“On Paper” Gets a Makeover

After the 2013 publication of Nick Basbanes’s On Paper, book artist Tim Elycalled the author and requested the unbound sheets of the book, just as they appeared off the press. Basbanes’s editor kindly obliged, and off On Paperwent to Washington State to Ely’s art studio where he forges one-of-a-kind, handmade books that have been compared to illuminated manuscripts for their impeccable detail and expression. Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

Basbanes didn’t hear from Ely for five and a half years, but, considering that Ely’s work is found in private collections as well as the Library of Congress, Yale University, Smith College, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Lilly Library, and the Boston Athenaeum, there was hardly any rush. Then, earlier this spring, the artist sent Basbanes a note saying the book was ready, and had it shipped to Massachusetts under the most careful of conditions.

Unwrapped, Basbanes came face-to-face with his book, now clad in a creamy off-white clamshell box with marbled borders. The book itself is now bound with strips of handmade Japanese paper, papyrus strips, and leather. Peppering the front and back boards are Ely’s own glyphs–symbols the artist calls “cribform” that take on different meanings depending on their placement and the tool used to create them. It is, said Basbanes, “a most exquisite piece of art.”

 

Ely, who had been doing what he called “a slow deep read of On Paper,” set himself a goal to “require every self-proclaimed book artist to read it and know it,” likening the use of paper to the “idea of drawing as a major expression,” finding inspiration in using paper as “a medium for telepathy.”

Spine of "On Paper." Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

“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 said a few years back. Indeed, his work is a kind of bookmaking alchemy, fusing the ancient art of monastic manuscript binding with contemporary expression.

PHOTO CREDITS: NICK BASBANES

Catalogue Review: Librairie Metamorphoses

The second catalogue to appear from Librairie Métamorphoses is a tour de force. No surprise, considering that the Parisian firm was founded by Michel Scognamillo, former librarian and confidante to French collector Pierre Bergé, the lifelong business and romantic partner of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Before we talk about the contents, let’s look at the front matter. Smartly sheathed in a matte black binding and illustrated with a black-on-red silkscreen self portrait of Marcel Duchamp (#21 in the catalogue; price available on request), this volume is dedicated to Cédric Herrou, the 39-year-old olive farmer who ferried dozens of asylm seekers through France via what has been dubbed the French Underground Railroad. It is a fitting tribute, considering the contents of the catalogue are dedicated to the ideals of equality and freedom of expression.

 

So, what’s inside? Where to start? With the selection of material dedicated to poet Guillaume Apollinaire? Or the handwritten sheet music by George Bizet (€15,000)? Correspondence from George Sand to her dear friend Gustave Flaubert (€12,000) is marvelous, too, but perhaps the pièce de résistance is a 1671 edition of Molière’s The Middle Class Gentleman (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme), printed at the playwright’s expense and bound in its original vellum.

 

This particular volume is exceptional as a masterpiece of French literature and as a turning point in the editorial emancipation of Molière, who had personally financed the publication of his play Tartuffe in 1669. With The Middle Class Gentleman, Molière declined to transfer his rights to a bookseller after the play became successful, as he had done with Tartuffe. Now, the playwright retained all legal rights and profits for himself. And yet the haste with which this edition was printed is evident: typographical errors, erratic punctuation, and sloppy copy calibration abound, but these characteristics only add, according to the catalogue, “a certain charm” to the volume and to its rarity. Price available upon request.

There’s no website for Librairie Métamorphoses, but interested parties can visit the shop at 17 rue Jacob in the 6th arrondisement in Paris, call 33 06 13 92 76, or email at scolivre@gmail.com.

More treasures fill this beguiling catalogue, while the bibliographical notes are reason enough to seek it out. If only I had more than “pure praises” for Libraries Métamorphoses, but for now it will have to do

Yale University’s Planned Renovation of Bass Library Draws Ire from Students

University librarian Susan Gibbons has said in various interviews that the books are being moved to make more studying space available as the student body grows. “I don’t think that, as a result of this project, students are going to have less access to the books — they’re all still here on-campus,” she said in an interview with NPR’s Frankie Graziano.  “But, what they will have access to is more places to actually sit down amongst the books and do that studying.” Gibbons also said that the way students use Bass has changed with the times, citing a decrease in students checking out books for the sciences and math programs, but usage among Humanities majors has stayed the same. According to a recent Yale press release, borrowing among undergraduates has dropped from 40% of total circulation in 2008 to just 13% in 2018.  Coupled with a growing student body, university administrators feel repurposing the stacks into seating would be a better use of the space.
Gibbons acknowledged the enduring importance of books, especially in a library. Yale’s plan for the library going forward includes, as Gibbons said in the press release, “maintaining a more dynamic, up-to-date collection in Bass that will evolve with the addition of new courses and encourage students’ engagement with print books.” That engagement includes what she called a “renewed focus” on books by Yale faculty. “The collection will be smaller, but more vital and relevant.”Opened in 1971, the Bass Library last underwent a $50million-dollar interior renovation in 2007.

