Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jazz and Ex Libris -- An Introduction I

Jazz and Exlibris - An Introduction


Thomas I. Roman

This summer of 2002 there is a unique exhibition taking place in the town of Sori in Italy. It is a first of its kind, and its subject is Jazz and Exlibris. This is a topic that many may already be familiar with, but perhaps not thought much about in terms of relationship between the two artforms.

There are certain parallels and once perceived, can enhance the pleasure and wonder each has to offer. Jazz is known and appreciated by many all over the World. The use of ex libris, or bookplates is less so. It is the intention of this introductory article to describe the relevance of both.

Jazz had its beginnings in the United States and ex libris has its roots in Europe. Many Jazz artists had difficulty in starting their musical careers at home. They went to Europe, where they pleased crowds of folks, who really appreciated their artistic creativity and ways of expression. After their reception in Europe, many jazz musicians returned to the United States, where they were finally accepted and admired.

There is a similar history and development for Ex Musicis, which is a bookplate applied to music libraries and more relevant to this article, regarding books about Jazz, its history, or biographies of Jazz artists and composers.

The Jazz Ex Libris or Ex Musicis is a personal expression of the owner. It is a reflection of how he feels about Jazz, what the music means to him, whether it is a glorification of individual instruments like the bass, sax - or the admiration for Jazz artists. Greats like "Ella," "Satchmo," "The Duke," "The Count,"or Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis or many others. It can also be a memory of the places, the clubs, the Strips where Jazz was happening, as represented by historical photos, stills from documentaries or vintage posters that can be shown on the design.

Jazz and Ex Libris -- An Introduction II

It could also be a tribute to a certain musical number or a riff that somehow stays with you forever. Or maybe the little drawing or doodle you did on a napkin at the club, that came from the inspiration from a tune played that touched your heart and soul at the moment. And it does not matter if the feeling was love, sorrow or anger - you were inspired and you expressed yourself.

So if Jazz is good for you and good to you, if you care about what you hear and what it says to you, if you are a musician, a dancer or a listener, whether you are at a festival, a show or a club, at a jam session in an empty church, an elevator, or in your car, if you love the books you own about jazz, take it a step farther and make an Ex Libris for yourself, for the band you are in or the club you belong to.

The Jazz Ex Libris can be made in many ways, depending on your budget. On the high end one can hire a well-known artist to design the graphics for you. If it is done as an etching or engraving or a linoleum cut and colors, it can be pricey. And it must be emphasized here that these are the kind that collectors want and will wish to trade for. Less expensive and desirable are ones that are generated by computer, but these are common and very affordable.

Jazz and Ex Libris -- An Introduction III

The Ex Libris lies closer to the heart and soul. It is also a way of expressing gratitude for jazz music, and all it does for us. It touches our lives so individually and intimately, mends the soul and allows the mind to recharge itself.

With these ideas about Jazz and Ex Libris, one wonders if there are any Ex Libris made for some famous jazz musicians and artists. Hopefully the answer is "Yes", and these are begging to be found. I hope that performing artists will be inspired to create their own Ex Musicis - their fans would surely appreciate these. This would be a very special touch and certainly collectible. So would Ex Libris bearing the name of bands, orchestras, or names of places, festivals, revivals, not to mention those that celebrate a new recording release. All these possibilities and the sky is the limit.

We have also seen jazz as an art form used to emphasize and dramatize movies, animation, documentaries and even advertising on television. It brings out the groove, the rhythm and mood of an otherwise dull presentation. Thus becoming a synthesis of vision and sound.

The Ex Libris for those who love Jazz should serve the purpose of a visual reminder of the music one loves. Seeing the Jazz Ex Libris should bring back memories and echoes of the tunes we’ve heard, the voices sung, the beat and the wail of the trumpet or saxophone, or the concluding Grand Finale of a session.

In conclusion it must be stated that the inspiration for writing this "introduction" was the desire to awaken the young people, the aspiring musicians and the readers to take some of these ideas; to make it their vision as well as the inspiration to express them. Hopefully, these introductory ideas will prompt your interest and appreciation for Jazz Ex Libris and Ex Musicis.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Vienna Workshop, I

The “Wiener Werkstatte” and its Ex Libris Artists

The Vienna Workshop


Heinrich R. Scheffer

When the Oestereichische Exlibris Gesellschaft (Austrian Ex Libris Society) was established over hundred years ago, it also marked the foundation of the Wiener Werkstätte as a “Cooperative of Craftsmen in Vienna,” whose aim was to promote the financial interests of its members – through teaching and instruction in the arts and crafts; through the making of all different forms of art /…/ designs, and through the establishment of workshops and the sale of their merchandise. The official name in the trade register concealed the initiative of two progressive Viennese artists and of a patron of the arts. They were Josef Hoffmann and Kolo Moser, professors at the arts-school in Vienna, and Fritz Waerndorfer, an art connoisseur and visionary, but most importantly a financially strong banker. They wanted to put into action the rather theoretical program of progressive Viennese artistry, calling it the “Secession” and injecting it with new life. “Stilkunst” (the art of style) should be incorporated into the “collective body of art,” and the works of the secessionists should encompass all areas of life.

Within the secessionist movement, Hoffmann and Moser were in charge of arts and crafts, and they tried to revitalize local or native handicrafts and techniques. These were to be transformed according to new criteria, as it was successfully done by Charles Robert Ashbee in his London workshop. The motto was “Art should be affordable for all” – whereby the craftsman was not working anonymously, as a “production machine” but in collaboration with the designer, and also having contact with the customer.

The Wiener Werkstätte (hereinafter WW) was a flourishing enterprise from its beginnings in 1903 until the company closed down in 1932. It managed to continue to do well even through World War 1, and in 1922 the WW set up a subsidiary in New York City. This company was registered under “Wiener Werkstätte of America Inc.” and had a salesroom at 581 Fifth Avenue. The commodity was therefore well established and much valued by collectors in the USA.

A sensitive modernization in the arts and crafts was noticeable as early as in autumn of 1900, at the VIII Exhibition of the Wiener Sezession (Viennese Secession), at which the works of the Scottish couple Margaret and Charles Rennie Macintosh were presented. First contacts with the British crafts-philosophy and their proponents were made during this time, which led to a lively exchange of ideas. One can draw a direct line from London to Vienna, and Hoffmann and Moser believed that, in a collective workshop, they would most likely be able to implement their new principles.

Initially Hoffmann’s and Moser’s artistic personalities dominated with their designs, but the English influence was highly visible. The black/white contrast, the square, irregular patterns by Macintosh were formative. The quadrat as ornament became the logo for Josef Hoffmann’s trellis decors; and the geometric shapes, such as the sphere, the cube, the ashlar or the cylinder, which were, at least during the first years of production the main features of design of the Vienna Workshop’s manufactured items. The monogram of the WW, and its registered trademark – the Rose label –and the signets of each employee also show the basic quadratic elements.

The Vienna Workshop, II

Japanese sensibilities for art and form strongly influenced Viennese artists around the turn of the century. They saw that the art of space, the usefulness and use of material were not only recognized by the English, but also by the Japanese. In their work plan, published in 1905, function and intended purpose of a product were the overriding objective, because “we emanate from the intended purpose, usability is our basic requirement.”

The products of the WW were shown through exhibits within the country as well as abroad, and in a short period of time received recognition. In 1904 these products were shown in Berlin; in 1905 at the Gallery Miethke in the gallery’s Vienna showrooms, formerly used by a schismatic Klimt-clique. They were also shown in 1906 in London and in 1908 at an art exhibit in Vienna. The WW became international by establishing sales branches abroad: 1917 in Zurich, 1922 in New York and 1929 in Berlin.

WW products, even though they appealed to people because of their simplicity and contemporary style, were not really understood and were bought by a small fraction of the bourgeoisie. The artisans of the WW were swayed by a dream about “collective art work,” which they were able to fulfill between 1905 and 1911. However, they were not able to do it in Vienna, but in Brussels, after Baron Adolphe Stoclet awarded them a contract to build a palace for him. Everything, from architectural design to flatware was to be supplied by the WW. Hoffmann was able to hire the best craftsmen. Artist Gustav Klimt designed the mosaic frieze in the dining room, Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel painted an animal frieze in the nursery, Berthold Loeffler did the tiles and majolicas. Also employed in this project were the sculptor-couple Luksch, Michael Powolny, Kolo Moser, Carl Otto Czeschka and Leopold Forstner.

