Showing posts with label Barbara Adams Hebard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barbara Adams Hebard. Show all posts

Friday, December 8, 2017

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017, edited by Jeanette Koch, photography by Greg Smolonski: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, UK: available at the Designer Bookbinders Online Shop, £30.00 + s/h.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017 catalogue, was produced to accompany a travelling exhibition of the same title that first ran from July 18 through August 20, 2017, in Weston Library at the University of Oxford.  The exhibition could later be seen through September 28, 2017 at the Library of Birmingham, followed by a showing in London at St Bride Foundation until October 24, 2017, and then, in a final venue, at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, Massachusetts, November 3, 2017 through December 22, 2017. If you missed the show in the United Kingdom and will not be travelling to Boston to view the 28 prizewinners and a selection of American entries, do purchase this catalogue, which has completely captured the bookbindings exhibited in the four venues as well as all those entered in the competition.

The Designer Bookbinders and their impressive roster of supporters should be very proud of the ambitious travelling exhibition and catalogue. The catalogue, beginning with its cover, conveys excitement and motion through the dynamic dragon motif lunging toward the viewer. Played out against a rich red background highlighted by glittering gold-toned titling, it serves as a theatrical introduction to the international themed contents within.

Heroic Works at North Bennet Street School
Photo © The North Bennet Street School

Heroic Works at North Bennet Street School
Photo © The North Bennet Street School

Since not all bookbinders and other followers of the book arts will be able to see the exhibition in any of the venues, it is commendable that the catalogue begins with descriptions of the four hosting institutions. Instead of just listing the exhibition dates, this informative catalogue gives brief paragraphs about the locations and provides their contact addresses. Readers will note that three of the four venues recently underwent extensive renovations and, although not mentioned, the North Bennet Street School is in a newly acquired and renovated building. It is comforting to know that books and related crafts, and the buildings that house them, are well cared for on both sides of the Atlantic.

The competition judges, Harri Aaltonen, Sue Doggett, and Sophie Schneideman, must have had a challenging time selecting the 28 books for the Sir Paul Getty Bodleian Prizes. The catalogue is filled with some breathtakingly beautiful books, created with outstanding technical skills. This review will only highlight fourteen books, although there are many, many more worthy of attention. Bookbinders and bibliophiles need to see the catalogue for themselves and savor the styles that appeal to them. The bookbindings, made using multiple techniques and materials, with finely honed skills, and keenly developed design consciousness, reveal that members of Designer Bookbinders merit their international reputation.

This reviewer had the good fortune to see the exhibition at the Windgate Gallery in the North Bennet Street School (NBSS). This venue may have influenced the choice of several books discussed here. Full disclosure: I am an American, graduated from the Bookbinding Program at NBSS, was taught by Mark Esser, and have served as a NBSS overseer for some years. That being said, the binding by Mark Esser is mesmerizing, in part because of the boldly repetitive design.  It was courageous to undertake a regular and symmetrical pattern, since the eye tends to focus on any flaws or inconsistencies in this style. Mark, well known for his commitment to craftsmanship, has accomplished a work that stuns in its perfection.

All images of bindings © Designer Bookbinders. Photos by Greg Smolonski.

Mark Esser (USA): Blind Date

The gorgeously crafted, wooden-board book, designed by Fabrizio Bertolotti fit perfectly into the NBSS Windgate Gallery setting.  The school, with programs involving wooden structures, such as Cabinet & Furniture Making, Violin Making, Carpentry, and Piano Restoration, has an appreciative audience ready to admire the precise woodworking mastery that went into the making of Bertolotti’s Héraclès.

Fabrizio Bertolotti (Italy): Héraclès

Priscilla Spitler’s cover, arrayed with brayer-printed leaves so vibrantly accenting the goatskin, was a delight to view on a bright New England day—the sky was filled with similar multi-hued leaves. One regrets that in an exhibition of bindings, interior features such as Spitler’s pochoir page illustrations cannot always be on display.

Priscilla Spitler (USA): In the Garden

In contrast to the flamboyant covers of Esser and Spitler, the prize-winning bindings by Keiko Fujii and Gavin Dovey have subtle tones and ornaments.  Fujii’s book has a soothing appearance because of the soft hues; pale blue calf accented with white and cream-colored onlays and inlays. The continuous elliptical configurations of the decorative elements blend harmoniously with the curve-modeled boards.

