Books On Books Collection – Shandy Hall

The Black Page Catalogue (2010)

The Black Page Catalogue (2010)
Coxwold, UK: Printed by Graham Moss (Incline Press) for The Laurence Sterne Trust.
Contains 73 numbered leaves in a matte black card box (H235 x W168 mm). The leaves are glossy cards (210 x 148 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (chiefly colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a single-sheet folded pamphlet (“Printing the Black Page” by Graham Moss, Incline Press) and two cards, one of which is the invitation to the exhibition inspired by the ‘black page’, p. 73 of the first edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, held at Shandy Hall, Coxwold, North Yorkshire, 5 Sept.-31 Oct. 2009, and the other, sealed in an envelope, being the index of the contributors and their page numbers. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Collectors come up with the most ingenious reasons for acquiring things. In this case — along with astrological, numerological and other rational rationale — Rebecca Romney’s reminder that The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is one of the earlier instances of book art led inevitably to my acquiring Shandy Hall’s The Black Page Catalogue. But it took time.

Several months after enjoying the Romney essay, I met Brian Dettmer in January 2015 by happenstance at a book art exhibition in New Haven, CT. As we chatted about past inspirations of book art, Tristram Shandy came up, so he told me of an upcoming event called “Turn the Page” in Norwich, UK, where I could more easily see some of his work — and one in particular having to do with Tristram Shandy. So in May 2015, I went.

Tristram Shandy (2014)
Brian Dettmer
Carved and varnished, two copies of the 2005 Folio Society edition of Tristram Shandy.
H230 x W190 mm
Commissioned by The Laurence Sterne Trust, Coxwold, UK. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The marbled page, an “emblem of my work”, p. 169.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) by Laurence Sterne
Illustrated with wood engravings by John Lawrence.  Set in ‘Monotype’ Plantin, printed by Cambridge University Press on Caxton Wove Paper.
New York: Folio Society, 2005.

So a year passed. Another visit to “Turn the Page” was made. And as I was leaving, lo, a sign and small display came unto me:

Only a negligent collector would ignore such clear signs.

Ten favourites because 10 = 7 + 3.
Clockwise from the top: Craig Vear, Simon Morris, Tom Phillips, Colin See-Paynton, Coracle Press, Scott Myles, Helen Douglas, Graham Swift, Yasunao Tone, Harrison Birtwistle.

Parson-Yoricks-to-be can select their own favorites here.

Emblem of My Work (2013)

Emblem of My Work (2013)
Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust.
Consists of a 24-page booklet and 170 numbered cards in a hinged blue paper-covered box (H160 x W105 x D60 mm. The leaves of this catalogue are bright white cards (152 x 92 mm) on which the artwork is printed; the reverse of each provides the “page” number and the contributor’s comments on the art. The booklet provides alphabetical and numerically ordered indexes listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 225, of which this is #79. Acquired from Shandy Hall, 1 October 2019. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Volume III of Sterne’s work was the first to be handled by a publisher. Presumably the famous success of the first two self-published volumes helps to explain James Dodsley’s agreement to printing copies in which each page 169 and each page 170 showed uniquely marbled squares. Images from an original copy held at the British Library can be seen here. As Patrick Wildgust, director of Shandy Hall, explains in the booklet:

The central section of p. 169 was laid upon the marbled mixture in order that a coloured impression could be taken as cleanly as possible. This was left to dry and then reverse-folded so the other side of the paper could also receive its marbled impression. This side of the paper became page [170]. As a result, the marbled page in every copy of Vol. III is different — each impression being a unique handmade image. In the text opposite on p. 168, Sterne tells the reader that the marbled page is the “motly emblem of my work” — the page communicating visually that his work is endlessly variable, endlessly open to chance.

Two favorites — one for page [169], one for [170] — artists with other works in the Books On Books Collection. Left: Ken Campbell. Right: Eric Zboya.

All of the motley crew can be viewed here.

Paint Her To Your Own Mind (2018)

Paint Her To Your Own Mind (2018)
Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust.
Contains 147 numbered leaves in a brown paper-covered box (174 x 124 mm). The leaves are bright white cards (145 x 105 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (chiefly colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a “title page” and “index leaf” listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 200. Acquired from Shady Hall, 6 June 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Page 147 of Sterne’s sixth volume of Tristram Shandy is blank. On the preceding page, he metaphorically throws up his hands over any attempt to describe the most beautiful woman who has ever existed and exhorts the reader: “To conceive this right, —call for pen and ink—here’s paper ready to your hand, —Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind—as like your mistress as you can—as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you—‘tis all one to me—please your own fancy in it.” So, accordingly, Shandy Hall invited 147 artists/writers/composers to follow Sterne’s instruction to fill the blank page 147. From the 9th through 30th of September 2016, their efforts were displayed in the Shandy Hall Gallery, Coxwold, York.

Twelve favourites because 12 = 1 + 4 + 7.
Clockwise from the top: Christian Bök, Simon Morris, Colin Sackett, Nancy Campbell, Colin See-Paynton, Derek Beaulieu, Erica Van Horn, Simon Cutts, Jérémie Bennequin, Helen Douglas, Brian Dettmer, Chris McCabe.

The curious reader can choose his or her own favorites here.