 

Some Yale students aren’t having it. Humanities and philosophy major Leland Strange is leading what he’s dubbed a “browse-in,” a mass check-out of books from Bass to protest the move. Fellow students worry that a denuded Bass will resemble an airport terminal rather than a library. Other students fretted that the whole point of a library is to have access to materials, whether they’re on regular rotation or have never been checked out.

 

Despite students’ efforts, Yale appears poised to move ahead with the renovation and is expected to be completed by October 1, with a “soft roll-out” planned for late August.

Eye Balm: 10 Bookish Insta Feeds to Put on Your Radar

Ah, January: that month touted as the time to refresh everything from one’s diet and wellness to home decor. Why not apply the same mentality to your daily Insta scroll with some new bibliocentric feeds.

Special collections libraries, rare booksellers and collectors have embraced Instagram as an ideal platform to virtually share their treasures with the world. Fellow FB&C writer Nate Pedersen wrote the inaugural “rare Books on Instagram” post back in 2016, profiling institutional accounts like those of the British Library (@britishlibrary), the American Antiquarian Society (@americanantiquarian), and others. Follow-up posts looked at librarian accounts and collector feeds. Keeping with that theme, below, in no particular order, are ten noteworthy institutional Instagram accounts that excel at showcasing rare books, manuscripts, and other works on paper.

 

Don’t have an Instagram account? No problem: All of these accounts are freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

La Bibliothèque nationale France (@labnf)

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The Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide (@uofaspecialcollections)

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The New York Public Library (@nypl)

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Musée de Cluny (@museecluny)

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The Harry Ransom Center (@ransomcenter)

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The Emily Dickinson Museum (@emilydickinson.museum)

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The Printing Museum (@theprintingmuseum)

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The HuntingtonLibrary (@thehuntingtonlibrary)

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The Johns Hopkins University (@jhuspecialcollections)

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The Alaska Digital Newspaper Project (@alaskahistoricalnewspapers)

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Grolier Club Reopens Renovated Exhibition Hall with French Book Arts Exhibit

Today, the country’s oldest and largest bibliophilic society, the New York-based Grolier Club, will unveil the fruits of a three-and-a-half-year, $5-million renovation of the organization’s entire first floor and exhibition hall with, appropriately, a show highlighting the club’s Francophile roots. French Book Arts: Manuscripts, Books, Bindings, Prints, and Documents, 12th-21st Century includes nearly one hundred items pulled from the Grolier’s rich trove of French books and illuminated manuscripts. Also in the show are six items that once hailed from the collection of the “Prince of Bibliophiles” and club namesake, Jean Grolier (1489-1565).

Today, the country’s oldest and largest bibliophilic society, the New York-based Grolier Club, will unveil the fruits of a three-and-a-half-year, $5-million renovation of the organization’s entire first floor and exhibition hall with, appropriately, a show highlighting the club’s Francophile roots. French Book Arts: Manuscripts, Books, Bindings, Prints, and Documents, 12th-21st Century includes nearly one hundred items pulled from the Grolier’s rich trove of French books and illuminated manuscripts. Also in the show are six items that once hailed from the collection of the “Prince of Bibliophiles” and club namesake, Jean Grolier (1489-1565).

 

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The exhibition and accompanying book were curated and written by Grolier Club member George Fletcher. A member since 1973, Fletcher’s lifelong love of books led him to the Morgan Library as the Astor Curator of printed books and bindings, followed by a position as director of special collections at the NYPL. In 2013, Fletcher was bestowed with the title of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. “As the inaugural exhibition in our new gallery, this is the first that presents a survey of so many areas of French bibliophilia, going back to illuminated manuscripts to contemporary livres d’artistes,” Fletcher explained during a press tour. Expect to see sumptuous illuminated Books of Hours, miniatures by Boyvin, a letter by a distraught Thomas Jefferson to a French bookseller concerning a shipment of waterlogged books, and decorative bindings hailing from the 14th to the 21st centuries.
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As to the renovation: it’s a complete overhaul. Previously, the first floor exhibition hall was awash in mauve-toned walls, light wood flooring, and track lighting (see below). Standard-issue glass cases lined the walls while the back of the hall was dominated by a faux-Palladian window, also mauve. The upper balcony, where many of the Grolier Club’s treasures are stored, was flanked by white solid-wood railings. With a client portfolio that includes renovations at places like the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston Symphony Hall, Ann Beha Associates of Boston took up the challenge to update the aesthetics of the space while also addressing conservation issues, lighting, ventilation, and sound systems.