Keiko Fujii (Japan): Légendes Japonaises

Gavin Dovey has elegantly airbrushed the surface of the goatskin cover in a manner that brings to mind surface gilding. The tooled organic lines on the covers suggest veined butterfly wings, with the onlays and gold leaf resembling ocellus: considering the movement of the boards in relation to the spine, this also could imply the fluttering of wings.

Gavin Dovey (USA): Metamorphoses

The Windgate Gallery, as indicated above, featured the 28 prizewinners and a selection of American entries. The catalogue includes all the bindings entered in the competition. Photographer Greg Smolonski did a fine job imaging the books, so those seen in the catalogue are eye-catching, as well.
Architectural designs benefitted several bookbinders well in portraying the “heroic” on a grand scale. For instance, Sylwester Pacura illuminated his black Morocco binding of The Golden Legend with multi-colored leather onlays fashioning a glowing rose window, very pleasing in proportion.

Sylwester Pacura (Poland): The Golden Legend

Eliška Čabalová deftly sculpted and cut out the boards of her binding, creating the illusion of the gothic-windowed St. Vitus Cathedral, a fittingly dramatic symbol for Prague in Legends. The book seems to be an actual edifice, because Čabalová cleverly created the impression of shadows by uncovering the decorated flyleaves inside the cut out windows.

Eliška Čabalová (Czech Republic): Prague in Legends

Elements from nature also figured in a number of bindings and helped to accentuate the timeless quality of “the heroic.” Alain Taral’s walnut wood binding, with its strong grain and burls, bears the gravity of an object that has survived centuries of trial and strife. The binder wisely chose to allow the wood alone to make a statement, the resulting cover embodying beauty, unadorned.

Alain Taral (France): La Nuit des Fantômes

Dace Pāže adeptly attached Icelandic stones to metallic-toned leather covered boards so to suitably bind the Codex Regius. The placement and quantity, five stones on the upper and one on the lower board, combined with the size and sheen of the stones attractively symbolize Iceland.

Dace Pāže (Latvia): Codex Regius

Mythical beings from different cultures take formation on the book covers as well. Maria Ruzaykina used two striking creatures, a dragon and a human-faced bird, as metaphoric elements for her chosen title, Epic. The creatures, themselves lavishly tooled, are backlit by wonderfully gilt concentric circles.

Maria Ruzaykina (Russia): Epic

Karol Wilczynska selected to show a cave painting design on the upper cover of The Boy and the Taniwha. The painting, of wheel-like and circular forms evoking Taniwha, the unseen being, stands out because of the blocks of contrasting color with which Wilczynska framed it.

Karol Wilczynska (New Zealand): The Boy and the Taniwha

The human heroes show-up in the cover designs, both in figurative examples as well as in subjects picked to represent them. Given the theme of this exhibition, not surprisingly, there are a plenty of lovely samples to touch upon; three such books are looked at here. Patricia Richmond took the opportunity to showcase her tooling skills by decorating her Folk Tales and Fairy Tales from India with nicely rendered images of people. The variety of tools used together with the abundance of gold add intensity to the visually complex cover.

Patricia Richmond (United Kingdom): Folk Tales and Fairy Tales from India

Jamie Kamph employed hunting motifs to represent the actions of humans in the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The black silhouette hound and boar shaped onlays laid in a diagonal line balance out the red axe and holly sprig onlays. The binder cunningly avoided the use of the color green to stand for the mysterious knight.

Jamie Kamph (USA): Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Ido Agassi focused on the chainmail traditionally worn by knights of old to embellish the cover of Don Quixote Visiting a Printing Shop, reminding viewers of Quixote’s vivid conviction to revive chivalry.  Tooling a circle more than 12,000 times on the cover mirrors Quixote’s multiple efforts in attempting to achieve his goal; heroic efforts on both the part of the binder and the protagonist!

Ido Agassi (Israel): Don Quixote Visiting a Printing Shop

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017 catalogue provides a lasting record of the travelling exhibition by describing the venues, showing all the books entered in the competition, and by giving a contact list of the international group of bookbinders associated with their organization, highlighted by country. The foreword, preface, and introduction offer valuable background information and set the tone for the illustrations that follow. As Lori Sauer points out in her introduction, there remains a universal fascination with fine bindings, and people are collaborating on an international scale to preserve and foster the craft of bookbinding. Exhibitions, coupled with catalogues such as this, accentuate the effort exerted by groups like Designer Bookbinders, who heroically take on the herculean tasks of setting standards and acting as role models for the next generation of fine binders.



Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18 ½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, a board member of the New England Conservation Association, and an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

più da vicino (Closer) by Luigi Castiglioni

Castiglioni, Luigi. più da vicino. Rimini, Italie: Relié par Legatoria Anonima, 2014. 76 pp. Photographs by Alessandro Costa. €100 + s/h. For more information: www.luigicastiglioni.it and info@luigicastiglioni.it.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

“Who could ever harbour doubts about bookbinding being a major art form once one discovers the art of Luigi Castiglioni?” asks French bookbinder, Morina Mongin, in the preface to this catalog showcasing the work of Luigi Castiglioni. When you see the books, gorgeously photographed by Alessandro Costa, you will immediately respond to Ms. Mongin’s question with an emphatic “No one.” The catalog, with introductory material shown in black and white, acquaints the reader with Castiglioni and his bindery and then, with a glowing burst of color, displays the stunning books made by him.


Luigi Castiglioni

A first glance through the catalog importantly reveals that Castiglioni has mastered the art of bookbinding. The bindings, rendered with an enviable precision and control of technique, leave no doubts regarding his skill as a binder. The artistic use of leather onlays and inlays and the tooling in his designs is enhanced by the sheer dexterity with which they were executed.

Detail, onlaid, inlaid, and tooled cover

The textured and color-toned leather seen on the pictorial-style covers has a unique painterly appearance, a result of a printing and stamping process developed by Castiglioni. The colors are more subtle and variegated than can usually be found in leather, giving a three-dimensional quality to the surface of the book covers. The texture adds an interest, absorbing and reflecting the light in a way that deepens the form of the illustration. Those books with covers depicting mountains, orchards, or seascapes are a pleasure to look at because of this rich detail.

Detail, pictorial-style cover

The decorative gauffering, featured in the catalog on the heads of some text blocks, beautifully produces a modern appearance while paying tribute to historic patterns of the past. Here Castiglioni uses elements that evoke Rococo, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Islamic design, all the while manifesting his own creative style. These patterns also draw the eye to the endbands, a playful motif in Castiglioni’s book art. The asymmetrical color configuration seen on some of his endbands is at odds with the traditionally sewn endband, yet is clearly an intentional component in his vision of the book’s composition.  

Gauffered head with asymmetrical colored endband

Luigi Castiglioni’s signature also is an integrated part of the overall book design. The three bold, unabashed examples seen in the catalog rightly declare pride in the fine work that he has accomplished while forming a complementary ingredient to the volumes.

Castiglioni signature

The catalog is wonderfully formatted to give the reader not only an introduction to the bookbinder, but also to lay out the details of his design sensitivity and to exhibit his technical skill. Other bookbinders could use this catalog as an inspirational resource for their own work, in addition to viewing it as a stellar example of how to promote design bookbindings to potential collectors.




Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, Board member of the New England Conservation Association, and an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Society of Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition 2015

The Society of Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition 2015, Edited by Arthur Green and Hannah Brown, Dorchester, UK: printed by Henry Ling, Ltd.; published by The Society of Bookbinders, 2015. GBP 22.50, available from the Society of Bookbinders.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

In the age of electronic devices, on-line exhibitions have frequently become the chosen venue for displays of bookbindings. While I completely understand the usefulness of this mode – wider audience, less cost, global curators and exhibitors, possibility of showing large numbers and multiple views of books, running the exhibit for an extended period of time, and so forth – I still appreciate seeing images of books in print form. The Society of Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition 2015 catalogue, printed to accompany a physical exhibit of the same title which ran from August 20-23, 2015, is a lasting legacy of that show held at Keele University. The award-winning books could later be seen through November 5, 2015 at George Bayntun, Fine Bindings and Rare Books, Bath, and then, in a final venue, at Shepherds, London, November 14, 2015 through January 8, 2016. If you missed the show in August and will not be travelling to London in the near future, all is not lost; this catalogue beautifully captured the eighty-five bookbindings in the exhibit. [Publisher's note: The online version of the catalog linked to above only shows the competition's award winners]

