Book Arts on the web
For 10 years, the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild’s Ottawa Valley Chapter has been promoting the book arts by hosting fairs, exhibitions, workshops and monthly meetings open to the public, but never has it attempted to create a website on the book arts such as this. The idea for this exercise was inspired, in part, by a member’s comment about the limited online resources found on the discourse of the book arts in Canada, despite its growing popularity.
In 2004, Cynthia L. Gregory wrote an article for The American Library Association’s College and Research Libraries News entitled “Book Arts on the Web: An introduction to selected resources”. In it she states, “in today’s Internet-driven world, […] interest in workshops, programs, and societies dedicated to promoting book arts has increased worldwide” since the mid-90s. She also lists several prominent websites, including that of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG), founded in 1983 (to which we could add Les Amis de la Reliure d’Art du Canada (ARA Canada), founded in 1995). Undeniably, a multitude of images of hand-made books, information, and bookbinding instructions can be found scattered on social media sites, blogs and websites, validating the growing interest in the book arts, but there is little in terms of a comprehensive portal on the subject in Canada. Thanks to the availability of open-source and easy to use management systems, such as Omeka, the once costly and arduous task of creating such a site is no longer an issue. The problem faced now is the book arts’ complex and evolving nature. For one, as Gregory states, the definition of book arts varies depending on whom you ask.
For CBBAG-OV, the book arts is all that pertains to the study and practice of bookmaking, traditional and innovative, as a whole or in part, including its content, and goes so far as to include book objects, whether altered or physically referenced books. Examples of these are found in CBBAG exhibitions, its websites, publications such as the ‘Book Arts arts du livre Canada’ journal, and now here on this site. The other pages in this exhibit profile works by individual creators, giving an idea of who they are and why they do what they do, but there are other ways of discovering the works on this site.
Words to describe the book arts
Only one language could be selected for the site. We chose English as the default and for identifying works (items) for consistency, but we also accept content in French to reflect our community and provide the opportunity to become more familiar with key terms in both French and English.
Outside of this exhibit, you may choose to browse Items, the full list of works, which are sortable alphanumerically by creator, date or title; or browse Collections, a list of broad book arts categories. Because books are composed of various techniques, it can be challenging to assign them to a single collection, whichever book arts area the work fits in most prominently. For example, should a hand-bound book, with pages filled with letterpress printed or handwritten text be classified under “Fine Bookbinding / Reliure d’art”, “Fine Printing / Impression de luxe” or “Calligraphy / Calligraphie”? Then there are the artists’ books, a subject that comes up for discussion at least once a year at CBBAG-OV gatherings.
In 2000, in an article published in the Journal of Artists’ Books entitled, like Gregory’s, “Book Arts on the Web”, Julia Flanders explains that even,
After roughly 12,000 words of discussion, the members of the Book_Arts-L discussion list could not agree on a definition of “the artist’s book” (or on where the apostrophe goes). This debate, in all its thoughtful, passionate, feisty inconclusiveness, was for me the clearest possible evidence of how the world of book arts is thriving on the World Wide Web.
At the launch of this site, 22 out of 48 items were classified as “Artists’ Books / Livres d’artistes”, whether unique items or multiples, made or conceived by the artists, including all book structures, altered books, wearable books, game boards, scrolls, book objects, book sculpture.
Thanks to tags, works are linked together and categorized more precisely. Selecting the exact terms is often an educational experience, finding their French equivalent at times difficult but rewarding. In his article, “The Haptic and the Emerging Critical Discourse on Artists Books”, Tim Mosely stresses the importance of the development and adoption of the terminology and descriptive vocabulary that is emerging through the influence of the increasing number of participants in artist book discourse, both through practice and writing, citing various approaches and tools found online and in print. Too, this can be said for the book arts in general. At the time this exhibit was launched, we chose to keep it simple and focus primarily on book arts’ techniques and materials, avoiding the use of tags to identify literary genres, themes or iconography. The full list of tags can be found by consulting the Browse by Tag menu item at the top of the Items/Unités page.
Like any comprehensive website, searching by keyword is also available. For example, searching the word “poem” finds Larry Thompson’s letterpress printing of Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey... by William Wordsworth, and Grant Wilkins’s The Sleeping Giant by E. Pauline Johnson, Sleep by W.W. Campbell, and Monition by Charles G.D. Roberts. It is also possible to limit a search to a specific part of the site or an item field, but it is important to note that not all content is available in both official languages.
Experiencing the book arts
Books could be described as assemblages of two-dimensional works to make three-dimensional objects that are not only read, seen, but also handled, touched. It is easy to fall prey to our visual experience, and feel satisfied by making sense of the words, images, and treatment of a book, but by disregarding the tactility of this art object, by avoiding the haptic experience, its interpretation is limited. Tim Mosely explains:
…artworks produced by haptic means will attract haptic interpretations, and the optic production of an artwork will attract an optic interpretation. The implications of this are far reaching. If optic modes of production dominate the production of cultural artifacts, then, without efforts to address it, the critical evaluation of these will be biased towards the optic.
That the book arts can be discovered on the Web and thriving as a result is good, but experiencing them by holding works in one’s hands is enriching and a rare privilege. We hope that this site will not only inform, but also encourage you to experience the intimacy that the works offer, whether at exhibitions, in archives, or at CBBAG events. We also hope that this endeavour may provide a glimpse of what a Canadian portal could look like.