Also important to the WW was the book and its décor. As stated in its work plan:
The machine works diligently and fills our bookcases with works of inadequate print. They are very low priced, but every cultural individual should be ashamed about the glut of material, because every production entails lesser responsibility and
leads to superficiality. How many books are really ours? And should one not own these books – with great jackets, printed on the best paper, bound in beautiful leather? We may have forgotten that the love, with which a book is printed, prepared and bound, makes for a special connection. That to be surrounded by beautiful objects makes us feel more beautiful ourselves. A book as a whole should be a work of art and should be valued as such. What an admission of the superior character of a book; a keen reminder of the quality of the whole – including an important detail in the book, the Ex libris.

The firm also included publishing; Oskar Kokoschka’s poem “Die Träumenden Knaben” (“Boys Dreaming”) of eight colored lithographs was released in 1908.
The WW also published a famous postcard series, which fetched top prices, and employed many other artists, such as Egon Schiele, Rudolf Kalvach, Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel, Richard Teschner and Josef von Diveky. Also published were other, seemingly unimportant things of daily life, such as sheets of pictures, place cards, menus or labels (for wine bottles). It would have been an obvious step from this commercial art form to extend to the ex libris. Interestingly, the step was not made. No universal ex libris of the WW’s publishing company is known. The potential group of buyers was financially able to afford their own individual ex libris, created by an important artist; mass production not being acceptable to them. Still, a hint of commercial art was associated with these individual ex libris, because of an overabundance of bookplates created by minor artists or by amateur designers of this era.

The Vienna Workshop, III


The pool from which artists for the WW were acquired was for most part the “Kunstgewerbeschule” (School for Applied Arts), which was affiliated with the Austrian Museum for Art and Industry. The museum was founded in 1864 and the school became a part of it in 1867. Thirty years later the school underwent a reform and as a result became one of the most progressive art schools on the continent. The reform was made possible by a member of the board of trustees, Otto Wagner, architect and professor at the Viennese Academy, who believed that ”Kunst im Handwerk” (industrial art) needed to be advanced. Teachers were appointed who were exponents of a modern “constructive principle,” a so-called “Nutzstil” (useful style). A whole generation of teachers had to be replaced by “Secessionists.” Chief principals of these master classes were Kolo Moser, Josef Hoffmann and later Alfred Roller.

Ample talent was available from the influx of different peoples of the monarchy who during their years of study were sent by their teachers to work at the WW. Over time, about 200 artists have made more or less important contributions to the Vienna Workshop – and thus established an important reference for themselves.

While still in school, the students were introduced to the design of ex libris, and the School for Art and Design – today the University for Applied Arts – time and again arranged ex libris competitions. According to an account by Alfred Roller in the ÖEG yearbook (1910) about such a contest, sponsored by Dr. von Brücke, fifteen etched designs were available. Typical for the New Style of that time were submissions from Josef von Diveky (1887–1951) and from Rudolf Kalvach (1883–1932) – who later on frequently created ex libris’ in their artistic paths.

Through the multitude and wide spectrum of artistic functions to which the WW artists dedicated themselves, there remained limited time for bookplates, and none of them can therefore be classified as an ex libris artist. Ex libris attributed to artists from the WW are therefore very scarce.

These ex libris have a unique flair in any ex libris collection. They are different from other bookplates because of their motifs, ornaments and typography. The graphic element predominates, the laminar is in the foreground, and the physical notion is downplayed or completely negated. Figurative depictions prevail in their choices of motifs and are clearly brought into focus. Symbolism and landscapes play a minor part. Ornaments in strict geometric forms, as made by Dita Moser, or the more playful Dagobert Peche designs, are an important feature in ex libris. This is perpetuated in the type, which is succinctly, with great imagination and often dominantly engraved on a bookplate. This led to theoretical considerations, and some artists applied themselves only to the lettering and its theory. The graphics on the bookplates also determine the technique of reproduction which was mostly made into a printing plate or lithographically completed. Traditional gravure techniques were not applied.

The Vienna Workshop, IV

Perhaps the most quoted ex libris in this context is the bookplate for Fritz Warendorfer, drawn by Kolo Moser (Vienna 1868 – 1918 Vienna). Moser studied at the Wiener Academy (Academy of Vienna) and at the Art Academy, where he held a professorship from 1900 – 1918. He was a co-founder of the Wiener Sezession and made numerous graphic contributions to the journal Ver Sacrum. He was probably one of the most talented all-around artists in Vienna at the turn of the century. One should also point out his organizing ability. Moser’s impact lies in the fact that early on he saw a pictorial trend for applied arts and therefore preached a reflection on simplicity and authenticity; also stressing usefulness and reliance on architectural ideals. His role models were Otto Wagner and his colleague Josef Hoffmann. The implementation of his ideas in a conservative Vienna took some determination, but he succeeded with the full support of the Secession.

Moser’s wife, Dita Moser, nee Mautner von Markhof (1883–1969) was also a graphic artist and designer. She studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School for Applied Arts) and made her mark at the WW by designing calendar sheets, toys for children and a deck of tarot card. The geometric clarity of these cards was appreciated as it represented the new style of functional graphics. The print was marginal, the usability was limited because of the idiosyncratic design of these cards, however, they were much sought-after by card collectors.

The ex libris for Editha Mautner von Markhof, Baronin Sustenau, created in 1907, is a good example for the style in which the quadrat – Hoffmann’s basic element – illustrates an important structure. It is actually a modern crest ex libris, showing the family crest of the industrial family Mautner von Markhof with a turret and a shamrock, still used as a trademark today on products of their company, Mautner Markhof. The same goes for the “archer”, the escutcheon of Barons Sustenau von Schützenthal. What a difference these are when compared with the excessive heraldic plates by Ernst Krahl, which were made at the same time.

The Vienna Workshop, V

Alfred Roller (1864-1935) was professor at the Kunstgewerbeschule and its director from 1909 – as well as a founding member of the Viennese Secession. Roller had close relations to the theater and initially designed costumes for the cabaret Fledermaus. He then collaborated with Max Reinhardt in Berlin, for whom he created countless stage designs and later became executive director for décor at the Wiener Staatstheater. His exlibris for Fritz Oberndorfer (1899) is a good example of the art movement of the early Secessionists. It is steeped in intellect with a balanced image-format where “not the professional activity but the true identity of the owner may be manifested in his Exlibris.” (Alfred Roller)

Another student at the same Kunstgewerbeschule was Berthold Loeffler (1874–1960). He took over a professorship in 1907, after Carl Otto Czeschkas’ move to Berlin. He taught art classes and held a workshop for print technology. He was a professor at the school until 1935. In addition to ceramic works, which he created together with Michael Powolny and the “Viennese Ceramics” – he applied himself to a variety of graphic works, such as book illustration, postcard design, posters, and general design. Loeffler created only a few exlibris, among them the two important and well known bookplates for psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud of Vienna and the poet Arthur Schnitzler. The ex libris for Loeffler’s wife Melitta (born Feldkirchner) is a beautiful example of the effortless, succinct style expressed by artists in the WW. His wife, often Loeffler’s model, was also an artist, known for her embroideries, which she designed and crafted in collaboration with the WW.

Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) was a student of Berthold Loeffler at the Kunst-gewerbeschule and in the early years of his artistic career Kokoschka was strongly influenced by him. He outgrew his teachers and colleagues as a painter, as a graphic artist and as a man of letters. Kokoschka worked for the WW from 1907 to 1909 and also participated as a staff member in the Fledermaus décor. Kokoschka designed 15 postcards and several prints, and caused a sensation with the above mentioned story-book, “Die Träumenden Knaben” (“Boys Dreaming”) featuring eight magnificent lithographs.

Kokoschka’s ex libris for Emma Bacher shows his expressionistic, revolutionary style, which for Austria around that time was quite remarkable. The bookplate was displayedin the yearbook of the Oestereichische Exlibrisgesellschaft in 1909 as a sample of Kokoschka’s art work, and was received with spontaneous praise: “Perhaps this sorcerer’s apprentice will one day be revered as an old master.” Though Kokoschka lived a long time, he left only fourteen exlibris prints.

