Agnes Miller Parker, Her Wood-Engravings for Gregynog Press

{Ed. Note: This article is from Books and Vines contributor Neil.}

Agnes Miller Parker (1895-1980) was a Scottish painter, illustrator and celebrated wood-engraver. She was born in Irvine and from 1911-1917 attended the Glasgow School of Art where she met the art critic and painter William McCance who she married in 1918. McCance and Miller Parker lived in Chiswick in the twenties and were near neighbours of Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-Stanton with whom they became close friends. McCance and Miller Parker were gaining a reputation as painters and in 1925 the ‘Daily Chronicle‘ described them as ‘that clever couple from Scotland who believe in Cubist methods.’ Miller Parker’s natural aptitude for wood-engraving was discovered and encouraged by Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-Stanton and many years later Miller Parker wrote to Hermes, ‘I feel I’m in your debt and can never make up for just everything you and Blair did for me by giving me all the gen about wood engraving – something I thought then I could do when the daylight was not good enough for painting.

In 1930 William McCance and Blair Hughes-Stanton were appointed to the Gregynog Press as Controller and Artist. Their wives, Gertrude Hermes and Agnes Miller Parker were contracted as wood-engravers to the press – they were each given a retaining fee of £100 a year for three years and they were expected to produce wood-engravings to a precisely classified scale of area, price, size and quantity. The move to Gregynog provided the perfect opportunity for Miller Parker to demonstrate her enviable talents as a wood-engraver. Agnes Miller Parker provided wood-engravings for many beautiful books (such as the ‘Thomas Hardy‘ volumes from the Limited Editions Club);  but three of her very best are unquestionably Thomas Gray‘s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, published by the LEC in 1938, and two magnificent volumes she illustrated for Gregynog, The Fables of Esope in 1931 and XXI Welsh Gypsy Folk-Tales in 1933.

Illustrating The Fables of Esope must have been viewed as an exciting opportunity by Miller Parker, but also a daunting prospect. Her work would be measured against many others – as Aesop’s Fables is the text that has been ‘illustrated so often, so diversely and so continuously that the history of the illustrated book can be demonstrated by them alone.‘ Gregynog decided to use (the somewhat archaic) Caxton translation of the Fables and the book was to be designed by William McCance who also engraved the initial letters. The book was set in Bembo and printed by Herbert Hodgson on hand-made paper and the thirty-five blocks, one vignette and title-page embellishment that Miller Parker cut along with McCance’s initial letters ensured that most pages had some sort of decoration and the overall effect produced a volume that many view as one of Gregynog’s finest.

Agnes Miller Parker’s technically brilliant and sparkling engravings for The Fables of Esope show a maturity when compared with her earlier work. Her use of cross-hatching and minute flecks across the blocks bring out the solidity of forms and the contrast of light and shade in a way that very few wood-engravers have managed to emulate. The book brought Miller Parker’s talents to the attention of many experienced ‘bookmen’. Praise was lavished upon her by the likes of Robert Gibbings of the Golden Cockerel Press, Francis Meynell of the Nonesuch Press, Walter Lewis of the Cambridge University Press and Bernard Newdigate of the Shakespeare Head Press.

The next book that Miller Parker was to illustrate for Gregynog was to be XXI Welsh Gypsy Folk-Tales. The folk-tales had been collected by the Romany Scholar, John Sampson (1862-1931). Dora Yates, a former student and then colleague of Sampson, edited a number of the tales which reulted in the Gregynog book. The book was, again, designed by McCance and printed by Herbert Hodgson. Since the publication of Esope the financial climate had deteriorated and this may have influenced the Gregynog Board to limit the number of engravings to seven large chapter head-pieces and two title-page vignettes. The first engraving in the book is of the Gypsy Matthew Wood and is an outstanding portrayal of him envisaged as a tribal chief. The rest of the (beautiful & elegant) engravings avoided period settings and Miller Parker uses twentieth-century dress on a number of the characters, stylistically locking them into a type of engraving that is unmistakably British of the 1920’s/30’s. Though not as lavish a production as Esope this is an enchanting book and has one advantage over Esope in that it is written in modern English and is therefore eminently more readable!

