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The art of capturing fishness

These wood-engravings by Agnes Miller Parker were made for popular novelist and short-story writer H.E. Bates's autobiographical "Down the River" (1937). At one point, Bates writes eloquently about fishing and fishermen. His illustrator (who made 83 engravings for the book) takes the reader even deeper into the world of fishing and fish. Parker is considered one of the 20th century's great wood-engravers.

Bates wrote very sympathetically about fishermen. In other rural pursuits, his feeling was for the hunted, for pheasant or fox. But he felt the fisherman was "a poor wretch ... not only hunting something he cannot see, but something which very often isn't there." A fisherman "pits himself against a creature of another element.... He is setting his art and reason ... against the sublime artfulness of Nature."

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Appropriately, Parker's recreation was fly-fishing. Her engravings display acute awareness of that "other element" of fish, their slide and glide, glisten and pliancy. As a wood-engraver, she also worked in an "element" with its own demands on superb movement of eye and hand. In all her engravings one witnesses the slide and glide of her engraving tools, of burin and graver, across and into the surface of the boxwood.

Her fisherman epitomizes the quiescent, endless waiting of the task - no less than the extraordinary patience involved in the intricately sensitive art of engraving on wood.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society