The Alchemy of Book Art: 8 Works by Tim Ely

Master bookbinder Tim Ely’s elaborate art books are sophisticated otherworldly mash-ups of landscapes, diagrams, and architecture meant to inspire and provoke. The Snohomish, Washington native has been making books for almost his entire life, finding inspiration on heaven and in earth, fusing science and art with paper and ink. Contemporary art bookbinding specialist Abby Schoolman Books recently prepared a catalog of eight of his art books entitled Timothy C. Ely 8 Books.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Cover for Bones of the Book. Photo courtsey of Abby Schoolman Books.

                                                                                                                                                                   If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Ely pops up frequently here on the FB&C blog, and he was featured in the winter 2011 print issue, as well. His mastery of bookbinding techniques coupled with artistic innovation follow in the footsteps of monastic illuminators and bookbinders, continuing the long legacy of book arts. “Beyond deep reading, I have found that the best way to become informed about an event or gather a bit of enlightenment is to make an expressive book,” Ely says in the catalog. 

Close-up of Ely’s binding technique. Photo courtesy of Abby Schoolman Books.

Some of the books are biographical, such as Bones of the Book ($100,000), in which Ely examines when his parents met at a paper mill, and how this serendipitous association of people and paper somehow led the artist to a lifelong fascination with the art of the book. “Bones of the Book reflects my identity as a maker of things, bones as structural supports, and how that metaphor maps itself onto the cultural object/artifact of the book,” Ely writes. Other creations are more speculative, ruminations on mechanical worlds in outer space, the transmission of thought, and the alchemy of creating spellbinding objects. No matter how you look at them, each is a multidimensional, multisensory work of art.

Timothy C. Ely 8 Books is available through Amazon. Contact Abby Schoolman Books for further information.


One of the oldest surviving copies of The Aeneid, an illuminated manuscript written and illustrated in Rome sometime around 400 A.D., has been digitized by the Vatican Library and is now freely available to view online.

Virgil wrote his epic poem more than 2,000 years ago, but most early copies of The Aeneid have been lost to time. The Vatican’s illuminated manuscript, itself reduced to a scant 76 surviving leaves of a probable original 440 leaves, is one of the oldest to survive the centuries. The manuscript contains 50 illustrations, produced by three different painters.  The original is thought to have contained about 280 illustrations.

The Vatican’s copy, entitled Vergilius Vaticanus, is one of only three known illuminated manuscripts of classical literature. The manuscript also contains portions of Virgil’s second major poem, Georgics. It was donated to the Vatican in 1602.

In partnership with Tokyo-based technology firm NTT Data, the Vatican Library is in a multi-year effort to digitize 3,000 of its ancient manuscripts using highly-specialized equipment.

Our summer issue features curator Laura Micham’s guest column on the Lisa Unger Baskin collection of women’s history at Duke University. Assembled over 45 years, this collection encompasses the work of female artists, scholars, printers, publishers, laborers, scientists, authors, and political activists over 500+ years. In Baskin’s words, “The unifying thread is that women have always been productive and working people and this history essentially has been hidden.”

Take a two-minute tour through this extraordinary collection and meet the collector in her element.



The Brontë Society, based at the Brontë family parsonage in Haworth, has purchased a strikingly unique Brontë association copy with a fascinating history. The book, an otherwise unremarkable edition of The Remains of Henry Kirke White, was owned by Maria Brontë (nee Branwell), the short-lived matriarch of the Brontë clan who died in 1821, shortly after the birth of her final child, Anne. What makes the book unique - and what makes it seem a product of a Brontë story itself - is that it was one of just a few of Maria’s possessions to survive a shipwreck.  What’s more, it bears annotations, inscriptions, sketches, letters, and prose pieces from other members of the Brontë family, including an unpublished poem by Charlotte herself.

Maria Branwell married Patrick Brontë, the future priest of Haworth parish in Yorkshire, in 1812. Originally from Cornwall, Maria sent home for her possessions, which were placed on a ship. The ship never made it, succumbing to a storm, and sinking beneath the waves off the Devon coast. Maria’s trunk of possessions was lost, however her copy of The Remains of Henry Kirke White somehow survived and was eventually delivered into her care in Yorkshire. As a result, the Brontë clan viewed the book almost as a sacred object, a notion heightened by Maria’s early death from ovarian cancer in 1821 at the age of 38 after bearing six children.

Patrick Brontë inscribed a touching passage in Latin in the book, which translates to, “the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved.”

Over time, other members of the Brontë family added their own touches to the book, including a poem and short story by a very young Charlotte.

