Rare, limited-edition, and out-of-print books
Family farms are a rich feature of the history of rural Canada, and this book – a handmade book created in a limited edition by Gerard Brender à Brandis – provides a vivid look at one such farm. The Stroh farm in Conestogo, Ontario, has been in the same family since 1854, and the house built on it in 1858 is still inhabited by the family.
The main text of the book narrates the story of the Stroh family and the farm. Wood engravings of farm tools and household implements, and of the house and outbuildings, take the reader into the daily lives of the Stroh family, and of much farm life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Gerard and I worked together on this book from the beginning; it has taken us several years of visits to the farm, and of talks with members of the family, to assemble the material and to mull over the history of the farm and its place in the landscape. I was able to consult the family archives collected by the late Rev. Donald Stroh; and his widow, Louise, helped enormously by providing information.
As always with Gerard’s handmade books, the text had to be limited in length: setting type one letter at a time means that every word has to justify its presence. However, in order to absorb the information that I was acquiring, I wrote a longer text which could then be cut to Gerard’s requirements. For me this is the only way in which a large topic like this can be shaped and then condensed to its essence.
The result is a limited-edition handmade book of 24 pages, with 15 wood engravings printed directly from the blocks. The book was printed on Gerard’s 1865 Albion press and each copy is sewn and bound by hand.
Anyone interested in more details about the book is invited to contact Gerard at email@example.com. If you prefer, you can send me an e-mail using the contact information on this website and I will forward it to Gerard. Please note that his studio is the only place where the book is available for purchase; he is happy to fill mail orders. For more information about his work and his studio please see An Artist's Cottage.
Under This Roof
Under This Roof is a tribute to this historic, designated house in Stratford, Ontario, the McDonald-Creasy house at 77 Brunswick Street, now the home and studio of my brother, Gerard Brender à Brandis. Gerard – a well-known wood engraver and creator of limited-edition handmade books – is celebrating the house’s 150th anniversary in 2016 by creating a book about the little building’s history. When he was planning the project, he asked me if I would like to write the narrative. I greatly enjoyed working with the archival materials and writing the text – it was a challenge to stay within the word limit.
There are lots of archival documents. One of the most important and interesting episodes in the house’s long history was a major restoration done in the 1980s by Jim Anderson, who was then Stratford’s first Archivist. Just as for past books I had to learn about such things as the construction of sailing ships, the care of the wounded in the War of 1812, menus in early Toronto hotels, and the duties of Queen Anne’s Mistress of the Robes, so this time I had to learn something about house restoration. The restoration of this house was one of the first such projects undertaken in Stratford. Jim Anderson, being an archivist as well as having experience in restoring old buildings (by this time he had worked on two others), kept records of the work done on 77 Brunswick, and the whole story is preserved in a large scrapbook and a photo album – both of which, interestingly, are passed on from one owner of the house to the next. I learned about sill beams and cedar shingles and the characteristics of the Greek Revival style of architecture, and Gerard described to me what he discovered when he crawled under the floor of the house to inspect the floor joists.
Gerard and I have collaborated on more than a dozen projects, and it always works out well. We enjoy it, and the results are well received. Our different artistic fields complement each other: we are both interested in history, not only in historic buildings and objects but also in techniques, processes, tools and materials, and ways of thinking and of doing things. During the time that it takes to create a book like this – several years, usually – we share our research findings and discuss innumerable aspects of the book-to-be, from the overall structure to minute details. Moreover, our styles match well: wood engraving is a traditional art, as is the making-by-hand of the actual physical book, while my writing style and way of constructing narratives has its roots in older literature. My writing style, and the texture of his wood engravings, show a similar degree of detail, which means that images and text fit together very harmoniously.
Under This Roof is a 24-page book printed on handmade paper, with about 16 wood engravings. It comes in two different bindings; both are of linen, and the deluxe edition includes pieces of cedar shingle – cut-offs from the shingles which, in the summer of 2015, were used to give the house a new roof.
Anyone interested in more details about the book is invited to contact Gerard at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer, you can send me an e-mail using the contact information on this website and I’ll forward it to Gerard. Please note that his studio is the only place where the book is available for purchase. For more information about his work and his studio please see http://www.visitstratford.ca/member/An-Artists-Cottage.
