A Brief History of the
Canadian Bookbinders and
Book Artists Guild

In 1982 Jill Willmott, a bookbinder and restorer from Kingston, Ontario, perceived the need for a single cross-Canada listing of craftspeople working in the hand book arts and as a private venture undertook the task of collecting names and addresses of Canadian hand bookworkers, including papermakers, paper decorators, bookbinders, book restorers, and paper conservators, both amateur and professional. She mailed a questionnaire to the 242 names she had collected and received an enthusiastic response.

Shelagh Smith, bookbinder and paper decorator from Woodbridge, Ontario, had been organizing seminars and workshops in the book arts as a private undertaking. She took up the challenge started by Jill Willmott and, with the help of other bookworkers, organized a founding meeting in February 1983, where she and Betty Elliott were asked to write a draft constitution for a Canadian book arts organization. In May 1983 a public meeting was held and the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild was formed.

The aims of CBBAG were set in response to the need expressed by those who responded to the questionnaire:

    to provide contact among workers in the hand book arts in order to foster a spirit of co-operation and kinship;

    to provide access to education in the book arts;

    to promote greater awareness of the book arts by the general public;

    and to advocate and promote high standards of excellence in the book arts through exhibitions, workshops, lectures and programme meetings, and publications.

Led by a fifteen member board of directors, CBBAG is a volunteer-run organization with over 500 members. Originally the mailing address of CBBAG was care of the Secretary and correspondence to members was hand addressed. In 1988 CBBAG rented a small office in The Chalmers Building, Toronto. In the summer of 1997 CBBAG moved to a 675 sq.ft. studio – divided into office, library and meeting area, and bindery for workshops and open studio – in the Queen Street West area of Toronto. Six years later, in the spring of 2003, CBBAG moved to a 762 sq. ft. studio in Toronto Artscape’s Liberty Village building. With the sale of the building by the City of Toronto in 2012, CBBAG moved to a smaller office and bindery at 80 Ward Street, located near Dupont and Landsdowne in Toronto. CBBAG has a small library collection which is available to the public by appointment. The Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild is a non-profit, charitable organization.

Key programmes are: education (in-studio and Home Study); exhibitions (local, touring, and online); publications, including the CBBAG's semi-annual magazine, Book Arts arts du livre Canada; its web site and e-network; conferences and gatherings; the CBBAG video loan programme; CBBAG book arts fairs and participation in book related fairs and festivals organized by others; resource information and services such as information dissemination to the public; and advocacy for the book arts in Canada.

CBBAG sponsors a yearly book arts fair which is available to members for display and sale of work or supplies at a very small table fee; the event is open to the public at no charge. CBBAG participates yearly in many book related fairs to publicize the book arts field.

From its founding, education has been at the core of CBBAG programmes. Each year 35 - 40 workshops are organized. They vary from weekly courses offered over five or six Saturdays or Sundays to one to six day long intensives in bookbinding or a variety of topics ranging from paper marbling to book box making, from tool sharpening to techniques for limited edition binding. Workshops have been led by Canadian book artists such as Don Taylor, Betsy Palmer Eldridge, Reg Beatty, Mira Coviensky, Dan Mezza, Mercedes Cirfi Walton, and many others, international binders such as Deborah Evetts, Hedi Kyle, Claire Van Vliet, Christopher Clarkson, Carol Barton, and Ed Hutchins, and renowned papermakers Timothy Barrett and Katherine Clark. CBBAG is the only Canadian association with a structured bookbinding curriculum. Courses offered are at a professional level. Students have been drawn from every province in Canada, the United States, and overseas.

To address the needs of book artists, both beginners and advanced, who are unable to travel to attend in-studio workshops, CBBAG has developed a Home Study programme. This major initiative, the development of which was begun in June 1998, includes a written and illustrated manual and a video component for each segment. Students may complete prescribed projects to be returned to CBBAG for critique. The Home Study programme incorporates the CBBAG basic curriculum and consists of the following components: Bookbinding I; Bookbinding II; Bookbinding III; Finishing; Repair and Restoration; Endpapers; Introduction to Leather; and Paper Treatments for Binders. Additional titles include Marbling: a guide to the craft of watercolour marbling.

Itinerant Teachers is a new programme to encourage the use of the CBBAG instructor’s for teaching across Canada and the United States and is being instituted in 2005.

In 1993 CBBAG had its first gathering, Bookworks '93, six days of workshops, lectures, and demonstrations and a key-note speech by Timothy Barrett. In June 1996, CBBAG held its first three-day conference, The Book Arts Towards the Century's End, which included workshops, papers, a tour of the Osborne Collection, the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, and Massey College Printery & Ruary McLean Collection, a panel discussion, and a book arts fair. Other gatherings took place in 1998, in June 2000 featuring renowned English binders James and Stuart Brockman, in June 2001, and September, 2003. Bookevent ‘03, at Harbourfront Centre, organized in conjunction with the opening of The Art of the Book ’03 exhibition, included workshops by Hedi Kyle and Sigrid Blohm, demonstrations by Don Etherington, Monique Lallier, and Martha Cole, a lecture by Hedi Kyle, and a book arts fair.

To facilitate communication between book workers, CBBAG publishes the CBBAG Newsletter which is distributed to all members and is exchanged with a large number of related institutions. This excellent publication is produced quarterly with technical and historical information, a calendar of events such as exhibitions, recent publications, and calls for entry, artist profiles, and news items. In addition to the newsletter, as part of its ambitious publications programme, CBBAG publishes an annual Membership List and triennual book artists, suppliers, and educational opportunities list, as well as the regularly updated Video Loan Catalogue, all membership benefits, as well as catalogues for all major exhibitions.

