Talk by Dominic Riley

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Dominic Riley, bookbinder and artist, will give a talk entitled “A Kelmscott Chaucer for Our Times: Celebrating a New Binding” at the Book Club of California on 10 July 2017. The Club has furnished the following summary:

When it was produced in 1896, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press was hailed as the greatest book of its age. Designed by Morris and lavishly illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones, 425 copies were printed (one of which resides at the Book Club of California). Some are still in their original bindings, and others are in extremely fine bindings done since, leaving a few in poor bindings in need of a new cover. In 2012, Dominic Riley was commissioned to rebind such a copy, with a view to create a contemporary fine binding for it. This talk is a record of that project.

The task set before him was daunting: this is a very famous, very big, and very valuable book. And, needless to say, the opportunity to create a new binding for one does not come along very often. In addition to this, the collector expressed a wish that the binding, when finished, should be something that “Bernard Middleton would be proud that Dominic had executed, and that William Morris would appreciate.” He also stated that he would like the binding design to be both “traditional and contemporary.” Dominic spent four years thinking about the book, allowing Morris’s art and aesthetics to percolate (he doesn’t do preliminary sketches). During 2016 he designed and bound the book, taking inspiration from Morris’s ornaments to create a bold and typographic motif, which is a blaze of gold tooling.

In this lecture, Dominic will talk about the genesis of the design, from rough ideas to final execution, and the laborious process of building the binding for this iconic book, which is being donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. As William Morris said “the best thing you can do is build is a house. The second best thing you can do is build is a book.” And, as Bernard Middleton says “there is nothing more pleasing than the play of light on leather and gold.”

Dominic Riley is one the most renowned bookbinders working today. His design bindings are in collections worldwide, including the British Library, the St Bride Library, the Rylands in Manchester, the National Library of Wales, the Grolier Club, and the San Francisco Public Library. He has created over seventy design bindings to date, and when he is not making contemporary artistic bindings he restores antiquarian books and teaches.

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