Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Few of My Favourite Things #1 - "The Artist of the Beautiful" CLGA Volunteer Lawrence Bennett on Gerard Brender a Brandis

As the editor of the CLGA's newsletter, I have found myself trying to find ways to add interesting content to our monthly notice that really communicates to the public just what a treasure the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives are. I decided to ask one of my (many lovely) fellow volunteers to write a short piece about some of their favourite things in the archives' holdings. Lawrence Bennett, a volunteer of 13 years, had this to say:

When Jenna Danchuk, editor of this newsletter, asked me to write about my favourite things in the CLGA, I thought immediately of the artist’s books created and donated by Gerard Brender a Brandis. There are 12 of these books; most of them are collaborations with Canadian poets and fiction writers.

Gerard Brender a Brandis, a master wood engraver and bookwright, was a pioneer in crafting and publishing his own limited-edition, hand-made books as art objects in Canada. He lives and works in Stratford, Ontario. The Canadian Encyclopedia cites him as “one of the artists whose books are fine examples of well-balanced, imaginative book design.”

His first edition of handmade books appeared in 1969 and another has been issued almost each year since then. His books have been included in the collections of The National Library, Ottawa, the New York Public Library, The National Library of New Zealand, and many public and university libraries, as well as private collections. His single-leaf engravings are in The National Gallery, Ottawa; The Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton; The Hunt Botanical Library, Pittsburgh; and in private collections in Canada, The United States, Europe, Britain and Japan.

He has had solo exhibitions almost every year since 1965, and had work in numerous group shows.

Among his published projects are the flowers mentioned in Shakespeare, musical instruments in Shakespeare, the Grand River in southern Ontario.

Photo by Wil Craddock

A sublime example of Gerard’s artistry, housed in the Archives rare books cabinets, is the 1999 “If Stones Could Speak”. Thirty-three woodcuts accompany Timothy Findley’s four essays of recollections of life at Stone Orchard, the farm where he lived for 30 years with William Whitehead. The pastoral atmosphere on the farm is captured in images of animals, buildings, gardens, of trees, fences, flowers, the pond, of architectural, landscaping, botanical details. Printed on his own press from hand-set type and his woodcuts onto handmade paper, Gerard bound the book into handwoven linen covers made from homespun yarn. Its design communicates an interplay between the visual and written elements that offers a unique reading experience. A masterpiece, to my mind.

Photo by Wil Craddock

Gerard collaborated on four historical novels with his sister, writer Marianne Brandis. According to Marianne’s website “Their collaboration is always more than a mere joining of text and illustrations. Marianne and Gerard plan the whole work together, interweaving the book’s physical form with the subject-matter, the words with the images, so that the final creation produces an exceptionally rich artistic experience. The collaborative process for Marianne and Gerard begins with general ideas and outlines and works toward the details, with the final work coming together like a kind of dance, or “pas de deux” as Gerard calls it.”

Gerard’s website invites the public to visit his combined home and studio in Stratford. “This working artist’s studio offers you an opportunity to observe wood engraving and book production on a ‘cottage industry’ scale. The materials, tools and an 1882 printing press can be seen in the studio. The electronic medium cannot convey the effect of printer’s ink, impressed onto dampened, handmade, rag paper. You must come here to experience the real thing.”

Praise for Gerard Brender a Brandis’s oeuvre:

"The lines are rich and black, and the images...are like pastoral poems...Brender à Brandis' ability to capture mood is unparalleled." The Windsor Star, Windsor

"His sensibility as an artist is reminiscent of the Hawthorne story, 'The Artist of the Beautiful,' in which a watchmaker finds beauty in smallness and abhors the enormity and power of modern industrialism." Books in Canada, Toronto

“In a world where form and content are so often at odds, the still, reflective, unhurried wood engravings of Gerard Brender à Brandis deliver a powerful synthesis of the two. Carving fine white light into the black "canvas" of a wood block is, in itself, a meditative process, and one which lends itself to Brender à Brandis' timeless subjects. He restores, with exacting detail, the small, forgotten wonderments of the world around us: an abandoned barn; an empty room glimpsed through a doorway; a solitary beetle; a single flower…..A celebrated printmaker and illustrator, Brender à Brandis is also an accomplished bookwright. Lyghtesome Gallery, Nova Scotia.

For more images of Gerard Brender a Brandis’s wood engravings, see


The CLGA;,

Gerard’s website;

Marianne Brandis’s Website;

The Art Exchange

quotations from The Windsor Star and Books in Canada came from the Lyghtesome Gallery

I'd like to thank Lawrence for being our first volunteer to write a article for this series, and for doing such a wonderful job with it! If you are a volunteer who has a favourite thing in the archives, and would like to write a short piece about it, please contact the CLGA newsletter editor, Jenna Danchuk, at

No comments:

Post a Comment