Arts, On Campus

Art of Bookbinding Turns Pages in Roycroft Exhibit

Tucked away past the mezzanine study area, small desks, and stacks of Bapst Library, the newest exhibit housed in Burns Library lies waiting for any intrepid and explorative student to stumble upon. Dreams of Art & Glory: Book Craft by the Roycrofters focuses on the art of printing and bookbinding by the Roycroft community around the turn of the 19th century. Elbert Hubbard founded the Roycroft community, basing his ideas on those of William Morris, an English printer and thinker.

Lining the hall to the library of special collections and archives are glass cases filled with rare editions of hand-made books, along with some of the tools used to make them. Spaced along the exhibit on both sides of each glass case are large pieces of printed text, lending additional historical context to the books nearby and to the exhibit as a whole. One such wall text details the work of Frederick C. Kranz, a Roycrofter whose work in leather modeling was second to none. This text is positioned next to multiple books whose ornate covers appear similar to sculptures done in bas-relief. This very effect was intentional on the part of the Roycrofters, and they certainly succeeded.

Book covers feature scenes that look as if they were pulled directly from the myths and legends of ancient Greece. Figures are shown in the midst of motion, reaching up to a tree or strumming the strings of a lyre. This bas-relief-like artistry was achieved by Kranz and other Roycrofters through the use of calfskin. These books, and others like them, were bound in the material, and then sections of it were cut away in order to create the appearance of depth in the scene. A text card explains that other areas were padded, adding to the effect of layered scenes.

The collection also features many famous books and series. One such book is an 1893 edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, bound in limp vellum. The text card explains that the gold spine on this edition of Utopia was made by T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, a British lawyer who befriended and shared the views of William Morris. The collection also features the author’s edition of The Complete Writings of Elbert Hubbard. This edition was signed with a handwritten note to a Boston millionaire named Thomas W. Lawson. The inscription reads “For Thomas W. Lawson Love of Pinko, Pictures, Poetry and the Square Deal. With all kind wishes from Elbert Hubbard. Sep 8th 1909.”

An additional object of interest in the collection is Biblia Aurea Veteris ac Noui Testamenti Vocitatus, a 1495 theological work on the Bible. This book was published in Strassburg by Johann Grüninger, as the text card explains. The book directly adjacent is a Roycroft-made book called Sonnets from the Portuguese. The text card next to this book draws parallels between the style of the earlier work and this more modern work from 1898. These parallels lie with the bold and colored large letters that begin paragraphs, as well as with the layout and general style of the later book.

While the exhibit might not seem like much, and while it may seem a little off the beaten path, Dreams of Art & Glory: Book Craft by the Roycrofters is well-worth a visit. Surrounded by the artwork, wood paneling, and softly carpeted floors, a quick and quiet stroll through the hall offers a welcome respite from the heat and a chance to learn about a niche specialty from Boston’s past.

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor

September 2, 2018