Having yet to do a proper Oxford Fair wrap up, I was extremely pleased when Oliver Clark emailed me a copy of *his* wrap-up. Oliver is rapidly climbing my ‘Short List of Favorite Humans’ and granting me permission to post the following bounced him another few places…having drafted it in the first place jump 2-3 dozen. I agree with 90%+/- and wish I’d had the time and talent to write it myself. That said, I’m on the other end of the spectrum re R. Maret’s Specimens of Diverse Characters…in part *because* it is stark and cold-it is very satisfying for me. Then again, I vastly prefer Vale to Cockerel, etc…
The following contains the musing of Oliver Clark, of Collinge & Clark:
WITHIN OR WITHOUT OXFORD
Bonfires had not yet burned low before we knew in our hearts that Oxford 2011 had retained its character of being a very special occasion. Nothing, it seems can quite take the gilt off the gingerbread and though I suggest that visitors were more open with their hearts than their wallets, they were as cheerful as ever. One very fine printer printer managed to preserve an air of sepulchral and unshaven gloom throughout, but I felt that within he was laughing like a leprechaun even if, as I suspect, he was the person whose takings amounted to twenty-five pounds. Furthermore, there were some quite outstanding books this year, a reasonable proportion of which did get recognized. A certain proportion showed more hard work than skill and that is just a shame. Finally, I propose to ignore the mob of alcoholic antiquarian bookdealers who turned up for the beer and provided just a leavening of Ashendene, Doves, Eragny, Kelmscott, Vale, Golden Cockerel and Greygynog press books to remind us of the William Morris and Emery Walker tradition. Strangely, the first two books I sold were actually Daniel and Strawberry Hill Press.
To the Fair itself, the Tom Robinson band debuted here in the hall back way back in the 1970s, and though it clearly caters more to followers of hot metal than heavy metal, Oxford Brookes still has an enjoyably disreputable feel (unlike the Whitechapel Gallery, see newsletter passim). Toby English, Antiquarian Bookseller, makes an excellent organiser, admittedly surpassing himself in 2009 when he skydived off the stage. Nevertheless, if not as spectacular with the mike this year, Toby was his warm, friendly self and everything was done in a joyful Movember manner. Interestingly, he claimed subsequently that, based on return slips, this fair did better than the last – but only just. That was not the impression many had. Indeed, with some presses trying every trick short of gluing feathers onto their books in order to get them noticed in recessionary Oxford, many felt that the fair was struggling just a little in money terms, a shame for what is normally a hot-ticket event.
Proceedings kicked off at 11 a.m. Saturday. Every now and again Toby would shout in my ear the rising number of visitors. By the time it had risen to four hundred (‘Not bad, eh?’) I felt that I had shaken four hundred hands (or kissed cheeks). In fact the huge social whirl of the event is something of a hindrance to a diligent columnist who has his own stall to mind and the duty of going around the fair whilst constantly being greeted or pleasantly diverted. I quite realize that there are several omissions and that I haven’t played fair by everyone.
The Judges Choice of five titles published since the last fair, was done this year by Simon McMinn, Thorsten Sjolin and Jonathan Doney. On the whole, their selection of the following, were very good choices. It should be noted however that they made no attempt to ‘level the playing field’ by considering value for money or price as criteria. In its way, simply choosing what is best sounds reasonable – at first – but it will nearly always mean that only expensive books will win (the cheapest here is £335) and I as a bookseller, have learned a great respect for the saleable over the unsaleable.
Myth, by Susan Allix. £3,950
Myths of the Greeks selected from accounts by Hesiod, Homer, Apollodorus, Ovid and others.
Accounts of the Greek Myths are combined with an interpretive series of portraits –
not of ancient Greek heads but of people who characterize and might live in the stories.
Divided into five chapters, the book’s focus is sometimes on the lesser known myths,
and the portraits represent a selection made from several hundred visual notes and drawings. 35 prints which include etching, block print, lino, photography, and digitally reproduced
drawings. Letterpress in 18pt. Bell, with a hand cut metal title, and printed on mould
made Somerset paper. 34×27 centimetres with 127 pages in an edition of 28 copies. 2011
The binding is full leather, inlaid black and red goatskin, white calfskin, and an onlaid
soft-ground etching of a woman printed onto white goatskin. Titled in random red letters
on the spine, with hand coloured red and black endpapers.
