While attending the New Horizons Conference, held August 31 through September 3, 1994 in Oxford, the Editors of the Newsletter requested a number of participants from all over the world to write for us about aspects of the conference they found especially interesting. Several articles arrived in time to be published in the last issue. More have come in since then--some in the form of letters--others as lengthier articles covering more than one aspect of the meeting. We will continue publishing them whenever they come in and want to thank all those who have contributed.
Although the visit to the Wormsley Library was the experience of a lifetime, despite the hours of fascinating information and conversation, and, of course, the wonderful opportunity to repeatedly commune with the exhibition in our midst, I find myself wanting to comment on James Brockman's talk. His presentation was entitled "Rethinking the Rigid Spine." It was a well considered and entertaining explanation of a binding that stands our conventional ideas on their heads. He has produced a book with a concave spine and a bowed foredge, a form to which so many bindings unfortunately revert with use--"How much more sensible to fix the spine in a concave, permanently thrown up shape--the spine is unable to move, it is unable to break." Much thought and experience has gone into this development. Several versions have led to seven or eight layers of spine lining holding the concave curve rigid, and to slender raised edges around the book board to support the text block when upright. A beautiful and creatively bound version (The Doves Bindery by Marianne Tidcomb) was on display in the New Horizons Designer Bookbinders Exhibition, and an example was put to use as the conference book signed by all the delegates.
Brockman drew laughter as he conjectured on the reaction of a visitor from another planet witnessing the beating of a book into shape with a hammer! The reaction to the concave spine has been varied: bemusement, intrigue, support, hostility! Perhaps this Brockman binding will remain a curiosity, but his reasoning cannot be denied; on my return home I approached my shelf of well worn cookbooks and found myself confronted by a row of weary concave spines.
I have only been back a short while and half of our members are still abroad, so it is a bit of a one-sided opinion on the conference, perhaps.
It was my first, and I found it wonderful and stimulating, and great to meet so many fellow bookbinders who all shared their knowledge and experience so generously. Here at the tip of Africa we feel very isolated, so you can imagine that was a real bonus.
The conference was well organized. I liked the idea of the trade fair, exhibition, etc. There certainly was enough to see. Lots of information collected in one place. The content of the seminars and talks was very good and I learned a lot. Our more experienced members are not back yet. I would have liked to ask them if they profited as much as the "first timers" did.
One comment, perhaps, voiced by others, too: the general talks could have been a little shorter and the smaller seminars a bit longer! In other words, perhaps more "practical" oriented.
Keep well; I hope to meet you again at the next conference!
The Oxford area, rich in its heritage of limestone structures connected by a series of inter-locking walkways, and with facilities serviced by gracious personnel, provided a warm setting for the New Horizons Conference. What I felt contributed to the success of this conference was the interweaving of treatments given by various presenters to the structural aspect [of] the "spine."
James Brockman's seminar closely approximated the aim of this Conference, being to provoke, stimulate and intrigue by the ideas presented to the delegates. His presentation set forth additional structural treatment, applying both plastic and/or metal tube hinges into his design. To do this, he fabricated new equipment for use during the implementation phases of his work. The resulting product provides for a freer relationship in the spine-to-hinge and hinge-to-board function, as presented in his single hinge binding with painted brass hinge tubes, The National Atlas of Wales, shown in the Exhibition.
Perhaps the most provocative segment of his presentation results from his recent experiments deviating from the traditional convex spine configuration to new structural concaved approach. Mr. Brockman's statement (1), "I have attempted to turn the whole thinking of spine flexibility around. Traditionally the text block is shaped by the binder to produce a convex spine but when the book is opened the spine becomes concave. The strains imposed on the structure when this happens are enormous. How much more sensible to fix the spine in a concave, permanently thrown up shape."
Upon first hand inspection of the working models, the boards opened to their traditional expected form, while each page followed in turn with the same performance, all with the ease and strength of a concave binding, however with less pressure being applied to the spine. Jim presented two interesting challenges which break from tradition: finishing process and acceptability in appearance of a concave structure on the shelf when sitting next to the traditional spine book.
Relative to the tooling procedure, Jim indicated that with practice this task would be mastered to the same degree as one achieves using the standard single letter tooling method. So far as appearance is concerned, we'll have to see what time will bring relative to measuring the success for his very new approach.
