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Books on Books

Bookmaking and Bookbinding as Art

Posted 06.01.15 by Allison Fischbach

Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book. - Jane Smiley 

From "The thing the book: a monument to the book as object" by John Herchend: Z 116 .A2 H47 2014 Stacks

As a library, we at the Decker are intimately familiar with books. They come through our doors in various sizes - and sometimes shapes - with a myriad of bindings, covers, and ephemera.

The modern form of the book, with written leaves bound between covers, is called a "codex" and dates from the first century C.E. Prior to this, tablets and scrolls were the primary repositories for writing. Codices, however, proved to hold more information, were more durable, and were easier to search than their predecessors, leading to their surge in popularity.

Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe monastic communities were lauded for their scriptoriums and libraries, which produced and stored handwritten and hand-bound religious texts, with illuminated illustrations. Instead of paper, these volumes were produced on parchment and vellum, types of dried calfskin, and bound with a variety of sewing techniques.

However in China as early as 220 C.E., woodblock books were popular. Using this technique, whole pages of text and illustration were carved in relief on a wooden block, which was inked and printed. The process was painstaking, but it allowed multiple copies of the same text to be manufactured with relative speed and ease.

However, the Western invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450 is widely regarded as the next great leap in book manufacture. Moveable type significantly increased the speed and production of books, broadsides, leaflets, and newspapers. The written word became more widespread and easier to produce en masse.

Today books are printed in many different constructions, including mass-market paperbacks and highly prized special edition runs. Books are now produced quickly and cheaply using monolithic commercial presses, which are electronically controlled, and increase accuracy and output.

Yet the codex itself has still proved surprisingly durable as a form, only to be supplanted in modern times by electronic systems. However, as the codex is joined by e-books and e-readers, bookbinding as a technique has become more rarified. Master bookbinders create works of art out of the modern codex, including hand printing pages, special binding patterns and ornamental covers.

Artist Books have also come to the forefront, and often take loose interpretations of the "book" form. Bindings and constructions differ wildly among artist books, and often these items contain images and abstractions rather than text.

In this exhibit take a look at the history of the book across cultures and centuries, from early scrollwork to contemporary artists' work. Enjoy our selection of books on books.

More information about bookbinding and bookmaking can be found in Z 116-659 of our Stack and Quarto sections. For information about the library's extensive collection of Artist Books, take a look at our Book Arts Catalogue on the Decker Library webpage or ask a reference librarian.

June 1 - June 26
Curated by Allison Fischbach

Circulation Policy for Books on Exhibit

Circulating books on display in the museum cases are available for check out at any time. Please see a staff member at the circulation desk to request a book from the cases. Titles, when available, may be checked out at any time from the MRC. For books on display from the Special Collections (Cage), please see a reference librarian.

Image Information

Thumbnail: From The thing the book: a monument to the book as object by John Herchend: Z 116 .A2 H47 2014 Stacks
This Page: Cover of La Vie comme elle tourne... by Andre Frenaud. Cover art by Pierre Akhinsky, as seen in Monique Mathieu: La liberté du relieur by Bibliothèque Nationale de France: Z 269.2 .M42 B53 2002 Stacks

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from 49 states and 52 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs. With art and design programs ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research, and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and other established artists.