Only a few copies have as yet been subscribed, but even at this price I do not think Susan Allix need fear being left with unsold copies.
(For anyone who follows my scoring system 30)
The Play of Pericles, by William Shakespeare, with interpolations from George Wilkins’ Painfull Adventures, in a text newly edited for the press by Crispin Elsted with many wood engravings by Simon Brett. [With:] Reading Pericles, by Simon Brett and Crispin Elsted. Two volumes, tall 4to, (Jan & Crispin Elsted) Barbarian Press, Mission, British Columbia, 2009 (but 2011).
Set in Poliphilus and Blado with Duensing for display, printed in several colours on Zerkall paper, with elements of the text printed in calligraphy specially designed and executed for this edition by Andrea Taylor. One of 100 (116) copies signed by Jan and Crispin Elsted and Simon Brett. Illustrated with over one hundred wood engravings, some full-page. Bound in full purple morocco with an inlaid vellum panel and large vellum label stamped in gold; Reading Pericles bound in purple quarter morocco with printed paper sides, vellum spine label. Both volumes enclosed within a labelled chemise of white linen within a purple raw silk slipcase. £1,450
To date this is the most magnificent book from the Press. It has taken a decade to plan and print and it is getting to be a rare thing that a private press undertakes a work of this size. ‘Pericles’ is rarely read and seldom staged, possibly because it is acknowledged to be a corrupt text, possibly because it is not a very good play. One of the many joys of this edition is that not only is it a pleasure to handle and the illustrations especially attractive, but the placing of the illustrations within the text and the lettering in colours that seems so effective in bringing the play alive to the point of a performance at the Globe Theatre. Nevertheless, whilst the brio of Simon Brett’s illustrations is undeniable, there is a question or two to ask. Is not the binding just a little ostentatious, like a blonde dressed a purple silk? (The lettering on the front panel is especially fine but I am not especially taken with the very large spine label.) Also, I worry slightly about my desire to read this volume and how convinced I am by Crispin Elsted’s special pleading on behalf of Pericles? The most exceptional single volume Shakespeare from any private press within the last ten years is the Caliban Press The Tempest, both beautifully printed, weirdly illustrated with designs from puppet theatre in pop-up, collage and pop-up. Before that Clare Van Vliet’s King Lear was perhaps most memorable. Beside these, is Pericles not just a little old fashioned, a little too much in in the manner of the Cranach Press Hamlet?
Does Simon Brett (b.1943) need any introduction? He has illustrated over forty books, many for the Folio Society or his own Paulinus Press, but also for Libanus, Gruffyground and Old Stile Presses. In 1986 in was elected both ARE and Chairman of the Society of wood Engravers. He has had numerous one-artist shows. It had already won the Alcuin prize and it is a certainly splendid book.
When I say it was a predictable winner, that is not to denigrate it any way. My personal score for it is 35 – very high.
Russell Maret, Specimens of diverse characters or revived by Russell Maret. £2,600
Russll Maret, a New York based private press printer is on a quest to find letters that resonate with him, “letters that he can caress and love rather than those that can be appreciated for their perfection. This was the case with search for Round gothic Capitals in Medieval in Padua (2008), the highly acclaimed Aethelwold, etc: Twenty-Six Letters inspired by Other Letters and Non-Letters and Little Bits of poetry Rendered with Accompanying Notes (2009).
I cannot say whether he is as much of a scholar as a Nicolete Gray, but certainly he has her love of letterforms.
Specimens of Diverse Characters is a beautiful book, the binding satisfies especially, being a modified Bradel type that opens beautifully flat at every spread. The spine on the standard copies is red leather, with grey paper-covered boards printed with Foundry ornaments. There is also a de luxe issue with a portfolio of progressive proofs and a different binding.
Despite its loveliness, I will be contrarian and not buy this book. It seems like an exercise in cold fetishism and at least to me, oddly unsatisfying. (Despite that, I must score it 30.)
There’s more on Russell Maret in the lectures section of the newsletter.
