The Art on the Bookshelf
Thatcher Wine’s custom dust jackets By Nate PedersenNate Pedersen is a contributing writer at Fine Books & Collections.
Where others see an empty bookcase, Thatcher Wine sees a blank canvas. Wine, who runs Juniper Books in Boulder, Colorado, creates custom-designed book jackets. These jackets transform a shelf of mixed colors and bindings into a piece of unified artwork. Say, for example, a client wants one thousand books on natural history, but with green jackets and black silhouettes of birds in flight spanning the spines. Wine takes that request, builds a personalized book collection, and then employs an artist to design the collection’s book jackets. When printed and wrapped around the books, the collection becomes a piece of art.
Wine, who has “never really been tempted to have an open bookshop,” began selling rare books ten years ago from his home in Boulder. Several years later, he received an interesting request. A friend in South Carolina was building a beach house and required a four-thousand-volume book collection to populate the empty bookshelves. Could Wine assemble a custom collection? And by the way, could the books match the design scheme of the house?
In an era where the future of the physical book is regularly debated, books have found an unexpected ally in the design community. “Books are imperative as design objects,” said Jenny Fischbach, an interior designer in New York City who has partnered with Wine on several projects. “A room with empty bookshelves doesn’t feel warm or intimate.”
Wine soon carved out a niche for himself building “curated book collections” by subject, author, or interest. Sometimes even just by color. Fifteen hundred books wrapped in blank white dust jackets for a Miami spa. Two thousand books in white vellum for a California estate. While some clients wanted the added benefit of being able to read the books, others were not quite so picky. Many simply wanted “nice, decorative objects on the shelf.” For them, five hundred copies of John Grisham’s last bestseller worked brilliantly if they were covered in dust jackets of the appropriate hue.
In addition to fulfilling chromatic requests, Wine began creating dust jackets to make a library look more contemporary or more antique. For example, a client with an Agatha Christie collection in modern cloth bindings wanted them to look like they were bound in antique red leather. Wine designed and printed a series of jackets to create the desired facade.
Soon Wine began thinking of “bookcases as canvases” that he “could work with as an art project.” He began experimenting with designs that could stretch across a series of books to create an overarching artistic effect. He built a children’s book collection for his daughter, and then covered them in ladybug dust jackets. He put orange dust jackets on his personal collection of Library of America titles with “Literary Classics” stamped in bold across their spines.
Then, several months ago, Wine was approached to develop a collection of Jack London books and design a series of graphic book jackets to house them. Wine began by accumulating early printings of London’s titles. Once he had a complete collection, he commissioned Colorado artist Mario Miguel Echevarria to paint a watercolor mural illustrating the “energy and dynamism” of London’s adventurous life.
Echevarria, who said he “had a blast” working on the project, was inspired by his father, an eighty-five-year-old mountain climber in Chile. (The senior Echevarria stuffs his backpack with tattered copies of Jack London books to read while he scales the peaks of South America.) While he was conceptualizing the mural, Echevarria used the design framework of graphic novels, with the bookshelves as the gutters (the blank white areas on a comic book page) and scenes from London’s life as sequential imagery stretching across multiple panels. When the painting was complete, Wine took detailed photographs and measurements and then printed customized jackets for each book so the mural could stretch across the collection. The end product is an impressive, visually engaging, three-dimensional mural of London’s life.
Wine said he thinks he may be leading the vanguard for a “new trend in book collecting.” He added, “Most book collecting has been done before. So what do you do with your passion for Mark Twain or Jane Austen? Once you’ve completed your collection and you’ve got all the works you wanted, how can you take it to the next level?” Custom-designed jackets offer a way to “personalize your library,” and revamp your collection into “a series of art objects.”
To some collectors, custom-designed jackets are a compelling alternative to the controversial facsimile dust jackets that have cropped up in recent years. An individual can design jackets to reflect his library, personal taste, or the design aesthetics of his house. Of course the other advantage of custom-designed jackets is their ability to disguise embarrassing or regretted purchases. That set of World Book Encyclopedias sitting in the basement—the one the library won’t even accept as a donation? Maybe it’s time to upcycle it.