Bewick's sketches make their long journey back home from San Francisco; ENVIRONMENT.
THE only known sketchbook of the celebrated Northumbrian engraver and naturalist Thomas Bewick has come home after surfacing in San Francisco in the United States.
Thomas Bewick grew up on a small family farm in the Tyne Valley at Cherryburn, near Mickley - now run by the National Trust - where he immersed himself in nature.
He later became a Tyneside celebrity and was internationally acclaimed for the engraving and books which emerged from his Newcastle workshop.
His books, A General History of Quadrupeds, published in 1790, and The History of British Birds brought natural history within the reach of many people.
On October 30, the sketchbook will make its appearance at the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle, while a resident bust of Bewick looks on.
The event will be the launch of a new book which reproduces the sketches with a commentary by leading Bewick scholar and author Nigel Tattersfield, who will be attending.
Thomas Bewick: The Sketchbook 1792-99, is published by London antiquarian booksellers Jarndyce at PS85 in a limited edition of 200 copies, and has been designed by another prominent Bewick authority, Iain Bain.
Also there will be the man who bought the sketchbook after its rediscovery - farmer David Bolam, who like Bewick, grew up in the Tyne Valley at Stocksfield and Riding Mill. David, who has a keen interest in nature and has been a Bewick collector for some years, said: "The sketchbook is unique and it was too good to miss.
"Now it's back where it belongs." The sketches are of birds, horses, a peacock and farm animals such as sheep, cattle, and pigs.
The sketchbook was spotted at the San Francisco book fair by Anthony Smithson, who runs the Keel Row bookshop in North Shields, and Brian Lake, from Jarndyce.
Anthony said: "Bewick usually sketched on scraps of paper lying around in his workshop. This is the only known surviving sketchbook which Bewick, England's greatest engraver, used during the peak years of his career.
"It is marvellous that the sketchbook, which is extraordinarily important, is coming back to the North East to an event in a library which Bewick held close to his heart."
Brian Lake said: "This is Bewick's only known sketchbook. Every so often these wonderful things happen.
"There has to be a special thank you to David, who has very generously allowed use of the sketchbook for the benefit of all lovers of Bewick."
For the new book Nigel Tattersfield, the author of The Complete Illustrative Work of Thomas Bewick, has traced the history of the sketchbook.
He said: "At the time, Bewick was internationally-acclaimed. Natural history was the essence of his very being. He wanted to bring natural history within the reach of ordinary people and his books were relatively cheap."
Quadrupeds ranged over 260 mammals. A History of British Birds came in two volumes, on land birds and water birds, and is repeatedly mentioned in Charlotte Bronte's classic novel from 1847 Jane Eyre.
Nigel said: "This is the only sketchbook which has survived and may be the only one Bewick used.
"The emergence of this original sketchbook by the superlative wood engraver Thomas Bewick, lost to sight for almost 90 years, is a significant event.
"It is as if you are peering over Bewick's shoulder as he sketches. You are seeing him at work. This is an opportunity to see him wandering around Durham, drawing as he goes.
"He was a Tyneside celebrity before anyone else and agriculturalists and stock breeders wanted him to draw their animals.
"Amongst jottings and memoranda relating to journeys and expenses, there are preparatory drawings for birds which were to appear in the first volume of the History of British Birds in 1797, numerous thumb-nail sketches of various subjects which caught Bewick's ever-roving eye, and a series of detailed drawings of farmyard animals.
"These were taken at the behest of several 'agricultural gentlemen' of County Durham.
"Finding the sketchbook was an extraordinary re-discovery, and at the book launch I am sure Bewick's bust will be presiding over events in spirit."
Nigel's research indicates that the sketchbook was acquired from Bewick's surviving daughters by their friend John Wheeldon Barnes, who managed the Backhouse and Company bank in Durham.
At the auction of Barnes's collection of Bewick and art items in 1894 after his death, the sketch book was bought by Edward Backhouse Mounsey, who had been Barnes's colleague at the Durham bank.
The sketchbook resurfaced in 1903 when Mounsey loaned it for an exhibition by the Newcastle Pen and Palette Club to celebrate the 150 th anniversary of Bewick's birth in 1753.
Mounsey died in 1911, and his collection was retained by his widow Rachel until after her death in 1927.
So it was not until 1928 that his books came to market, on the centenary of Bewick's death, with the sketchbook going to London booksellers Maggs from where it eventually made its way to the United States.
Now at the end of this month in Bewick's old stamping ground, the latest chapter will unfold.
Anthony Smithson, of Keel Row Books
Two Bewick engravings, this time of birds
Thomas Bewick became an internationally acclaimed engraver
Thomas Bewick's sketchbook which is back in the North East