September 10th was like an orgy of bindings.
I saw so many bindings and spoke to so many binders in one day; it was sensory overload. It has taken me days to recover.
I started out in Somerville at Sheri’s place (Sheri is my editor), met Sonya Sheats in Cambridge, took the T with her to Boston to see La couleur du vent at NBSS. Sonya has a binding (which she doesn’t like) in the exhibit, but hadn’t had a chance to see it yet (more on that exhibit later). We ran into NBSS binding program director Jeff Altepeter on his way back from a coffee run for Dominic Riley, who was teaching at the school last week. We had arrived just in time for Dominic’s informal lecture about his life in fine art bookbinding. What a nice surprise! Sonya and I were allowed to sit in.
I learned all kinds of interesting things such as: a set of four circle gouges pays for itself (totally obvious if you’ve seen any of Dominic’s early bindings); bindings from York tend to have a darker palette than other English bindings; suede flyleaves take the imprint of anything on the doublure during pressing, offering another design opportunity; and he has read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, making a reference to Slartibartfast when describing how he had to smooth out the coastline of Africa in order to make a design work. He also described an edge coloring technique Hugo Peller taught him, using both graphite and gilt. I got especially lucky because he described and showed a picture of a binding in Neale Albert’s collection at The Grolier Club that I have personally examined, and he talked about the making of his InsideOUT binding which I saw later the same day.
And now back to our regular programming: binders practicing in the Americas.
I already mentioned seeing Sonya Sheats and Jeff Altepeter. At the InsideOUT reception at Houghton Library I saw Ursula Mitra, met Todd Pattison in person (we’ve corresponded), and met Mark Esser for the first time. I was pleased to see Abigail Rorer, illustrator of both of The Lone Oak Press books represented in the exhibit: Of Woodland Pools, Spring-Holes and Ditches (bound by Coleen Curry, Mark Esser, and Glenn Bartley) and King of the Alps (bound by Lang Ingalls). I was absolutely delighted to meet Simon Eccles, an avid collector of contemporary fine art bookbindings, and the mastermind behind InsideOUT. He was very kind and promised to take a look at this blog. I hope he enjoys it.
I certainly enjoyed seeing InsideOUT and plan to visit again when the room is not filled with people and I can take my time with each binding. It is a completely different experience seeing bindings in person vs. seeing pictures online and in catalogs (more on that later). I’m happy to report that I still love my Cathy Adelman binding after seeing it in person for the first time.
I’m so excited!
I’ll be in Cambridge this week for the opening reception at Houghton Library for the InsideOUT exhibit on September 10th. I will also get to see the ARA Canada exhibit La couleur du vent at the North Bennet Street School before it closes on September 14th. I will see so many contemporary fine art bindings in one day, I think my head might explode. Fortunately, I already have the InsideOUT catalog and have studied La couleur du vent online.
Who is going to be at the InsideOUT reception? I can’t wait to be in the same room with so many binders, librarians, and collectors of contemporary fine art bindings.
From now on I am going to be using the term “contemporary fine art binding” instead of “design binding.” Bindings are a form of fine art. Using the term “fine art” places the bindings in an understandable framework. Art collectors and most book collectors don’t know the meaning of the terms “design binding” or “contemporary fine binding.” The concept is too abstract. I’d like to present bookbinding within the construct of contemporary art, which is where I think it belongs. I see my change in terminology as a tiny step toward bringing bookbinding in a contemporary idiom to a wider audience.
That’s what we all want, isn’t it? A wider audience for the amazing work binders are turning out these days?
Several weeks ago I showed this:
This three-month long exhibit in Nîmes, on display for only two more weeks, shows 255 recent bindings by members of Les Amis de la Reliure d’Art. It is not surprising that France is overwhelmingly represented. ARA was founded in France in 1982. There are active branches in Belgium, Canada, Greece, Italy, and Switzerland, but binders from many other countries participated. Clearly, a binder does not have to be a resident or citizen of one of the countries with an active branch to be a member. Presumably, a binder living in the United States, Central, or South America could join. I wish more binders in the Americas were members so they could submit bindings. This is the XIth Forum International de la Reliure d’Art (FIRA). It’s a biennial event, in a different city each time. It’s a great forum for showing work to a European audience.
