BIOGRAPHY: Martin Mörck

Martin Mörck (born 1955) was raised in a family of artists and from a young age was emerged in the world of artists such as Dürer. Moreover, Martin’s father was a graphic artist and a stamp collector and as such the first to plant the seeds of love of both graphic art and philately in his son. It clearly worked for Mörck sees stamps as unique pieces of art, appreciating the artistic value of each and every one. What he loves about his work as an engraver is that ideas in your head end up on paper via your hands. He has a reputation as being insatiable and regularly spends a minimum of 60 hours a week on his engravings.

Mörck was never officially trained to become an engraver. He got his first engraving tools when he was 15, and soon got the hang of it, but felt he needed a bit more guidance. So, at 16, he went to a general art course which opened up the possibility of becoming the apprentice of an engraver, which happened to be the stamp engraver Arne Wallhorn. This led to Mörck engraving his first postage stamp, for Sweden, in 1977; the 45 öre definitive depicting a tawny owl. This was initially nothing more than a practice piece, but the result was so good that it would be suitable for a real stamp.

But Mörck had another passion: the sea. So, after his first stamp, he just up and left and spent the next year or so fishing on the oceans. But the Swedish post kept pestering him to come back and work for them. The lure of the burin proved in the end just as strong as that of the sea, so Mörck established himself as a freelance engraver, thereby creating the possibilities to keep on answering the call of both his passions.

During the illustrious career that followed, Mörck has worked for a large number of postal authorities, thereby making sure, even in an age where demand is decreasing, that he always has a number of engraving projects on the go. An added challenge is that different postal authorities demand different things from him, ranging from ‘simply’ engraving a finished design, to being completely involved in the design process as well.

Being a freelancer, Mörck has to travel and reach out to postal authorities himself a lot. He never liked to limit himself to working for one country, and has always been quite eager to add new countries to his list of clients. That’s how he contacted the authorities in France as well, knowing full well that they have plenty of their own engravers, but feeling the urge to become one of them.

In France, they liked his style, and so, in 1995 he first got to work on a stamp image for a philatelic document, marking the announcement of the World Cup Football Championships in 1998, which was soon followed by his first engraved stamp for the country, the 1996 issue marking the 400th birth anniversary of the philosopher and scientist René Descartes.

It is safe to say that Martin Mörck likes his boats; in real life as well as on his stamps. Over the years he has produced some really good ones, especially when depicting the old sailing ships of previous centuries. Among the highlights of his marine portfolio is Sweden’s 1999 ships issue promoting the Australia 99 International Stamp Exhibition. Just like his similar Swedish set from 2008, with four different sailing ship stamps, there is the extra bonus that the Swedish Post produced special black prints of the engraved parts only. These black prints let one admire the engraving talent even more.

Mörck’s most peculiar ship issue must be Sweden's 1992 Europa set titled "In Columbus' Wake". Not so much because the design and / or engravings are even more outstanding than Mörck's other work, but because of the way it was produced. According to the brochure 'Våra Frimärksgravörer' (our stamp engravers), issued by the Swedish Post, "...the technique got in the way of a large engraving on the same plate..." This resulted in Mörck engraving three separate dies for the three stamps of the pane. These were then transferred to the printing cylinder with the transfer roller.  So far everything normal, but then Mörck stepped in again to engrave the lines linking the three stamps, on the actual printing cylinder! Most unusual. Apparently, there were 32 panes on a cylinder, so he had to engrave the same lines 36 times. Needless to say there are differences to be found. So in theory one can collect 36 different panes which would all have their own individual lines.

Another major theme in Mörck’s life and work is Greenland. One of the highlights from his Greenland portfolio is the Greenland Expedition series, a series he himself also regards as among his best or at least his favourite work.

When, in 2004, the Swedish Post was putting together their ‘4 gravörer under lupp’ promotional folder, which celebrated the art of their stamp engravers, they asked among others Martin Mörck to submit a large engraving for inclusion. He chose a magnificent engraving of his, of a scene in East Greenland. For his 2007 engraving for the Art du Timbre Gravé organisation, of which he is the only non-French member, he again chose a Greenland scene.

In 2009, Mörck engraved a first work for the Belgian Post, a single stamp issued to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille. The stamp was a collaboration with the Belgian engraver Guillaume Broux. Of it, Mörck commented that collaborations are interesting because, normally, engraving is a rather solitary business.

A second collaboration, if you can call it that, with the Belgian engraver occurred in 2011, on the Postboxes issue. This project did not start out as a collaboration at all. The intention from the beginning was for Broux to engrave these stamps, but when he fell of his roof and broke his arm, while halfway through the postboxes job, Mörck was approached to finish the stamps, so they could still be issued on time.

Mörck has since been involved with the Belgian Post on a number of occasions, when they decided to issue annual sheets which would highlight the talents of various engravers. Of these, the 2015 Waterloo issue warrants a special mention. For this, Mörck engraved the portrait of Marshal Ney. Engraving portraits is an engraver’s biggest challenge. A human face has complex shades and shapes, just think of the eyes. And when they are famous people, the end result needs to be recognisable as well.

This goes for Mörck as well, and it is probably why he often states that he likes engraving portraits best of all; looking at a face, trying to read the person behind the portrait, and then translating all that into an engraving. Having shown his talents in this particular field, Mörck was given the opportunity to engrave the majority of all the Nobel Prize Winners portrait stamps issued annually from 1982 on, taking over the job from Atrne Wallhorn. Mörck did so for just over a decade. His penultimate set, of 1990, especially, is often praised for the way Mörck managed to capture the essence of the authors portrayed on the stamps.

Mörck particularly liked working on a portrait of the Swedish Queen Silvia, for her sixtieth birthday in 2003. Having done quite a few stamp portraits of her already, the challenge for this larger portrait was to portray the woman as well as the queen.

Another major challenge for Mörck was the commission in 2015 to engrave a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, for miniature sheets to be issued in Jersey. It was to be his largest portrait ever done, and probably even one of the largest stamp portraits in the world. No wonder he spent some 200 hours on it!

During his career, Mörck has learned the so-called American Bank Note style of portrait engraving, a style which uses primary and secondary lines, with dots in between them. According to Mörck, the nineteenth-century American engraver James Smillie was the expert in this field, combining the line system with elements of poetry; someone he aspires to be like.

In fact, Mörck is so enamoured by the many portrait engravers for banknotes and stamps that he even wrote a book about it in 2000: ‘Porträttgravyr på sedlar och frimärken’, which is a thing of beauty and worthwhile having, even if you can’t read Swedish. Another book giving a good insight into Mörck’s life and work is ‘By Mörck’, written by Jon Nordstrøm. Issued in 2016, it is a lavishly illustrated fascinating literal transcript of a multi-hour interview with Mörck.

In a world where the hand-engraved stamp is becoming rapidly confined to an increasingly smaller number of countries, Mörck is doing his utmost to promote and preserve the art. In around 2012, he initiated a training programme in China, organised by both the Danish and Chinese Post. Mörck trained some ten students in the art of stamp engraving, hoping this would not only enhance the artistic quality of Chinese stamps, but also secure the future of the art of stamp engraving.

His students’ work has already filtered through into the stamp catalogues, and as a bonus, Mörck himself has engraved some beautiful stamps for China as well, for composers sets issued in 2010 and 2017.

You will find Martin Mörck's database HERE.

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