 

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“The Grolier Club put together a nine-member design team task force, and together we examined various issues while also keeping in mind the club’s history and stewardship of collections,” explained Ann Beha at the press preview. “Part of the preparation included hopping in a van and visiting other institutions throughout New York that had also recently undergone renovations, such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Cooper-Hewitt.” Staying true to the Grolier Club’s roots was essential. “The Club prides itself on welcoming the public to free exhibitions and various programs, and this renovation took that into consideration. This design incorporates heritage and technology, welcomes new visitors and promotes scholarship and engagement,” Beha said.

 

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Now, the exhibition hall features custom-built Goppion glass cases lit by LED bulbs, a properly balanced ventilation system, and mahogany-stained floors and wall panels. Gone is the mauve Palladian faux paneling in favor of a multi-paneled video wall, and the wood paneling on the upper balcony has been replaced with glass, allowing visitors on the ground level to fully appreciate the impressive surroundings. Plus, the Grolier’s 60th Street townhouse is handicapped accessible. The hall feels more open and inviting, yet still suffused with the tradition and history of the space. In short: Beha seems to have hit a home run. (Professional photos are being shot Monday, so check back here for images shortly.)

 

The club invited members earlier this week to tour the hall before it opens to the public as well as to listen to a lecture given on Wednesday night by Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress.
Just as Jean Grolier was known to share his library and its treasures with friends, the public is welcome to revel in the richness of human ingenuity and talent and the newly redesigned hall, too. As an added incentive, Mr. Fletcher will be offering free lunchtime tours of the exhibition today, December 19, and February 1, all from 1-2 p.m. No reservations needed.

 

Images, from top: Florent Rousseau Binding On:Printing for Kingdom, Empire, and Republic: Treasures from the Archives of the Imprimerie Nationale. Ed. H. G. Fletcher New York, The Grolier Club & Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 2011; Matisse in a Brugalla Binding Henry de Montherlant. Pasiphaé : Chant de Minos (les Crétois) Gravures originales by Henri Matisse Paris : Martin Fabiani, 1944; Homer. Opera (Greek). Two volumes Venice: Aldus Manutius, after 31 October 1504. Both Collection of The Grolier Club and reproduced with permssion; Grolier Club Exhibition Hall pre-renovation reproduced with permission of Grolier Club; Renovation rendering reproduced with permission of Ann Beha and Grolier Club. 

The Holiday Round-Up: Books for All!

The #Holiday Round-Up: Books for All! Our top picks for the #bibliophiles in your life. @foliosociety @nancyrosep @hudsontalbott
@puffinbooks #puffinplated @PeachtreePub @bethanwoolvin @simonschuster

Yes, ’tis the season for frantic holiday shopping, unless you’re one of the rarefied people who check everyone off your list during those Christmas in July sales. If you’re more of a last-minute shopper, there’s still time to ace your gift-giving game this holiday season with a carefully selected title or two.  Below, our top picks for the bibliophile in your life. Get ’em while the gettin’s good!

The Folio Society Black Beauty cover shot

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell, illustrations by Annette Hamley-Jenkins; Folio Society, $53.95, 224 pages.

Originally published in 1877, Sewell’s bestselling tale championing fair treatment for working horses in Victorian-era England gets the sumptuous Folio treatment with lush, full color illustrations by Annette Hamley-Jenkins and an introduction by War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo. This edition of Black Beauty comes in a handsome blue slipcase printed with horses galloping across in silhouette. This is the gift that keeps on giving: a timeless story, beautifully presented.

Please note: Folio Society’s order deadlines to make Christmas delivery are December 8 for standard shipping and December 14 for express.

(Images copyright 2018 Annette Hamley-Jenkins and reproduced with permission from Folio Society. )

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Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: The Classic Novel with Recipes for Your Holiday Menu by: Giada de Laurentis, Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, and Trisha Yearwood; Puffin Plated, $25.00, 168 pages.

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Is there any better combination than a good book and a good meal? Perhaps a frothy brew, but I digress. Puffin Plated, a new endeavor launched this fall by Penguin Random House, recently released A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, unabridged and accompanied by mouth-watering photographs (by Tisha Cherry and Vega Hernando) of fruitcakes, gingerbread, and other holiday treats.  Delectable recipes come courtesy of culinary giants like Ina Garten and Martha Stewart. (Looking for a non-denominational gift? Pride and Prejudice also got the Puffin Plated treatment and is filled with sugary sweet confections.)