After Patrick Brontë’s death in 1861, the book was sold at auction at Haworth and spent much of the ensuing 150 years in the states bouncing between private collections. In 2015, Randall House Rare Books in California discovered the book and subsequently offered it to the Brontë Society (more about that here). After receiving funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of the National Libraries, The Brontë Society was able to purchase the book for £170,000.

Maria’s long-lost book will go on display at the Haworth Parsonage in 2017.

Photo via The Brontë Society.

PORT-WINE-STAIN-by-Norman-Lock-9781942658061.jpgA long-lost short story by Edgar Allan Poe nests like a matryoshka doll within Norman Lock’s clever new novel, The Port-Wine Stain (Bellevue Literary Press, $16.95). In the novel, Dr. Edward Fenzil recounts his early years as an assistant to Thomas Dent Mütter, the maverick Philadelphia surgeon who collected medical curiosities (now the Mütter Museum), and reveals the twisted series of events that led to his theft of Poe’s manuscript in 1844. He tells his captive audience, “You want to hear about Edgar Poe, how I came to know him and how he initiated me into the occult.”

But first Fenzil begins his tale by describing Thomas Eakins’ famous painting of a surgical theatre in which he has been depicted. (That painting sans the fictional Fenzil does indeed exist and resides at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.) It is in this macabre world that both stories--the narrator’s and Poe’s--play out. Seeking a follow-up to his “Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe snoops around Mütter’s laboratory and befriends Fenzil, whose malleable mind bends to the writer’s will. Poe uses the young man as a kind of muse, or crash-test dummy--during Fenzil’s initiation into Poe’s Thanatopsis Club, he is drugged and then bolted into a coffin so that when he wakes he will believe he has been buried alive. Poe then peppers him with questions, the answers to which he will utilize in his fiction. Poe pushes too far when he dedicates a story to Fenzil about a man who comes upon his dopplegänger in the form of a wax figure of a notorious murderer in a “chamber of horrors.”    

Lock deftly evokes time and place in The Port-Wine Stain, avoiding the pitfalls of historical fiction as a genre. His novel is steeped in the art, science, and culture of mid-nineteenth-century Philadelphia but truly captivates in the storytelling.    

Bibliophiles will get a kick out the “morocco-bound” presentation copy of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque that Poe gives to Mütter, as well as the reciprocal gift of Mütter’s Cases of Deformities from Burns, Successfully Treated by Plastic Operations (1843) presented to Poe.

N.B. Coincidentally, today is Thomas Eakins’ birthday. He was born on July 25, 1844.

                                                                                                                                          Image via Bellevue Literary Press.

The Summer of Hamilton

Has the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton reached its zenith? After a twelve-month run that grossed $90 million dollars in ticket sales, the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, made his final appearance onstage in June. Now, doorbuster ticket prices are dipping below $500 per seat. Still, if that’s too rich for your blood, check out the New-York Historical Society’s museum-wide celebration of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury and his influence shaping the U.S. government.

Replicas of the dueling pistols used by Hamilton and Burr on view at the New-York Historical Society, on loan from the JPMorgan Chase Historical Collection. Photo credit: New-York Historical Society, Courtesy of the JPMorgan Chase Historical Collection.

The Summer of Hamilton exhibit includes some of the items from the museum’s 2015 installation that also showcased the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, but there are new items as well: Life-size bronze statues depicting Hamilton and Burr in their deadly duel; Hamilton’s 1797 gift of a tall case clock to the Bank of New York; and his writing desk, on loan from the Museum of the City of New York.

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Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Schuyler, October 5, 1780 (The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GL C00773) Photo Credit: New-York Historical Society

In addition, the NYHS will display nine documents written by Hamilton, including his touching love letter to fiancée Elizabeth Schuyler; his infamous letter to mistress Maria Reynolds; and his proposal for the federal government that he presented at the Constitutional Convention.


In a letter (also on display) where Hamilton supports Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr as president, his complaints sound remarkably prescient when read against the backdrop of today’s riotous political bickering: “In a choice of Evils let them take the least--Jefferson is in every view less dangerous than Burr.”

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Kim Crowley, Alexander Hamilton, bronze, 2004, New-York Historical Society (photo: Don Pollard)

And back by popular demand, the NYHS will recreate the infamous Hamilton-Burr duel on Sunday, August 7 with actors from American Historical Theatre.

                                                                                                                                               Visit The New-York Historical Society’s website for a complete list of programming and hours.