A Pebble’s Journey: The Grand River Observed by Two Artists
The Grand River winds for nearly 300 kilometres through the countryside, towns, and cities of southwestern Ontario, and also through the region’s life from the distant geological past to the present. The two artists, Marianne Brandis and Gerard Brender à Brandis, explored the river in the course of 17 sketching and note-taking trips and through interviews and research. This exquisite book – hand-printed and hand-bound by Gerard – contains 40 of Gerard’s wood engravings. Marianne’s text consists of an introduction and conclusion, and captions which – like the engravings – focus on particular aspects of the river. Together they tell a story which is “a dialogue of water with soil, rock, vegetation, weather, humans, and – because it is driven by gravity – with the planet itself.” The story is, indeed, about far more than this particular river: it is about the private life of rivers and their function in the environment. (Gerard Brender à Brandis, 2010)
There is a close connection between this handmade book and the commercially-published book The Grand River / Dundalk to Lake Erie. When we had completed A Pebble’s Journey we found that we had a great deal of text material left over (because the size of hand-made books is always determined by the labour-intensive work of creating the physical books). Moreover, we felt that the river – and the book’s much wider relevance to all of the planet’s rivers – was sufficiently important so that it might interest a larger audience, an audience which might not be able to afford to buy the handmade book. So we made further trips to the river, and Gerard created numerous new engravings, and I wrote a much more extensive text, and the result was The Grand River / Dundalk to Lake Erie.
This chapbook contains three villanelles, and wood engravings by Gerard Brender à Brandis. (The Brandstead Press, Carlisle, Ontario, Canada, 1969.)
This Spring’s Sowing
Marianne’s first published novel, this book deals with a middle-aged female school teacher who, after being diagnosed with a terminal disease, creates a new and more eccentric life for herself. (McClelland & Stewart Ltd. in Canada and G. Harrap and Co. Ltd. in England, 1970.)
A Sense of Dust
This is a short story about houses, about ageing, about one of those moments when awareness strikes. Wood engravings by G. Brender à Brandis. (Published in book form by The Brandstead Press, 1972.)
Elizabeth, Duchess of Somerset
This biographical novel in two volumes recreates the life of a woman who lived in England in the time of the Stuart monarchs and, in the culmination of an eventful life, was Mistress of the Robes and one of Queen Anne's principal political advisers. (The Porcupine’s Quill, 1989.)
A few copies are available from Marianne Brandis– please see ‘Purchasing and ordering information’ or from AbeBooks.
This short novel, the story of a middle-aged woman's "rebirth" after a life-threatening illness, is set in present-day Canada, with flashbacks to World War II in the Netherlands. (The Netherlandic Press, 1990.)
The Christmas Candlestick
Mrs. Murdock – respectable, ageing and poor – is selling her possessions. In the incident recounted in this short story, she encounters one of the purchasers. Wood engravings by G. Brender à Brandis. (Published in book form by G. Brender à Brandis, Stratford, Ontario, Canada, 1993.)
The central character of this novel is Adam Wheeler, a fourteen-year-old boy newly arrived in Toronto from England, who becomes involved in the Mackenzie Rebellion of 1837. Besides the events of the Rebellion, it deals with issues such as immigration, fractured families, and the stress of growing up. It contains scratchboard illustrations by Gerard Brender à Brandis, and it is enjoyed by readers of all ages. (The Porcupine’s Quill, 1996.) Copies are usually available from AbeBooks.
Finding Words: A Writer’s Memoir
This book explores what it has meant to be a daughter, immigrant, trauma survivor, writer, and single woman. Especially it examines how Marianne’s writing is rooted in her own experience. (Penumbra Press, 2000.)
This chapbook contains reflections on books and writing, and includes one of Marianne’s wartime memories of an occasion when books and light were closely connected. (Published by Gerard Brender à Brandis, Stratford, Ontario, Canada, 2000.)
This is a newer edition of the three villanelles. (Gerard Brender à Brandis, Stratford, Ontario, Canada, 2001.)
A series of three novels (which can be read independently), these books are set in southern Ontario — mainly York (Toronto) — in the early 1830s. They tell the story of an orphan sister and brother who move from a pioneer farm to live with their aunt, Mrs. McPhail, the owner of a hotel in York. Through their life in the hotel, they become acquainted with the whole spectrum of society in York – a small town in one way but, as the capital of the colony, a complex and many-layered community – from the Lieutenant Governor to the poorest street person. The books, used in a number of schools to help teach History and English, are read and enjoyed by people of all ages.
The wood engravings in the trade paperback edition and the Tundra edition are by Gerard Brender à Brandis.
(These books were first published by The Porcupine’s Quill in a trade paperback edition and then, also by the PQ, in a mass-market paperback edition. In 2003 they were republished by Tundra Books.)