By Margaret Mock,
Signature Artist with Cincinnati Art Club
I have a group of friends who have visited Stratford, Ontario, for the past 35 years. They have enjoyed the amazing theatre productions of the Stratford Festival and their annual catered picnic dinners along the Avon River there. Encouraged to make the trip, my husband and I purchased tickets to four plays, made our reservations at a B&B, and set off for a summer road trip to Canada.
On our first day, as we walked to Stratford’s city center, we made the most significant of discoveries! This was something that none of our friends had ever come upon in their years of visiting Stratford. When I returned to Cincinnati to rave about our findings, our friends were incredulous.
Entryway into a surprise garden
What drew us in to this encounter, was an amazing garden within an ornate fence. It surrounded an 1866 saltbox, Greek Revival home that bore the sign, “An Artist’s Cottage.” We discovered upon approaching that it was the home and work space of the artist, Gerard Brender a Brandis. He invited us in for a morning visit that I will always remember and treasure. We saw a few of his original oil paintings, sketches and watercolors in a narrow hallway that led to his printmaking studio, and there his story unfolded.
Gerard Brender a Brandis
After completing his B.A. in Fine Arts History at McMaster University in 1965, Gerard began a career as an artist specializing in wood engraving, working on end-grain blocks of hard wood, with burins. His work also includes bookbinding, typesetting, papermaking, and spinning/dying/weaving flax.
The former dining room contained his 1865 Albion printing press, a loom, cupboards of materials and a worktable on which sat a tiny block of wood and engraving tools. It all seemed to be lit only by a nearby window.
A print from one of Brandis’ wood carvings.
The parlor held the treasure trove of his intricate wood engravings. Framed and unframed, on the walls and in binders, his life’s work was available to view and to purchase. He brought in a tiny fan to stir the air as we pored over his prints – some black and white, others tinted. His subjects range from botanicals, still life, old buildings and the musical instruments and flowers mentioned by Shakespeare. After all, we were in Stratford, but had almost forgotten the purpose to our trip! This pilgrimage to Gerard’s cottage was itself reason enough to cross the border.
And now that we have left the artist’s cottage, so enriched and so overwhelmed by our good fortune, we have had no choice but to share the news of Gerard Brender, a Brandis’ rarefied habitat and his art. You can learn more at https://www.visitstratford.ca/member/An-Artists-Cottage.