I visited Stratford, Ontario a few weeks back to take in a new adaptation of the Henriad called The Breath of Kings being presented at the Festival. In between plays, I chanced by Gerard Brender à Brandis’ studio located in his beautifully restored Greek Revival Saltbox cottage near the town’s main street.
Not realizing his house was around the corner, I had just bought a copy of his most recent book The Grand River: Dundalk to Lake Erie, co-authored with his sister Marianne Brandis, and published by The Porcupine’s Quill. George was born in the Netherlands and came to Canada with his parents in 1946. Though he studied art history at McMaster University, his artistic practice in engraving, painting, and bookmaking is self-taught. He was wonderfully warm and welcoming to my partner and I as he gave a lively tour of his house and described his engraving and printmaking process.
Gerard’s limited editions are almost entirely made at home. After painstakingly etching his beautiful woodblock engravings, he prints and binds each book himself. He sources his paper from the Papeterie St-Gilles of Quebec, and hand weaves and dyes flax to make linen covers. He showed us a copy of his most recent project, A Pebble’s Journey: The Grand River Observed by Two Artists, which was adapted into The Grand River trade paperback. The re-working of the limited edition book to a trade version involved both creating a number of new engravings to fit the new format, and greatly lengthening the text from a few sentences to longer essays. The Pebble’s Journey was printed by Gerard using his 1882 Albion press. The typeface is Libra. Libra was designed by Sjoerd Hendrik de Roos in 1937 and based on Carolignian script, which as we know, has a close association with Alcuin of York, who oversaw Charlemagne’s scriptorium where this script was perfected. Gerard’s next project is a book about his house, with different engravings representing the different rooms.
I highly recommend the Grand River volume. Gerard’s engravings are finely attuned to the details of place, whether in representing the built heritage of southern Ontario, or the shades and contrasts of the small and out-of-the-way copses of flora and fauna, marshes and pastures that line the river. Each engraving brings significance and nuance to these overlooked places, and folds them into a conversation with the larger historical and ecological narrative written by Marianne. Since moving to Ontario from British Columbia, I’ve been coming to learn that for all that the Ontario landscape lacks in jagged peaks and vistas of trees and ocean, the rolling green of the province’s countryside has its own complex interest. The book has reaffirmed this for me, and gives me a greater sense of place as its images and prose winds its way from the river’s source all the way to its outlet at Port Maitland on Lake Erie. Many thanks to Gerard for welcoming us to his studio!