The Flourish of Liberty (2019)

In Volume IX on p. 17, the reader reads Corporal Trim’s advice to Uncle Toby, who stands at the Widow Wadman’s threshold about to propose marriage:

Nothing, continued the Corporal, can be so sad as confinement for life — or so sweet, an’ please your honour, as liberty. Nothing, Trim — said my Uncle Toby, musing — Whil’st a man is free — cried the corporal, giving a flourish with his stick thus —

The Flourish of Liberty (2019)
Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust.
Contains 103 numbered leaves in a gray paper-covered box (174 x 124 mm). The leaves are bright white cards (148 x 105 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (black and white, several in colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a “title page” and “index leaf” listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 150, of which this is #133. Acquired from Shandy Hall, 26 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Clockwise from the top: Nick Thurston and Sarah Auld, Erica Van Horn, Derek Beaulieu, Simon Morris, Francesca Capone, Simon Cutts, Helen Douglas, Jérémie Bennequin, Nancy Campbell, Craig Dworkin

The rest of Corporal Trim’s flourishes flourish here.

Further Reading

Ancliffe, Abra. The Secret Astronomy of Tristram Shandy (Portland, OR: self-published, 2015).

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 1995), pp. 33 and 162.

Lazda, Gayle. “A lot of Shandy”, London Review Bookshop, 14 January 2016. Accessed 18 September 2019.

Mullan, John. “The ‘stuff’ of Tristram Shandy”, British Library, 21 June 2018. Accessed 18 September 2019.

A Practice for Everyday Life. “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”, Reading Design, 2011. Accessed 18 September 2019.

Romney, Rebecca. “Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Materials as Meaning“, 15 July 2014. Accessed 23 August 2014.

Bookmarking Book Art – Jan Fairbairn-Edwards

Family Geology by Jan Fairbairn-Edwards consists of multiple related works to create the visual narrative of her Victorian era family’s emigration from the Norfolk fens to Australia. One of the central characters is her great aunt Sarah, who is the focus of the work Stratification of Sarah shown below.

Stratification of Sarah © Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
Stratification of Sarah, 2015
Jan Fairbairn-Edwards

Stratification of Sarah © Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
Stratification of Sarah, 2015 
Jan Fairbairn-Edwards

Symbolically, the six hanging “chapters” of Sarah’s journey move from the dun colors of the English fens to the hotter colors of Australia. The artist uses sheets of paper handmade from plants native to the Norfolk fens as well as traditional clothing fabric. The “geological” layers of the journey’s story are reflected in the stratified sheets that diminish in size from back to front.  The weathered documents appearing in each hanging are copies of found items from the family’s possessions or allusive artifacts, such as the article about Alice, “Jumbo’s widow“.

Alice was the African elephant being shipped aboard the HMSS Egyptian Monarch to join P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo in the US. Also on board the Monarch was Sarah, 10 years old when she embarked for the first sea leg of the journey to Australia. In another work in Family Geology called “Dear Mama”, the artist has invented a series of letters from Sarah, several of which tell of Sarah’s searching the ship for Alice.

"Dear Mama" Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
“Dear Mama”, 2015
Jan Fairbairn-Edwards

The other related works feature only fens-originated material, with the exception of a few pieces whose spines are branches of eucalyptus trees. Those spines and the hot Australian colors are the main physical manifestation of the Australian destination. As seen below, the stamps from the officialdom of the empire on which the sun never set provide another of the numerous unifying threads in the narrative.

Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
William’s Story, 2015
Jan Fairbairn-Edwards
Handmade papers with kozo and fenland plants, natural pigments, ink jet print (archival quality) on tracing paper, inks, string and eucalyptus wood binding

The artist suggested that I call this an installation. It is, but with the difference that there is this multi-threaded, narrative unity across and among the individual works that I have not noticed before in other installations. That unity makes me stumble a bit over the fact that the constituent works are purchasable individually, which casts the “installation” in something of a contrasting light. The work as a whole is one of remembrance and restoration. Doesn’t the removal of pieces of Family Geology undermine that?

Remember the 2014 installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper at the Tower of London: 888,246 ceramic poppies progressively filling the Tower’s famous moat between 17 July and 11 November?  Each red bloom represented a British military fatality in the First World War. The installation as installation resides only in the memories of its viewers and can be experienced only partially in photos, video clips or the website. The poppies sold individually over the web (I am one of the lucky owners of one of them). When I look at this single ceramic poppy, sometimes there is a failure of metonymic power – the ability of the part to stand for the whole.  Other times, it starts the image of a cascade of blood from a stone window into a moat of red. And so, what of a single work plucked from Family Geology?

The full impact of the installation – a family speaking to one another in and across time, from across seas and continents – something on which the viewer eavesdrops – rises like the musk from the back of an inherited chest’s bottom drawer full of old letters, curled newspaper clippings, fading photographs, pressed leaves and flowers. At first, you think it is the volume of  this manufactured memorabilia and their semi-invented, semi-found connectedness that is the source of that impact. But then you pick up William’s Story. The texture of its papers, the rough, dry sound of the leaves turning and the ash that flakes to the table from their edges take you deep into that musk through the one work.

You can sift through the several pieces of Fairbairn-Edwards’ Family Geology, and some will take you to the same place on their own, others lean much more on the presence of the installation. The thought of taking away from the whole one of its stronger parts leaves me hoping for an institutional white knight to purchase the “installation”.  Yet the scent of William’s Story on some visitor’s fingers is probably making him or her reach for a checkbook or credit card right now.

See also Turn the Page 2015, where Family Geology had its debut and was one of the eight finalists.

Family Geology will next be on show at Art & Papiers, Vézénobres (Gard), France, this month (June 2015).