T H E   H O L L O W A Y   P R E S S
        Home | Latest Titles  |  Books in Print  | ArchiveOrders  M u d f l a t   W e b W o r k s


A   R E V I E W   O F   E N G R A V I N G S   O N   W O O D

From ‘Hooked on Wonder and Mystery’, by Damian Skinner, New Zealand Books, August 2005, p. 6

Of all the books reviewed here, Engravings on Wood by Leo Bensemann is the most fantastic, an apt word in all senses for both the technical aspects of this publication and its subject matter. A collection of 22 wood engravings selected by Peter Simpson from the Leo Bensemann estate, this book is an excellent example of traditional art history. In his introduction, Simpson carefully answers all the outstanding questions about the woodblocks and the artist who made them. There’s nothing flashy here, just the evidence of hard work and good research. It works well because Bensemann is a deeply interesting and well-connected artist—the key names of artistic and literary culture from the 1930s to the 1950s rise fast and furious from Simpson’s excellent text.

Simpson explains the wood engravings while also introducing the reader to Bensemann’s work as an artist. He never exceeds the limits he sets himself, yet manages to tackle a number of bigger subjects, such as Bensemann’s relationship to nationalist art and literature—an integral context but one which sits awkwardly with the seeming “foreignness” of his subjects, most of which are not indigenous. The art history continues with Simpson’s detailed notes on each of the engravings, carefully describing the context for each image, providing all necessary information such as date, notes on technique or connections to other Bensemann images.

But it is as a book, a physical object, that Engravings on Wood excels and surprises. As a note at the back states, Engravings on Wood is letterpress printed by Tara McLeod on an Asburn cylinder press at Holloway Press.” As a child of mass-produced paperbacks, I lack any experience of the technical processes involved in this publication and am stunned by how beautiful a thing a book can be. Part of the effect comes from the lack of any reproductive method of getting between the reader and the engravings themselves. These are actual engravings, printed from the wood blocks and collated into a book, rather than prints that have been photographed and then reproduced. At the risk of offending bibliophiles, Engravings on Wood is the kind of book you want to cut up and frame in order to maker the most of the works of art contained in its pages. It is a perfect publication for an artist who did so much of his important work in graphic media, and was closely associated with the Caxton Press, and the publishing of artisan books in Aotearoa.