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Graphic Arts in July

July 31, 2010

Wayne writes: July has been a terribly hot month in Williamstown, with temperatures often in the 90s Farenheit and very little rain. We’ve been nursing our new plants along: all have survived so far, though two Clethra alnifolia (summersweet) were weakened either by too little water or by transplant shock, and our ligularia in the new north bed droop in the heat. We’re having Steep Acres prepare the last of the beds we planned to establish, in the back along the western edge of our property. As that space is shaded by a row of tall hemlocks, we’ll need plants such as andromeda and astilbe, as well as a substantial application of lime to offset the acidity of years of dropped pine-needles. Christina or I will write more about this later, and also about our latest visit to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which currently has on exhibit original art by one of our favorite illustrators, Lisbeth Zwerger.

Prince Valiant, Vol. 2

Both of us have spent an unusual amount of time in the basement, which is naturally cool and mechanically dehumidified. Christina has been sorting additions to our Tolkien cutting files, while I have finally got around to organizing properly my collection of 2000-plus comic books. (The trick to this work is to keep one’s mind on the mechanics of poly bags and acid-free backing boards, while resisting the urge to re-read old favorites.) These are in addition to graphic novels, which long ago outgrew three shelves set aside for them in my studio – the overflow is in the basement. New collections of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and B.P.R.D. have just arrived, as well as the second volume of the splendid new Fantagraphics reprint of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, covering the period 1939–1940. The restoration of Foster’s color pages in large format (14 × 10 in.) is stunning, and his art and storytelling even more accomplished than in the earlier strips of 1937–1938.

Puffin by Design cover

Christina and I both have read Phil Baines’ Puffin by Design (2010), commemorating the seventieth anniversary of Puffin Books, the children’s and young adult arm of Penguin Books. We have most of the published histories of Puffin and Penguin, to which Puffin by Design is a welcome addition. We were interested to learn from it that Eleanor Graham, Puffin editor from 1941 to 1961, had felt that Tolkien’s Hobbit was not worth of publication by her firm; but immediately after her retirement, editor Margaret Clark of Puffin (as we did know) secured the paperback rights – though it was left to Kaye Webb, Graham’s successor, to deal with the fallout when Puffin’s copy-editors unwisely altered Tolkien’s dwarves to dwarfs, among other changes. Is it too mean to say that our copy of the Puffin Hobbit is in much better condition than the one illustrated in this book, indeed very fine? A few of the covers painted by Pauline Baynes are also reproduced (some of their history is in the new biography of Kaye Webb by Valerie Grove, So Much to Tell), as are a selection of covers for Puffin editions of works by Arthur Ransome. Phil Baines is an expert on Puffin and Penguin Books, and writes well, though I found him unfairly dismissive of some earlier designs, looking at them (it appears) through a present-day lens rather than from an historical point of view. Christina and I in fact agree that we much prefer the earlier (pre-1970s) Puffin work, and are tempted to go after some of the more attractive Puffin Picture Books.

Behind me as I write is a small shelf of books, almost as many as there are, on the letter-artist David Kindersley (1915–1995) and what is now the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge, England. Kindersley, once apprenticed to Eric Gill, and his own followers, have produced for many years some of the finest inscriptional lettering in slate and stone to be found anywhere. The Chapin Library, where I work, has three of their slate tablets, and another is in the Clark Art Institute here in Williamstown. I was pleased to meet Kindersley in 1976, soon after I arrived at the Chapin Library; he gave a public lecture which was so well received that the audience happily let him continue past his allotted hour. Since then I have collected books on Kindersley work, e.g. Letters Slate Cut (1981 and later), and now The Annotated Capital: On the Thinking behind the Capital Letter of the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop (2009) by David’s former apprentice, partner, and widow, Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley. This is an attractive and informative book on the formation of capitals, and includes a selection of photos of inscriptional work from 1930 to 2009. Its only failing is that the trim size, about 7½ inches square, although otherwise sufficient, is too small to allow the images of plaques, etc. to be very large at two to a page, while captions direct the reader to note, for instance, that a capital C has no serif at the bottom. Further information about the book, and a related video, are on the Workshop web site here.

Cartographies of Time cover

Finally I’ll mention a substantial book on the history of timelines, Cartographies of Time by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton (2010). I’ve long had an interest in the graphic presentation of information, so this volume was an essential purchase. I was glad to find it available on Amazon although the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, was listing it as out of stock. It contains many illustrations from early printed books familiar to me at the Chapin Library, such as the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, and puts them in a useful historical-critical context. One review has already called Cartographies of Time one of the most beautifully produced books of the year, and I’m inclined to agree.

One Comment
  1. Trotter permalink
    August 1, 2010 7:23 am

    I agree on the picture chosen in “Puffin by Design” for “The Hobbit”, my reading copy is in better condition than this book and it is one of my favourite Pauline Baynes dust jacket illustrations. I also noticed that Phil Baines mentioned “Double-sided covers” in an earlier chapter and shows front and back illustrations for these books, but sadly not “The Hobbit”.

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