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Engravings on wood

Monday 10 May 2004

At a second-hand bookshop in Whangarei I bought a copy of E Mervyn Taylor’s Engravings on wood (Wellington: Mermaid Press, 1957). This book displays a body of work influenced by the natural environment of New Zealand, and embedded in the European tradition of printing from engraved end-grain wood blocks. The native birds, plants (like the toi toi), landscapes and people of New Zealand were his subjects, and he engraved them with freshness.

I had not heard of him before, but this says more about my poor knowledge of New Zealand’s cultural history than it does about the artist. I know now that Mervyn Taylor (1906-1964) was a well-known and well-regarded artist.

'Toi toi', E Mervyn Taylor, 1950

E Mervyn Taylor, Toi toi, 1950. Engraved on Southland beech for the Mermaid Press.

Taylor wrote a short introduction for his book, with a potted account of the history of his medium. He includes some helpful notes: For those interested in the technique of engraving, willing to investigate the subect for themselves, there are excellent reference books available. ‘Wood engraving and wood cuts’ by Claire Leighton makes a good beginning.

I know and admire the English wood engraver, illustrator and writer Clare Leighton (1899-1989) — I have a few of her prints and books — but I had not seen her how to do it book. Until now, that is.

Title page: 'Wood engraving and woodcuts'On a shelf at the back of the same Whangarei bookshop I was delighted to find a copy of Wood engraving and woodcuts by Claire Leighton, with photographs of her at work with the graver, and reproductions of a range of artists’ work. Like Mervyn Taylor’s book, Claire Leighton’s was an ex-library copy. All those rubber stamps, card pockets and other marks of use might put off the book collectors, but I’m happy to have them. They make the book a special souvenir of my stop in Whangarei, and they don’t harm my pleasure in reading Claire Leighton’s opening words: Of all media, wood-engraving is the one in which there is the least to be taught and the most to be learnt.

filed under Prints + Words

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