A Look Back // 10th Anniversary Exhibit

In 1992, the New England Chapter celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary with a member’s exhibit. The year denotes ten years since the chapter’s first exhibit and not when the chapter formed, which was 1980. This exhibit certainly continues in the chapter’s mission to celebrate and support a diverse group of book workers in all levels of skill.

The membership and community continued to grow from a handful of members in 1980 to one-hundred in 1992. Today we have nearly two-hundred steady members.

This post is a continuation of our A Look Back series, which is part of our celebration of 40 years as a chapter. I asked two exhibitors to speak about their work and their place in the bookbinding community at the time.

Check out the full catalog here: 10th Anniversary Catalog

James Reid-Cunningham
My interest in bookbinding began with a fascination for design binding, the unique artistic bindings reflective of the contents of the book. I took a major detour into conservation because it is a lot easier to make a living repairing books than in creating artistic bindings. But throughout my career, I continued to create artistic bindings and book art. It has been fascinating to revisit the bindings I entered into the NEGBW 10th Anniversary exhibition.

They are among the first artistic bindings that I was willing to display publicly. I am struck by how different they are from the bindings I now create, but also how similar.

Around the Day in Eighty Worlds | bound by James Reid-Cunningham

Around the Day in Eighty Worlds is one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, Julio Cortazar. The title is a pun on the Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days. I exhibited this binding a second time in A Dedication to Craft: North Bennet Street School @ 125 at the Concord Art Museum in Concord, MA, in 2009-2010. While the exhibition was being installed, the curator called me and hemmed and hawed for a while before blurting out that I had the title wrong on the spine. He was expecting Jules Verne and not Julio Cortazar.

Around the Day in Eighty Worlds | bound by James Reid-Cunningham

Done in a traditional laced in structure with double core silk endbands and a top edge decorated with graphite, it was bound in full black goatskin with circular collages of paper, photographs, and wood veneer. This is my first artistic binding incorporating materials other than leather and gold. Looking at the binding again, I fear that the central panel on the upper cover has faded a little. I don’t remember the background looking so white. The gold titling looks better than I remember, but it uses a typeface that I now dislike and haven’t used since. Maybe it was the only typeface I had at the time.

Around the Day in Eighty Worlds | bound by James Reid-Cunningham

The enclosure is a silk clamshell box with an interior box displaying the binding, with tin lithographic globes on brass rods suspended around the binding. The design concept of both book and box is a simple one: worlds upon worlds, hence the circles and globes, each a world in itself. Around the Day in Eighty Worlds features collaged images, but images never feature in my later work. Over the last twenty years, my designs have become increasingly geometric, almost abstract, with strong colors, sharp edges, geometric shapes and straight lines. There is little to orient the viewer, little that is pictorial or recognizable. Sam Ellenport once told me that my bindings feature negative space, as though what isn’t there is as important as what is. Over time I find myself less and less able to explain my bindings or even to suggest the correspondences between the text and images that inform what appears on the binding.

I haven’t looked at this binding in years, and I’m not too disappointed.

My second binding in the exhibition, Hell, has a textblock of hell money, which is burned at some Asian funerals to ensure that the deceased has money to spend in the afterlife. Someone suggested to me that it is insulting to use hell money in this way, but I am under the impression that burning hell money at a funeral is more a cultural custom than a religious act. No sacrilege intended. Hell money comes in many variations of design, color and size, making it ideal as a book art material.

Hell | bound by James Reid-Cunningham

Hell was one of my first miniatures. Since then I’ve done dozens, but I can’t say I like miniatures. I’m attracted to the challenge of constructing a book that functions correctly in a small format. Binding a miniature is much more aggravating than a larger book, and because of the small size, every error looms large. Each time I finish a miniature I swear to myself that I’ll never do another, but somehow, over time, I come across an interesting textblock, or I have an inspiration. Suddenly I find myself struggling with another miniature binding.

Exhibit Catalog – Hell | bound by James Reid-Cunningham

In the catalog, Hell was photographed with the textblock open so a viewer can’t see the binding. Apparently, the photographer thought that the contents were more interesting than the binding. This was the first time one of my bindings was screwed up in a catalog, but not unfortunately the last. I’ve had books reproduced upside down or flipped, both victims of an artistic decision to not include titling. Hell is now in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum.

Looking back at my bindings from thirty years ago is both pleasurable and agonizing. I’ve never been satisfied with any binding, but with the passage of time both look better than I remember.

Peter Verheyen
I first became aware of the New England Chapter of the Guild when a friend and colleague of mine, an NBSS grad who worked with me at Bill Minter’s in Chicago made the day trip to Ann Arbor to see 1989 NE Chapter exhibit. Robin had told numerous stories of her time at NBSS and working in Pioneer Valley with among others David Bourbeau and William Streeter, also introducing me to the work of Carol Blinn. A couple years later, I moved to New Haven to work at Yale and found that the “Hamptons” to the north were heaven on earth for a binder. Having apprenticed and studied in Germany/Switzerland 1984-97 I was steeped in the German tradition and found so much to love in New England.  The New England Chapter quickly became a wonderful “home” and resource.

In addition to the regular events in the Pioneer Valley, often at 1 Cottage Street, the Chapter’s exhibits were a wonderful opportunity to share my work more widely. Even though I was the Guild’s Exhibitions Chair at the time, I was still a relatively new exhibitor and only in my 4th post-apprentice year, working primarily as a conservator. These exhibitions provided a “safe” venue to share  my work, and draw inspiration from binders I looked up to. Often, I used these exhibits to explore new techniques as it was with this Danish millimeter binding.