Nikodim Press, The ABC of Fears –The Famous People’s Phobias, by Dimitry Sayenko. Small 4to, 61pages, 37 colour lino and woodcuts with English text, Garamond and Bodoni type, paper hand-made by the artist. Blindstamped leather boards. Special slipcase. 12 copies signed by the artist/printer. £975
Among famous people there are quite a few who have had certain phobias. Even apparently infallible people, are in fact frightened of things that we should never have guessed. Many great inventions were born under the pressure of such fears. This book is not a medical manual or a historical script. The author has dealt frivolously with the characters and their fears. However, many of the facts are historically true.
I’ve been running into Dmitry at fairs for at least ten years and I’m very glad that the judges had the originality the choose one of his books. I praised this one at the Whitechapel, but many others are almost as good and a deal less expensive. If you are not sure, spring forty pounds on a signed woodcut print for a godchild. See how long it is before you wish you hadn’t given that gem of Russian folklore away. Frankly, for a long time Dmitry’s work was a complete steal and even now it is very reasonably priced. The older editions that are not out-of-print are bargains.
His books have a slightly homemade quality, especially in the full leather bindings which might deter some, but arguably this adds rather than detracts from the charm. (My score 32)
Whittington Press, A Vision of Order, 35 linocuts by Andrew Anderson
‘Andrew Anderson’s astonishing linocuts are an arresting mix of image, lettering and symbolism. The images show strong influences of his background as an architect with a particular interest in mediaeval architecture; the lettering brings Eric Gill to mind, but with an added fluency and versatility; and much of the symbolism comes from his involvement with cathedral and church architecture.’
That’s from the prospectus, of course. John Randle likes to print very large books, his personal preference is clearly poster printing.
24 x 16½ ins, 64 pp, set in 22-point Caslon and printed on a heavyweight Zerkall mould-made paper, the prints printed on Zerkall Ingres and tipped in, in an edition of 185 copies.
150 copies quarter-bound in buckram and printed paper sides, in a slipcase. £335
35 copies are similarly bound, with a portfolio of a selection of the prints, including The Rock of Cashel, nine sheets joined together to form an image measuring 4 ½ x 3 ft (see Matrix 28, p. 13), in a solander box with gold-blocked leather spine. £765
I think it is a fine book, but just as I have a prejudice against miniatures, so again do I dislike large folios. (My score 28)
Selecting books is never easy and whilst the judges chose the above without regard to cost or value for money, a good case can be made for every one of these. I felt (and at least one of the judges felt) that Carolyn Trant’s truly astonishing new woodcut book Cock Robin should have been included, but perhaps because Carolyn won last time she was nudged off . (See: http://carolyntrantparvenu.blogspot.com/2010/09/who-killed-cock-robin.html) I also greatly admired Walter Bachinski & Janis Butler’s Circus: The Artist as Saltimbanque, their second ‘circus’ book, exquisitely hand-coloured, a shame that they were overlooked, because a prize might have helped them (http://shantybaypress.com) However, all told, it is a good choice from a wide field, and I was especially pleased to see Dmitry Sayenko at last win some recognition for his entirely hand-made books.
Granted that the Judges Choice Awards are slightly nonsense and just for prestige, every entrant’s heart goes out as the Awards are announced. (‘The Judges were unanimous in their choice and a very popular winner this year – Greenside Press!’). On the other hand, the Parrot prize for the best illustration in any medium is worth a real and sweaty £500 and this year was awarded by Leo de Freitas and John “Fawkes” Vernon Lord in what was a thoroughly bad decision.
The book chosen was Phil Abel’s Hand & Eye Editions The Strange case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, small 8vo, printed on grey Zerkall paper, bound in black cloth, tipped-in illustrations from photopolymer plates by Angela Barrett. The book had to be reprinted due to a typo, which may account for the price of £125 – about fifty pounds too much. Further, black cloth doesn’t sell and the labels were not inset. Although photopolymer was eligible, I would have preferred to see a book with original illustrations with at Oxford as more in keeping with the spirit of things. Not just a disappointing choice then, but a self-indulgent one from someone who should have known better. Website http://www.handandeye.co.uk
Using the catalogue to help me sort out my mass of notes and prospectuses, I thought the following were worthy of mention – although I’ve definitely missed some (Ron King, Bob McCamant, Shirley Jones and Sebastian Carter, Linda Landers of Spoon Print Press, for sure), due to the pressure of socializing with the boys and girls at the event.