Emma Bacher was the wife of the Viennese jeweler and wealthy patron of the arts, Paul Bacher. Bacher acquired his gallery in 1904 to accommodate the Klimt-faction which had split with the Secession - to give them a showroom. In 1907, after the death of her husband, Emma Bacher took over the gallery and further cultivated the contact with its artists: Gustav Klimt, Kolo Moser, Alfred Roller, Emil Orlik, and others. Thus the contact to Oskar Kokoschka was established here as well.

The Vienna Workshop, VI

Emma Bacher was also familiar with Richard Teschner (1879–1948) and married him in 1911. Teschner studied in Prague at the Kunstakademie (Academy of the Arts) and in 1900 briefly attended classes at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. He became wellknown for his puppet-shows, exhibiting his famous “Figurenspiel” (bodies reflected in a mirror), modeled on East-Asian culture. The Marionetten-Buehne (Puppet Theater) is alive today at the Theatermuseum in Vienna, and performances continue in the Teschner “Spiel” tradition. Teschner’s relocation to Vienna in 1909 was intimately connected with the WW. His work there included postcards, sculptures, metal works and book illustration. Free from financial responsibilities through his marriage to Emma Bacher, he joined the Klimt-circle, but did not identify himself with their spirit of revolutionary freedom, which to him seemed rather dogmatic. He remained true to his own style, which is more figurative, with playful ornaments of a grotesque and fantastic subject matter.

Like many other artists, Richard Teschner was multi-talented: a painter-engraver, a costume designer, and lute builder. He worked in different graphic-techniques, such as book illustration, posters, and numerous ex libris. One hundred and nine bookplates were found in his estate. The exlibris for Professor Arnold Epstein (1904) was made in his early days in Prague.

Anton Kling was a contemporary of Teschner (1881–1963). He received his education at the Kunstgewerbeschule between 1898 and 1903. His teachers were Josef Hoffmann and Alfred Roller. Kling belonged to the first generation of students who were taught by modern teachers of that institution, and who later became active in the Vienna art scene. Some of these art-students later became teachers and went on to teach not only in Austria’s Crown Lands, but also in neighboring Germany, where they successfully passed on the original Viennese art to their students.

One of them, the first Viennese at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Hamburg, was Carl Otto Czeschka (1878–1960). He brought with him Richard Luksch and Franz Carl Delavilla; the latter held a position as a design-teacher in Magdeburg (1909) as well as in Hamburg. Josef Maria Olbrich was employed in Darmstadt, where he became co-founder of an artists-colony. In 1911 another Viennese, Emanuel Josef Margold (1889–1962) joined the colony.

Anton Kling came to Hamburg in 1908, a move that was mediated by Czeschka. In 1923 he went on to Pforzheim, where he gave new impulse to jewelry design.

The Vienna Workshop, VII

Anton Kling received recognition from Josef Hoffmann in his diploma, stating:
“his brilliant talent and resourcefulness in architectural design, as well as his taste and perception.” Kling played a part as a “decorative assistant” for the Fledermaus when working for WW. In 1908 his work was relevant in organizing the “Wiener Kunstschau” (Vienna Art Exhibition) where some of his ex libris’ – among his other works – were shown. Thirteen of his bookplates are well known. An early ex libris for the painter Magda Mautner von Markhof beautifully balances the ornamental element with a landscape.

One of the few artists who worked for the WW without preparation at the
Kunstgewerbeschule, was Dagobert Peche (1887–1929). He became interested in the arts and crafts movement after his studies at the Technische Universität (Institute of Technology) in Vienna; then as a student of architecture at the Wiener Akademie, which he left in 1911 to work as a freelance design artist. In 1915 he was invited by Josef Hoffmann to join the staff at the WW – where he was able to assert himself with his more playful, ornamental style – and prevail by giving critical new impulses. He also had important ideas for jewelry-, enamel-, tortoiseshell- and ivory design; and for metal-works and goldsmith-design. In the end his style prevailed in the entire production. Through export of WW’s merchandise, Peches also received name recognition abroad. Last but not least, he became the representative of the WW at their base in Zurich vom 1916 to 1918.

Dagobert Peche was also devoted to books and designed book-covers and some ex libris. The bookplate with his name shows how Peche’s style changed since the first decade at the WW, in which the geometric style was replaced with freer graphics.
His bookplate for Wilhelm Baumgartner shows an aging harlequin in front of a curtain, and the rhombs in his costume highlight the black and white contrast.

Another artist who needs to be mentioned in connection with the WW is the type designer Rudolf von Larisch (1856–1934). He was a consultant to the WW from the beginning, and the typeface used by the WW for forms, invitations, announce-ments, etc., shows his influence. WW’s famous company emblem from 1903 and Larisch’s ex libris clearly show the same type font design. Larisch began teaching at the Kunstgewerbeschule in 1902, at the Graphic “Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt,” and at the Wiener Academie and he applied himself to the theoretical and practical side of letters. He wrote numerous important essays about, for example, writing as related to art, and the legibility of ornamental letters. Larisch was an important proponent of the reformation of the art of writing. By developing a new style of writing, he set a benchmark for its daily requirement. Readability was his maxim; theoretical studies, the layout of letters, the connectedness of letter-endings and the meaning of the spacing between letters have supported his theory. His teaching was not only about type design, but most of all to promote the appreciation for new type fonts. His importance was the expansion of this vision and its acceptance for daily use.

The Vienna Workshop VIII

One can name many more artists who, on one hand made their contributions to the Wiener Werkätte, but who also created ex libris. To list them all would go beyond the scope of this essay. It has to be said, however, that the style to which the artists of WW felt committed, lives on to this day in its effectiveness and good taste; moreover, the era still greatly affects our sense of style and it is an important part of the cultural identification in central Europe.


Peter Vergo: Art in Vienna 1898 – 1918. London : Phaidon Press, 1975.
Werner J. Schweiger: Wiener Werkstätte, Kunst und Handwerk, 1903–1932. Wien : Edition Christian Brandstätter, 1982. English version published by Thames & Hudson.
Michael Pabst: Wiener Graphic um 1900. Munchen : Verlag Silke Schreiber, 1984.
Werner J. Schweiger: Aufbau und Erfüllung. Gebrauchsgraphic der Wiener Moderne. Wien-Munchen : Edition Christian Brandstätter, 1988.
Heinrich R. Scheffer: 100 Jahre Österreichisches Exlibris. Wien : Österreichische
Exlibris Gesellschaft/Österreichischer Kunst- und Kulturverlag, 2004.
Jahrbücher der Österreichischen Exlibris Gesellschaft: 1907, 1909, 1910, 1912, 1918, 1929, 1949/51, 1992/93.

Picture credits: Scheffer Collection, Vienna, Austria.

About the author: Heinrich R. Scheffer, born in 1942, studied chemistry in Vienna.
He has lived abroad for 17 years and is presently a Manager in a globally operating chemical company, with an office in Munich. For 33 years he has devoted his free time to collecting, publishing and organizing events connected to exlibris and contemporary Austrian art graphics. Between 1987 and 1991 he supported the development of Austrian art graphics by establishing and organizing the contest “FINGERPRINTS” for young artists. He has been President of the Österreichische

Exlibris Gesellschaft (Austrian Ex Libris Society) since 2000. He lives and works in Munich and Vienna.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Regarding Bookplates I

Regarding Bookplates


Ralph Fletcher Seymour

It is a pleasant experience, on opening a book, to find a bookplate on the inside cover. On such an occasion the discoverer is predisposed in their favor, as he holds in his eager hands a book, a veritable mirror of life, and the label is in its way a more or less bright mirror of the owner’s life. Bookplates are, in this way, a pleasant episode, much like a lovely landscape seen in the course of a long trip, and remain a half defined but pleasant help to the business of living thru the day.

It has become the custom to elaborate a simple label by enriching the design with items expressive of the taste, personality or fancy of the owner. This procedure should make a more beautiful and desirable thing out of a plain and serviceable label. It, first of all, should set forth the owner’s name, perhaps his residence, and may serve to inform the observer of the profession, avocation or special interests of the possessor, thus becoming a contribution to the book in which they appear. Realizing so glorious a destiny is not one of the smallest of achievements for few things which crows into the pages of a book actually have earned so fair a distinction, but bookplates have been used for hundreds of years and, like old wine and old friends, have arrived at a spiritual development both precious and rare.

