Crispin Elsted, Canada’s own larger (about a foot taller) than life William Morris.
Barbarian Press was established in 1977 in Kent, England where Jan and Crispin Elsted worked with Graham Williams at the Florin Press. With three flatbed hand presses and many cases of type, the couple returned home to Canada in 1978 to set up shop in Mission, British Columbia, about 50 miles east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley. The press’s publications range from new translations of poetry and prose, Victorian melodrama, and new poetry to bibliography, illustrated classics, typography, and books on wood engraving. This last has become a particular speciality since the publication in 1995 of Endgrain: Contemporary Wood Engraving in North America, which was greeted with considerable acclaim, and is now widely sought after. This has spawned an ongoing series of books called Endgrain Editions, each showing selected work of a single engraver, printed from the original blocks, with an introduction and a catalogue of major works.
I met with the Elsteds recently to talked to them, in their home, about, among other things, their literary backgrounds; gifts, hands and the discovery of artisanal skills; aspirations and influences; the continuity of human experience; books and students and work experiences; doing all of this together; retirement at age 30; hand presses, hand-made paper and hand setting type, Canadians in England studying Americans; publishing the canon; wood engravings; favorite children; wine and typeface connoisseurship; books as unique performances, and the evils of the digital age. Please listen here: