American history, the most recent being AMERICAN CHILDHOODS (2002).  I retired as a classroom historian in 2002.


I began studying studio art at San Francisco State University in 1980, and two of my sculptures were featured in the student show in the spring of 1981. I continued to study art at San Francisco State University.  I am currently a student in painting and relief printing at the City College of San Francisco.


In addition to having taught American history in a number of colleges and universities, I conducted an institute from 1991 to 1993 for K-12 history teachers, from whom I learned lots about the California public schools.  (I already knew pretty much from watching my own three children traverse that territory.)  Children suffer through these history courses, only to face them again at the baccalaureate level.  I would like to show them that they learned something — and that they can be amused by it, as well.


No person symbolizes the national experience more obviously than the President of the United States.  I have created images of these men (we still await a woman), and I have written verse that speaks to their policies in addition to their personalities.

Because of the pervasiveness and insistence of American history instruction, all persons — children as well as adults — should recognize something in these portraits and rhymes.  I hope my work will lead to serious reflection as well as amusement; why should the sober and the comic not travel together?   And since presidential politics seem to be with us more than ever, our citizens can benefit from the perspective lent by this visual/literary experience.

“As I worked on each woodcut, I also wrote short verses that described the essence of the man and his times. My object was to be informative in a lighter way in an attempt to make history appealing to a broader audience than it usually receives.” – Joe Illick

A book displaying these images and verses is appropriate to every American household. The message is accurate but not reverential, sometimes light but never frivolous.

About the Woodcuts

During October 2007 the 43 presidents, as well as other woodcuts, were on view in San Francisco Open Studios. In the winter of 2007/2008 the presidential woodcuts were displayed at the Institute for Governmental Studies, UC, Berkeley. In November 2008 these same woodcuts appeared in the library shared by San Jose State University and the city of San Jose.

  1. Darrell Levi

    Hi, Joe: I’ve reached the point in my rambling memoir where Lavon and I visited you in 2009. It’s good to recall that visit: the art studios at Ft. Mason, the lunch at Green’s, the tour you gave us of the Dolphin Club, and our evening at your home. Hope you are doing well. Best regards, Darrell Levi

    • Hi Lavon and Darrell, I apologize for taking so long to get to your email. I didn’t know communications were part of the website. I’ve written a family memoir that begins in 17th c. Germany and comes right down to my grandchildren. I’ve written a novel. I’ve written a fair amount of verse. None of this stuff has been published but remains locked in this little machine on my lap. Although I continue to swim in the Bay, I’m getting pretty old and feeling it. Fortunately, I can still read a lot. Joe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *