Thursday, July 22, 2010

She's Into Leather*

Last week, we looked at bindings by women of the Arts & Crafts movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. This week, we look at the work of three women currently practicing the art. The binding above is by the British artist Denise Lubett. This cartographic design executed in tan and sea green morocco covers a copy of the Golden Cockerel Press' The Pilgrim Fathers, the depiction of the coastline of Massachusetts subtly alluding to the book's contents. Born in Paris in 1922, Denise Lubett studied bookbinding under John Corderoy at Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts and at the London College of Printing. She set up her own binderies in England and France in 1966. In 1971, she was elected to membership in the society of Designer Bookbinders. Three of her bindings are pictured in the catalogue for the exhibition on "Modern British Bookbinding" held in Brussels and The Hague in 1985. The binding above is more restrained than the typical Lubett design, which tends to be animated and striking in its choice of colored onlays, but, at the same time, it is at least as inventive as her best work. In the chapter she wrote for "A Bookbinder's Florilegium," she implicitly described her personal binding credo when she said that "great purity of style and design usually bring forth great beauty." She also said in the same chapter that "if we [refuse to] bind books so that they become too fragile to handle [and] . . . if we can ascertain that this bound book can be handed down for a number of generations, then we will have achieved a better and more significant role as modern bookbinders."

Bindings by women are more and more often being done in conjunction with overall book design. The bindings pictured above and below are the handiwork of book artist Susan Allix (b. 1943) and are from her "Rosas" series. Allix hands set and printed 10 of these books combining well-known poems about roses with her own illustrations, and bound each of the volumes in its own unique design. The volumes above, combining hand embroidery and inlaid morocco, reminds one of a Victorian quilt--very feminine, very domestic, and somehow cozy. The mixed media binding below, which incorporates painted mirrored inlays and a black metal rose, has a far stronger, almost aggressive air, very bold and modern. The contents are the same, but the bindings make these two very different works of art.

Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book Division at the Library of Congress, wrote of Allix's work: "her books launch you on a visual journey. Each book is a voyage propelled by color, texture, image, impression, and material. . . . Allix comes to the book by way of printmaking and papermaking. She first emerged as a printmaker, having studied at the Royal College of Art in the 1960s. Winning the Prix de Rome gave her the opportunity to live for a time in Italy. . . . After more than three decades and thirty-seven books, Allix continues to be true to her vision. Because she insists on creating the entire book--from letterpress to illustration to binding--her work has a certain recognizable aesthetic; a malleable signature that responds to the particular character of a piece, but is still unquestionably hers. Allix conceives each book visually. 'I am concerned with visual things so I see books as full of colour and form in a pictorial sense as well as through the images created in my mind by the words, and through the sculptural qualities a book possesses.' The real narrative of her books is the flow of color and image as they move throughout the piece." Her works are held in the collections of The British Library, Yale University, National Gallery of Art Washington DC, The Claremont Colleges in California, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Alberta, as well as other fine public and private collections.

The striking binding above is the work of New York artist Carol Joyce. These Trees Stand was a collaboration between poet William DeWitt Snodgrass (1926-2009), photographer Robert Mahon, binder Carol Joyce, and printer Leonard Seastone. Joyce and Seastone were involved with the Center for Book Arts in Manhattan, and a copy of this book was included in the New York Public Library's 1984 exhibition, "Center for Book Arts: The First Decade." Joyce, who received a degree in art history and studied restoration and bookbinding in Italy, specializes in unique bindings for small press books. Her design for the binding here derives from the poem's opening lines: "These trees stand very tall under the heavens. / While they stand, if I walk, all stars traverse / This steep celestial gulf their branches chart." The stark limbs against the wine-colored background might look foreboding, if not for the tiny gold stars sprinkled playfully between the branches. Snodgrass himself was quite pleased with the work, describing the binding as "exquisite" in an interview for "Contemporary Authors."

* NOTE: I would here like to thank one of our clever commenters for the inspired title. Wish I'd thought of it myself.


All images courtesy of Philliip J. Pirages Fine Books & Manuscripts.

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