Seven binders living in the United States have bindings in the exhibit. Since it does not appear to be online and only 600 copies of the massive catalog were printed, I am sacrificing the health of my copy in order to scan some of the contents. Sorry about the quality of the scans. I did my best.
Don’t you love how the measurements are shown in comparison to a standard A4 sheet of paper? I’ve never seen that done before.
Fun fact: The two black goatskins on this binding were tanned using aluminum triformate. At the time, this chemical was used to improve the durability of leather. Unfortunately, when Wilcox purchased it he did not realize (nor did many others) that gold does not adhere to it well. Hence, his gold tooling is restricted to the onlays, while the black is tooled in blind.
Fun fact: Almost all of the buildings depicted in the skyline are based on structures in New York City. The gateway to the Emerald City is Manhattan Bridge; the ornamentation above the gate is from the roof of City Hall. Also visible are the New York City Service Tower, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building. The Wizard’s Palace is based on the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
Fun fact: This is one of six copies commissioned by Andrea Bronfman, the others to be given as gifts. The color schemes are different on each. The design is an abstraction of the menorah and the maple leaf. The clusters of rectangular tooling are bunches of grapes.
Fun fact: The bee, the flower and leaves of the pomegranate, the “eye” of the peacock feathers, and the small triangle used to make the peacock’s crest, were made with tools created specifically for this binding.
Fun fact: The binding depicts how Dracula can discern at a great distance the existence of a potential victim, “…his strange power can infect the particles of dust in the moonbeams and can inhabit wild animals…”
First, I thought this was obvious, but it seems that it is not: I am not a bookbinder, restorer, or conservator. I never was. I never will be. I just love bindings.
Second, I resigned from Bauman Rare Books last week after working there for over 14 years. They are the best, but it was time. I have added a page to the blog about me, so you can find out where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing, and what I do (or am going to do) now.
Many, many thanks to John Shoesmith of the Fisher Library for sending me a copy of the catalog from the exhibit he recently curated on Canada’s small and fine presses AND the Michael Wilcox catalog. I plan to post some scans of bindings from the catalog along with some quotations of Wilcox’s commentary.
I am also extremely grateful to Marc Lamb of Harmatan and Oakridge Leathers and Rob Shepherd of Shepherds Bookbinders for causing a copy of the Exposition Internationale de relieur de création catalog to land in my mailbox. There are so many mind-blowing bindings in there, including quite a few from binders based in the Americas. There will be a post soon with more details about the exhibit and those binders.
Michael Wilcox is a Canadian binder. He was born in Bristol, England in 1939. Michael began his training in 1955 as a forwarder at Edward Everard in Bristol. Then he moved to Toronto in 1962 with a five-year contract in the restoration department at the University of Toronto. During that time, he began to refine his skills and explore the freedom of designing his own bindings. He has never looked back. These days, he lives very simply in Ontario, making design bindings by commission.
Michael’s work is distinctive, precise, and beautiful. I have had the pleasure of handling a couple of his bindings: one at The Grolier Club, the other in Neale Albert’s Brush Up Your Shakespeare collection, some of which was exhibited at the Rylands Library in Manchester, England in 2012. Here is a pdf of the catalogue from the exhibit, which has a much better picture of the binding than the one I took at Neale’s apartment. A much better picture of the binding I photographed at The Grolier Club can be found in the online exhibit of his work at The Museum of Canadian History. In 1985, he was presented with the Museum’s Bronfman Award for Masters of the Craft. There are 13 fantastic images of his work. Make sure you also check out five more recent bindings on the same website. Click on each image to get a complete view of each book.
In 1998, the Fisher Library at the University of Toronto mounted an exhibit of his work. I’d love to be able to show some images from the catalogue. It would help if I could get my hands on a copy. I am hampered by my current inability to walk, having broken my foot two weeks ago, and the temporary closure of the reading room at The Grolier Club.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to track down a few other images of his work.