coming eventsComing Events

September 6


September 13


September 18-19


September 20

Swann Galleries 

September 21


September 25


September 27


Find More Events in the FB&C Calendar

In the News

Exhibition Charts the Rise and Relevance of the Arts and Crafts Design Movement

Austin, TX — A detailed look at the history of the Arts and Crafts... read more

The Morgan Appoints Maria L. Fredericks as Head of the Thaw Conservation Center

New York —The Morgan Library & Museum announced today the appointment of Maria L.... read more

LOC Puts Papers of President Theodore Roosevelt Online

The largest collection of the papers of President Theodore Roosevelt, documenting his extraordinary career... read more

The 42nd Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, Nov. 16-18

Boston - The annual fall gathering for booklovers, the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair... read more

1785 Engraving of Washington & Bob Dylan's Handwritten Lyrics at University Archives Auction

Westport, CT - A rare, 1785 hand-colored portrait engraving of George Washington, printed for... read more

HistoryMiami Museum Features Former National Geographic Photographer Nathan Benn

Miami - HistoryMiami Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate and a premier Miami cultural institution, presents... read more

Library of Congress Appoints New Chief of the Hispanic Division

The Library of Congress appointed Suzanne Schadl, academic expert in Latin American studies, as... read more

"Masters of Photography: 19th Century and Now" at Paris Photo in November

Paris - Iconic images by the earliest masters of photography—as well as contemporary artists... read more

Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Designer Binders

Inside the international bookbinding exhibition at New York’s Grolier Club By Richard Goodman

Frenchman Alain Taral won first prize for his binding of pear wood covered by Karelian birch veneer, with a decoration of “fusion” marquetry, made of many different precious wood veneers. Courtesy of the Grolier Club.
Jenni Grey of the UK received second prize for her binding with its machine-embroidered, gray Dypion-style fabric and airbrushed endpapers. Sterling silver wire fixings and etched acrylic create shadows on the endpapers. Courtesy of the Grolier Club.
Per-Anders HŁbner of Sweden offered this simplified binding with blue goatskin spine, tooled in white. Layered watercolor-painted paper boards. Courtesy of the Grolier Club.
George Kirkpatrick of the UK displayed a binding of calf, various goatskins with palladium tooling, silver rhodium plated to prevent tarnish, and gilded brass. Courtesy of the Grolier Club.
American Scott Kellar’s aqua buffalo leather binding with onlays of goatskin and gilt leather. Red silk endbands. Sprinkled salmon edges. Courtesy of the Grolier Club.

The opening of Bound for Success: Designer Bookbinders International Bookbinding Exhibition at New York’s Grolier Club was on a windy, rainy night, the rain slashing sideways vehemently, so that umbrellas were of little use. The rain was most appropriate for this exhibition, which was a contest organized by Designer Bookbinders in conjunction with Oxford’s Bodleian Library around the theme of water. Several of the speakers at the exhibit’s opening on the evening of May 18 could not resist remarking upon this fact, trying, it seemed, to make something positive out of what in all respects was simply a lousy, wet evening. Despite the weather, the club’s ground floor exhibition room was pretty much packed with people eager to see 117 bindings that were chosen among the 240 entries from 21 countries. Alain Taral of France won first prize. Second went to Jenni Grey of Great Britain.

The contestants were given a specially commissioned book, Water, an anthology of poems in several European languages along with illustrations, and told to bind it. To wander by the glass-encased entries was to experience several disparate reactions. The first is: none of the entries are remotely the same. They are all interestingly, creatively different. Yes, of course, many use leather, and they all must conform—more or less—to a certain shape, but within those rather simple categories lies great variety. Some, like the Czech Republic’s Eliska Cabalová-Hlavácová’s entry, are both ingenious and beautiful. Her binding is made of vellum with sea shell-shaped boards that extend beyond the book’s boundaries. Some, like Estonia’s Rene Haljasmäe’s entry, with its plethora of old metal spinners (lures used for fishing) attached to the covers, seem more clever than beautiful. Mary Norwood’s entry, with its covers festooned with domestic water pipes, falls under this category as well.

A second reaction is one that anyone will have in an exhibition based on a contest: you don’t necessarily agree with the judges’ decisions. So, there are personal favorites, like American Scott Kellar’s entry, with its avatar-like abstract figures swimming across the covers, like light shimmers in a pool. Or Dominique Dumont’s binding of glazed goatskin with its very real-looking raindrops made of resin dotting the covers. Or John Burton’s lovely winter scene of dark trees and a brook cutting through snow.

Which is to say, it all comes back to the old saying: there’s something here for everyone, and the judges’ decisions are really of importance only to the winners. Those who don’t appreciate abstract renditions of water or wetness—and there are many of these abstractions—can turn to the likes of Spain’s Miguel Perez Fernandez, with his covers of rocks being dramatically sprayed by uplifting surf. Or they can turn to America’s Marvel Maring and his austere blue aquarium covers, with coral and staring fish. Those who like to figure out puzzles can look to the United Kingdom’s Christopher Shaw and his entry of wavy gold lines on a dark background and wonder what this has to do with water. Wit is provided by an entry like that of George Kirkpatrick of the United Kingdom, whose front cover is a rendition of dried mud cracks, indicating the absence of water.

The winner, Alain Taral, who received a prize of £7,500 (about $10,000) for his binding made of pear wood covered by Karelian birch veneer, was there. He spoke briefly, in French, expressing his gratitude and pride and his pleasure at being at the Grolier Club. Taral lives in a small village above Hyères, which is about halfway between Marseille and Nice. He had worked originally in management for the French navy but then retired and began working with veneer. A bookbinder came to him at one point and asked him to produce a cover for a book he was binding. This intrigued Taral, and he decided to learn how to do it himself. He went to school to learn, and now, he does, in fact, make his living as a bookbinder.

The exhibition, curated by Lester Capon, is on its third and last American leg. It opened at the Boston Public Library last fall, then journeyed to the auctioneers Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco before it migrated back east to the Grolier Club, where it will remain until July 31. An appealing, hardbound catalog featuring marbling by the late Ann Muir is available.

comments powered by Disqus

Richard GoodmanRichard Goodman is the author of The Soul of Creative Writing and French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France. A founding member of the New York Writers Workshop, Goodman teaches creative nonfiction at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s written for the New York Times, the Harvard Review, Commonweal, Saveur, the Michigan Quarterly Review and many other publications. His essay, “In Search of the Exact Word,” was included in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. He lives in New York City. Read more at