Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Bookbinding and the pursuit of human touch exhibit

Posted on February 06, 2017 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

University of Southern Maine Website

By Jordan Castaldo, Free Press Staff

Surrounding students studying on the 7th floor of Glickman, in the Reading Room, is an art exhibit on the ancient craft of bookbinding. Curated by Britta Konau, students now have a chance to see the renowned book binding work of Gray Parrot.

The art of bookbinding is the assembling of a book from a stack of paper through sewing. The book is then attractively covered, protected and labeled. Bookbinding is not only a highly demanded craft, but it is also said to be a calling. To correctly bookbind, one needs extensive training in the arts of leather and metal work, sewing, graphic design, model fabrication and paper crafting. Like with many other forms of art, integration of form is the goal of bookbinding.

This exhibition features examples of Parrot’s bookbinding alongside the materials and tools he uses to do his work. Books from his personal collection are also displayed in this exhibit, as well as other objects he has put together throughout his many years of work. A theme that is prominent in Parrot’s book binding is human touch, which is beautifully expressed throughout all of his pieces. This exhibit is an admirable way to teach present and future generations about the importance of the human touch in ancient and modern arts.

Even though bookbinding has been around since the birth of Christ, it remains an important art in the digital age. When asked why Parrot thought the art of bookbinding was still important to in a technologically advanced society, he said that bookbinding was part of a preservation mechanism. He thinks that people will value more important, pleasing pieces of art if they remain preserved. By delicately covering and protecting books, those books are more likely to survive and be utilized in the future.

“Physical objects from the past tell us something about the past,” Parrot said. “The more we know about ourselves, the better we can make decisions about the future.”

Parrot hopes that those who view his exhibit are inspired to collect and preserve artifacts of the past, since most people don’t pursue collecting as a hobby.

“One object will tell you something,” Parrot said, “but a whole collection will give you vastly more information.”

Anyone interested in this topic should know that USM offers a book arts minor, which often goes relatively unnoticed by students. Rebecca Goodale, part-time lecturer of art and coordinator of the Kate Cheney Cappell 83 Center for Books Arts, said that the mission of the minor is to support the book arts. It is supported by the art department and is taught through lectures, exhibitions and workshops.

“I hope visitors to the exhibition will see Mr. Parrot’s impressive skills and his sensitivity to materials,” Goodale said.  “Such high quality craftsmanship reminds us all how dedication to any discipline can create an impressive body of work.”

If you would like to dig even deeper into the world of book arts, there is an upcoming lecture on Wednesday, April 5, at 7 p.m. in the University Events Room, 7th Floor, Glickman. The lecture will include Gray Parrot, Leonard Baskin and the Gehenna Press, and will be presented by Richard Ovenden, who is the Bodley’s Librarian at the University of Oxford in England. It is free and open to the public.

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