This exhibition celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Guild of Book Workers and closes the most active quarter century in the history of the Guild. National traveling exhibitions became a regular occurrence every two to three years. In many respects 1981’s seventy-fifth anniversary provided a benchmark for the Guild by highlighting the work of its early members and the state of the craft. Subsequent exhibitions featured increasing numbers of new binders and book artists, the growth being fueled in part by the explosion of book arts centers throughout the USA, and most recently the flood of resources available online which exposed even more to the art and craft. The Guild’s Standards of Excellence annual seminar, begun in 1982, played a crucial role in elevating the awareness of the importance of fine craft and techniques in all aspects of the book arts through its demonstration by recognized “masters” in their field. Initially divided into seemingly rigid camps of traditional binders and book artists, the past twenty-five years have seen a melding of the two sides with fine binders delving into the world of artist’s books and book artists applying traditional techniques and materials to their work, enriching the arts of the book.
Curating and jurying an exhibition of this kind is always challenging. For the retrospective, curated largely by Peter Verheyen, that meant finding representative works by a selection of the leading proponents of the craft, and providing a link to the present. We are especially proud to be able to include among the fifty-nine works two of the most significant works for the book arts, Richard Minsky’s Birds of North America and Hedi Kyle’s April Diary, both works which have had global impact on the book arts, setting the field off on a course the early members of the Guild would not have imagined. In the past the expression of craft, i.e. how well was the book bound, was seen as the primary focus of the juror’s work. Great strides have been made in craft across the board and it is no longer the domain of the traditional binders. This means that the jurors can shift some of their focus to also judging how a work comes across in a holistic sense—how do the various elements work together; does the design relate to the text; what is the relationship between structure and text—the end result being stronger works. The jurors for this exhibition were Karen Hanmer, Richard Minsky, and Don Rash, representing the broad spectrum of “book arts” in their own work. In the end, 120 artists submitted 171 works, and it was their unenviable task to select the sixty strongest works judging the level of craft, but also how the work came across holistically, representing all sides of the book arts. While past exhibition trends seemed to forecast a decline in the number of traditional bindings vis-à-vis artist’s books, this exhibition saw a very even representation, also including strong examples of calligraphy, decorated papers, and presswork. This exhibition truly captures the essence of the book arts within the Guild and provides a benchmark for the future.
This catalog brings together both the retrospective and contemporary halves of the Guild’s 100th anniversary exhibition. This is especially important as the two halves will only be on display together at the Grolier Club in New York City, with only the exhibition of contemporary work traveling throughout the country until the end of 2007.
Mounting an exhibition, especially of this size is a daunting task and could only be accomplished with the contributions of many others. These are: the members of the Exhibitions Committee, Karen Hanmer and Marie Oedel who provided invaluable support throughout this process; Priscilla Spitler, past Exhibitions Chair, for the excellent groundwork she did in finding venues; Betsy Palmer Eldridge, Barbara Kretzmann, and Nancy Leavitt for their strong support in curating the Retrospective; Megan Smith, Exhibitions Coordinator at the Grolier Club, for facilitating the loan of several key pieces, and Daniel and Babette Gehnrich and Pamela Spitzmueller for their help with biographic sketches; Christopher McAfee who compiled the long list of intent-to-enter forms that laid the groundwork for the online entry form; Michele Rothenberger for programming the online entry process and providing critical ongoing support; Richard Minsky and Don Rash, who along with Karen Hanmer juried the exhibition, making many difficult decisions; the Syracuse University Library’s Special Collections Research Center for providing a safe haven for the items during the exhibition preparations period and other support; Jonathan Jackson for editorial assistance; David Broda of the Syracuse University Photo and Imaging Center for photography; Julie Leonard and Sara Sauers for their work in designing the catalog; Clare Manias for the adaptation of the Guild’s 100th anniversary logo; and Donia Conn, David Stokoe and many others who contributed their ideas and time. To all of them, thank you. It wouldn’t have happened without you.
Peter D. Verheyen, Exhibitions Chair, The Guild of Book Workers