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Issue: 2 Section: Arts Grimsby, Ontario

June 26, 2003


by John Haney

The unseasonably warm afternoon of April 26 of this year was the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Wayzgoose festival of the printing arts in Grimsby, Ontario. A curiously named event (various sources confirm that, historically, a cooked goose did indeed figure prominently), the Wayzgoose festival is a gathering for practitioners of all arts relating to the production of fine, small-editioned, usually hand-made books. Small press operators, book binders, paper makers, printmakers, and others gather together in the Grimsby Public Art Gallery (in the basement of the Grimsby Public Library) to share knowledge and beautiful things not only with each other, but also with a respectable number of faithful and/or curious members of the public.

A woodcut by Margaret Lock; from the keepsake "December", Locks' Press, 1999. Fred and Margaret Lock were amongst the exhibitors at this year's Wayzgoose.
Wayzgoose was first organized in 1978 by the industrial designer and master printer Bill Poole, who operated Poole Hall Press out of Grimsby, an otherwise typical Southern Ontario town butted up against the Niagara Escarpment, faced by Lake Ontario, and slashed across the middle by the Queen Elizabeth Way. What brings printing aficionados to the Wayzgoose from as far away as the Maritimes is a quixotic concern for, quite simply, beautiful things -- books as aesthetic objects. William Rueter, founder and sole operator of Aliquando Press, had for display and sale a beautifully conceived broadsheet, with a simply ornamented quotation by George Bernard Shaw:
There is nothing on earth more exquisite than a bonny book, with well-placed columns of rich black writing in beautiful borders, and illuminated pictures cunningly inset. But nowadays, instead of looking at books, people read them.

Certainly, those who peddle their wares at the Wayzgoose are the type to look as well as read; they are those gentle, harmless lunatics who would endure great physical obstacles in order to hold, sniff, and stroke a handmade book.

John Metcalf, the Ottawa-based writer and editor, puts it succinctly in his memoir, An Aesthetic Underground, when describing his discovered love for books as objects:

I wallowed in bindings and leathers and fonts, in all the lovely jargon of the trade, half-titles, colophons, blind stamping, foxing, black letter, washed leaves, cancels ... I came to believe that there were few things in the world more beautiful than the deep burning black of Baskerville type on crisp rag paper.

Having only recently gained a view into this new world of fine books myself, I was surprised to see at the Wayzgoose not only the exhibiting artists, but an enthusiastic turnout from the public. After all, one doesn't find one's way into the basement of the Grimsby Public Library by accident. Many people had come expressly for the purpose of seeing these deliberate, considered bookworks. Apparently, many more people than I had imagined were interested, or at least intrigued. I was troubled by my own surprise, and I pondered the reason for it.

Good, and especially great book artists are a grossly underrated crew. They have chosen to work in a medium which is challenging in that it is ubiquitous. A painter might splash abominable hotel-art watercolours of flowers and nudes, but to the common perception this brush-wielder is -- by association with Impressionists and Surrealists -- an artist. Those who spend obsessive months hunched over a hulking iron printing press, sweating over the proportions and placement of a colophon, are working with the more 'common' media of paper, ink, and type -- and therefore might more likely be thought certifiably loony than genuinely artistic. In a day when computers are pandemic as viruses, anyone with access to design software has access to the medium of typography. And with contemporary design software comes almost infinite possibility: thousands of fonts and colours, the ability to adjust spacing on the level of the pixel. From this environment of ubiquity and possibility emerges the art of restraint.

This restraint focusses the artist on a simple and beautiful notion: the arrangement of symbols on two-dimensional space. Inexperience makes itself obvious through unconsidered and overcompensated design -- design that makes up in clutter for what it lacks in compositional sense. The experienced designer, on the other hand, may achieve by the simplest means a perfect balance of the form and content of a piece of printed matter. The composition sings. One is taken aback by the surprising pleasure of it -- an inked-type-induced elation, which I suspect for many of us is followed by a brief moment of, perhaps, embarrassment or confusion -- such as one would feel when admitting that he truly, genuinely, loves those pine-tree-shaped air fresheners that dangle from rear-view mirrors.

Still, on the last Saturday of next April, I will find myself in strange but familiar tire ruts that lead back to the basement of the Grimsby Public Library, for my second visit with that exclusive club of lunatics. Admittedly, this is a club that I would be honoured to be a part of, even if they'd have me as a member.

John Haney is a photographer and occasional printer, currently living in Sackville, New Brunswick.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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