It is a challenge and a delight for a juror to be faced with the problem of too much great work. Charged to winnow 171 entries down to sixty, it was clear from the viewing of the first entry that some very difficult decisions would have to be made. There just was not enough room in the show for all the good work.
Text and images from the online submission form flowed to a website, allowing for jurying online rather than the customary jury from slides. This provided the jurors opportunity to review each entry at length. I spent about twenty hours over a period of two weeks looking at the images, filling out a spreadsheet with my votes and comments, sharing this with the other jurors, and revisiting some of my decisions based on my colleagues’ votes and feedback. After several rounds of this, the process culminated in a two-hour conference call. Though each juror had different backgrounds, interests and tenure in the book arts field, there was much agreement as we considered the craft, design and content of each piece.
The broad range of entries is an apt reflection of the diverse interests of Guild members: traditional bindings and historic structures, playful book forms, purely sculptural works. Bindings fashioned from leather, paper, cloth, aluminum, and PVC. Text and imagery produced by ancient and the most modern printmaking methods. Content ranging from literature, political viewpoints, and personal histories, to the sensual experience of reading a book. In particular, I was pleased to see such a strong showing of fine bindings, fine press and edition work.
Just as care is required in creating a piece for exhibition, there is also craft and art involved in preparing one’s entry materials. Entrants are at a disadvantage if they do not provide an image that is of the required size and resolution, isolated from the background, sharply focused and filling the frame, with the object positioned and lit to its very best advantage. This should be accompanied by an accurate, concise and compelling description of technique, materials and content. It was a privilege to spend so much virtual time with each submission for the Guild of Book Workers 100th anniversary show. I am fortunate to be a member of this accomplished, vital community.
It was poetic justice. Thirty-five years after my binding on The Birds of North America was pulled from a Guild of Book Workers exhibition at Yale and then reinstated amidst a storm of controversy, I was asked to lend it for the 100th Anniversary exhibition at the Grolier Club. Times have changed, and that book now looks conservative. When I was subsequently asked to be a juror for this exhibition, I wondered what sort of work would be submitted. Happily, there were some books with loose feathers.
Experimentation with material as metaphor has become a regular practice among Guild members, but not to the exclusion of traditional craft work. There are many superb examples in this exhibition of widely different approaches to the book as a work of art. It was a pleasure reviewing and discussing each one with my colleagues on the jury.
We disagreed on quite a few of the works, and accepted only those that all three of us felt should be in the exhibition. It is a very strong show, and although a few luminaries we would like to have seen included did not provide entries, the combination of artistic vision and skill that is represented accurately represents the extraordinary work that Guild members are doing.
The world has changed in amazing and unpredictable ways in the past century. The Guild of Book Workers has also changed; and though its changes have been gradual they have been no less amazing and unpredictable. The works in this centennial exhibition bear witness to both change and tradition, and to the creative tension between the two that enlivens and elevates our contemporary book arts.
It was an honor and a pleasure to be on the jury with Karen and Richard even though the process was conducted in the appropriately twenty-first century modes of the Internet and teleconferencing. Exhibitions Chair Peter Verheyen organized the images and placed them on a website that the jury could access, and sent a spreadsheet to help streamline the process. After the first cut was made via the spreadsheet and emails, Karen suggested the teleconference, and in the ensuing discussion we were able to work out the final selection. Overall things went pretty smoothly. I suspect that an unexpected legacy of this exhibition will be the adaptation of this model for future juries.
Given the exhibit’s size restriction of sixty works some hard choices had to be made, and a number of good pieces were not able to be included. A second limiting factor was the intent to provide a balance between the various aspects of contemporary bookmaking. Fine bindings, artist’s books, calligraphy, fine printing, and marbling: all are represented. In the end, the strength of this show is a result of having so many fine works from which to choose. All those who submitted pieces, accepted or not, have benefited the Guild and, as Peter says in his Introduction, have provided us with a benchmark for the arts of the book in the upcoming century.