At the time of their origin they, in a measure, filled the place of those painted and carved covers or bindings which bore the coat of arms, initials, or other emblem of the owner. They became a feature in books when printing became the handmaid of democracy and books were no longer written by scribes in exclusive scriptoriums for rich churches or for great nobles. The earliest known bookplate came from Germany. It is a woodcut of a hedgehog among flowers possibly the author’s playful picturegraph of himself among his books. All the early ones were either etched on copper or cut in wood and, printed on paper, were pasted on the first page of books or on the inside front cover if the books were in permanent bindings. At that date they were mostly armorial designs the “Ex Libris” did not appear nor that matter did the name of the owner often show.

Germany, France and England in manner typical of their natures, developed their own design in bookplates. A hundred years or so ago they were all engraved or etched and there are periods in their development as there are styles of architecture, ships, and armorials. I could never feel more than a weak enthusiasm for the typical engraved armorial bookplate: the idea of personality lost in the family, which these plates presented, gave a minimum of hope to the creative artist, although there are occasional fine plates such as George W. Eve used to design, dignified and well proportioned, with finely handled shields, mantling, ribbons and lettering.

Regarding Bookplates II

All sorts of material is serviceable for the factual part of bookplates. Entrance gates, houses, fireplaces, libraries, whimsical or literary ideas, fishing or hunting, golf, sailing, not to mention armorial, typographical and other styles, all are motifs that serve as material on which to base a bookplate design. In fact it seems to be of little importance what the subject may be and of much importance how it is used. The most significant development in bookplates has been the markedly finer quality of the art and design evident in modern work. At the commencement of their history and now again, having passed through a long period of mediocrity, typical bookplates are excellent in design and require first rate and creative artists to design them.

It is desirable that well designed bookplates accentuate the manner in which they have been reproduced, whether woodcut, line engraving, halftone or collotype, and the more nearly this method is expressive of the craft to typography the more proper is the mechanical part of the print. Perhaps the least used method at present and perhaps the best is the woodcut, when done in the very early manner and by a good craftsman. Plates, so reproduced, present the peculiarly harmonious appearance of works of art, showing the little marks of the cutting tool characteristic of the woodcut. The same may be said for the engraved or etched plate. Halftones and collotype tend to erase these marks. Line drawings, which are reproduced mechanically into zinc printing plates often are too much reduced from the original drawing to keep any character, or have too much solid black or lines too thin and stringy, and are therefore often disappointing.

Regarding Bookplates III

Bookplates are meant to appear only with printed books and should appear to have been produced under conditions similar to those under which books are made. The observance of this rule would improve the character of plates designed by first rate artists, whose plates sometimes seem to more nearly express the character of illustrations or painting than of typographical designs.

An example of a period plate is here shown in the Racquet Club label. It is interesting because in style it is accurate and there is a good balance and proportion between the animated group and the decoration.

Differing completely in plan and execution is the John Timothy Stone plate, it presents the happy hunting ground of a fisherman both of the souls of men and trout. The design is entirely naturalistic.

The Union League Club plate is a combination of picture and of decoration, and is interesting historically because it portrays periods in the development of Chicago. The Archibald Church Library Plate is a modern institutional plate in the pictorial manner superior to the usual plate of this character.

Regarding Bookplates IV

These four labels are all from copper etched plates. The bitten lines and tone secured from intaglio lines and from wiping the plate give a delicacy not otherwise obtained. Quite different in character are the two heavily drawn printed plates. That of Edna Kircher is an allegorical design and portrays the ever-recurring difficulty into which men are innocently precipitated by the eternal woman who will not leave the gnarled old Tree of Knowledge alone. Beyond in the pleasant valley lie all vanities swept by clean winds of heaven. That faithful recorder of the joys and griefs of humanity, a book, appears in the design. The woodcut plate of the turtle and shield also has a tree for its major motif. Both these plates are designed to be printed from blocks.

Beginning with the Bruce plate more than twenty five years ago, Mr. Seymour has designed a considerable number of Ex Libris labels and his studio is seldom without several in process of etching or to be made for letter press printing. It is a pleasure to thus contribute in a small degree to the bibliophilic pleasures of a few who, having yielded to the seduction of books, have then plunged more deeply into the esoteric indulgence of “getting a bookplate”.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Architecture in Ex Libris I

Architecture in Ex Libris


Cliff Parfit

Architecture is a prime subject for pictorial bookplates. They might include buildings of great note, such as Cathedrals, castles, and city halls, and it is a great pleasure to observe how a clever artist can suggest the scale of a large building within the restricted area of an ordinary ex libris. A delightful example which immediately comes to mind is the private and now tremendously rare bookplate of Antonio Gaudi, the brilliant Spanish or Catalan architect, whose world-famous Sagrada Familia Cathedral and many other superb domestic buildings, draw so many modern pilgrims each year to his beautiful city of Barcelona. His bookplate shows an image of some of his futuristic spires, and is redolent of the period.

However, the topic of architecture and ex libris is so vast, that on this occasion I plan to deal only with private homes of various sizes chosen by their proud owners to be the subject of private ex libris plates. On the whole, the houses we see pictured in ex libris are far larger than most private homes being built today. Now, we value comfort, convenience and ease of up-keep in our homes, while ‘building for show’ takes a definite second place, so that in Britain and in most places on the Continent of Europe, most very large private homes have found a new lease of life as corporate offices, schools, and so on. Moderately large houses have found millionaire occupants, and the large majority of city dwellers choose the convenience and comparative safety of sky living in convenient modern flats – not larger than can be easily maintained without or with minimal help. True, there has recently been a reverse trend in Britain toward the purchase of country homes; and some town dwellers, fed up with the noise and bad air of modern towns are finding refurbishing and enjoying life in ancient reconditioned barns, and other country buildings as well as the more usual but far more expensive picturesque cottages.

Architecure in Ex Libris II

Ex libris by Bernhard Wedepohl show thatched rustic buildings which were obviously very comfortable country homes in rural Germany during the first three decades of the last century. And, most delightful of all to my mind, were those which pictured cottages at night with the lamp light showing through the windows, and the impression in my mind that inside sturdy men in lederhosen are sitting in front of blazing stoves with their comfortable fraus, drinking schnapps, and listening to Wagner on the gramophone.

The fashion for ‘house’ ex libris dates as far back as the 1880s, when the houses which figure in exlibris are stolid and spacious rather than picturesque. Some of these homes seem to be set in small parks or swathes of woodlands sufficiently detached in their setting as to show no other building apart from the house chosen for the plate – this might, of course, be artistic licence as in the sketches in many house agents. One plate, here shown, shows not only part of the interior of a large house including a massive staircase, but also the impressive but not particularly artistic exterior of the house. Large homes at this period were a great asset to families which might have half dozen or more children and a number of servants, but the more general use of electric lighting, gas cookers, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, telephones, etc. gradually gave the coup de grace to the large house and garden, while at the same time better paid jobs in commerce and industry took away the available house servants of both sexes.

Architecture in Ex Libris III

The turn of the century and a few decades following was a time of great popularity for bookplates. Anyone who had a bookcase full of books felt he or she needed a bookplate as did many who had hardly any books at all, as a nice bookplate became a harmless method of showing off a little. Amongst the wealthier classes in Britain (with even a few wealthy Americans and Canadians), a popular type of bookplate was meticulously engraved with almost photographic accuracy to show not only the houses, but the grounds, pets, and other possessions of the well-heeled customers who flocked to Mr. W. P. Barrett of Bumpus – London’s finest book shop at the period. The bookplates were engraved by contract engravers working in their own premises, but it was Barrett to whom they looked for their work, and it was he who visited the clients and planned the work in great detail. These bookplates were expensive and had limited appeal, but Barrett was patronized by the Royal Family, and so by most of the wealthier people of the time, and these bookplates encapsulate a style of house and garden, then at its zenith, but soon to be outmoded by problems left by the First World War. One rather elegant manner of boasting in a Barrett style plate was what might be termed the ‘talkative footman’ style, in which the owner tried to cram into a ‘house plate’ some reference to his (it was generally a man) expensive school and college and/or his expensive hobbies, such as shooting, hunting, and so on. Ladies would be more likely to include a picture of an adored dog or cat. Other harmless bits of ‘show off’ in the house plates of successful entrepreneurs might be the casual inclusion of a piece of classical sculpture or a mostly unread library. As we look at them today, bookplates such as these, can tell much about the lifestyle and the foibles of the owners as well as about their houses.