New to me was Miranda Hart of Bookspells, http://www.bookspells.com For the most part, these are more ‘book objects’ than books, but nevertheless incorporating type and traditional bookbinding techniques. My favourite is the highly personal paper boxes, she makes to reflect her childhood in Kenya. My difficulty with it was that I’ve reached middle age, was brought up near Rickmansworth, and am not likely to be needing a box for my memories of the Mau Mau rebellion on Moor Park Golf Course. Call me bourgeois, it was nice though.
Mark McMurray of Caliban Press, New York, had perhaps the shortest entry in the catalogue and is almost unique in having no website. He had brought along the last few copies of his Tempest, which has won very high praise from me before, for its designs from puppet theatre in pop-up, collage and linocut, a little book of verse called Archangel by Ai which he says he may be suppressing, and some excellent posters signed by the great-nephew of Bram Stoker, Dacre Stoker, who has written a sequel to Dracula. Superbly printed, £25 each, I suggest these should be a memento for the Twilight generation. I’m very much looking forward to his next major work, whatever it may be.
It was very good to see Alan Brignull and his Hedgehog Press back again. His Adanaland printing represents an intimacy with childhood longings for sweets, his stall piled high with matchboxes, homages to Charles Clark, first day covers, tiny magazines. All very well done too, in its Adana-obsessed way. There is a visceral similarity between Hedgehog Press and Russell Maret for those who will see the connection.
Dr Caroline Saltzwedel’s Hirundo Press of Hamburg, does likeable work, mostly of a three-colour line-engraved sort. She has attended the fair for some years and I’m fairly sure I resisted for the same reasons before. Several books tempted me, the one I most nearly went for was Homerische Zeilen, Achtzehn Radierungen zur Odyssee. One of 25 copies, it seemed just slightly expensive at at £1,000. Had she been quicker off the mark with a discount, it would have been a different story. Website http://www.hirundo-press.com
Incline Press (Graham Moss & Kathy Whalen), still have not quite completed Gerry Cinamon’s biography of E.R. Weiss, so had nothing new to offer us excepting a very handsomely printed apology; some swiftly sold pots of jam and some Christmas cards with woodcut scenes from incunables (Ulrich Han, 1467, William Caxton, 1483). Central to both of these Christmas cards is a bearded figure who looks suspiciously like Graham Moss. At any rate, for joy, backlist and the best jam in Oldham http://inclinepress.com Let us hope there is at least a Christmas book in the press. First prize for brightest waistcoat – to Graham Moss.
It was Graham and Kathy, of course who printed the so-called Greenside Press Heard on the Green: A Schoolday Anthology. 8vo, pp.36, Greenside Primary School, Summer 2010. This has a relief-etched frontispiece by Christine Tacq and a drypoint by one of the children at the school at the rear. It is an anthology containing work by Blake, Lewis Carroll, J.E. Flecker, Edward Lear, W.B. Yeats and Kathleen Raine. The six special copies are signed by Michael Rosen, Roger McGough and the musician Nick Cave. 134 standard copies are bound in Indian handmade paper wrappers. As the moving force behind this publication, it’s not up to me to praise this volume too much, though I admit to being proud of it, best perhaps just to say that there now remain six standard copies at £28, one special copy at £200. Several sold at the fair. A stock had been kept back specially for the occasion in the hope that the children of Shepherd’s Bush might gain a prize (‘A very popular winner this year’. No doubt I shall have to tell them that everyone was a winner. Incidentally, for more on what’s going on the school look to the piece on Gordon Cullen by Allan Powers at the terminus of this piece.
Gaylord Schanilec of Midnight Paper Sales, living in remotest Wisconsin, is familiar to many English devotees of fine printing. In his book for the 2009 Fair, Sylvae, he’d hit upon the idea of cutting down trees and printing the results. Attractive, but ultimately the wood-grain prints seemed a little dull to me. That said since the days when he was artist in residence at Gwasg Gregynog (Wrenching Times by Walt Whitman, wonderful book) he has been the American wood-engraver who commands the largest English following. The latest is The Bicycle Diaries: One New Yorker’s Journey through September 11th, by Richard Goodman. 8vo, 111 pages, 7 colour wood-engravings with text set in Monotype Emerson, printed on Zerkall mould-made. 224 standard copies, 26 lettered copies with a separate portfolio of progressive proofs of the Cooper Union engraving.
