When you hold one of Tara Bryan’s books in your hands, immediately you sense a remarkable intelligence at work. For Tara, books were never just simple objects—they were journeys, they were puzzles, they were possibilities.
Trained at the University of Wisconsin by Walter Hamady, one of the 20th century’s premier typographers, Tara was a remarkable printer and book artist. Her books are elegant, playful, inventive, inspiring: an accordion book a foot tall that folds out like part of the Great Wall of China; a book that comes with a small homemade short-wave radio; another that lights up upon opening; books that expanded out as tunnels you could read through; one that sprang out of a box (Jack!!). Her books were brought to life by an exacting sense of play; they are thoughtful and thought-provoking and surprising. So it’s no surprise that it was for her book work that she was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts; that she won awards and commendations for that work; and that last year her book Making Bread Not Bombs was included in the British Library’s Artist Book gallery.
Tara is best known in Newfoundland as an artist, a painter of landscapes. Her canvases were large, her paintings intense, vibrant, and striking. She removed anything unnecessary from the frame, focussed on the simplicity, beauty, and power of form and colour. She captured light and fog and the sea with a remarkable eye. And in Newfoundland, she developed a profound love of icebergs and ice that would eventually lead her to visit Iceland and Greenland, always in search of more inspiration. Her iceberg paintings are stunning, towering over the viewer as an iceberg itself does. One was adapted to greyscale and added to the St. John’s Convention Centre’s exterior wall—a huge, looming presence.
But as a craftsperson, she made her mark with her books, and her witty letterpress printing. She brought book arts to Newfoundland in a way no one else had. She eagerly engaged with all and sundry in her studio, teaching, training, and encouraging. She was an endless resource, as well. If she didn’t have the paper or the tool that you needed, she invariably knew where you could get it. She shared her knowledge through workshops at St. Michael’s Printshop, the Anna Templeton Centre, Running the Goat’s printshop, the Port Union Fisherman’s Advocate Museum, Norton’s Cove Studio, and through the province of Newfoundland and Labrador’s ArtSmarts program. I was one of those lucky people welcomed in, taught, and befriended. But mine was not the only small press to have grown out of her generous offers to let people use her studio space. I know of several other printers who got their start, or had their interests blossom, under Tara’s benevolent eye.
Because her curiosity and generosity (both of which were enormous) fed her spirit and her work, she thrived on collaboration with artists, writers, and other printers—Luben Boykov, Elena Popova, Kevin Major, Ann Bowman, Duncan Major, Marlene Creates, Don McKay, and many others. And she was a polymath, interested in and excelling at almost everything. Tara Bryan was an artist, a printer, a book engineer; a teacher, a mentor, a collaborator, a volunteer; a musician, a gardener, a dog-lover, a cook; an adventurer, a traveler, an occasional tap dancer.
More than that, Tara was a friend. To many. Throughout her life she built and nurtured a community, and delighted in connecting people, sharing ideas, music, food and fun.
She was an active member of the Arts and the Craft communities, volunteering on the Craft Council Standards Committee, and with VANL, Eastern Edge Gallery, and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Arts & Letters Award Committee. She was a founding member of the Book Arts Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, and a key organizer of BAANAL’s Wayzgoose events and printers’ fairs. And she planned many an edible book event just in time for April Fool’s Day.
She died, far too soon, on September 29, just two weeks shy of her sixty-seventh birthday. She is survived by her husband George Jenner, her sister Teresa Tidwell, her brother Terran Tidwell, and a host of friends. All of whom are sustained by the beauty of her spirit and the remarkable work that she left for us.