Architecture in Ex Libris IV

In Britain many of the ‘stately homes’ have survived as museums of some kind, but on the continent of Europe, many were destroyed in the two world wars or, as in Britain, converted into hotels, etc. However, smaller homes have mostly survived still, fortunately, as family homes. Thatched roofs now attract large insurance premiums, but the proud owners pay willingly in the comfortable knowledge that their beautiful, warm, thatched homes are increasingly greatly in value year by year. Similarly, stone houses, once unpopular as being thought cold and draughty, are now comfortable at all seasons with air conditioning, under-floor heating, etc. so that small terrace houses and country cottages are being upgraded or ‘gentrified’ as we say in colloquial English with elegant ensuite bathrooms and neat kitchens, winkled into small areas of waste space, while the house exteriors retain all their period charm. The fashion for illustrating one’s home, library, study, or garden in a bookplate has, for the time at least, rather died out. It seems that most collectors find more pleasure in plates showing lovely women. But women, I feel sure, if they choose new bookplates, will not opt for pictures of handsome men, but will choose rather images of smart kitchens, cosy living rooms and elegant homes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Barking Bookplates I

Barking Bookplates


Millicent Vetterlein

(Reprinted with permission from “Bark”, Summer ’04)

In the 16th century, hounds, whippets and books were the SUVs and diamonds of European nobility – these most visible badges of affluence, prized by owners, are now esteemed by collectors the world over for their identifying tags and labels.

Safeguarding and identifying such cherished possessions as a hound or a Bible in the Middle Ages crated a new métier for artists and artisan. The need for a metal collar or a customized bookplate became occasion to decorate and adorn. Thus, a miniature art from emerged. A coat of arms might embellish a metal collar or become the ornamentation on a newly acquired manuscript.

While countless tapestries show the ornate wide collars of the hounds, the 550-year-old history of the emblem of identification known as the ex libris, or bookplate, is less well-known.

Primarily a European phenomenon, bookplates evolved from coats of arms to become far more illustrative labels. Usually placed on the inside front cover of a book, the words ex libris (meaning “from the books of …”) would be printed or scripted, followed by the owner’s name or signature along with a design or image – together forming a kind of monogram, or a literary tattoo. Within a framework of several inches, these delightful, expressive paper rectangles often told a story or held a secret. And in every period of plate making, one can find canine images. Pedigreed patricians, humorous mongrels and specific pets are all represented.

Barking Bookplates II

No wonder the canine image has been chosen by so many booklovers for their plates – the dog is almost universally symbolic of protection, fidelity and duty, as well as companionship. Well-know bookplate designer and collector Edward Gordon Craig observed, “A bookplate is to a book what a collar is to a dog.” People who cherish both books and dogs are reluctant to part with either without promise of safe return.

While artistic value of bookplates had long been appreciated, it was not until just over a hundred years ago that plates moved from functional private ownership into the hands of collectors.

Today, societies of collectors exist in more than 50 countries, and Internet correspondence makes collecting easy. Most plates, including historic ones, can be purchased for under $10, making them a very affordable collectible. Distant friendships grow as one expands a collection, or focuses on a type, a theme or a breed.

Barking Bookplates III

Artists are still creating these miniature works of art. Methods of etching, woodblock and silkscreen are popular, along with traditional printing techniques and even computer-assisted creation.

A commissioned plate in a limited edition signed by the artist may fetch several hundred dollars. Plates not used in a personal library can be traded to launch a collection.

Designing one’s own ex libris – or “Ex Webis” for Internet junkies – is also possible. The designing of a plate can involve a wonderful collaboration with an artist. (this booklover’s bonus has not been lost on the past few centuries’ weather folk, who’ve commissioned designs from artists and engravers such as Albrecht Dürer, Marc Chagall and Kate Greenaway). The unique result is often a memorial to a special pet or a celebration of the dog in one’s life – Call of the Wild author Jack London used a picture of a wolf on his bookplate. But whatever one’s interest, the bookplate aficionado will be warmly welcomed into this growing collecting specialty.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Metaphysical World of Alexander Aksinin I

The Metaphysical World of Alexander Aksinin in Ex Libris


Ilya Libenzon

When I started collecting bookplates a couple of years ago, I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Nadia Kovalenko, the director of Kharkiv’s bookplate society in Ukraine. After several months of correspondence, she sent me a letter along with the copy of one ex libris of a gifted artist. She said: “… three years ago I discovered the bookplates of Alexander Aksinin. I am sending you one of these bookplates. At the time I thought that this artist is a genius but, unfortunately, I couldn’t find anybody who knew anything more about the artist, except for Nikolai Molochinskiy, Kharkiv’s graphic artist from our ex libris society. He told me that Aksinin is from Lviv, Ukraine, and that he died in a car or plane accident in 1985. And that was all the information I could unearth. Later, I realized that Aksinin had occupied a very special place in my mind.” Nadia asked for my opinion of the ex libris she sent. Here is my attempt to decipher the content of his work.

It is an interesting ex libris, inviting us to interpret its meaning. The technique is superb and the content is even more fascinating. It seems that even from the words “Memorial Ex Libris… one could assume that the work was done for a special occasion such as an anniversary, most like a marriage. This assumption appears to be reinforced by the fortress or house in the form of a cone, symbolizing the family and the red stripes can represent the bond of the couple. As for the apple and pear, I don’t have any particular idea; however, in the aforementioned context the half-eaten apple might symbolize 50 years of married life (associating the apple with Adam and Eve). As for the other fruit, a pear without an apple was always associated with the male’s genitals, although I am not sure how to link it to this particular image. From the look of these two creatures, one could guess that the owners of the bookplate prefer the science fiction titles in their library. The most ambiguous element of this work is the cone. Usually this is associated with the tower of Babel, but in this case the cone appears upside down.

Soon thereafter, Nadia Kovalenko referred me to the excellent article written by Viktor Rivaling, published in the Toronto Slavic Quarterly web journal. There I learned that “Alexander Aksinin (1949-1985) was a graphic artist specializing in engravings. He was killed in an airplane crash while en route to the opening of an exhibition of his works in Tallinn. V. Rivulet’s article was first published in the journal Chasy, no. 36 (1982); portions of it also appeared in K. Kaminski’s Antologgia Globoid lagoon.”

In his article, Victor introduces the reader to one of his won bookplates made by A. Aksinin. I have this bookplate in my collection as well. Here is what the author of the article writes in regards to the work:

“On one of the walls of my apartment hangs a bookplate by Aksinin. There is a strange creature, a semi animal or semi human formed by triangles in the center of an ellipse surrounded by a geometrical ornament on the perimeter at the edge of the figure. It renders a

The Metaphysical World of Alexander Aksinin II

beautiful and irregular pattern. A friend, who is a specialist on Eastern poetry, visited me one day and pointed out on the bookplate. “Oh, you have ‘Leila and Medgun’ here in the picture”. This is a well known story in the Far East about love, death, dignity and the victory of human passion. This work is unique because it recreates the old traditions in art where the story is told by means of graphics. And most of the Aksinin’s works contain a complete story.”

Further investigation led to the discovery of the 2001 issue of the art magazine “Galitskaya Brama” printed by the Center of Europe Press, dedicated entirely to the artist. From there I learned that during his short life Aksinin created around 300 graphic works, mostly executed on etchings and copper engravings. His portfolio contains illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1976-77) and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1977-78). He also worked on The Book of Changes or I Ching, based on Chinese ancient philosophy (1984-85); a series of etchings dedicated to the Netherlands’s artist Hieronymus Bosch (1977-78); Signs of the Zodiac (1979); Sounds (1980); Months (1980); Words (1980-81); Mail of Alexander Aksinin (1983-85) and bookplates for relatives, friends and numerous acquaintances.

One of the themes that interested me the most was I Ching or the Book of Changes. The oracles in ancient times used this book to predict the future and this text became a source of wisdom and provided a foundation for Confucian philosophy.

I think that Alexander Aksinin and his graphic work contributed to the interpretation of such complex works. Here we have an example of one of the artist’s prints dedicated to the Book of Changes , translated from Chinese by Richard Wilhelm.

