Being Out of the Wood - but not in the way you think.

Raw materials for wood engraving: a seasoned boxwood log, blocks and tools.

Depending on what the UK Government announces (literally as I write), the subject of this post will either grab your interest as something to do on a wet afternoon - or fill you with frustration at yet another plan that can't be done because the iron grill of lockdown (ooh, I like that) has descended once more. That is, dear reader, if you are the kind of person who takes delight in bookish things (and let's face it, who isn't?).

Clare Leighton: The Farmer's Year.

Between now and 31 December, 2020, the Blackwell Hall in the Weston Library (the splendid modern Bodleian building in Broad Street - just watch out for the disappearing steps outside) is holding a small but fascinating exhibition. Celebrating all that goes into the making of a book, Out of the Wood marks this year's centenary of the Society of Wood Engravers.

Engravings and their blocks by
Hilary Paynter and John Nash.

Wood engravings and woodcuts, from Albrecht 
Dürer in the 15th century to those of more recent artists like John Nash, Clare Leighton and Hilary Paynter, are displayed along with the material used - the wood itself. Lightly inked blocks below some of the engravings show how exquisitely fine lines have created the picture printed above.

Sylvae by Gaylord Schanilec.

Wood can also be used for binding books, and one artist, Gaylord Schanilec, has taken the theme back to its very roots, having made and bound a book out of trees cut from his own land, with pages bearing their direct imprint.

The Bodleian display forms a companion to the delightful Scene Through Wood exhibition of wood engravings running at the Ashmolean Museum till 15 November (catch it if you can). But what is lovely about Out of the Wood is the amount of information achieved in a a single glass case, shown in a pleasing, clear and accessible way. 

I should perhaps declare an interest of the curators is my husband, Nigel Hamway. Readers of my July Authors Electric blog may remember he was also behind another stunning work of art created to celebrate the SWE centenary, Nomad Letterpress's 2020 Vision:Nineteen wood engravers, one collector and the artists who inspired them.

Not an engraver himself, Nigel is the next best thing: a lover of the art. 

And definitely a collector.

Exhibition Co-curator Nigel Hamway (complete with mask).


Eden Baylee said…
Fascinating post Griselda. Too bad I'm not nearby to attend the exhibit, but it's great to 'see' the work through your eyes. :D

Sandra Horn said…
I do remember! I'm a fellow wood-engraving enthusiast and my prize possession is a tiny Clare Leighton print of Diggory Venn's caravan. Happy memory - thank you for brighteneing this otherwise gloomy day!
Peter Leyland said…
We wake up Griselda, now knowing the worst. We live less than an hour away from where you speak of but so far now. Thank you for the lovely account and pictures which does, however, serve to brighten this dull day.
Bill Kirton said…
Fascinating, Griselda. I'd love to visit the exhibition but it's a bit far from Aberdeen...
My own interest in a different form of wood carving started with research for my book, The Figurehead (which featured a figurehead carver), but I loved it for its own sake and have spent hours out in our garage making lots of more or less (usually less) successful animals, grotesques and, yes, figureheads. Wood is such a wonderful material but I wouldn't dare risk trying the minute intricacies achieved by the masters you mention. Thank you.
Griselda Heppel said…
Thank you all so much for these lovely comments. Yes indeed, the die is cast, the axe has fallen, the iron tongue of midnight hath tolled twelve (er... not quite sure how that one got in) and there are only 2 days left to see Out of the Wood before we are all confined to barracks. BUT the good news is that there will still - hopefully - be a chance to see it before it closes on 31 December. Um, not from Aberdeen though, sorry, Bill.

Thrilled to hear about your Clare Leighton print, Sandra. She is right up there with the best. I had to Google Diggory Venn though. Tsk tsk, I don't know my Thomas Hardy well enough!
bronwengriff said…
I adore woodcuts. Wish I could get to the exhibition but that's not to be! Thanks for the article.

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