Oxford Guild of Printers

New work 2020

23 June 2020

The 1920 Chenil Gallery Poster by Miles Wigfield

The Reading Room Press

The very first printed poster promoting the Society of Wood Engravers was for an exhibition at the Chenil Gallery, London “S.W.” and lists the ten exhibiting artists, founder members of the society. Following extensive research by Brian Byrne, the only known copy was found in the Department of Special Collections of the Hesburgh Libraries of the University of Notre Dame in America (see Multiples No. 32, Nov 2016). Pete Lawrence thought that, as part of the centenary celebrations of the S.W.E., it would be fun to reproduce it and asked me if I would take the job. Of course, I agreed.

Defining what I have attempted is difficult: ‘copy’ seems somewhat trite; ‘facsimile’ suggests an exact copy which it is not, so I shall plump for ‘recreation’. The type is founders’ Caslon, once owned by the late Justin Howes, apart from the word ‘Wood-Engravers’ which is 72pt Monotype Caslon cast at Whittington by the late Peter Sanderson. The margins are wider (the original size, obviously measurable, can be judged by the impression of a rusty drawing-pin in the top right-hand corner). I have silently corrected the slightly erratic spacing of the list of artists’ names. Wherever there was a question of just how things might be set I opted for what looked best to my eye; for example the Caslon 72 pt hyphen seemed a bit heavy so what you see is a Bembo sort. It was coming from my Albion press after all… .

The paper which was found randomly from my stock but seemed to suit, was ‘Kaskad’ 110 gsm, sand-paper beige. I had help: Bob Wakefield of the Chevingtom Press spent a day with me inking the first run (there were five in total). My indefatigable friend Paul Kershaw spent another day with me and can claim responsibility both for the fastidious approach to measuring up the layout and for creating the three impeccable photopolymer blocks for the iconic graver-riven box-tree by Gill as well as the cruciate device at the foot. These were a delight to print; the registration was a dream. Primary colours would appear to be much the same then as they are now; I brightened up the green of ‘Wood-Engravers’.

Michael Taylor who, together with Brocard Sewell, compiled the Whittington Press bibliography of the Saint Dominic’s Press, tells me that the initials in the rubricated device at the foot stand for Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Dominic. “It’s a Dominican thing!” (He and Whittington plan a book of St Dominic Press posters.)

There are about 140 copies, 100 of which are for the Society of Wood Engravers. They have been printed with great pleasure and I am delighted to find myself contributing to the celebrations of a society which has led to such friendships - and fun.

23 June 2020

S.W.E Centenary Poster by Miles Wigfield

The Reading Room Press

70 copies set in Perpetua with Chisel for display, printed on Zerkall paper on an Albion Press

After printing the reproduction of the 1920 Chenil Gallery poster I thought I should like to produce my own celebration of the Society’s centenary. I had original thought to include the names of all the past Chairmen of the Society but found obtaining a precise list before George Tute became the first to assume the rôle on the resurrection of the S.W.E. in 1984, challenging.

Encouraged by the knowledge that Nigel Hamway owned two historic blocks which he was prepared to lend to me and seeing the opportunity to celebrate two contemporary engravers who are both exemplars of their artistry and great friends, I conceived the design as it is.

All the images have been printed from the wood. The first two come from engravers who contributed to the first exhibition at the Chenil Gallery in 1920. ’St Dominic’s Cottage’ c.1920 by Philip Hagreen was one of the Curwen stock blocks [SK 87 in The Curwen Press – Printing Blocks , Stuart McMinn, Four Elms Graphic Art 2016]. The block by Robert Gibbings was commissioned by the Kynoch Press in 1940 originally to illustrate Eothen by Alexander William Kinglake and eventually printed in an excerpt Engraved by Robert Gibbings – A Portrait of Lady Hester [Libanus Press 1987].

‘From the Ha-Ha’ by Ian Stephens was, he tells me, “. . . a freestanding print. A few years ago members of a local art society were asked to produce works based on a recently restored historic building in Northampton. This was my contribution and was included in an exhibition in the building. I might usefully add that I’m talking about Delapre Abbey, sited just south of Northampton on the banks of the river Nene. In the 13th century it was a resting place for the cortege of the late Queen Eleanor on its way to London. About 3/4 of a mile away is one of the two Eleanor crosses still standing in Northants. A third still stands in London.”

The fourth engraving by Paul Kershaw, ‘Malham peregrine’, was one of a series of, now perhaps, thirty Christmas cards Paul has engraved (for me now an essential part of Christmas celebrations). I had selected a misty cloud-encompassed view of the Cuillin Ridge which he reminded me we had once scrambled over, but after half a day of trying to get the right make-ready and failing (the paper needed dampening) we opted for the equally evocative but easier to print peregrine engraving. As Paul would say: “good enough”.

I am immensely grateful to Nigel Hamway again for his generosity and trust in lending me his blocks and to both Ian Stephens and Paul Kershaw for their enthusiastic willingness to do the same.