“This hexagram is number 52. The image of this hexagram is the mountain, the youngest son of heaven and earth. It calls for peace and tranquility. When a man has become calm, he may turn to the outside world. He no longer sees in it struggle of individual beings, and therefore he has the true peace of mind which is needed for understanding the great laws of the universe and for acting in harmony with them. Possibly the words of the text embody directions for the practice of yoga.”

It would be unfair not to mention the influence of such artists as Bosch and Bruegel to Aksinin’s work given that there is an entire series called “Boschiniana”. Moreover, his work “Tower of Babel Will be Built” was executed reminiscing Bruegel’s “Tower of Babel”. There are some symbols used in his illustrations frequently found in these two great masters as well.

One of these metaphorical symbols is a fruit, associated with carnal, physical pleasure. Borrowing some of this secret language, Aksinin created his own metaphysical world. Here is presented a bookplate of my collection illustrating an example of his utilization of these symbols.

The Metaphysical World of Alexander Aksinin in Ex Libris III

The combination of fruits and fish, the depiction of a phantasmagoric creature sitting on the magnifying glass, and the extraterrestrial landscape are all reminiscent of the Netherlands’s masters. It is as if Aksinin is telling us with some irony, “I have done my part, now it is your turn to solve this puzzle.” The fine detail of his prints impresses me as much as the figurative content of the work.

Recently I acquired the artist’s personal bookplate from an estate sale on EBay. As always with Aksinin’s prints, I could not grasp the meaning of the work at first glance, but it had a hypnotic effect on me. Looking at the etching, it seemed to me that I was witnessing the end of the human race. Then I asked my wife for her opinion and her impression was the creation of the world. It was surprising to me to note such different perceptions of the same piece.

I looked closely at this print and recognized the seashells in the suspended objects. The seashell is a symbol of the beginning and end; its duality is masterfully realized in this work. The creation of the world, the birth of souls and at the same time the ascending of souls, describing the end of existence on earth.

The process of perception in the work can be broken into the following elements: a) first impression, I had an impression of cosmic transformation; b) associations, creation of the universe or the world and the illusion of souls leaving the earth; c) information sent by the image, symbols, codes, such as the seashell symbolizing duality; d) self reflection or analysis, reasons behind my perception of the destruction of the world, while my wife thought of its creation; e) how this particular piece relates to the artist, his philosophical preferences, biography, etc., f) and finally, but the most important element for a bookplate collector, is how the ex libris is a reflection of its owner and library.

Many of the owners of Alexander Aksinin’s bookplates have never commissioned ex libris the way most collectors do. Alexander’s friends were simply given the prints as gifts without any real input into the design. That is why is so difficult to determine the link between the bookplate’s owner and the artist. I am confident that in the future there will be plenty of research on the graphic art of Alexander Aksinin, the artist who raised bookplate art to the level of Bruegel and Bosch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Katsue Inoue I

Katsue Inoue


Cliff Parfit

I first met Katsue Inoue at her superb one man show in the art gallery of the Daimaru Store in Shimonoseki City. In Japan, art exhibitions are often held in the major department stores, and gallery-goers have the additional pleasure of being able to purchase any of the exhibits on the spot. Her works were all woodblock prints (what the Japanese call 'Sosaku Hanga') though most were so large that I marveled at her technical virtuosity.

The prints were mostly of flowers, and those which impressed me had a nostalgic, Art Nouveau atmosphere though, at the same time, many lively, modern touches. There were, in particular, some brilliant prints of poppies with long sinuous stems. It was impossible not to admire them, and yet I was conscious of the fact that there was hardly a suitable wall-space for such prints in my book-filled home, so my mind turned to ex libris, and I wondered whether the artist could make an ex libris with the power of those large prints. When I consulted her through the agency of Nobuko my wife, she was in some doubt about it; also she had never made an ex libris before. We had no time for a long discussion as she had to catch her plane back to Tokyo, but she kindly agreed to do her best, and in a few weeks I had a welcome call from the store to say that my ex libris plates were ready. The lettering in unfamiliar English script was not perfect, but the general impression was delightful, especially as many of them were hand-colored by the artist. Soon after, in 1982 she designed some more bookplates-this time with elegant lettering in Japanese and I had the pleasure of introducing a new artist of original talent to the ex libris world. Not that she was unknown as an artist, as she had been responsible for many exhibitions and had undertaken many important and difficult projects such as large murals for Buddhist temples and other historical buildings.

She had, however, proved her ability to adapt her powerful conceptions within the small space of an ex libris, and was soon to exhibit her plates in the exhibitions of the Nippon Ex Libris Association. Her ex libris were commissioned by people well known in Japanese society and in 1986 she brought out a boxed folio of fine ex libris in a limited edition. One of the plates, for Miss Michiko Nagai, the well known author, was of a Heian style woman with long straight hair and several voluminous kimonos. It seemed to have been printed from a large number of blocks and was proof that Katsue had the patience and technical skill to print such a complex and demanding plate. I immediately asked her to make me a similar plate with the image of Murasaki Shikibu the author of one of my favorite books (though in translation, as few Japanese even can read such very ancient Manyogana Script) the world's first novel, The Tale of Gengi.

It was some time before she was able to find the time for such a project, but one day the package arrived. Printed from ten blocks, it was superb in color scheme and design. It has always been one of my most popular plates but I was not at all keen to exchange it as the number printed was small.

Katsue Inoue II

Of course it had been very time-consuming in production and was of necessity, expensive. It is an entirely timeless plate which has been much admired over the years.

Katsue has been for many years a familiar figure at the congresses of the Japan Ex Libris Association and is recognized as one of the classic artists of the present age. There is no formula for her bookplates, they range widely from abstract designs to portraits, landscapes, seascapes, flower fantasies and anything that takes her fancy or is requested by her clients. A small selection of her considerable output of bookplates is presented here but, of course, in the life of such a well known artist, ex libris art must be a minor aspect of her busy life.

Katsue’s work are widely exhibited in Japan. Although, it must here be admitted that bookplates do not look their best in a gallery setting; there, large framed works dominate the eye. Bookplates come into their own in a private setting where one can sit comfortably and examine them closely and at leisure to enjoy the artist's elegant conceptions, the jewel-like precision of her technique and all the fine qualities of a fine artist-craftsperson at the peak of her skill.

It should here be mentioned that Katsue is admired and respected by her fellow artists. As long ago as 1981 she was elected a Director of Japan Itagain - the professional association of Japanese woodblock artists (which however, has one American member (though long resident in Japan) in the person of Mr. Clifton Karhu). The term Itaga refers to the skill of employing the grain of the wood in the design of woodblock prints.

Through this Association, Katsue often shows her work in group exhibitions which are perhaps more common here in cooperative, friendly Japan than in countries where artists have to make a lone bid for personal recognition. Here in Japan the traditional, painstaking processes involved in cutting and printing a plate connect modern woodblock artists, however tenuously, with the great artists of the past such as Utamaro and Hiroshige, though they worked in entirely different circumstances. Katsue is of course, an exponent of the Sosaku-Hanga process introduced into Japan by Kanae Yamamoto in the early years of the past century though in her paintings in ancient temples she follows a far older tradition. Sometimes the two traditions are fused as in my Murasaki Shikibu plate, but this was
clearly a serendipitous work of art, as with her wide experience of Heian art she is a brilliant interpreter of that high level of culture in ancient Japan which contrasts so vividly with the crude, largely illiterate society of contemporary Europe.

When my wife and I met Katsue on November 30th at the Amelia Gallery in Tokyo, she was dressed entirely in black enlivened with the glittering silver bracelets and rings she loves. Even her short cropped hair was black though now with a hint of silver here and there. We were surprised to find that in the whole exhibition every work was executed in black and white only. She explained to us that she has for some time been experimenting with black pigments and recognizes as many as seven different varieties of black in her work.

Katsue Inoue III

To my mind her work has become more cerebral and perhaps more serious but in her conversation she was the same woman we had always known, a littlesaddened by the death of fine fellow artists such as Mr. Yonejiro Sato, but still bubbling over with new projects and full of news of her work. We learned that in addition to her work on Buddhist temples, she undertakes large, demanding projects in the decoration of hotels and hospitals and that she is giving five days a month to lecturing at the Yomiuri Culture Center. I feel sure that her teaching and lecturing must be of great value as she is a born communicator whether visually in her art, or in her exciting and original ideas and conversation.

