Letters – Issue 79

Against the grain

Please allow me to correct errors of fact and interpretation in Martin Edmond’s review of my biography of Mervyn Taylor (NZB, Winter 2007). Edmond claims Taylor’s “best, and best-known, works are woodblock prints”. They are not. So far as I have been able to ascertain in 15 years of research, Taylor did not make any “woodblock prints” other than a few variations in a short-lived experimental work towards the end of his life.

Furthermore, Edmond also claims “the black and white woodcut images are particularly striking.” Indeed, the illustrations are striking, thanks to a sympathetic publisher and the generous cooperation of Taylor’s son Terence. But Edmond cannot be referring to woodcuts. Other than in a very early work or two (bookplates), and a rare later exception, Taylor worked virtually exclusively when he used wood as a medium making wood engravings.

There are three separate and quite different techniques here (all of which are explained in detail in the book) and it is important that the correct terminology is used. Briefly, a woodcut is an image cut into the surface of a plank of wood; a wood engraving is an image cut into the end grain of a block of wood which can be printed on a printing press; and a wood block is an image, usually handprinted, off the surface of a plank or wood which has been manipulated, cut or otherwise treated. Each requires quite different cutting and engraving skills and printing methods, and each produces a quite different appearance when printed.

Taylor’s reputation was made on his wood engravings. We should, in fairness to his oeuvre, get that bit right.

Bryan James, printmaker

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