I am also slightly troubled by the idea that Gaylord is beginning to let the tragedy of September 11th become an idée fixe, given his previous book with Kenneth Auchinloss New York Revisited (Grolier Club, 2004).
Just now there is an exhibition of Gaylord’s work at Sophie Schneideman’s gallery, 331 Portobello Road, London W10.
In passing, this is a good place to credit Alex Schneideman, Photographer, with doing the photographs on the website and designing the ultimate in new Bloomsbury ‘Black Books’ cool, the Collinge & Clark black cotton fabric bag (five pounds otherwise free with any reasonably juicy purchase.).
I’ve already referred to Carolyn Trant’s Parvenu Press as being one of my high spots for the fair, most particularly Cock Robin. These extraordinary colour images are printed from woodcuts and bound accordion-fold between specially cut pieces of mahogany. There are thirteen woodcuts in all, the edition also being of thirteen copies, price £1,500 (personal score 38). The woodcuts are also available individually at about a hundred pounds each. Admittedly, the price makes for an obstacle, but very well worth it. Also very good – and beautifully made – are her woodcut toy theatres Theatre Karolina. I bought five of these, which only lacks a text to make it the perfect present for any six year old man or woman or even someone bigger, they cost about £75. They put me in mind of a remark by J.B. Priestley to the effect that all the happiest people he had known owned toy theatres. She also had her unintentionally scarce series of ‘small’ books, Brighton Belles, Family Album, The Magic Rabbit, concertina-folded engravings with almost no text, bound in odd materials these are very good value at around £60 each. They are unlimited, but she has lost the plates for them so they are (for now) scarce.
Something of a rarity in today’s world, must be William Bentley’s Petrarch Press. I admire his desire to create books in the Morris tradition, his fine bindings and printing on vellum. I have not yet seen a Petrarch Press book on vellum that quite works for me – yet. His first book, Thoughts from the Letters of Petrarch is all right in its way, but there are too many colours – rather odd colours too – employed in the title-page ornaments for my taste. I didn’t care for the design of the quarter leather binding either. From that, The Gospel According to Philip (2006) is a great improvement and the recent St Francis of Assissi, Canticle of the Creatures even better yet. Some stalls get overlooked and upon reflection, his might have been one. Bentley is not an exuberant character, but his books are moving in the right direction and we may see more of him.
Certainly overlooked, was Bob Baris from Ohio, his strangely named Press on Scroll Road was in one of the worst positions in the fair. He also had a bad cold which meant that out of consideration he spoke away from you (towards the wall) when answering questions. I admit I didn’t quite appreciate this initially and thought him a degree eccentric. He prints entirely on a pair iron of hand presses on handmade paper. His books, which are illustrated with wood engravings, aim at being simple, quiet and elegant.
Twenty-four Old Regulars by Maurice Manning, with wood engravings by Gaylord Schanilec, printed from handset DeRoos on Rives paper. One of 48 copies at $125 seems like a howling bargain, likewise his new Walt Whitman (was it $250?) illustrated by Abigail Rorer. I liked all his books and certainly intend to stock them in the future. They are very pleasing, good throughout, well-printed and well-illustrated. Had the Judges been using my kind of scoring system, I fancy a rosette might well have ended up here, because these are fine books with a rationale and very reasonably priced.
As ever, Christine Tacq had delightful books upon her stall which she shared with her daughter Leone Lachlan, who is winning a lot of prizes these days. Christine still has a few copies left of Sleep walking through trees: an anthology for those born later, illustrated with particularly beautiful and spectacular collagraph prints and though on a much smaller scale (score 38), I especially like her second edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XLIII dos-a-dos bound, with an extended intaglio printed collagraph for a cover and a chine colle title. Christine is always doing interesting things. Incidentally, if you cannot afford £700 for Sleep walking through trees, the collagraphs are available at £120 each. That said, try and afford a copy of Sleep walking through trees. I emphasize that is a real bargain.