 

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(Images reproduced with permission from Penguin Random House.)

Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art, by Hudson Talbott; Nancy Paulsen Books, 32 pages, ages 4-7.

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“The painter of American scenery has, indeed, privileges superior to any other. All nature here is new to art,” wrote Thomas Cole (1801-1848), the father of the Hudson River School of painting and the patriarch of the young country’s first art movement. Here, author-illustrator Hudson Talbott introduces readers to a man who was at once an immigrant, an artist, and an environmentalist by weaving elements from some of Cole’s most iconic paintings into the book. A perfect gift for budding naturalists with an artistic streak.

 

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(Images copyright 2018 Hudson Talbott and reproduced with permission from Penguin Random House.)

Hansel & Gretel, by Bethan Woolvin; Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8.

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Bethan Woollvin is back with another twisted fairy tale. Now, the author of Little Red and Rapunzel has concocted a revision of the Grimm brother’s classic story of two siblings forced to outsmart a cannibalistic old witch. As in her previous adaptations, Woollvin’s Hansel & Gretel takes a surprise turn, with Hansel and Gretel as sassy brats and the witch (named Willow) cast in a more benevolent role. To be enjoyed fireside with a heaping plateful of tasty gingerbread cookies.

 

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(Images copyright 2018 Bethan Woollvin. Reproduced with permission from Peachtree Publishers.)

All is Merry and Bright, by Jeffrey Burton, illustrated by Don Clark; Little Simon, $24.99, 26 pages, ages 0-4.

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Get the littlest revelers into the holiday spirit by offering them this oversize board book by Jeffrey Burton and Don Clark. The retro volume, complete with sparkly foil and embossing on every page is a joyous celebration of Christmas. Sensory overload in the best sense awaits the tiny tots who find this book tucked under their tree this year.

 

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(Text copyright 2018 Jeffrey Burton. Illustrations copyright 2018 Don Clark. Reproduced with permission from Simon & Schuster.)

James H. Billington (1929-2018): A Remembrance

“If we didn’t already have libraries, they would now have to be invented. They are the keys to American success in fully exploiting the information highways of the future,” wrote James H. Billington in the winter 1994 issue of Media Strategies Journal. At the time, the thirteenth Librarian of Congress was reminding a nation enthralled with the nascence of the internet that libraries would be as important as ever in the electronic age, as preservation repositories, testing grounds for experiments in digitization, and strongholds where anyone could freely access humankind’s various written efforts.
Billington wasn’t just offering his opinion; he was engaged in what would become a battle to preserve the mission of the Library of Congress (LOC).
In 1995, a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested, in an effort to streamline operations at the LOC, that the library’s $350 million annual operating budget be slashed to practically nothing and turn its focus to “increasing revenue” (whatever that means) rather than building and sustaining the country’s knowledge hub. Luckily, Congress committee members charged with reviewing the document rejected the plan. As Billington noted in Patience & Fortitude (Basbanes, 2001), the attempt to undermine the LOC’s mission was hardly noticed by the national media. “The Messiah could make a personal appearance in the main reading room, and the chances are fifty-fifty that it would get any attention from the press,” he said. But the GAO’s report, if acted upon, would have had serious consequences for the future of America’s library, and Billington “went after it tooth and nail….because it was a cautionary issue of no small significance.”
Indeed, what was at stake, as the career humanist realized, was whether the world’s largest library–charged with, as he put it, “stockpiling information”–could continue to ensure that anyone could browse the LOC’s unique treasures.

 

And yet, Billington did not shy away from the new digital medium. In fact, he embraced what this technology could offer. During his tenure from 1987 to 2015, Billington oversaw great change at the LOC, ushering in dozens of free digital initiatives like the online American culture resource for K-12 education now known as the National Digital Library; thomas.gov, a free portal to U.S. federal legislative information; National Jukebox, which provides free access to over 10,000 out-of-print music and spoken word recordings; and a digital talking books app. He also established programs like the National Book Festival and the Veterans History Project.
And though cost-cutting was often on the wish-list of many political agendas, over the years, Billington raised over half a billion dollars to supplement Congressional financial support no matter who was in office.
Billington faced the future of book culture with steely-eyed awareness and an understanding that far surpassed many contemporaries. He welcomed the Internet age as a liberation of physical books from the cumbersome task of storing facts and figures. “With the move to electronic formats, what I believe you will now see is that books containing data will be online, and the serious kind of traditional literature that has always been in book form will continue to appear in book form. The book, in my view, will be freed from a very heavy burden that it has to bear all these years,” he explained in Patience & Fortitude. “It will be allowed to flourish anew.”