Upcoming Exhibit: Contemporary Bindings of Private Press Books

Designer Bookbinders has sponsored an exhibition of over 60 bindings by designer binders working in either North America or the United Kingdom (sorry Central and South America). The invited participants could choose from a group of private press books: four printed in the UK and 5 printed in North America. The bindings were due on February 3rd, and the selection and photography will commence on the 13th (today!).

As far as I know, this exhibit is a first. Designer Bookbinders has an annual competition for UK based binders only and a triennial international competition. I’m very excited because whatever the result, this is going to be a fabulous opportunity to see the work of many North American binders all in one place. I think we are going to see bindings by binders who rarely compete. Another great feature of this exhibit is that it is neither a set book, nor thematic. I am sure that allowing the binders to choose from so many lovely books provided scope for imagination and inspiration. I can hardly wait to see the bindings!

The chair of the committee for the exhibit is Sayaka Fukuda, a licentiate of Designer Bookbinders. I do not know who else is on the committee. There will be a catalogue of the exhibition and a tour.

The tour schedule is:

15 May – 22 August St Bride Foundation
11 Sept – 13 December Houghton Library
10 Jan – 28 March 2015 MCBA, Minneapolis
10 Apr – 19 Apr 2015 Bonhams, New York
6 June – 5 July 2015 San Francisco Centre for the Book, San Francisco

I really like the looks of the tour schedule. St. Bride’s makes perfect sense, as it is the home of Designer Bookbinders. Hitting the East Coast, the Midwest, and the West Coast is great. We could argue about Chicago vs Minneapolis and ask why there is no stop in the South. However, we must keep in mind that you have to have willing hosts, a vacant slot in the host’s exhibition schedule, and a space that can comfortably accommodate the exhibition. The tour lasts over a year. I hope we can all make it to one of these book meccas. The exhibit dates at Houghton Library (who do you have to know to get an exhibit placed there?) will very nicely overlap with the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, an annual event sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, which usually occurs in mid-November. I don’t know the dates for 2015 yet, but the brief appearance in New York may be during or just after the ABAA/ILAB antiquarian book fair. For those who don’t know, the New York Antiquarian Book Fair is a Very Big Deal. It’s huge. It’s International. It’s New York. Bonhams is a few blocks from the fair. The Center for Book Arts is a very long 40 blocks away.

So, I’ve mentioned antiquarian book fairs twice. What does that have to do with contemporary designer bindings, you may ask? Simple: there are quite a few dealers who specialize in bindings, artists’ books, and book arts: antique, contemporary, and that fuzzy area in between. The next ABAA/ILAB book fair will be in New York, the first weekend in April. The one after that is in London in May. There are other ILAB book fairs. Paris and Frankfurt, I think. The one in Los Angeles just ended. Next year it will be in San Francisco. Check the ILAB website for dates.

Deborah Evetts, or Synchronisity

For weeks I have been contemplating a post on Deborah Evetts, but Susan Mills beat me to it with a Bookbinding Now podcast  interview just this week.

I had been thinking about Deborah Evetts and had been scanning her bindings published in books and catalogs I own. The impetus was Hannah Brown‘s upcoming visit to New York City.  I offered to give her a personalized, idiosyncratic tour of the city, the highlight being a visit to the reading room at The Morgan Library. You can’t just waltz into the reading room at The Morgan. First you have to apply to be an approved researcher. I am one already, but you can’t bring guests. Hannah had to fill out a application form online. I know the head of readers’ services, John Vincler, so we corresponded about the research Hannah and I intended to do. While we awaited approval for Hannah (John does not vet potential researchers; someone else does that), I used the tricks John gave me to scour the vast bindings collection at The Morgan. One has to submit a list of books to be pulled several days, preferably a week, in advance. The reason is that, not only do the books have to be located and brought to the reading room, but also bindings are on “high reserve for binding study only.” We had to wait for my selections to be approved.

The plan was two-fold: find as many bindings as possible incorporating embroidered leather, Hannah’s specialty; and examine as many Deborah Evetts design bindings as possible. CORSAIR, The Morgan Library’s online catalog, is incredibly powerful and their catalogers are really good. However, since Deborah Evetts was the conservator at The Morgan for decades, when I did a general search for her name I got over 2000 hits. That’s because the catalogers are so good. The vast majority of the hits were because Deborah had made a conservation binding, repair, or enclosure for the book, a fact recorded in the correct field in the book record. Over 2000 mentions in The Morgan Library catalog. That is a monument to Deborah’s contribution to the field. Binders and conservators: if you work in-house at a library or museum, is your work logged?