Since I am a bookbinder, I immediately began my investigation of the catalogue by poring over the pages containing the book images. Right off, I was delighted to find that prize-winning entries in all five entrance categories were shown with good-sized whole book images and a second, closer view of a detail of the book. At least one book in each of the entrance categories was given two images as well. The fact that there were five categories is marvelous, including fine binding, complete book, case binding, restoration, and historical binding. The judges must have had a challenging time choosing the prize-winning entries; the catalogue is filled with fantastic bindings. I have to say, though, that Andrew Sims’s sumptuous Harleian-style binding in Morocco covering the Book of Common Prayer stands out as a masterful example of hand-tooling, and so expertly resembles 18th century style that it is not surprising as the selection for the Fine Cut International Award for Finishing. This is the sort of binding that inspires the admiration of fellow bookbinders as well as book collectors.

The Book of Common Prayer by Andrew Sims

Visite au Petit Matin by Ingela Dierick


Sims’s binding featured a number of floral decorative motifs; several other books also had floral themes, albeit very different in style. Ingela Dierick created a lovely, delicate bouquet of onlaid leather flowers in a design that charmingly sweeps from the front board to the back, suggestive of a guest handing flowers to a hostess, as in the theme of the book, Visite au Petit Matin. Abigail Bainbridge’s journal, Herbarium, covered in a vellum binding entrapping pressed flowers and foliage, dramatically evokes lavishly illuminated 15th century manuscript leaves or early embroidered bindings.

Herbarium by Abigail Bainbridge

Pan by Peter D. Verheyen


Bainbridge was not the only one who imaginatively used vellum to convey a theme in deceptively simple-appearing binding style. Peter Verheyen, whom I have long considered a master of subtle, elegant bindings, has achieved this with the natural-toned vellum covering Eight Wood Engravings on a Theme of Pan. The variation of color on the surface of the vellum reveals the markings of the fur originally attached to that skin, quickly reminding an observer that Pan, the subject of the engravings, has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat. Additionally, the use of snakeskin with a pattern boldly resembling vertebrae on the spine of the binding, and the placement of the sewing supports, make this a pleasingly proportioned design. Karen Hanmer, too, exploits the character of vellum in a limp binding used to encase The Anatomical Exercises of Doctor William Harvey: Concerning the Motion of the Heart and Blood. While she used only four illustrations from the text to embellish the cover (arms with accentuated veins), the prominent veining on the vellum surface completes the message.

The Anatomical Exercises of Doctor William Harvey by Karen Hanmer

A Midsommer Nights Dreame by Dominic Riley


In bright contrast to the vellum bindings, books in variegated hues are represented in this catalogue as well. Using black goatskin with multicolor onlays and gold tooling for the cover of A Midsommer Nights Dreame, Dominic Riley skillfully put together a bookbinding which is both eye-catching and displays admirable control of technique. The gold-tooled lines forming the shape of the palace arches introduce depth to the flat plane of the boards, causing the bright colors of the trees and banner to appear to hover dreamily over the surface. Erin Fletcher, the only North Bennet Street School Bookbinding Program graduate whose work was in the exhibit, did her school proud with a nicely executed binding for The Nightingale and the Rose. An inlaid scarlet goatskin line visually pierces the book’s spine, and the embroidered feathers of the bird onlaid to the upper board add dimension to the cover. You can read about it being bound here.

The Nightingale and the Rose by Erin Fletcher

One could go on describing other excellent books, but the truth is, bookbinders need to see the catalogue for themselves. The bookbindings, made using multiple techniques and materials, signal that this is not a dying craft and that binders are still experimenting/experiencing new ways to use their skills and design arts to create unique books.

Once I had savored the books, I returned to the beginning of the catalogue to discover that, in addition to the beautiful images of books, there are other enjoyable features to this catalogue. The warm-hearted tone of the introduction draws the reader in, and the brief history of the society will be useful to those who are not bookbinders. Listing sponsors up front is a good move and having the entrance categories spelled out is very helpful. The images of the tools of the trade tucked in the gutters and margins of the introductory pages nicely balance out the text. I had a couple of minor quibbles: the Contents page repeats the case binding category and the names of the bookbinders in that category, which is confusing; and the countries of origin of the binders are printed in faint grey tone—since it was an international exhibit, I thought that should be emphasized more.

The Society of Bookbinders has produced a great catalogue to accompany their 2015 international bookbinding competition. It will remain a record of that show and those who enjoy bookbindings or books about bookbinding should consider adding this volume to their collection.



Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18 ½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, and an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.