‘The Doctor’ Miles Wigfield (Reading Room Press), greeted me with his usual urbanity (“Amazing how different some chaps are when you meet their wives.”) His new book for the fair was, I think, the sixth from the Press being Night Club Girl, six new poems by A.S.J. Tessimond together with a letter to Beatrice Warde. Illustrated with two wood engravings by Simon Brett, 104 copies attractively printed and bound, I’d say this is his best yet, price £75. Incidentally, whilst the press has also done Forrest Reid, T.E. Lawrence (published at £45, priced at £250 in a recent rare book dealer’s catalogue, the naughty boy), Dennis Silk, A.S.J. Tessimond is something of a speciality. Someday, someone is going to realise that it would be a fine thing to possess all the RRP titles, I suggest the time to begin is now.
Moving on alphabetically, Walter Bachinski and Janis Butler’s Shanty Bay Press of Ontario, have produced a new and wonderful sequel to their pochoir book Circus. This is Circus: The Artist as Saltimbanque, much as in the first volume, different authors are used: Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Henry Miller, Mark Twain, Rilke. The book is set in Deepdene and excellently printed by Janis. It is illustrated with four complex pochoirs (‘I spend my life correcting mistakes’) done in brilliant acrylics by Walter. There are also eight colour linocuts. Quarter bound in cloth and Somegami paper and slipcased, there are but 55 copies in total, price $1,950
I am incredulous that the judges didn’t see sufficient merit in this book, it is much better than at least one other book on the Judges Choice list. Perhaps they were thinking it’s too similar to the previous Circus book, all Cezanne and Picasso. Perhaps, just for once they were thinking of price. Thankfully, Walter and Janis are calm philosophical types and here were no brawls. I sighed, thought of the children’s new shoes and after a struggle put it down, but in time I’ll get a copy. (My score 34.) About half the edition has been taken up. Buy it if you can.
Also on their stall were a few remaining copies of Virgils Georgics. Translated by Robert Well with illustrations by Walter Bachinski. 6 complex pochoir illustrations and 8 woodcuts. Folio, published in 2007. $1,800
I like the wash colours employed in this book less than the brilliant acrylics of Circus, but it is still a lovely book and worthy of inclusion in any collection of pochoir books.
Anyone who missed out on picking the Strawberry Press (Paul Nash and Alison Felstead) Keepsake for the fine Press Book Fair, missed out badly. A mere eight pages folding Three Crude Woodcuts with three crude limericks by Reg Wordsworth is a real delight and I nominate it for the Oxford Fine Press Prize for Ribaldry.
Also of the Strawberry Press, I heard very good things from enthusiasts of The remains of Sherlock Holmes, by Paul Nash with a wood-engraved dust-jacket design, casebound, £12, a collection of pastiches, printed lithographically for the Press.
The last Press I’m going to mention is Z’Roah Press (Roni Gross, New York). She is the printer of The Night Hunter, by Nancy Campbell – familiar to readers of this column as author/illustrator and printer of How to say I love you in Greenlandic: an arctic alphabet, who indeed was herself present at the stall wearing a particularly fine pair of shoes that the experimental folk musician MacGillivray had given her. (Do listen to her at: http://www.myspace.com/macgillivray.) . I keep repeating that the pochoirs in How to say I love you in Greenlandic could be fashioned into a smaller book like an old-style King Penguin and wondering if anyone will ever get this joke. The book celebrates the Kalallisut language, famous for its many words for snow, all twelve of the letters of the Greenlandic alphabet are represented with words, which are in turn accompanied by pochoir prints depicting icebergs (this book I scored 36). Likewise The Night Hunter is Greenlandic in theme, incorporating a palm-leaf pantoum written by Nancy as a result of her residency on a remote island off the Greenland coast. The structure of the book, a palm leaf, is of east asian origin, as is the form of the poem. This may seem a degree incongruous perhaps, but the ‘book’ is satisfyingly presented. Historically in Greenland, the lack of ordinary materials like wood and metal and even fibre have made found materials of value. Driftwood covers, wild harvested dogbane for cordage, scrap metal and horse bone and scavenged wood for the game board. The de luxe copy is priced at $2,500 and the standard $750. This is almost a case where one would have to buy the de luxe (score 32) – or not at all. Its superb tactile qualities would always make one regret purchasing the less expensive state. This book won the Norman MacCaig Prize in 2010.
