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E N G R A V I N G S   O N    W O O D
b y   L e o   B e n s e m a n n

with an introduction and notes by Peter Simpson
together with a portfolio of ten unbound engravings. 2004

This is the most lavish and ambitious publication The Holloway Press has yet attempted. It consists of 22 wood-engravings by Leo Bensemann (1912-1986), a New Zealand artist whose importance is becoming ever more widely recognised. The artist’s original blocks have been kindly loaned to the Holloway Press by the Bensemann family, and the engravings printed directly from them, a method of printing wood-engravings pioneered in New Zealand in the 1940s by The Caxton Press in the 1940s, the firm in which Bensemann was a partner and printer. A Book of Wood Engravings by E. Mervyn Taylor (1946) and Engravings on Wood by Rona Dyer (1948) were both produced in this fashion.

Leo Bensemann was active as a wood-engraver from about 1940 to the early 1950s (though one engraving dates from 1975). It was the only print-medium he practised with any regularity. Some of his woodblocks were printed in Caxton Press publications, such as the periodical Book (1941-46) and their distinctive Specimen Books of Printing Types (1940, 1956). Others were shown at annual Group Show exhibitions, and six were included in A Second Book of Leo Bensemann’s Work (Caxton Press, 1952)—his ‘first’ book was Fantastica: thirteen drawings (1937), of which The Holloway Press produced a second edition in 1997 (now out of print). Of the 22 engravings included 11 have been previously published or exhibited; the others are published here for the first time (though some exist in the form of prints held in family collections).

Bensemann’s wood-engravings—like much of his work in other graphic media, especially his drawings in pen and ink—are unique because of both their subject matter and style. In this period Bensemann largely avoided overt reference to his immediate physical environment (despite this being the high water mark of regional realism in New Zealand art), preferring to draw his subjects from literature, legend, folk stories, or his own idiosyncratic imagination, as for example in Strange Outlandish Fowl, Ophelia, Merman, Dancing Dwarf, and the several Dragons. Stylistically, Bensemann drew widely from European and Oriental art, Dürer, Beardsley and Hokusai being particular favourites. Little is known about the immediate influences on Bensemann’s engraving technique, though Eric Gill, the English engraver, and English-born Francis Shurrock, who taught in Christchurch, were probable models, while Olivia Spencer Bower gave him his first imported boxwood blocks to work on.

Accompanying the engravings are an extensive introduction and detailed notes on the prints by Peter Simpson who has been studying Leo Bensemann’s work for 25 years and is writing a book about the artist. The introduction discusses Bensemann’s wood-engravings in relation to his other artistic activities, especially painting, drawing and book illustration, while the notes give details of previous exhibition and publication, identify sources of the images, and discuss other relevant information. Tara McLeod, the designer and printer of the book, provides a note that clarifies the distinction between wood-engravings (in which the end grain of hard wood is used) and wood-cuts (which utilise the side-grain).

Engravings on Wood is letterpress printed by Tara McLeod on an Asbern cylinder press at The Holloway Press, University of Auckland. The text is 12 point Jansen, set in linotype by Gordon W. Smith at Longley Printing Company, Auckland. Types on the hand-set title page are Perpetua Roman, an Eric Gill designed typeface. The binding, with silver blocking, is by Bound to Last, Auckland. The paper is 290gsm Tiepolo, a cotton paper made in Italy. Size: 290 x 385mm

The edition is 100 numbered copies at $NZ500 each.

Bensemann Portfolio

In addition to the book, Engravings on Wood, The Holloway Press— in a unique development for the Press—will publish an edition of ten of the engravings, individually numbered, in unbound format suitable for framing, printed on 250gsm Lana Royal, a cotton paper made in France. The size of the paper is 285 x 380mm.There will be 30 only of these sets contained in a portfolio (black with silver blocking) especially designed and made for The Holloway Press by Bound to Last. The engravings included are: Strange Outlandish Fowl, Ophelia, Boy, Maori, Merman, Dancing Dwarf, Ball Dance, Mary Bensemann, Death and the Woodcutter, and Night. The cost of the portfolios is $NZ1200 each

Publication date is 15 August 2004.


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