Thursday, April 3, 2008

Thoughts on Wood

I take the title of this post from an essay by Robert Gibbings, of the same name. It was published in Matrix, an annual letterpressed effort by the Whittington Press in England. Matrix offers essays, reminiscences, illustrations and samples of topics related to letterpress printing. Paper marbling, wood engraving, graphic design, and printing history are all represented in this hand-set work of art.

More to the point, Matrix volume 9, published 1989 contains an essay- excerpts of which are quoted here- illustrating Gibbings' sense of humor and reverence for materials:
"Not far from where I now live there dwelt until he died a carpenter by name Timothy Wood. 'Timbery Wood' they called him. 'A proper craftsman he was and strict with his apprentices. He'd come along to one of the lads and he'd say, "How's that mortice going?" And the boy might answer, "Near enough." "Near enough won't do," says old Timbery, "it's got to be just right." Then half an hour later he'd come along again. "How's that mortice going?" he'd ask. "Just right", says the boy. "That's near enough", says the old man.'
Precision - wood calls for it: gentle, tractable material, exquisite to contemplate, whether alive in a forest, where every branch is a record of the winds that blow, or dead in a timber yard where the serpentine grain of the planks reveals a history of its growth. It may even tell the death of a neighbor, for where in a forest a tree has fallen there will be increased light and air, and where there is increase of light and air there will be increased development in the trees that remain.
In Venezuela and certain regions of South Africa the growth of a box tree remains constant, slow and steady; a cross-section of its trunk shows the rings as regular and even as the plumelets on a feather. That is why boxwood from those countries gives to the engraver a close-fibred material that is as hard almost as metal. On the end of that grain the artist's burin incises lines in any direction that the guiding hand may desire; there is no let or hindrance from the grain."
Incidentally- the illustrated toolbox, courtesy of Tyne and Wear Museums , is from none other than Thomas Bewick. More about him later.


ford said...

I enjoyed reading that, Doug, Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, Doug. I liked the story of the old craftsman much.
Is the this your tool box?

Doug Sanders said...

Nope- the box isn't mine. It's the engraver Thomas Bewick's. Maybe I'll post a photo of mine some day. Once it gets a little more worn in.