Wesley Bates

Wesley Bates was born in the Yukon in 1952. After studying fine arts at Mount Allison University, majoring in painting and printmaking, Bates settled with his family in Hamilton, Ontario, and turned his attention to painting. His story might have carried on in that painterly direction had his wife not made him the gift of a set of engraving tools in 1980, a gift that reawakened his interest in printmaking and launched him on a career as one of the most accomplished wood engravers and book illustrators working in Canada today.

Bates’ significance is indicated in the diversity of his clientele. He has worked not only for large trade publishers like HarperCollins, M&S and Viking, illustrating books by Timothy Findley, Stuart McLean and W.O. Mitchell, but also for literary trade publishers like Gaspereau and the Porcupine’s Quill, and for a who’s who of private presses, such as Aliquando, Barbarian, Bird & Bull, Larkspur and Running the Goat.

At the heart of Bates’ genius as a wood engraver is his ability to balance great technical skill and historical knowledge with a sense of humour and a skill for storytelling. So doing, Bates injects a warmth, vitality and lyricism into a medium that is too often overpowered by technique, never letting the draftsman get the better of the artist.

Because Bates’ work is often commissioned by private presses whose books have limited circulation, some of his most accomplished work remains utterly unknown. I’m thinking specifically of the fourteen engravings he produced for the Bird & Bull edition of The Foresters (2000) and the Roots to the Earth series (1995) he produced at his own West Meadow Press with Wendell Berry. Gasperau has reproduced samples from these works in his mid-career memoir, In Black & White (2008), but a more extensive retrospective of Bates’ works will certainly be required in the coming decades.


The Devil's Artisan would like to acknowledge the generous financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.