Certainly the Conference achieved its aims. To bring together such a range of bookbinding topics, and to present them in a meaningful and useful way, reflects the effective planning and seemingly endless energy that the organizers devoted to it. Equally rewarding was the opportunity to meet, or to see again, colleagues from different parts of the world. The exhibitions were enlightening/inspiring, and the trade fair (including the publishers' exhibitions in the Exhibitions area) was enticing/satisfying. The opportunity to live "in rooms" at Christ Church brought us that much closer to Inspector Morse and to the tales from Masterpiece Theater.
The format of large meetings alternating with small groups enabled us to cram as much as possible into four consecutive days. Was anyone able to see everything he or she wanted to see? Probably not--there were some inevitable conflicts in scheduling--but again the organizers must be complimented on acceding to as many of our requests as possible.
Structure There were different ways of working and new structures to try out in our own binderies. The exhibition of variations of Carmencho Arregui's Crossed-Structure bindings, further explained in Sün Evrard's presentation of unusual bookbinding structures, and to be described in detail in the next Designer Bookbinders' Journal, should have us all working on our own variations.
Jim Brockman's concave-spine structure is certain to be tried by many of us. The appearance is highly unusual, but, as Jim Brockman said, "Listen to what the book is trying to tell you." This structure, with a firm, well-lined, concave spine is a refinement of his single-hinge bindings. This one, however, is easier for the rest of us (with no machining experience) to follow.
Jen Lindsay's well documented work with the Coptic structure brought forth new variations on her theme. Mechtild Lobisch's presentation on conceptual design included slides showing the walls of the gallery used as part of her bookart presentation.
Louise Genest presented a full range of structures from the Coptic and early Japanese bindings through experimental work--all done in miniature.
I had long admired Timothy Ely's imaginative drawings and maps. With his presentation I had the same feeling of understanding I had when I visited Monet's home in Giverny. Both of them just drew or painted what they saw around them. The artistry was in the seeing. Both Timothy Ely and Frank Mowery presented the making and using of dies, but the final result was completely different for each binder. Timothy Ely's dies were cast for the most part from his own illustrations, while Frank Mowery used dies to reproduce elements (usually typographic) taken directly from the book.
Friedhelm Pohlman's presentation on edge gilding made many of us feel, I'm sure, we hadn't been paying enough attention to this area of design.
The general meetings were held in a large hall so that everyone could attend. The gamut rangedfrom Dr. J.A. Szirmai's "Lessons from the Archaeology of Bookbinding," a fascinating history beautifully presented, through Judith Hoffberg's avant-garde presentation, "Bookworks at the end of the Millenium - The Mitt vs The Hand." Marianne Tidcombe's after-dinner illustrated talk about "The Tregaskis International Bookbinding Exhibition 1894" brought us back 100 years with a captivating look at that most unusual exhibition. Andrew Hoyem gave us a look at his outstanding "Edition Bindings and the Work of the Arion Press." I was captivated by Fred Bearman's lunchtime explication of "Late 15th and Early 16th century Chemise Bindings."
With all that did I really feel I missed anything? Of course I did. But could I have absorbed more? I'm not sure.
(Editor's note: Paula wrote at length about a great number of the presentations. Since many of the presentations she attended and elaborated on have already been reported on, we have included only a couple of her notes here).
[Of the eight sessions I attended...the first] was a disappointment, as the presenter, Mechtild Lobisch, announced that she was giving us a different presentation than the one planned for the remainder of the groups! She showed slides of some of her work and a dream project dealing with shadow casting which she hopes to do with the metro system in Munich. Very defensive in answering questions from group members, Ms. Lobisch, known internationally as a superb binder, seemed almost unwilling to disclose anything about her work. Not an auspicious beginning; I left that session feeling punished for attending.
After tea, the next session was with Jenni Gray, well known for her innovative work with experimental structures and decoration. Altogether a different sort of presentation, Ms. Gray happily shared ideas and concepts with the group, following a very thorough presentation of her interesting work via slides. I was interested to see how thoroughly the idea of "simplified binding" has penetrated so much of the work presented. Most intriguing were Jenni's hanging book structures, designed for gallery spaces; almost presented as jewelry, the work evokes the idea of the chained libraries of the past while offering the viewer a chance to hold and fondle the books in a gallery setting. These ideas, combined with other adaptations of historical structures (palm- leaf books in particular) showed fresh approaches to old ideas. I left feeling inspired and itching to get into the studio!
