An Artist and His Cottage – Part Three of Three

77 Brunswick Street in Stratford and Gerard Brender à Brandis

by Marianne Brandis



By the time he moved his home, studio, and shop to 77 Brunswick, Gerard Brender à Brandis was a well-established artist, one of Canada’s foremost wood engravers and a creator of superb handmade limited-edition books.  He is probably the only artist/craftsperson in Canada who has mastered the whole range of the book arts – drawing and wood-engraving; paper-making; typesetting and printing; spinning and dying yarn for the covers and weaving the fabric; and bookbinding – and at such a high artistic level.  It is sometimes thought that he recreated the kind of workshop that would have existed in former times; however, in the past that whole range of arts and crafts would never have been done by one person, so Gerard created something that was nearly unprecedented.  The only person he knows of who practiced all those arts and crafts was William Morris but, although Morris could do all the stages himself, the day-to-day work in his workshop was done by a number of assistants who were specialists in one or another of the stages.

Gerard was born in the Netherlands in 1942 and came to Canada at age five.  The family lived in British Columbia and Nova Scotia before settling in Ontario.  After studying Fine Arts History at McMaster University in Hamilton he decided that he wanted to be a full-time artist.  Because this was not likely to make him rich, he designed a lifestyle that, while focusing on and nourishing his creative work, would be  very economical.

In 1971, during a working trip to England, he bought an Albion hand-printing press dating from 1865, and since then that press has been the cornerstone of his career.

Gerard at the 1865 Albion printing press.

After many years of selling his work mainly through dealers he was able, upon his move to Stratford, to set up a shop in his house, first at 249 Ontario Street and then at 77 Brunswick.  The shop, which was open from early May to the end of October, attracted hundreds of visitors per year.  The work of running the shop took up much of Gerard’s time during those months; the rest of the year was spent on creating new work. 24

When Gerard moved into 77 Brunswick in November 2005, Jim’s restoration was twenty years in the past.  The owners after the Cardiffs had not always treated the historic little house respectfully, and it again needed work.  Much of this work Gerard could do himself: his father had been a good amateur carpenter and had taught Gerard many basic skills, which Gerard had developed by always doing a great deal of his own house maintenance.  In addition, in the earlier years he had done his own framing.  So he is clever with tools and materials.  Moreover, he is interested in all things historical and took pleasure in learning about and respecting the style and structure of the house.  The house-maintenance drew on some of the same skills that were part of his creative work.

He spent the first winter organizing his studio, building display shelving, and generally getting ready to re-open his doors to the public in May.  One of the first jobs was interior painting.  A previous owner had painted all the rooms taupe – a dreary colour to live with and an impossible background against which to hang Gerard’s art, not only his collection of other artists’ work but also the framed engravings that he would be displaying to the public.  By researching interior colours typical of the time when the house was built, he learned that ochre and bayberry green would be suitable for the kitchen.  In the front parlour and the small front hall, which would be his display areas, the walls became off-white.

When he bought the house, the doors between the studio and kitchen and between the studio and hall were missing.  He asked Laurie Linsman, the previous owner, about them: she said that she had not wanted them and that they were in storage in the shed of someone living in Gads Hill.  Gerard made several attempts to contact the man in Gads Hill and eventually, after about a year, he got a reply saying that he could have them back.  Gerard and a friend, Ross Kipfer, went in Ross’s vehicle to get them.25

The exterior of the house has of course also needed painting from time to time.  For that, Gerard stayed with the original colours (ochre and cranberry) that Jim Anderson had discovered when he scraped off the later layers of paint.

When Gerard acquired the house, the bases of the columns – both the square and the round bases – had rotted.  He had the columns removed and new bases of oak inserted; they rotted quickly, so two years later he had to have them replaced.  Thor Dingman, an architect with an interest in historic buildings, told him that pine was the traditional wood for this purpose and would last longer, and in fact it has.

Some years later, Gerard noticed that there were many ants around the north-east corner of the house.  When he investigated, he found that the sill beam at that point had rotted.  He arranged for Bert Notebomer, a Stratford builder, to replace a two-foot section of the sill, soaking the new piece in preservative before installing it.

The biggest repair that Gerard has had to undertake was the replacement of the shingling on the roof.  Jim Anderson had used hand-split shakes, believing that that was the appropriate material.  However, the Cardiffs found that the roof leaked badly: Norma reports using many little pails.  At some point those shakes had been replaced with asphalt shingles.  

When Gerard decided to have the roofing replaced in 2015 he again consulted Thor Dingman, who said that for a roof like that, with a medium pitch (a Greek-Revival feature), hand-split shakes were not the right material: it should be sawn shingles.  He told Gerard that in 1863, three years before the house was built, a shingle mill had started operations in Stratford.  That made it likely that Donald McDonald, the builder, had used shingles, and that Jim had been mistaken in using shakes.  Gerard located a supply of cedar shingles in St. Catherines and had them brought to Stratford.  The re-roofing was done by Ross and Ray Kipfer, who had learned from their Mennonite grandfather how to shingle a roof.  They removed the asphalt shingles and stripped the roof down to the roof boards.  An important aspect of their work was that they fastened the shingles with nails instead of staples.  The job took ten weeks.  

