Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 107
August 1996


Books Illustrated: A Symposium Celebrating the Work of Ruth Mortimer. Smith College Libraries, April 12 - 13, 1996.
This symposium was organized by The Friends of the Smith College Libraries to honor the work of the late Ruth Mortimer, who was Curator of Rare Books for Smith College for almost twenty years.

The day and a half symposium consisted for four panels and an opening address by Barry Moser (which I unfortunately missed, being en route from Philadelphia). The first panel, "Perspectives on Book Collecting", offered a forum for the views of the three individuals who are usually involved in book collections, the dealer, the librarian and the collector. Moderator Sidney Berger, head of Special Collections at the University of California Riverside, and his fellow panelists, Edward Ripley-Duggan, of Wilsey Rare Books, and Nicholas Basbanes, author of "A Gentle Madness", engaged in a lively discussion of the passion for books that they all share. Basbanes' journalistic gift for story telling was an entertaining aspect to this groups' discussion.

The second panel, "Scholarship and Teaching", included G. Thomas Tanselle, vice-president of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Margaret L. Ford, Senior Specialist at Christies, and John Lancaster, Curator of Special Collections at Amherst College, as moderator. The discussion of Ruth Mortimer's work on Harvard's Catalogues of French and Italian Sixteenth-Century Books, by Tanselle, was the highlight of this panel, as it was the best look at the depth and excellence of Mortimer's scholarship.

"Rare Books and the College Library", panel three, was a discussion of the specific role the university has in the collection of rare and limited edition book work. Ruth Rogers of Wellesley College and Susan Allen of Kalamazoo College Library spoke of their libraries' mission to maintain the collections for use by students. They also discussed their efforts to make the special collections seem less inhibiting, and a more approachable area of the college library.

The last panel, moderated by Barbara Blumenthal, bookbinder and designer, was "The Artist and The Curator". Speakers included Laura Davidson and Marian Parry, both artists, Marcia Reed, curator, and Steven Clay, of Granary Books. Parry showed slides of her delightful and often humorous watercolor illustrations; Davidson showed slides of her richly colored limited edition sculptural bookwork; Clay brought up the issue of "where are the buyers?" of artist books, and the panel and audience exchanged their views (and frustrations) pertaining to this issue.

Marcia Reed, curator of Rare Books at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, presented a slide lecture, "The Book, The Box and The Body", which developed the theme of the book as a metaphor for the body and containment, using work from the Getty Collection. I found the symposium a very satisfying day and ahalf of book related discussion. It was also a wonderful tribute to Mrs. Mortimer's work in the field of Rare Books.

Claire Owen