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WOID Bulletin


The Wormsley Library. A personal selection by Sir Paul Getty, K.B.E.
(through May 2).

Poe: The Ardent Imagination. (through May 9).

Morgan Library - 29 East 36th Street, New York, NY 10016-3403
(212) 685-008.
Tuesday-Thursday, 10:30 - 5:00 pm.
Friday, 10:30 - 8 pm
Saturday, 10:30 - 6:00 pm.

Early in the eighteen-eighties a very young man named T. J.
Cobden-Sanderson went to visit a very famous man named William Morris.
Would Morris, the grand old man of the Medieval Revival, help
Cobden-Sanderson set himself up as a bookbinder, a true craftsman reviving
the beauty of ages past in this harsh and ugly world? Morris, who thought
Cobden-Sanderson a ridiculous fop, promptly handed him his first
commission - a copy of Marx's "Capital." That binding is in the present
show at the Morgan; so are some extraordinary works in illumination,
calligraphy and (mostly), bookbinding. Apparently Cobden-Sanderson didn't
get the joke. Neither, I suspect, did the collector whose holdings are
here displayed.

The show makes for the perfect class trip for anyone teaching the History
of the Book. It includes one of the last covers commissioned by Jean
Grolier, a triangular binding for a Masonic text, a work by the
eighteenth-century English binder Edwards of Halifax, who invented a
system for painting watercolors on vellum (or rather, watercolors behind
vellum) - and that's for starters. For illuminators there is a 1902 piece
of gilding by Frances Kingsford, of remarkable technical refinement; a
design by Edward Johnston for the Doves Press, with the original design
close by; an interesting piece of illumination by Alberto Sangorski, dated
1913 but definitely outside of the Johnstonian orbit, and a frightening
piece by the seventeenth-century calligrapher Esther Inglis, who spent
most of her life trying to get paid for outdoing type and died in poverty.
The medieval books are less strong but there is a fine twelfth-century
South German Gradual (very similar in style to the Morgan's own Berthold
Missal but overshadowed by it), a thirteenth-century legal book attributed
to Master Honorius, and some fine pages from an Apocalypse.  And best of
all, Blake's Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence. For anyone who
knows Blake's "Tyger" from reproductions only the original design is far
smaller than its rough monumentality would suggest.

When all is said and done, though, this show leaves an odd aftertaste. By
the time it reaches the twentieth century it has crossed over into that
thin landscape where good taste and privilege part company. With very few
exceptions (such as, perhaps, a binding by Pierre-Lucien Martin), the
contemporary works are pointless virtuoso exercises. Cash may be enough to
build a collection of Old Masters since the value of Old Masters is pretty
much a matter of consensus. About contemporary works there can be no
consensus except around questions of technique.

By the twentieth century the collector's insecurity begins to show, and
the whole exhibition feels like a bibliophile's version of name-dropping:
"been there, bought that." The labels are embarrassing. Sheila Water's
picture of a doggie in a Laura Ashley interior is described as follows:
"It is a curious coincidence that both the original work [by Dylan Thomas]
and the manuscript [by Sheila] were begun in Britain and completed in
America." Some visitors giggle, and move on. They may have a point.

There is a small show of Poe's autographs in the Thaw Gallery - not just
careless manuscripts, but clean copies that are extremely sensitive to the
visual aspects of the work. They're stunning. Poe, it turns out, liked to
write on continuous rolls of paper, which makes him a kind of Jack Kerouac
before the fact. He also produced a marvelous lampoon of handwriting
analysis. It's here as well.

Friday Evening Lectures (begin at 8:00 pm).
February 12: Calligraphy and Illumination with Bernard Maisner.
February 26: Chaucer reading and slide show.
March 5: Bookbinding workshop with Sarah W. Dillon.
March 19: Calligraphy and Illumination with Bernard Maisner.
March 26: Chaucer reading and slide show.
April 9: Bookbinding workshop with Sarah W. Dillon.
April 16: Calligraphy and Illumination with Bernard Maisner.
April 30: Chaucer reading and slide show.
May 7: Bookbinding workshop with Sarah W. Dillon.

Tuesday, February 23 at 6:15 pm: Sheila Waters on Dylan Thomas' Under Milk

Paul Werner, New York City

For Courses, Lectures and Dragonsblood - and WOID:
Pour cours, conferences et sangdragon:


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