Monday, January 5, 2009

A Wood Engraver’s Alphabet by G. Brender à Brandis (a review)

A Wood Engraver's Alphabet by Gerard Brender à BrandisI’m embarrassed to admit that I misunderstood the blurb about this book on the Mini Book Expo site, so I was very surprised to realize A Wood Engraver’s Alphabet by Gerard Brender à Brandis contains no words past the three-page introduction, other than the names of the 26 plants illustrated.

Although I am, in some small way, a “student of the complexities of nature’s creations,”* as I have studied herbology, my main interest is in wild medicinal plants, so I wasn’t familiar with many of the plants illustrated here. And I don’t really know anything about wood engraving. Disclaimers aside, this is a beautiful book: I love the texture of the book’s cover (which I can’t help stroking every time I pick it up), and the woodcuts themselves are intricate and lovely. A few of them seem too small to do justice to the details of the engravings, but for the most part I felt like I could spend hours gazing at each of them, marvelling at Brender à Brandis’s skill and meditating on each plant. My favourites are the pussy willow (which is actually on the dedication page), a small and delicate woodcut that so clearly bursts with life, and the Bird of Paradise, which has captured the paradoxical elegance and gawkiness of this amazing plant (and which also happens to be the largest illustration in the book). One small quibble: being a bit of a purist, I was disappointed that “FoXglove” was used to illustrate the letter X. (Are there no plants with names that start with X?)

For other reviews of this book, visit these sites:
Associated Content (Josh’s review)Owl’s Court

Thank you to Mini Book Expo and The Porcupine’s Quill for sending me this book to review.

*According to the blurb on the back of this book, “This collection is intended both for the student of the complexities of nature’s creations and the patron of the intricate art of wood engraving.”


  1. Your review was very interesting to me since I'm actually a fan of woodcuts - specifically those by Rockwell Kent, whose work was often made into bookplates. There's always some connection to books!

  2. Hmm, can't say I've ever heard of Rockwell Kent, but I'd be happy to bring this book along to our next get-together so you can take a look at it, if you're interested...

  3. I picked up a book of woodcuts at the library sale. Many of the pages are damaged, and the cover is a mess, but I thought "someday" I'll have time to make cards or notepaper from the remaining pages.

  4. That sounds like a great idea, Dawn. I hope you get around to doing it one of these days... (I know how that works; I once bought a book of Victorian illustrations of flowers, thinking I'd take it apart - or copy pages - to use as illustrations in my apartment and well, it hasn't happened yet!)

  5. Avis, I see your review of this book has finally made it on to minibookexpo! There's a post there that says the site is being revamped for 2009 and no books for this year will be available until the redesign of the site is complete...but I think they're still releasing books for 2008. Not sure, it's a bit confusing.

  6. Thanks, Myckyee, I noticed that too (finally!). I really hope they manage to make the site more user-friendly!