In 2011, the independent Oscar Wilde scholar, Merlin Holland graciously donated a set of colored prints and masks entitled “Awful Brevity,” created by Peter Forster to Special Collections. This specific print was used in the 1991 Folio Society edition of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis. The seven prints found in the collection are perfect examples of the grueling process of creating wood engraved prints. Forster printed them on very light newsprint and then scalpelled out the areas he wished to color, used that mask, inked up the block and then printed it. According to Holland there were likely 10 passes made on the press and the seven prints in Special Collections give an idea of the amount of time and degree of craftsmanship that goes into the wood engraving process.
Forster describes the process on his website as “the most long winded method of making a rather small picture ever devised. One cuts (with special tools) into a lump of box wood (specially manufactured) for hours and hours, then one prints lots of it, then one writes on every print the title, the number of each print in the edition and the date, and then one signs them.”
Forster decided to become an artist while he was in school because he found that he wasn’t good at anything else. He illustrated and jacketed books for various publishers and worked for a graphic design studio in the Department of the Environment. After some time be decided to return to free-lance work and created illustrations in wood engravings and pen and ink for The Times, The Observer, Saatchi and Saatchi, and for The Folio Society. He was also asked by the Royal Mint to design a coin commemorating Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
If you’d like to see Peter Forster’s wood engraved prints from the Merlin Holland Collection of Peter Forster’s De Profundis Wood Block Prints (2011-037) you can always come see us in Special Collections, located on the 5th floor of McFarlin Library, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am until 4:30pm.