Agnes Miller Parker’s wood-engravings added a new dimension to the books from the Gregynog Press. They are amongst the best engravings she has ever produced and they garnered admiration from both sides of the Atlantic. They set new standards for herself and influenced many other wood-engravers. In the 1990’s Gregynog recieved permission from the National Library of Wales to use Agnes Miller Parker’s original blocks to print her illustrations to The Fables of Esope and XXI Gypsy Folk-tales. This resulted in two volumes being produced over two years (1996-1997) with the engravings sympathetically printed by hand on hand-made Japanese Gampi-Vellum paper, accompanied by highly informative and fascinating essays from Ian Rogerson on the principal characters and events. Rogerson gives the background to the genesis and development of the books, with considerable detail on the trials and tribulations of the craftsmen and artists in their dealings with the Gregynog Board and each other and how this affected the production and publication of the two books.

About the Editions

  • Agnes Miller Parker: Wood Engravings from the Fables of Esope, The Story of a Remarkable Book, by Ian Rogerson (Gwasg Gregynog 1996). 200 copies – this is number 134 of the 185 ‘ordinary’ copies.
  • Agnes Miller Parker: Wood Engravings from XXI Welsh Gypsy Folk-Tales, John Sampson and the Gypsies of Wales, by Ian Rogerson (Gwasg Gregynog 1997). 200 copies – this is number 4 of the 185 ‘ordinary’ copies.
  • Both volumes were printed and bound at Gregynog by David Esslemont, David Vickers and Alan Wood.
  • Both volumes measure 362mm x 246mm and are bound in quarter cloth with patterened paper boards.
  • Both volumes are set in Monotype Bembo with the text printed on Zerkall mould-made paper and the engravings printed from the blocks on Japanese Gampi-Vellum hand-made paper.

Pictures of the Editions

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Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings, Gregynog Press, Book Spines and Covers
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings, Gregynog Press, Book Spines and Covers
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings, Gregynog Press, Book Covers
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings, Gregynog Press, Book Covers
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings, Gregynog Press, Title Page
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Title Page
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Contents
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Contents
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Text #1
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Text #1
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Text #2
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Text #2
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, List of Engravings
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, List of Engravings
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #1
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #1
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #2
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #2
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #5
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #3
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #6
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #4
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Colophon
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Colophon
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Title Page
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Title Page
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Esope), Gregynog Press, Contents
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Contents
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Text #1
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Text #1
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Text #2
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Text #2
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, List of Engravings
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, List of Engravings
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #1
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #1
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #2
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #2
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #3
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #3
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #4
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #4
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #5
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #5
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #7
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #6
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #7
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #7
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Colophon
Agnes Miller Parker Wood-Engravings (Welsh Gypsy), Gregynog Press, Colophon

4 thoughts on “Agnes Miller Parker, Her Wood-Engravings for Gregynog Press

  1. Thank you to Neil and yourself for this glimpse of Gregynog’s elegant tributes to one of their most talented collaborators. The more I see of her work the more I shake my head in disbelief at the mastery of technique and powers of observation that make her such a fine artist. I have seen a lamb lifted away by an eagle; AMP has exactly captured the resigned droop of its body. And the tight composition of The Lion, the Cow, the Goat and the Sheep on and among Cezanne-like rock formations is a small marvel. (Judging by your sample pictures, she was particularly good with lions!)

  2. Remarkable artist, remarkable books. Agnes Miller Parker’s work for Gregynog has few equals in the twentieth century —– possibly Eric Gill’s, Blair Hughes-Stanton’s and David Jones’ body of work. These books are a wonderful complement to the collection of anyone who owns the Gregynog Press originals. Thanks for posting this.

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