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.

Holiday Miscellany

It’s December and I work in a retail establishment. Have pity.

Here are some tidbits to tide you over until I can write a real post:

Giard Water

Christine Giard and Uriel Cidor have joined forces with Gavin Dovey at Paper Dragon Books, which shall henceforth be referred to as the United Nations of Bookbinding. It’s the makings of a sitcom: a Brit, a Frenchwoman, an Israeli (and sometimes a Dominican tailor/baseball player) share a bindery and hijinks ensue. Someone write a treatment, please.

Design Bookbinders (UK) licentiate Hannah Brown is in North America. She will be in New York this week. We have a date at The Morgan Library to do some binding research. First up, a few bindings incorporating embroidery on leather. If you know Hannah’s work, you’ll know why this might be of interest. Then we are going to examine five Deborah Evetts design bindings. There are hundreds of Deborah Evetts works at The Morgan, as she was their conservator for many, many years. Naturally, they are mostly enclosures and conservation binding. However, there was a great collector, Julia P. Wightman, who donated approximately 1800 items to the library. The collection includes miniatures, early children’s books, ephemera and books relating to binding, and design bindings, including some by Deborah Evetts. I hope Hannah takes good photos because we all know by now that I don’t.

Please note that I have not posted the photos I took at NBSS of Polly Lada-Mocarski bindings. They will not be appearing.

New acquisitions:

Scan 16Hand Bookbinding Today, an international art, 1978.

Scan 15

Contemporary American Bookbinding, 1990.

Please join the discussion going on in the comments section of my previous post. Good stuff there.

Chez Neale Albert

Usually, my husband is my captive audience when I want to talk about design binding. He nods and smiles, and says that it is nice to see me so animated. He’s very sweet. What a pleasure it was then, to jabber with someone who actually wants to talk about the subject!

I spent about three hours with Neale. He is so generous with his time and his books. The bindings are absolutely wonderful. He showed me so many, some by binders whose work I’d seen online or in exhibit catalogs, but some who were completely new to me. I could hardly believe that I was holding books that most people have never seen and, even when exhibited, will not be able to hold and examine closely. I am very, very lucky.

Neale told me many stories of binders of the past. He showed me his favorite binding, and a book bound by that binder’s son, now in his 90s, using the tools inherited from his father. We talked about commissioning bindings. He believes, when commissioning a binding, one should issue no instructions: the binder is the artist. It works. He has commissioned hundreds of bindings and has only once been disappointed enough to call the binder. That is an excellent recommendation for letting a binder do whatever he or she wants. We also talked about patience. It takes as long as it takes. I’m trying to learn patience. It’s not my best trick.

The afternoon went by so fast. I could have spent half an hour with each book, examining the design and execution of each, but I wanted to make the most of my time with Neale. I had fun trying to play guess-the-binder. I nailed Jim Reid-Cunningham, Del Hood, Hannah Brown, Paul Delrue, Alain Taral, and Jan Sabota, but I really don’t know the range of styles of most binders well enough to guess. I was just lucky with those. They were stylistically close enough to other works I’d seen recently. My binding crushes on Hannah Brown, Del Hood, and Alain Taral are firmly in place (yes, I know none of them work in the Americas, but who cares?). So many binders, not just those listed above, have a degree of finesse that just doesn’t translate in photographs, no matter how good.

In an afternoon of highlights, looking at around 30 interpretations of the same text was an incredible experience. The text was one that Neale had published in miniature format: the music and lyrics to Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from the musical “Kiss Me Kate.” I love that scene in the movie, and it fits right in with Neale’s lighthearted love of Shakespeare. We ended up sitting on the floor of his library among piles of boxes, each one containing a jewel of a binding. It really was a little piece of heaven.

I was so absorbed that I took no notes and managed to take only two pictures:

Michael Wilcox Brush Up Your Shakespeare
Michael Wilcox
Brush Up Your Shakespeare

James Reid-Cunningham Plays of Shakespeare, London, 1825
James Reid-Cunningham
Plays of Shakespeare, London, 1825