Rena Barbara Gardiner was born on 4 April 1929 in Epsom. Her parents were Robert Charles Gardiner and Ellen Caroline Devitt. They had married on 18 April 1927 at St Giles Church, Ashtead. Rena (she was named after her father’s elder sister) spent her early years in Ashstead in West Hill Villa, and then the family moved to Maidenshaw Road in Epsom, where Rena’s younger sister, Maureen, was born in September 1933.
Her father was an engineer and her grandfather was an enthusiastic and able amateur historian, despite a lack of formal education. Both men had an influence on the young Rena. As an engineer, her father had a fascination for machinery and an instinctive skill in taking things apart, passing onto his daughter an ability to understand machinery, in her case printing presses, and how to repair and maintain them. But he also had the ability to draw – in a precise technical style rather than with artistic expression – which nonetheless inspired Rena. She was very close to her grandfather and it was probably he who instilled in her a deep love of history.
Rena Gardiner was a remarkable and independent woman who dedicated her life to her art, illustration and printing. During her working life she produced over fifty books on places, buildings and landscapes, each one an expressive work of art and made by her own hands. She often commented that she did everything but make the paper she printed on. Vibrant in colour and full of texture and energetic line, her illustrations and prints convey her passion for history, architecture and the countryside. She developed an original technique and an approach to printmaking that bridged the gap between the studio print and commercial production – between the fine art of the private press and mainstream publishing. Because of the hand crafted nature of her process, every copy of an edition of one of her books is different – a unique work of art.