The Membership List is circulated to members only and lists all members with addresses, e-mail addresses, etc. A Directory of Book Artists is circulated to members and to the general public and lists addresses, subjects of specialization, teaching, collaborations of those members who choose to participate. A Directory of Book Arts Educational Opportunities lists both institutions and individuals who teach book arts subjects. The list of Book Arts Suppliers includes suppliers in all major book arts categories. Fully-illustrated exhibition catalogues are produced to accompany all major exhibitions, and seven have been produced to date. Several other major publications have also been produced. Currently available are Bookbinding Materials and Techniques 1700-1920 (fully illustrated, this book describes each step in hand binding a book, the considerations that influenced these techniques, and how all of these processes changed over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), and a Lexicon of Bookbinding Terms. A new publication in process is Journal of Valuable CBBAG Newsletter Articles.

Public awareness of the book arts has been increased by CBBAG's ambitious exhibitions programme. CBBAG has circulated eight major and three Community Exhibitions to date across Canada and sent one exhibition to Japan. In 1986 it circulated the U.S. based Guild of Bookworker's exhibit Bookwork: Form - Function - Finish in the Modern Craft of Handbookbinding to Halifax, Montreal, Toronto (which included a display of work by CBBAG members), Winnipeg, and Victoria. CBBAG initiated and circulated an exhibition of work by members of the German Masters Guild, titled Meister der Einbandkunst, to Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg, Burnaby, and Dallas, Texas. Also that year CBBAG prepared and began to circulate a travelling Community Exhibition titled Two Centuries of Bookbinding: Materials and Techniques 1700 - 1900. The exhibit travelled until January 1996 and was seen across Canada, from Victoria, British Columbia, to St. John's, Newfoundland. Both exhibits were accompanied by a catalogue.

Contemporary Canadian Bookworks was a major CBBAG exhibit of Canadian fine binding, papermaking, calligraphy, artists' books, paper decorating, and finely printed books and broadsides. It opened in April 1995 in the Embassy of Canada, Tokyo, Japan, and was accompanied by a B+W catalogue. Fine Printing: the Private Press in Canada, organized by CBBAG, featured eighty-five books, broadsides, and posters, beautifully printed items produced mostly in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec from 1931 to 1995. The exhibition opened at the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library in April 1995. It was accompanied by an illustrated catalogue and travelled throughout Canada for two years.

 The Art of the Book (1988) was a members' juried exhibition organized by CBBAG to celebrate its 5th Anniversary, which opened at the Craft Gallery, Toronto, and travelled to Halifax, Burnaby, Victoria, and Point Claire, Quebec.

The Art of the Book '93, travelled for two years to Toronto, Winnipeg, Halifax, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, and Pointe Claire, Quebec. The Art of the Book '98, travelled to Toronto, Pointe Claire, Quebec, Winnipeg, Calgary, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Halifax. Concurrent with The Art of the Book ‘98 CBBAG organized an exhibit of fifteen books artists’ work which was on display at the Ontario Crafts Council. A display was also organized by the book arts group Book Sublime for the Japanese Paper Place, in conjunction with the exhibits. The Art of the Book ’03 which opened in September 2003, travelled to Toronto, Saskatoon, Halifax, Winnipeg, Victoria, Medicine Hat, Quebec City, and Fredericton. Two exhibitions concurrent with AB03 took place at Harbourfont Centre: Quebec Artists Books from the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec and Perspectives on the Book, featuring CBBAG book artists from four studios across Canada. As well, the three other gallery spaces at Harbourfront Centre featured book and/or text related exhibitions.

The Art of the Book '08, celebrating the 25th anniversary of CBBAG, opened in Toronto and toured to Halifax, Fredericton, Leaf Rapids, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Gimli, and Victoria.

Art of the Book 2013, celebrating the 30th anniversary of CBBAG, opens in Calgary in July 2013, accompanied by a major book arts conference, and will tour Canada until 2015.

Seven local exhibitions have been mounted in the Uncommon Object Gallery at Harbourfront, in 1984, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1999, and 2000, and 2003, and smaller exhibitions have been displayed at a number of small libraries. In 1995 CBBAG presented Boxed In: Book Boxes and Box Objects by Members of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild in the Canada Trust Gallery of the Toronto Reference Library.

In celebration of the new millennium CBBAG invited 35 Canadian book artists to produce a new work for a portfolio collection, Millennium in a Box, the second CBBAG Community Exhibition. Each artist created a work in an edition of 50 in limited-size format. The works were collected in a specially designed hand made box. This Community Exhibition, representing work in all fields of the book arts, has being circulated to over forty libraries, schools, and small galleries across Canada and as far as Australia, since 2000 and to date. Each participating artist received a portfolio and fifteen boxes are now part of public collections across Canada.

Information and some images of a number of exhibitions are available on the Exhibitions page.

CBBAG has an official web site at www.cbbag.ca, which gives information on CBBAG, its publications, exhibitions, and educational programmes, and is a major resource with many features including an Online Gallery of book arts work, a translation of book arts terms from English to French, a very large links page, and a “bulletin board” where time-sensitive information on CBBAG and other organizations’ and members’ activities, such as on exhibitions, workshops, suppliers, and other items of interest to book artists, is listed. Most recently, five E-Networks (e-mail “networks”) have been formed for the Maritimes, Ontario, Quebec, the Prairies and British Columbia, and for the United States and overseas, to keep CBBAG members up-to-date on book arts activities in their region. CBBAG members are encouraged to send in their own book arts information for circulation.

Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild
80 Ward Street, Suite 207, Toronto ON M6H 4A6
416-581-1071, cbbag@cbbag.ca
Charitable Business Number 89179 5445 RR0001

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