The quote on the right reads: “Book design is one of the excellencies by which a civilization can be measured.” – Munroe Wheeler
Holly and I made the journey to Toronto early this week to attend the Eastern Canadian presentation of the Alcuin awards for excellence in book design. Alcuin is Vancouver-based, so the west coast version took place the week prior in Vancouver. In Toronto, it was held at the storied Arts and Letters Club, where notable artists and writers, designers and architects and creative types have been hobnobbing since the early 20th century.
I’m enthusiastic about the Group of Seven, a cabal of Canadian artists who painted the wilderness in a very impressionistic manner. (I’m particularly fascinated by Tom Thomson, who died in mysterious circumstances in Canada’s north country before the Group formed, but he had an immense influence on the other members. Toronto wood engraver George Walker has printed an amazing wordless novel about the life of Tom Thomson – check it out HERE). The only existing photograph of all seven artists together was taken in the room where Alcuin (east) met for dinner and a speech on Carl Dair’s Cartier typeface by type designer Rod McDonald.
From the Arts and Letters Club great hall: the massive hearth, gothic window and fanciful coats of arms representing the founders of the club.
I could go on and on, but I was equally in awe of the surroundings, and of the many sketches and paintings of Canadian artists on the walls, and in the talent in the room that evening. We sat with the above mentioned George Walker and his wife Michelle, and artist, wood engraver (and club member) Alan Stein. Andrew Steeves from Gaspereau Press came from Nova Scotia to collect several citations for his peerless book designs.
A bit about the Alcuin Awards: they are the only awards in Canada (that I know of) that celebrates how a book appears, how it’s construction and how it feels. It covers all books from all publishers, big and small with categories like pictorial, prose fiction and non-fiction, poetry, etc. The awards are normally first, second, third and an honourable mention, although these are at the discretion of the jury, which changes every year. A jury could (and has) rejected all books in a given category, or conversely award ties for first or second, or more than one honourable mentions.
Our Tintern Abbey picked up an honourable mention citation in the limited edition category for 2012. I say ‘our’ because the book was very much a collaborative effort by three people. The judges made a special note about Holly’s calligraphy in the book, and also my wood engravings. I know it would not have made it so far without Redbone Bindery‘s (Natasha Herman) elegant binding design for the regular edition, which incorporates Holly’s painted papers.
The title page spread.
Perhaps my only regret about the evening was that I went up alone to claim the prize. Being the second award called, we weren’t aware that groups could go up, as others did thereafter. As you can see from the photo above in the calligraphy on the title page and the colour of the ink, Holly bears a lot of the responsibility for the success of the book, and I am always grateful to have such a talent in my camp.
I don’t have a book for Alcuin for 2013; this has been a year of promoting and organizing and showing and selling. But I will hopefully have two in contention for the 2014 awards.