Saturday, April 23, 2016

Book Review: "The Poet of Them All"

The Poet of Them All is a stunningly beautiful volume published by the Yale Center for British Art to accompany exhibitions of miniature designer bindings from the collection of Neale and Margaret Albert at the Grolier Club and the Yale Center for British Art this spring and summer. If the book is any indication of the quality of the exhibitions—and I suspect it probably is—I recommend visiting either or both if you have the opportunity.

An opening essay by James Reid-Cunningham, "Enigmatic Devices: The Art of Contemporary Designer Bookbinding," is as good a survey of the subject as any I've read, and he ably relates the varieties and styles of bindings in the exhibition to the historical traditions of designer bindings over the decades.

At the heart of the exhibition and of the volume is a suite of thirty-nine copies of Brush Up Your Shakespeare, a miniature book designed and letterpress printed by Leonard Seastone and published by Neale Albert's Piccolo Press in 2009. The unbound sheets were sent to thirty-nine designer binders from around the world, with each given complete artistic freedom (with no time constraints) to create a binding inspired by the book.

Additionally, Albert commissioned new designer bindings for two multi-volume sets of Shakespeare in miniature: a 24-volume New York edition from around 1910 and an 1825 edition in nine volumes published by William Pickering. Each binder got one volume to work with, and the results, individually and severally, are little short of breathtaking.

Each volume from the exhibition is presented with expertly-shot photographs from several angles, a description of the binding, and often a short statement from the binder about their particular inspiration for the design. At several points we are also given a two-page spread of photographs showing the process of the construction of the binding, offering a very neat perspective on how these exquisite little volumes come together.

The way each of these bookbinders has interpreted, complemented, and enhanced the printed texts comes through very clearly in this well-designed volume; the sheer variety and unmissable talent on display here makes this book a real treat from start to finish.

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