[Don Mills, Ontario]: Heinrich Heine Press, 1969. Folio, 55.6 x 42.2 cm. Loose sheets housed in hinged lid box. The box, which was made by William Poole, is cardboard framed in cedar, with a dowel and slot closure. Its lid is embellished with text in Cree, cut out of the top linerboard. The title sheet is trimmed; all others are untrimmed. Unpaginated [ll. 19, printed on the rectos only]. The cardboard on the box’s lid is slightly creased and mildly smudged; and there are a few small chips to the wood frame. The title leaf is mildly puckered. Else fine. The text consists of an excerpt from Carl Dair, in parallel English, Cree, and French, along with front and end matter in English and French. It was set in 24 point Cartier type. The translation of Dair’s text intro Cree was set in a typeface modelled after designs made by Rev. James Evans in 1841. A display form of the Cree face was also used to print the title in blind on the first sheet. The text and plates were printed on handmade J. Barcham Green Hayle paper; each sheet is white, except for the title-sheet which is blue. The English text was printed in dark blue and the French in lighter blue. The Cree translation of Dair’s text was printed in black. Each of Bayefsky’s twelve vibrant block-prints was printed in several colours, numbered in blind, and signed, dated, and editioned by the artist in pencil. From an edition of 150 copies. The present copy is number 19. Item #396
“Even the typography in this portfolio of Legends is related to the inspiration from which they sprang. It is appropriate to Aba Bayefsky’s fresh mythical creations that they should be accompanied by the distinguished Cartier typeface, roman and italic. Carl Dair completed Cartier in the centenary year, and thereby marked a milestone for Canada: the first Canadian typeface since the Rev. James Evans invented an alphabet for the Cree language in 1841. This alphabet is used here to present in Cree translation one of Carl Dair’s thought-provoking sayings, and serves visually to unite strands of the Canadian background of the legends: Indian, French, and English.
Bayefsky’s view of what art should be has determined the course of his career. He is in the tradition of artists who have put the great themes of their day to their contemporaries in a powerful personal vision of the human condition. He was never impressed by the view of art as an amusing though trivial puzzle for some small group of initiates. Philosophically he is just as far from the ‘literalists’ painters as he is from the polemically non-figurative party. In his Paul Bunyan cycle of the 1950’s, and more recently in his mural-scale paintings inspired by Indian legend, he has found his own way to make old myth young and fruitful today. The totemic bird, fish and animal figures of these painting enact ritually the elemental mysteries of human life before our eyes: the creation of sun and moon, the birth of good and evil, the natural phenomena of thunder, lightning, fire, winds, the forces which shape and limit human life.
The present portfolio distils the essence of these forces and yields the informing spirit in powerful concentration. With dewey-fresh colour, subtle gradations and contrasts he projects for us in a way that is new, yet compatible with the Indian inspiration, the images of world forces. However graceful and gentle the myth-image may be, the projection comes through energetically, as in the subtly blended colours of Rainbow Spirit or the related Spring, from The Seasons. Though less gentle, Winter is just as energetic, but even this does not prepare us for the robust impact of the Fire, Bird or Frog Spirit evocations. The emotional effectiveness of the prints owes a great deal to the chromatic purity of the rare colours, and the way they speak to us without anything approaching the black we have come to expect. All of the elements collaborate to give us this powerful and unified collection of legends its own special faculty of exciting and delighting us.” — Humphrey Milnes, from the Foreword.