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.

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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.

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Anyone interested in more details about the book is invited to contact Gerard at gerardbab@cyg.net.  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 (which is open to the public from May to October) please see http://www.visitstratford.ca/member/An-Artists-Cottage.