For the flashing for the roof, Gerard wanted copper to be used, even though it cost five times as much as the usual material, and he also chose copper for the curved caps for the chimneys.  Ross and Ray Kipfer also repointed the chimneys.

Inevitably the windows and storm windows sometimes needed re-puttying and re-painting; Gerard did much of that work himself.  Also the picket fence needed upkeep: when Gerard bought the house, two or three finials were missing so he had new ones made to match the existing ones.  He has scraped, primed, and painted the whole fence several times.  Maintenance work of this kind was a regular part of his life and of his interaction with the house, and it has made him familiar with even the very small details.

The damage to this finial came to light in September 2023: arranging to have a new one made by a woodworker and having it put in place is an example of the ongoing maintenance needed.

In 2021 Gerard won the 2020 James Anderson Award, presented by the Heritage Stratford Committee, in the cultural category, given to “individuals who have made a significant contribution to the community of Stratford in the area of build or cultural or natural heritage preservation, or heritage garden conservation.”

Like Norma and Keith Cardiff, Gerard owns many historic furnishings and ornaments – in his case mainly pine furniture and cottagey household objects – and he loves handmade pottery.  His lifestyle incorporates other historic elements: much of his cooking starts with raw, fresh ingredients, as did that of the early occupants.  His dinner parties are lit by oil lamps.  His small and much-admired garden contains herbs and other edible plants.  Thus furnished, and used as an artist-craftsperson’s home, studio, and shop, complete with the antique printing press and the whole by-hand book-creating operation, the house has again come very close to being the “museum of the working man” that Jim envisioned.

In this setting Gerard has produced hundreds of wood engravings, some paintings, and a substantial number of books.  The list of books includes five major ones, each of which took several years to complete.  One project was his biggest work, A Pebble’s Journey: The Grand River Observed by Two Artists, and its trade-book companion, The Grand River: Dundalk to Lake Erie.  There have also been a dozen smaller books.  The historic house, and his deep empathy with it, have unquestionably nourished Gerard’s creativity.  Thanks largely to Jim Anderson’s informed and sensitive restoration, Gerard feels that the house itself embodies the tradition of craftsmanship that infuses his own work.

 All of these strands come together in what Gerard Brender à Brandis called “An Artist’s Cottage.”

Gerard setting type.

Note about Sources:

In 2015 I wrote the text for Under This Roof, a handmade, limited-edition book created by Gerard Brender à Brandis to celebrate the 150th birthday of 77 Brunswick Street.  For it I researched the history of the house – and, inevitably, collected far more information than I was able to use in that short text.  This article has given me the opportunity to use some more of that material.

My main source for the history of the house was the scrapbook created by Jim Anderson while he was researching its history and chronicling the renovation.  It contains documents and records, maps and surveyors’ plans, newspaper clippings, correspondence, etc.  He also, in a ring binder, assembled photos of the restoration work and other subjects, and in another ring binder he provided wiring patterns and a very interesting floor plan – which he liberally and informatively annotated – of the house, apparently as it was when he bought it. 

As with anything historical, it is impossible to be absolutely accurate about everything; there are gaps in the record, and the existing sources sometimes contradict each other.

I have not provided documentation for every piece of information; it would have produced an intolerable number of footnotes.  The long version of the text that I wrote for Under This Roof contains more details and also extensive documentation.  A copy of it will go to the Stratford Perth Archives together with other papers about the house.  It should be noted that this present article contains some new information that was not available to me when I wrote the text for the handmade book; where there are inconsistencies, this article supersedes those passages.

I corresponded with members of the Creasy family and was able (indirectly) to ask a few questions of an elderly relative of Jim Anderson’s.  Some of my information came from Norma Cardiff.  Throughout the project I had invaluable help from Gerard who, in the course of living in the house and doing maintenance, learned a great deal about its structure.

My information about Gerard’s life and career come from having been close to his work since the beginning, and from being involved with him in more than a dozen collaborative projects.  See Books by Hand (2021), my professional biography of Gerard, and his website,

For information about architectural history and styles I consulted several sources: 

Blumenson, John, Ontario Architecture: A Guide to Styles and Building Terms, 1784 to the Present.  Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1990.

MacRae, Marion, and Anthony Adamson, The Ancestral Roof.  Toronto, Clarke Irwin & Co., 1963.

24 The whole story is told in my biography of Gerard, Books by Hand: Gerard Brender à Brandis, Wood Engraver and Bookwright, 2021.

25 Personal communication on 21 September 2023.