Island Garden Green.jpgWe’re posting today an exhibition review by Nick Basbanes covering his recent trip to the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Massachusetts, to see American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals, an exhibit of forty oil paintings and watercolors that pays homage to one of Nick’s favorite books, Celia Thaxter’s An Island Garden (Houghton Mifflin, 1894). Read it here.

This special report was made possible by the support of The Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company.

Image courtesy of Nicholas A. Basbanes.


Selena Chambers_authorpic.jpgSelena Chambers has just released an illustrated, limited edition chapbook about her travels in Europe in the wake of Mary Shelley. Entitled Wandering Spirits, the book is available in a small run of 200 copies from Tallhat press. Chambers, whose work has been nominated for Pushcart, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, recently answered our questions over email:

Please introduce us to the story behind Wandering Spirits:

Wandering Spirits is an account of my journey through the landscape of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The physical travel was conducted in 2010 during my honeymoon while en route from Nice, France to Ansbach, Germany, but the drive and impulse had been developing since I was 13-years old. I think it was through Poe that I became turned on to Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and through them, I found Mary. 

While I had your typical lit-crushes on the Romantic guys, with Mary, it was for real. At the time, the lady writers I’d encountered were Austen and Brontë, both brilliant but for various societal reasons, kept their bodies and body of work close to their homes in England. They wrote about marriage and relationships and what they knew within their limited realm, and while they added their particular brand of nineteenth century feminist empowerment into their novels, I craved something more weird and adventurous.

I finally found that with Mary. Not only was she close to my age during the Year Without Summer, but she ran away to foreign lands in the name of love, consequently suffered through ruin and the loss of her first child, and proved she could hang with the other rock stars of her time, all while quietly synthesizing her experiences into what would become one of the most influential novels ever written. For a young, budding lit-nerd like myself, her romance was intoxicating, and I contracted an acute wanderlust that would go unexpressed until I was twenty-eight and started retracing her footsteps throughout Europe.

The book is framed as a series of letters.  Could you tell us about this decision?

Wandering Spirits was pitched to as a column, and I first started writing it as a standard non-fiction article. However, no matter how much I toyed with it, the essay format felt stale and too distant from the subject matter, the landscape, and the reader. When I am stuck on my writing, I turn to my betters, and so started reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark because it had been Mary Shelley’s source text during her travels. Letters is very vulnerable, poignant, and what we’d now call Gonzo--a first-hand experience exploring the material as well as the abstract. I loved how she discussed ideas alongside descriptions of her surroundings and emotions, and how even though she wrote these letters in 1796, it felt like they had been recently composed and mailed first-class to me, the reader. This made me realize that the epistolary format is one of the most intimate but also enigmatic ways a writer can commune with the reader. I think Mary Shelley believed this too, and is why she cast Frankenstein in an epistolary frame narrative. In both cases, the effects were exactly what I wanted to render in Wandering Spirits.

Were you able to find lingering traces of Romanticism on your travels?

Oh, yes. The ghosts of Romanticism lingered everywhere I went, especially at Mont Blanc, which is and remains the temple of the Sublime. While Geneva and Ingolstadt bore the pockmarks of progress, Mont Blanc was practically untouched with one tiny exception of tourists. However, Mont Blanc has been a major tourist destination since the late eighteenth century, so while Mary and the gang never made mention of it, I imagine they encountered some similar interruptions of reverie. 

While I visited Mont Blanc and the Mer de Glace, I was constantly reminded of how trivial we all were in the face of nature--people were interacting with the landscape in all kind of ways:  sightseeing, mountain-climbing, and habitation, and from where I stood, everyone appeared minuscule and anonymous. This ultimate sublime feeling was further punctuated by seeing how much the Mer de Glace had moved through time.

Every few years, an entrance into the glacier is drilled to set up a mini-tourist playground inside. Outside, this drilling has presented a visual marker showing how much the ice has drifted. Without these markers, the glacier just looks like a static plane of ice and not a constant force of quiet and steady propulsion. Confronted with this sort of visual contradiction conjures up all sorts of ephemeral questions, to which, as Shelley wrote:  “None can reply--all seems eternal now.”

WS Cover.jpegThe book has been published in an illustrated, limited edition.  Could you tell us more about the press and artist you worked with for Wandering Spirits?

It is published by Tallhat Press as a special limited-edition, illustrated chapbook of 200 copies for nine months. After that, it’ll be taken off the market regardless of how many copies haven’t sold by that time. Tallhat Press is a small press interested in publishing Genre-based non-fiction in attractive print editions. The mastermind behind the press is Yves Tourigny, who is a game designer and artist from Ottawa, Canada, and he did all of the layout and graphic design, as well as give the manuscript a thorough and much-needed editorial scrubbing. 