Again, I noted an Art Nouveau flavor in many of her images, but yet her work is still entirely up to the moment. We chatted a little about the empty rooms, piles of bricks, pickled sheep, unmade beds and tatty collages etc which pass as 'high art' at the present time but agreed that this kind of stuff was just a transient blip in the long and generally honorable history of art. One cannot but wonder how museums of the future will find lumber rooms big enough to hold all this junk.

The bookplates here illustrated are selected from the wide range of Katsue Inoue's work, some delicate and feminine and others bold and powerful, but as I have previously remarked, Japanese bookplates need to be seen in the originals perhaps more so than the plates of any other country. The choice of the paper (still made by hand in this country of mass production and robotization!) the delicate hand-coloring and the seven varieties of black can be perceived only by the human eye at quite close quarters. An illustration, even in color, can never quite do justice to the original work.

I had some difficulty in following her description of the infinite care and trouble she takes in preparing the black pigments in which she prints her work and her reasons for going to so much trouble. As I listened I was reminded forcibly of the painters of the Renaissance laboriously grinding their lapis lazuli and other mineral products to make those gorgeous colors which no modern paint manufacturer could hope to emulate. Yet this is still part and parcel of Japanese art - - the patient effort to achieve exactly what lives in the mind's eye of the artist.

Though in her active and busy artistic life bookplates can command only a small portion of her attention, I still regard her as one of the outstanding ex libris artists of the present generation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Two Leipzig Bookplates I



Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen

The Background

Every bookplate has a story to tell; but not many of those stories will recount the horrendous series of tragedies represented by the two examples shown here. They were created as presents from my grandfather, Geheimrat Dr. Henri Hinrichsen, to my grandmother, Martha Hinrichsen and to their third son, my uncle, Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen. The huge cumulative sorrow, which these bookplates carry, is a small part of the much greater tragedy, which we all know of as the Holocaust.

Henri Hinrichsen (born in Hamburg in 1868) was the proprietor of the famous music publishing company of C.F. Peters, Leipzig (founded in December 1800). He had entered the company, which belonged to his uncle, Dr. Max Abraham, in 1887 at the age of 19, becoming his uncle's partner in 1894. On Dr. Abraham's death in 1900, my grandfather became sole proprietor. The business thrived and prospered under his careful guidance. With the profits, he became a most generous benefactor to many Leipzig institutions, musicians and individuals. He was a respected member of the town council and on the committees of several worthy institutions, as well as supporting many other organizations. In 1911, he became the founding benefactor of the first All Women's College in Germany - the Henriette Goldschmidt Schule - which he continued to fund for over twenty years. He carried all the financial costs of staffing and of new acquisitions for the Peters Music Library, which Dr. Abraham had presented to Leipzig in 1894. He himself donated the collection of 2,600 musical instruments, which formed the Musical Instruments Museum, to Leipzig in 1926. For all his generous benefactions in the cause of education and for the promotion of German music, my grandfather was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Leipzig University in 1929.

Meanwhile, in 1898 he had married Martha Bendix from Berlin. This happy marriage produced seven children over the course of the next twenty years - five sons and two daughters. In due course, the three eldest sons: Max (who eventually became my father), Walter and the aforementioned Hans-Joachim joined the business.

Apart from being a music publisher, Henri Hinrichsen was a great book-lover. He was one of the founding members of the Leipzig Bibliophiles Association in 1904, a group of 99 gentlemen (no ladies admitted) who called themselves "the Ninetyniners". They were all connected with the book and printing trades; amongst their members were book publishers, music publishers, printers, book designers, graphic artists, paper merchants, book dealers, writers, editors, etc. Many of these were amongst my grandfather's closest friends. One of these, the graphic artist Professor Hugo Steiner-Prag, was always a welcome guest in my grandparents' home; it was he whom my grandfather commissioned to design a bookplate for my grandmother's 50th birthday, in 1929.

The Design of Martha Hinrichsen's bookplate

The bookplate is engraved and printed in redish-sepia colour on good quality, heavy cream coloured paper. Size: 10cms x 14.5cms. Signed in pencil by the artist. The design is very allegorical, but sadly there is nobody alive to tell me exactly what it means. I think that the trees bending towards each refer to the great love between my grandparents. The seven intertwining branches of the trees probably signify that their union produced seven children. The Janus-effect portraits do not depict Martha and Henri Hinrichsen.

Two Leipzig Bookplates II

The Designer: Hugo Steiner-Prag

Hugo Steiner-Prag was a famous graphic artist, book illustrator and stage designer during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1880 as Hugo Steiner, he added the "Prag" to his name later. From 1907 onwards he taught at the Academy for Graphic Arts and Book Design in Leipzig, where he became Professor in 1910. He worked for many publishers and was the Art Director of the Propyläen Publishing Company and organizer of the IBA (International Book Artists) Exhibition in 1927. He also organized the exhibition for the centenary of Goethe's death: "Goethe in the Book Art of the World" in 1932. As a Jew, Hugo Steiner-Prag was dismissed from his post when the Nazis came to power in 1933. He returned home to Czechoslovakia, but when the Germans invaded his country he fled to the USA. He never returned to Europe, dying in New York in 1945.

The Design of Dr Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen's Bookplate

This was probably created in 1930, for Hans-Joachim's 21st birthday. It is a reproduction of a photograph taken around 1915, printed in sepia on cream coloured paper. Size: 10cms x 7cms. It shows the house: 10 Tal Strasse in Leipzig, which was the business premises of the Music Publishing Company - Musikverlag C.F. Peters, and also the home of the Hinrichsen family. Otto Brückewald, the architect who also designed Wagner's Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, designed the house. Commissioned by Dr. Max Abraham in 1873 the company moved in, in August 1874. In 1905 Henri Hinrichsen added an elegant looking new warehouse (the two-story building on the left), designed by another fine architect, Clemens Thieme. The flat roof became a beautiful roof garden. At that time the house was also modernized and refurbished, when central heating was installed (electric light having been in place since 1896).

The Tragedy

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Hugo Steiner-Prag was not the only one to be affected. The Hinrichsen family was also Jewish. Descended from Sephardic Jews, my grandfather had always been proud of his family having been German citizens for almost 300 years. As an important citizen of Leipzig he did not think that the horrors perpetrated by his fatherland would be directed against himself and his family. In 1938 the music publishing business was confiscated and "aryanized" - sold to a suitably qualified non-Jew; grandfather never received a penny. The house was also confiscated from him and he had to give up his keys. His entire family was persecuted; fourteen close members were transported and died in various concentration camps. My grandparents managed to escape to Brussels in 1940, where Hans-Joachim joined them some six weeks later. When the Germans invaded Belgium my elderly grandparents had nowhere else to go and were awaiting a visa to immigrate to the USA. Hans-Joachim escaped to France, where the Gestapo caught him and imprisoned him in Perpignan; he died there a few weeks later, aged 31. My grandmother, who suffered from Diabetes, was dependent upon insulin; as a Jew, she was not permitted to have any. She died in Brussels in 1941. It was probably a blessing, because in 1942 my 74 year-old grandfather, Dr. Henri Hinrichsen, was transported to Auschwitz where, on arrival, he was taken on a lorry with all others over 50, to be gassed in Birkenau. In 1943 my grandparents' younger son, my uncle Paul, was also gassed in Auschwitz. Like Hans-Joachim, he was 31. The same fate awaited their daughter, my aunt Ilse's family - her husband, Dr. Ludwig Frankenthal along with their two little sons were gassed, whilst Ilse, incredibly survived the horrors of five concentration camps.

Two Leipzig Bookplates III

The Aftermath

The house and business were restored to the Hinrichsen family in 1945, only to be confiscated once again, by the Russians, a few weeks later. They went into State Ownership (VEB) by the new German Democratic Republic. Finally restored again to the family in 1992, the house, which had not been repaired or refurbished for over 70 years, was in a terrible condition. I saw it for the first time in 1991, when parts of it were still habitable and in use by the company of C.F. Peters. It was sold to an investor - an Egyptian plastic surgeon living in Munich, who then neglected it for a further 10 years, during which time it was also vandalized. It is (in 2002) empty, boarded up and almost totally dilapidated. It will hopefully be restored soon.