Session three: Embroidered Bookbindings with Nicholas Hadgraft and Alan Farrant. It seemed to me that, given the quality of the work shown via slides, these two gentlemen worked together; this was not at all evident from their presentation! We all seemed to have a difficult time interpreting the commentary, and despite multiple requests from the group, this did not improve over the session. It was muddled and confusing, though the visual images of many exquisitely embroidered books made me feel like running right out and finding my silks and embroidery hoop, abandoning leather binding altogether.
Day two included an excellent and inspiring talk by Dr. J.A. Szirmai on the "Archaeology of Bookbinding". His comments on the function and structure of books piqued my interest, though I left feeling that perhaps all my French training and practice have resulted in my teaching my poor students all the WRONG things! Most especially, I appreciated Dr. Szirmai's comment on restoration: "If you possibly can, leave them alone. Give old books the right to be old!"
This thoughtful talk led next to a most exuberant presentation by Paul Johnson. This man was a walking, talking, colorful, alive theater of books! We walked into a room filled with mysterious black paper slipcases with tantalizing peeps of color at their edges, laid out on long strips of tie-dyed fabric. The magic show began - we gasped, we laughed, we loved the work. Fantastic paper structures, cutouts, constructions, truly book theater. This man inspires, works with children on literacy through the arts of the book and cannot help but be successful. He had several of his books available for sale, both the artworks and literacy project works and they were snapped up by an enthusiastic audience. We have corresponded since and I am hoping that we will be able to make a link between the Alabama Literacy project, the Institute for the Book Arts and Paul Johnson a reality in the near future.
Finally, day two's last session was with the team of Jen Lindsay and Nicholas Calderhead, allowing us a glimpse of excellence and partnership in the making of books. This was the most professional presentation of the lot, with both partners exhibiting enormous respect for one another, liberally sprinkled with a sense of humor. The stuff that dream collaborations are made of, it was clear that these two people really communicated with one another - and were comfortable doing so with the audience as well. Clearly enunciated, cleanly explained, their Nilotic Fragments project was another inspiration to this observer, Jen's mastery of bookbinding structures was so evident; her excellence as a teacher was clearly apparent. An important inclusion in their presentation was this quotation from Edward Johnston: "Overplanning is one of the greatest dangers. Know what we're aiming at, but also allow the work to grow naturally". This team listened and worked from that premise.
Another highly polished presentation was given by Sün Evrard on "Contemporary European Bookbinding" in which she detailed the various structures and materials currently being utilized and experimented with by such binders as Jean de Gonet, Romilly-Saumarez-Smith, Florent Rousseau, Anne Goy, Carmencho Arregui, and one American, Daniel Kelm. It was interesting to see the excitement of these European bookbinders in their experimental structures and their reception by the larger world of bibliophiles. It puts me in mind of the activities of the Salon des Refusees earlier in the century in France, when the Impressionists were vying for recognition in the traditional, staid art world. Here, for a long time now, experiments have been the norm, with thanks due, in great part, to individuals such as Hedi Kyle and Pam Spitzmueller. I recall my own apologies to European groups for the United States' bookbinders lack of "long-standing tradition" and the response from Auguste Kulche, saying how fortunate we Americans are to not be shackled by tradition and its constraints!
Andrew Hoyem presented a fine talk on the Edition Bindings of the Arion Press. Always filled with useful and impressive information, Mr. Hoyem's well-prepared discourse covered many years of excellent fine press production by the San Francisco-based printer and book designer. Showcasing works from 1979's production of Moby Dick, through present projects, including Brillat-Savarin's The Physiology of Taste, translated by M.F.K. Fisher. Hoyem also addressed the problems and challenges of maintaining a production such as his. He concluded with the thought that "there is no assured future for our work. You don't come home complaining about it--you do the work if you must, because you love it.... May our books have a magnetism of their own to draw a greater appreciation from society."
Frank Mowery, self-described as "an old conservative type", gave an interesting presentation of the painstaking and highly perfected approach he uses for his design bindings. Always inspiring, it was interesting to see another method of working to the text block, a system strikingly similar to that taught at the Ecole de la Cambre's bookbinding school. The more I see of the various approaches to binding, the more similarities are evident.
It was an amazing several days, filled to bursting with information and new concepts, stimulating thought and new alliances. Not at all like the first Horizons; this time we broke new ground, reconfirmed our commitment to excellence and international harmony. My plate is full; now to get to work!