He does really neat, high-concept table top games, like Expedition Northwest Passage, and is a devout man of Weird letters, as seen in his other major project:  They Who Dwell in the Cracks. It is an online site dedicated to archiving, cataloguing, and examining the works of Laird Barron. So far, it features an extensive bibliography of Barron’s work, as well as annotations, and it is not only a fitting tribute to the horror master’s work, but a great reader’s guide for fans who want to delve...well deeper into the cracks of Barron’s world.

Working with Yves has been one of the best collaborating experiences of my career, and not only would I do it again in a second, I highly recommend anyone with interesting non-fiction projects to approach him. Below are some links of interest regarding his work:

Tallhat Press

Personal Website  

They Who Dwell in the Cracks  

Was the June 16 publication date purposeful?

Absolutely. While Frankenstein itself won’t turn 200-years old until 2018, I knew that the Villa Diodati bicentennial on June 2016 would be equally, if not more mythically, significant. I wanted to help celebrate, and what better way than to release these letters into the world in a style evocative of the Romantic spirit. The thing I loved most about Yves’ design is that he understood the aesthetic immediately, and really did help turn the words into an artifact. 

The time-limit of the chapbook’s availability is significant, too. It will only be available for sale until February--a total of nine months. I chose to do this to represent how long it took Mary to actually compose Frankenstein.

Are you planning on a similar trip, in a similar vein?  Any other author trails you’d like to follow? 

The desire is there. As I say in my acknowledgments, the three sites in this travelogue is just the tip of the iceberg as far as landscape and geography go within Frankenstein. There are about 37 cities mentioned throughout, but not all of them have as much page-time as Geneva, Ingolstadt, or Chamonix--the novel’s geographical lodestones. Even so, I’d like to engage in a few more Frankenstein stops, especially the tour from the Rhine up to through the North Sea undertaken by Victor and Henry Clerval, as well as stomping around the Black Forest some more as the Creature would have done. Outside of the novel, it would be cool to spend time along the Italian coast where Shelley spent his last days.

As to other author trails--yes! I am especially interested in literary travel pertaining to women writers--George Sands’ Paris, Mina Loy’s Florence, Sarah Helen Whitman’s Providence--these are all things I’d like to work on in the future.

Where can our readers learn more about you and your work?

Despite how awful I am at the Internet, I do try to maintain a website and engage on social media: Twitter and Facebook

And if I may, I’d like to invite your readers to join me over at Pornokitsch for a Mary Shelley read-along, where we are reading everything else she’s written besides the big F. This is my other way of helping celebrate her legacy--by showing there was much more to her than her Modern Prometheus. Readers interested in following can start here.

Coming to auction next week in San Francisco is a striking set of four letterpress broadsides by Mexican political printmaker José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). Known as calaveras, from the Spanish word for skulls, these posters use macabre imagery to satirize the iron-fisted, 35-year presidency of Porfirio Díaz. Though he died poor and obscure, Posada’s style influenced many artists and cartoonists and is closely associated with the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead (October 31).

196818_0.jpgPBA Galleries is offering the posters, published c. 1910 by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, as one lot containing Calavera de la Penitenciaria, Calaveras Dominigales, Calavera del Drenaje (pictured here), and Barata de Calaveras. The estimate is $1,500-2,500.

To read (and see) more about Posada’s art, go here.

Image via PBA Galleries.

Tolkien_1916.jpgJRR Tolkien’s long poem in the tradition of a medieval lay, entitled “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun,” will be published again this autumn for the first time in 70 years. The poem has been out of print since it was first published in the journal The Welsh Review in 1945. HarperCollins will publish the poem in a collection with other Tolkien poetry about the Korrigan (a Breton term for fairy-like creatures) on November 3.

The dark poem was inspired by Celtic legends in Brittany and concerns the sad dealings of a couple - Aotrou and Itroun - with a Korrigan in a desperate effort to have a child. The Korrigan in the poem is thought to be a direct inspiration for the Elf Queen Galadriel, who features in The Lord of the Rings.

The themes of “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun” are similar to those in the Breton ballad Lord Nann and the Corrigan, which Tolkien owned a copy of.

Verlyn Flieger, professor emerita at the University of Maryland and a Tolkien scholar, is editing and introducing the new HarperCollins edition. He called the poem, “dark, powerful, compelling, a significant departure from the Tolkien we think we know.”

The Corrigan poetry will join other recently republished Tolkien works, including The Children of Hurin, a translation of Beowulf, and a long poem about King Arthur entitled The Fall of Arthur.

[Image from Wikipedia]

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