Discovering the Bookplates

I first became aware of the existence of the bookplates in 1993, following a communication from the State and University Library of Bremen. The Librarian had become aware of the fact that there were many stolen books in their library. These had come into their possession in 1941. My grandparents had been permitted - on payment of huge taxes - to pack their non-valuable possessions for dispatch overseas - all valuables had been confiscated. The ten large packing cases, containing all that they had left in the world, were in the dockyards in Bremen. In 1941 the Gestapo confiscated them and put all the contents up for sale in a "Juden Auktion" - "Jews Auction" for the benefit of the State coffers; amongst the contents were about 200 books. The Bremen Library acquired some of these. After 50 years 30 books could be positively identified as having belonged to Martha and Henri Hinrichsen and their son Hans-Joachim; a few of these contained the bookplates described above. The books are now in my possession. (If anybody ever acquires any book embellished with either of these bookplates, the books are stolen property and rightfully belong to my family.)

The History

For those interested, I would recommend my book, which has had excellent reviews:
MUSIC PUBLISHING AND PATRONAGE - C.F. Peters: 1800 to the Holocaust. Written by Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen, the Foreword is by Yehudi Menuhin. This is not a dry company history, but a wealth of real life, never before published, stories of musicians, music publishing, musical taste and the social and political scene. Please see my web site for full details:

Published by Edition Press in 2000. ISBN 0-9536112-0-5.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Bookplates of Lionel Pries I

The Bookplates of Lionel Pries


Jeffrey Karl Ochsner

Lionel Henry ("Spike") Pries (1897-1968) is today remembered primarily as an inspirational architectural teacher at the University of Washington from the 1920s to the 1950s. However, Pries's entry in Who's Who in Northwest Art, published in 1941, indicates the breadth of his activities in the 1930s and 1940s, when he was a practicing architect, an exhibiting artist, and a recognized collector of a wide range of art objects, as well as a university professor. In this period, in addition to his teaching and his architectural practice, Pries produced and exhibited watercolors and oils; he made drypoint prints, which he gave to clients, friends and students; and he produced a variety of graphic items including a series of bookplates.

Lionel Pries was born and raised in the Bay Area of California in the era when the influence of the Arts & Crafts Movement was at its height. Although Pries's professional career did not begin until the 1920s, after the Arts & Crafts Movement had faded, Pries remained interested in the decorative arts throughout his life. His engagement with the decorative arts is nowhere better demonstrated than in his fascination with fine lettering and graphic design. Pries had a small collection of late Medieval illuminated manuscript pages and several examples of eighteenth century indentures, as well as books about lettering, printing and book design. His interests, however, extended beyond collecting and appreciation; throughout his life he designed bookplates, Christmas cards, and occasionally announcements or invitations.

The bookplates Pries designed for himself are generally autobiographical in character. His first bookplate, designed while he was a student in the architecture program at the University of California, Berkeley, shows two robed female figures sitting in front of a classical exedra in a garden, and likely reflects the influence of classicism in shaping the Beaux-Arts curriculum of the school. This bookplate is found in only twelve of the roughly 900 books that survive in the Pries collection at the University of Washington. Pries used this bookplate until 1920, but gave it up once he moved to Philadelphia and entered the University of Pennsylvania graduate program in architecture. For the next decade, he did not have a printed bookplate; instead he signed.

The Bookplates of Lionel Pries, II

In December 1923 Pries acquired Sallie B. Tannahill's P's and Q's: A Book on the Art of Letter Arrangement (1923), and in 1927 he acquired Richard Braungart's Das moderne deutsche Gebrauchs-exlibris… (1922), addressing contemporary German bookplates, but it was not until the 1930s that Pries again engaged in bookplate design. Initially he created a bookplate of rather traditional character-it shows a figure planting a tree, and may reflect Pries's knowledge of traditional European bookplates. However, he used this in only two books, and apparently abandoned it almost immediately in favor of the bookplates he used from the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s.

By the mid-1930s Pries had created four bookplates, each of which represented one of his interests. The first shows a small male figure with two large watercolor brushes-Pries primarily used this in books about art and artists. Pries apparently designed this bookplate for his university colleague Henry Olschewsky, but then decided to use it himself. (A large pencil sketch of this design (7-1/2" x 7-1/4"), with Olschewsky's name, not Pries's, survives in the Pries drawing collection at the UW Libraries.) From the late 1920s to the 1940s, Pries spent part of each summer in Mexico and he collected pre-Columbian artifacts. His second bookplate of these years shows a pre-Columbian carving; this bookplate is found primarily in his books on indigenous art and archaeology. Pries's third bookplate shows a reclining figure, possibly an angel. Pries used this plate most often in books on gothic architecture, religious art and similar subjects. The last, showing a classical structure with a stairway, was likely intended for architecture books. Pries may have intended each of the bookplates only for a single category of books, but over the next decade and a half, he was not entirely consistent in their use.

The Bookplates of Lionel Pries III

When Pries decided to create a new bookplate after 1945, he apparently studied multiple alternatives. He pasted these studies (and possibly some studies of earlier bookplates he had never used) on two pages of his "scrapbook"-these pages show the breadth of Pries's imagination, as well as his exploration of several bookplate designs reflecting a more modern graphic language. Pries selected one bookplate from this group and used it exclusively after 1950. It shows an Asian figure, identified by Richard Mellott (former curator at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum) as an attendant of the Buddha. It is the only one of his bookplates to dispense with the traditional "ex libris…," using instead the phrase "from the library of…" Unlike his earlier bookplates it was printed in red. The figure reflects Pries's post-1945 interest in collecting Asian (especially Japanese) arts and crafts objects.

Pries created cards and similar graphic works throughout his life. It seems likely that he created bookplates for friends and colleagues, but only one such design has been confirmed. In 1944, Pries designed a bookplate for University of Washington Professor Blanche Payne (1897-1972), who taught historic costume and apparel design in the School of Home Economics from 1927 to 1966.

The bulk of Pries's personal book collection was donated (by Pries's heir Robert Winskill) to the University of Washington in the 1990s, and that is the primary basis for our knowledge of his bookplates. A small collection of Pries's rare books was sold at auction, and Pries bookplates are now occasionally mentioned on-line in connection with books for sale by antiquarian and rare booksellers.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Six Bookplates by David Frazer I

Six Bookplates by David Frazer


Robert C. Littlewood

As the new Australian Bookplate Society struggles with all the pangs of re-birth, we have before us a dynamic group of young artists willing to create bookplates. One such artist is David Frazer. Frazer's contribution to this second life of the Australian Ex Libris movement is found amongst the English boxwood blocks stored in his studio. David Frazer's enormous energy for this neglected art form has caused him to produce some thirty wood-engraved bookplates in eighteen months. Six of these works were selected to be exhibited at the State Library of Victoria as part of the “Mirror of the World – Books and Ideas” exhibition featuring the finest books and examples of the book arts from the Library's Rare Book collection. Selected independently by the curator (without knowledge of the commissioning process or the forthcoming publication of The Bookplates of David Frazer), as one of the very few examples contemporary contributions to the book arts, it is indeed another fine compliment Frazer has received for his outstanding art work.

Viewing the entire body of David Frazer's bookplates so far reveals an artist with a strong sense of humor. His use of symbolism is so brilliantly simple the viewer may miss it completely in enjoying the fun of each bookplate solely. At times the subject's life story is concealed within a topographical image.

English born artist Tony Irving lives amongst his urban subject matter in his adopted city of Melbourne, Australia. The artist has punctuated his career as a realist painter with focus on images from his city ... the Luna Park fun fair, Dimmey's department store’s Edwardian clock tower folly and the now unused silos which exist simply to support the Nylex Plastics electronic clock.

Leigh Hobbs, artist and author, best known for his children’s book characters of 'Old Tom', 'Horrible Harriet' and 'Fiona the Pig', is depicted here with his friend 'Mr. Punch' embarking on another moonlight adventure.

Secretary of The Australian Bookplate Society, Edwin Jewell is a serious collector of many things. David Frazer has succinctly fused Edwin's profession as an accountant, displaying an abacus, with his collecting all things related to the 'Incredible Hulk', the famous green monster Lou Ferrigno created for television.