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traveller's commentary

I am just back from a week in London so I have spent the morning reading
through the various postings on this list with great interest.  I don't want
to repeat the gist of what various people have said, but I pass on some
comments as a consequence of reading what others have said.  Whether one gets
involved in books for art or craft really depends on personal things.  Once
an interest is truly raised the path any of us takes depends very much on
the opportunities one makes or finds to pursue those interests.  Some people
have an easier time than others from the material point of view, but all have
to learn some things the hard way.  I got into the craft part of books (which
is not to say that art requires no skill) from academics.  My field of graduate
study was early medieval Ireland (ca 500-1200), a period in which books and
book culture are major players in the native vs foreign culture (pagan vs.
Christian) developments.  So, one thinks a lot about books and literacy in
western culture, and sees lots of old books.  The more medieval texts one
sees, the more one becomes interested in their production and realizes how
different the modern book is from its medieval forebearer.  So many medieval
books now reside in modern covers which are so ill-suited to them that the
painful disjuncture between the text and its cover forces itself upon th e
conscious viewer, and when you do get a chance to use an old manuscript in
a surviving binding, even if it is not the original one, the feel, the response
the presence of the book is so far removed from the modern equivalent that
the time distance is palpable.  This is not to disparage the modern book in
all forms, we are talking different materials and different purposes here, and
the modern case binding on a modern book is perfectly satisfactory.  I simply
offer the experience that got my interest in bookbinding into gear by way of
thanks to those who have shared theirs.
On to bsiness.  I was in London to do some research at the British Library (
more old books) and so I had the chance to take in the current exhibit there
of books entered in the Bookbinding Competition for 1995 which is on view at
the British Library (housed in the same building as the British Museum) from
December 8 (1995) to January 21, 1996.  There are 113 books on display.  The
set book for the competition was "The Natural History of Selborne", but some
exhibitors showed other books as well as the one set for the competition.  The
Folio Society did not give a first for the set book this year, but awarded
three seconds by way, I suppose, of indicating no clear winner.  I would have
handed the first to Angela Bogle (one of the seconds) with a clear conscience,
but okay, the other two were hardly shabby.  The great majority of structures
were in the traditional fine binding tradition, though there were several
modern non-adhesive and longstitch type books in the show.  The competition
would not admit for what I would call the true artist's book (a construct which
focuses on an aspect or abstract quality of 'bookness' but is only marginally
or not at all functional as a conventional book) though I don't know if the
rules of the competition expressly prohibit that sort of book.  Anyway, if the
structures were basically traditional, the finishing very often was not.  The
English bookbinders are doing extensive experimentation with leather, either by
altering it in some way (paint, surface modelling, chemical alterations, etc.)
or using diverse other materials as onlay and inlay to accentuate textures and
color saturation.  There was some fine tooling work as well, both gold and
blind, but my impression was that the experimentation was more in materials
than in technique, but a wide-range of techniques were employed.  I could go
on, but words are not good substitutes for the pieces themselves.  I was told
that there was no catalog for the show, alas.  I would urge anyone who can see
the show to do so, and I would expect a feature on it in an issue of the
New Bookbinder at some point.  If anyone out there has a subscription, perhaps
he or she could let us know if and when such an issue appears.
Cheers, everyone, and happy 1996
Dorothy Africa
PS  There is a poster, and it does feature Angela Bogle's book and 3 others.
  You could
probably get it by contacting the Bookshop at the British Library, Great
Russell St. London, WC1B 3DG.

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