Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reading now

I have been reading about Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), a British wood-engraver who grew up in the Tyne valley of Northumbria and apprenticed in Newcastle. A late-developed type of woodcut, wood engraving uses end-grain wood (usually boxwood, slow growing, dense and hard), sliced across the branch or trunk, and engravers tools (Bewick also engraved silver). Multi-talented, Bewick’s specialty was as a miniaturist. These images are only a few inches square; the original of the fingerprint print above is life-sized to Bewick's finger, so note the farm house on the right and the obscured horse and rider on the right.
A night heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, -- we'd call it a black-crowned night-heron.

An amateur naturalist, Bewick's books History of British Birds and The General History of Quadrupeds were probably the first field guides for general use. In his old age, he met John James Audubon, who was scouring Britain for engravers and subscribers for his monumental folio (most definitely not a field guide).
From the uncompleted History of British Fishes.

In Jenny Uglow’s Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick we are reminded, yet again, of the great sympathy the American Revolution roused among British radicals and nonconformists (in all senses) -- odious press gangs had to work overtime to man the fleet, and those filthy Hessians had to be b(r)ought over – because tradesmen, mechanics, and artisans like Bewick either had very little interest in doing the monarchy’s dirty work or actively supported the birth of a republic across the Atlantic.

So here's to you, Tommy Bewick!

1 comment:

amarilla said...

You and Bewick have given me much to think about in the contrast of the carving's musical precision and the blobby, organic individuality of the contours in his fingerprint. Much difference but in both cases the lines similarly reverberate.