Eye Candy: Gabrielle Fox and Leonard Seastone

RBMS 18 Showcase ProspectusLast month I went to New Orleans to take part in the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) “Booksellers Showcase” at the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) conference. I was fortunate enough to be one of 40 ABAA booksellers participating. For more about the conference, and upcoming ABAA events, just follow the link below.


While there I featured an eclectic selection of contemporary art bookbindings, artist’s books, fine press, and pop-ups. Click here for my recent catalogs, including what I brought to RBMS.

Among the artists I showcased at RBMS were bookbinder Gabrielle Fox  and printer Leonard Seastone of Tideline Press. Definitions in the book arts can be fuzzy: Fox sometimes prints and Seastone personally binds most of his Tideline Press work.

Fox’s miniature, Haiku and Other Poems , a limited edition printed by her in gold on Japanese tissue, is one of only three copies specially bound by Fox and happens to be her personal copy. The book is housed in a matching box decorated with a triangular “button” made from Kentucky agate adorned with a pink topaz set in gold. Signed by both Fox and the jeweler, Dennis Meade, it is a precious gem itself.

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The lovely recent collaboration on Ann Muir, Master Marbler is also a miniature. Printed by Seastone, the book was designed by Fox, Seastone, and collector/publisher Neale Albert. This tiny treasure was bound in a unique binding by Gabrielle Fox exclusively for Abby Schoolman Books and is a rare opportunity to own a collaboration by two contemporary book arts masters.

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Leonard Seastone’s interpretation of Ronald Baatz’s poem The Invisible Fly buzzes with interpretive interest, and has been lauded in Parenthesis 33 (the journal of the Fine Press Book Association) by David Esselmont, who said it “simply sizzles.”

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The collection of poems The Delicate Work of Song, also by Ronald Baatz, features ideograms by Guyang Chen. Michael McClintock, President of the United Haiku and Tanka Society, calls Ronald Baatz a “master…in the high art of the short poem.” Seastone’s printing and binding is just as masterful. The boards of Seastone’s binding are quarter sewn old growth Red Cedar, hand fashioned by him to accept the visible leather sewing supports. Lovingly beveled, waxed, and varnished, the boards glow with warmth.

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Seastone’s MFA thesis project, Good Movies, was prominently displayed, too. Seastone describes Good Movies in cinematic terms; its large size mirrors the silver screen, and the reader participates in creating a film noir by turning the page. This oversized book was bound for Seastone by Jack Fitterer in 1988 using Seastone’s prints as the board covering material.

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I Was Wrong. Ish.

In early December, I wrote a post that generated the most comment activity on this blog…so far.

I created a set of rules; guidelines for what a binder should bind if left to his or her own devices. I’ll reproduce the list below for easy reference, embarrassing though it is.

The Rules

  • Bind books in English if you live in an Anglophone country
  • Follow the flag: an axiom in the book trade with few exceptions. Ex. US author, book must be published in the US.
  • Is the author still in print? You’re on the right track.
  • Were you forced to read the book in school? This is a good sign.
  • Is the author or illustrator alive? Don’t risk it.
  • Do not bind books on books, collecting, reference books, or anything of the sort.
  • Avoid Franklin Library and Easton Press.
  • Is the book signed or inscribed by the author? Do not bind.
  • Does the book have the original dust jacket? Do not bind.
  • Is the book collectible in original condition?

I was wrong.

At the time, I had the collecting market in 20th and 21st century first editions on my brain. That’s been part of my day job for 14 years so far, so you’ll have to forgive me. It’s a kind of brainwashing. Forget first editions (not ALWAYS, but for the moment). I know design binders love fine press books. I am aware that binders love to sink a needle into fresh signatures of quality paper. Certainly, that is one reason to love fine press books. But what about the content? I’m fussy.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about the upcoming InsideOUT exhibit (thank you for changing the name!). In order to do that, I have spent quite a bit of time looking at fine press books, including a painfully brief visit to the Fine Press Book Fair. I have concluded that I should toss out most of the above. I still think Franklin Library and Easton Press should be shunned. I still believe you should not bind books on books, binding, printers, typographers, and the like, unless for your personal collection. I still think you should bind books in the language of the country where you practice. I’ll add that if any of you bind yet another copy of Fleurs de Mal, I’m going to puke. Binding that title isn’t a requirement for becoming a binder, is it? It sure seems like it. Please stop.

Anyway, contemporary fine press books; I think I’m starting to “get” them. I’m still pretty opinionated (stay tuned for the inevitable I Was Wrong, part 2 post). There still has to be a magical marriage of typography, layout, art, and text to make me care. If the binding is just right in design and craftsmanship, I’ll melt. One book in the InsideOUT catalog hit me just right. I’ve entered the lottery for purchase of the bindings, which occurs on May 14th.

I’m pretty excited about the lottery. I’ve commissioned bindings (which aren’t ready yet), but I’ve never purchased one. A lottery may seem like a weird way to make my first purchase, if I am so lucky as to have my request for that binding drawn before anyone else’s. I feel like I’m going about my entry into collecting backwards. Don’t most collectors start with buying bindings from a dealer? Maybe I’ll do that one day, too.


InsideOUT: Contemporary Bindings of Private Press Books



Lucky me! I got my catalogue early. Another example of my motto: You Don’t Ask; You Don’t Get. To tell the truth, I asked for something totally outrageous and impossible. Sayaka Fakuda, who is doing much of the administrative work for the exhibit on behalf of Designer Bookbinders, let me down gently and offered some nice consolation prizes. One was an advance copy of the exhibit catalogue. I cannot thank her enough. It is delicious. I can’t stop looking at it. These bindings are sexy. I want to fondle them.

So I took a leap of faith. Even though I cannot be at the collector’s preview at St. Bride’s on May 14th from 4:30-5:45, when the books can be fondled, sorry, examined, I have submitted a lottery form for a binding. That’s right. Just based on the book that was bound, two photos of the binding, and a description, I am attempting to purchase a binding by a binder whose work I have never seen in person. When I say “attempting,” I mean that it’s a lottery. If my form requesting this binding is picked out of a hat first, I get to purchase it. If another collector’s form is pulled first, with the same binding listed as first choice, I lose. Keep your fingers crossed for me. It’s the only one I want.