I followed John’s advice (once again, always ask the librarian). Hours of strategic searching of the catalog resulted in only 3 bindings that may or may not have embroidery on leather. The catalog descriptions of bindings are precise in library terms, but not quite as specific as I needed. Keep in mind that library cataloging standards and practices have changed drastically over the last couple of decades, let alone oddities resulting from retrospective conversion of card catalog records to digital records. I requested the 3 most likely candidates. But how was I to extract any of Deborah’s design bindings out of the over 2000 records that bear her name in one field or another? It wasn’t easy, but I picked five. I submitted those requests.

Hannah and our books were approved and seats were reserved for us. Awesome!

I got together with Hannah and her husband, George, on Tuesday. Classic NY diner lunch. Lots of fun chit-chat about books, their trip, what they had done and seen so far in NYC, and plans for the rest of the week. I gave George my admission card for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and off Hannah and I went to The Morgan.

Here’s where I goofed: I thought the reading room was open until 5. We got the the Morgan at nearly 3:30. After checking in at the security desk, confirming our appointment, receiving ID badges, passing through two locked doors, being escorted by a security guard to the elevator where a key was used to allow us up to the reading room, being buzzed into the reading room foyer, locking up all of our belongings, washing our hands as instructed, and being buzzed into the reading room itself, we were informed that the reading room was to close in 20 minutes. Ooops.

Fortunately, John took a look at the embroidered leather bindings in advance, and immediately handed us the one he knew we would want to spend the most time with. It was a gorgeous thing. It was a Book of Common Prayer (1716) bound with the Psalms (1718), both printed by John Baskett of Oxford. I got that info from the library catalog; books for binding study may not be opened wide enough to actually read the title page. I’d guess that the binding was contemporary to the time of publication. The leather was burgundy and most likely goatskin. The entire binding, front board, spine, and lower board, was covered in silver thread embroidery. The leather must have been pared quite thick to handle so many needle holes, so close together, and not fall apart or tear. We took pictures, but you’ll have to use your imaginations. I am not allowed to post the images on my blog.

That left us with about 10 minutes to look at 7 more bindings. Not nearly enough time. I think I especially liked Deborah’s Black Sun Alice in Wonderland, but I didn’t really get a good look. No time, even though John was nice and let us stay until nearly 10 past 4. It turns out that he is a bit of a binding geek, too.

Since I can’t post any pictures from The Morgan, here’s what I’ve scanned or found in online exhibits:

Adam and Eve and Pinch me
Engelska bokband. 1966 exhibit in Sweden.
Fassam. An Herbarium for the Fair. London: The Hand and Flower Press, 1949 26.2 x 20.5 cm Handbookbinding today, an International Art, 1978
Fassam. An Herbarium for the Fair. London: The Hand and Flower Press, 1949 26.2 x 20.5 cm
Handbookbinding today, an International Art, 1978
Upper board of Ourika bound in 1981 Lewis. Fine Bookbinding in the Twentieth Century, 1984
Upper board of Ourika
bound in 1981
Lewis. Fine Bookbinding in the Twentieth Century, 1984
Eric Gill, illustrator, The Four Gospels, 1931 Bound in full black Morocco; top edge gilt and gauffered with fore edge and tail trimmed deckle; décor onlaid with black calf and decorated with gold tooled lettering. 35 x 24 x 4.5 centimeters. Created 1982.
Eric Gill, illustrator, The Four Gospels, 1931
Bound in full black Morocco; top edge gilt and gauffered with fore edge and tail trimmed deckle; décor onlaid with black calf and decorated with gold tooled lettering. 35 x 24 x 4.5 centimeters. Created 1982.
Evetts Ourika contemp am
Contemporary American Bookbinding, 1990.
Contemporary American Bookbinding, 1990.
Contemporary American Bookbinding, 1990.
The Grolier Club Creates: Book Arts by Club Members, 2009.
The Grolier Club Creates: Book Arts by Club Members, 2009.