A Letter and Some Photographs | bound by Peter Verheyen

As I didn’t have a stamping press in those days, nor access to one, I used my then pride, a laser printer, to print the label, and then recessed it into the board with a border on top the way we often did at Bill Minter’s when I worked there. Was a simple way to make a label stand out more. My sense of typography has evolved since then and there are things I would do differently, but that’s as it should be. We work with what we have… The text block from the Sea Pen Press and Papermill was one of the first fine press/artists I had purchased after getting to know the artists Suzanne Ferris and Neal Bonham at GBW Standards in Portland, also my first.

At this time, I had also begun my shift towards binding fine press, letterpress printed text blocks, rather than rebinding mass market trade books. If I was going to invest in quality materials, my ongoing professional and creative development, the least I could do was put my efforts into beautiful text blocks. So much the better if created by artists and colleagues I admired, something that was very easy in New England. The friendships and other connections I was able to make during my time in New England strengthened my still new foundation as a binder, and provided a sense of community that I would miss after leaving the area.

A Look Back // 1989 Members Exhibition at RISD

In 1989, the New England Chapter put together an exhibition of member work, which showcased the scope and skill of the members at the time. This regional show highlighted the exuberance of book work in the Northeast, with many of the exhibitor’s reputations spanning across the nation and even internationally.

With the year 2020, our Chapter celebrates its 40th year! We will be posting on past events throughout the year in a series called A Look Back. In our first post, I asked three exhibitors to speak about their work and their place in the bookbinding community at the time.

Check out the full catalog here: 1989 Members Exhibition Catalog

Barbara Blumenthal:
Chinese Decorated Papers was the first of the five limited editions which I bound for Henry Morris and his Bird & Bull Press. I’ve been thinking about Henry from time to time since his death in May 2019.

Chinese Decorated Papers: Chinoiserie for Three | Barbara Blumenthal

In the 1970s, Henry’s exclusive bookbinder was Gray Parrot. In 1987 Henry decided not to keep all of his binding eggs in one basket, so he hired me to bind 325 copies of the Schmoller book in quarter leather with his printed paper sides. I also designed and created a deluxe copy, bound in leather leather with a design that featured some of the metallic papers tipped into the book. Henry and I (and his wife Pearl) remained good friends even after he abandoned me, and other hand bookbinders, to have his Bird & Bull books bound by the larger Campbell-Logan Bindery. Henry inscribed the binder’s copy of one of his publications to me, “Massachusetts’ finest bookbinder;” hyperbole, of course, but evidence of Henry’s sense of humor and our mutual fondness and esteem.

excerpt from Chinese Decorated Papers | Barbara Blumenthal

Julia Ferrari:
I was an artist, engaged in a career (vocation) of typography within the book arts, co-running Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press with partner, Dan Carr, in Ashuelot, New Hampshire. Besides creating our own books as artist (myself) and poet (Dan Carr) we had been designing, setting and printing – in metal monotype, full size books for limited edition publishers for 7 years.

Intersection | Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari

When we moved to New Hampshire from Boston we were in our 20’s and we wanted to work doing the craft we so loved. We decided to run a monotype print shop, so we could continue to expand and develop our skills with letterpress printing and typesetting equipment to the country. We were also part of the Four Zoas Press, a literary small press, that was started in Hardwick, Massachusetts, publishing unknown poets. In Boston I had begun writing poetry which led me to Dan Carr and his literary print shop on the Charlestown/Somerville border. I was a practicing artist, and so brought those skills to the press, teaching myself woodcut and lino-cuts (these got used in the chapbooks we were producing), bookbinding, and later in 1989 making abstract paste-papers as original art be used on book covers (very possibly one of, if not the first person to do that.)

Swallow Island | Julia Ferrari

All was opening up as the traditional craft was being discovered by my generation, partly because the printing machines were being discarded by the commercial industry. I continue to run the press, even though my partner has passed away, and feel a responsibility to energetically pass on the craft to the next generation by offering residencies and internships yearly.

Check out Julia’s website for more about Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press.

Julie B. Stackpole:
Since I live down in mid-coast Maine and don’t have many opportunities to gather with fellow bookbinders and book collectors, I have always tried to enter as many exhibitions of bookbinding as possible, to keep my name and work familiar to the public.

In 1989, I was trying an idea to expand my client possibilities by appealing to interior decorators to commission a guest book that ties in with the design of their project that they would give to their client at the end, a symbol of the interior’s new life. My mother, Mary Ann Beinecke, had a textile design business that produced luxury throws, yarns, fabrics, and needlework rugs made for her in Portugal. To demonstrate the possibilities of my idea, I chose one of her room-sized rugs made with this butterfly design as the inspiration for a blank book that I could also enter in the NEGBW exhibit; then she could sell it along with the rug afterwards.

Butterflies | Julie B. Stackpole

I used a finishing technique that I am very fond of: linoleum-cut blind embossing over onlays of leather. The butterfly lino-cuts also were used in making the endpapers with gum arabic resist. All the colours reflect those of the rug.

endpapers for Butterflies | Julie B. Stackpole

My mother never sold the rug but kept it for her own personal use, and so I gifted her the guest book also. Thus, it came back to me after she died (age 87) and so I am able to see and photograph it in its 30 year old condition. I am pleased to note that the structure of the book and wrapper are in good shape, but the aqua blue Niger goatskin has browned on the spine and near the edges of the boards, despite the book being kept in its wrapper. This is why I almost always make clamshell boxes for my fine leather bindings, especially light blue or green ones! (But guest books are easier to sign if they have a padded wrapper to rest on.)

Thanks to Barbara, Julie and Julia for their contribution to our community and this blog series.