Websites http://www.ronigross.com and also http://nancycampbell.co.uk
No report on the fair would be complete without some word on the series of lectures arranged for the Sunday. Inevitably, as a stallholder it is difficult to attend these , it’s rather like being stuck in a cab with the meter running.
Sandy Malcolm attended all four lectures and agreed to write them up. He suggested that I ruthlessly rewrite it so as to maintain the small ‘closed-fist’ that gives this newsletter its impact, but I have decided to let it stand verbatim.
One of the most enjoyable features of the biennial Oxford Fine Press Fair is invariably the lecture programme on the Sunday; this year’s lectures were, as usual, a varied mixture of fine press history and personal accounts of book-making by contemporary practitioners.
The first speaker of the day was type designer and printer Russell Maret, on “New Type for New Books”, appropriately in light of his own latest book, a lavish and beautiful collection of type specimens; this received one of the Judges’ Choice awards later in the day. The first part of his lecture consisted mainly of a selection of quotations, some quite lengthy, from eminent typographers of the past, including Emery Walker, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, Stanley Morison and Beatrice Warde; these were chosen to contrast different approaches to type design, both historical and contemporary. The second half of his presentation consisted of an excellent short film showing the work of the Dale Guild Type Foundry, where many of his designs have been produced as foundry type, and the mechanics of type production at Dale Guild using a matrix engraver, originally designed by Linn Boyd Benton in the late 19th century. Despite the high quality of the lecture overall (both text and film), I didn’t feel that I’d really heard enough of Russell Maret’s own views on type design, although his words linking the quotations together suggested there was an interesting polemic about to be delivered; reluctant though I would ever been to say “Less Morison”, I nevertheless went away feeling that we should perhaps have had “More Maret”.
The second speaker of the day was Jon Whiteley of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, who gave an outstanding lecture on Lucien Pissarro and the Eragny Press; Dr Whiteley was curator of the recent Ashmolean exhibition on Pissarro and the Press. His approach in this lecture was primarily chronological, though with a strong art-historical perspective, taking us from the Press’s first book “The Queen of the Fishes” in 1894, through to its final (and very rare)publication “Whym Chow” in 1914, 30 years before Pissarro’s death. In addition to brief accounts of the main publications of the press, the lecture included much biographical information, particularly about Pissarro’s difficult relationship with his father Camille. Dr Whiteley ended his talk by describing Eragny books as “neither wholly English nor wholly French, but somewhere in between”. The lecture was beautifully and comprehensively illustrated throughout, but most impressive of all was Dr Whiteley’s seemingly effortless command of his material. I spoke to several other people later in the day who’d attended this lecture and the consensus was that it was the highlight of the programme.
After a break for lunch and the announcement of the Judges Choice awards, the third lecture was a joint account by Crispin and Jan Elsted (Barbarian Press) of their long-awaited new edition of “Pericles”, 10 years in the making (and also a recipient of a 2011 Judges Choice prize). Crispin began by describing his experiences as an actor in, and director of, the play in various professional productions, then gave an account of the problems of the text and the consequent difficulties of producing a suitable version for publication. Jan then took over, to explain the process of preparing the book for the press, including particularly the combination and layout of text and images, one of the book’s most striking features. Discussion of these images, during questions from the audience, was an opportunity for the book’s illustrator, Simon Brett, to join Crispin and Jan, and share his own experiences of collaborating on the book, mainly from a distance of several thousand miles away. This was another high-calibre lecture, particularly interesting as the book itself was readily available for inspection (though not purchase, as the edition was fully subscribed) at the Barbarian stand in the main hall.
The final speaker was Carolyn Trant whose talk was essentially a photographic diary of “A Year In The Life Of…”, beginning with an extensive series of images of her latest artist’s book, “Who Killed Cock Robin?”. This was an informal and engaging presentation, both wide-ranging and visually striking. As well as many images of Carolyn’s own books, she showed us examples of the work of her students in the Lewes Printmakers group, plus pictures of her studio and events involving other book artists from the Lewes area, all the while putting the images in context with anecdotes and explanations. Inexplicably this lecture was rather less well-attended than the others but those of us who were there enjoyed it enormously.