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.

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