A Brief History of CBBAG

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 (pronounced "cabbage") 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 an eight member board of directors, CBBAG is a volunteer-run organization with over 400 members: individuals, family members, student members, libraries, and exchange organizational members. The Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild is a not-for-profit, charitable organization.

Originally centred in Toronto, CBBAG currently has regional chapters across Canada: two each in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario, one in Ontario/western Quebec, and one in Saskatchewan.

From its founding, education has been at the core of CBBAG programmes. Each year 35 - 40 workshops are organized, most in Toronto, but also through many of the CBBAG chapters across Canada. 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 and marblers Regina & Dan St.John. 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.

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 a semi-annual, full-colour, bilingual magazine, Book Arts arts du livre Canada, which is distributed to all members and is exchanged with a large number of related institutions. Launched in 2010 to replace the quarterly CBBAG Newsletter and the occasional CBBAG JournalBook Arts arts du livre Canada includes profiles of Canadian and other bookbinders and book artists; and articles on historical book forms, conservation, fine binding, innovative structures, and small press. The magazine showcases books from special collections in Canada, reviews books and exhibitions, and covers as many other subjects of interest to the CBBAG membership. The magazine is supplemented by a semi-annual e-newsletter, sent electronically to CBBAG members.

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. The catalogue for Two Centuries of Bookbinding was revised and expanded by the exhibition curator Margaret Lock and reissued under the title Bookbinding Materials and Techniques: 1800 - 1920 in 2003 and remains in print.

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. This was the first of five Art of the Book exhibitions organized by Shelagh Smith and Susan V. Corrigan.

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, is currently on tour until early 2011 to Toronto, Halifax, Fredericton, Leaf Rapids, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Gimli, and Victoria. Art of the Book 2013, celebrating the 30th anniversary of CBBAG, opened in Calgary, Alberta, in July 2013. The exhibition was organized by members of the CBBAG Calgary Chapter, lead by co-curators Lisa Isley and Lee Oldford Churchill, and was the first Art of the Book exhibition to be organized and opening outside of Toronto. The exhibition then travelled to Victoria, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Toronto, and Fredericton. In addition, a book arts conference was held in Calgary in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition.

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 handmade 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.Each participating artist received a portfolio and fifteen boxes are now part of public collections across Canada. A third community exhibition, A Book Arts Mosaic, curated by book artist Lise Melhorn-Boe, was launched in 2006. Produced in an edition of 2 boxes, the exhibition included 26 original pieces by 38 Canadian book artists. The exhibition travelled to schools, libraries, and galleries, and a box is included in nine public collections.

Art of the Book 2018, celebrating the 35th anniversary of CBBAG, opened in Victoria BC in August 2018. The exhibition was organized by members of the CBBAG BC Islands Chapter, lead by Jose Villa-Arce and Frances Hunter. The exhibition continues its cross-Canada tour to Abbotsford BC, Edmondon AB, Regina SK, Winnipeg MB, Montreal QC, Toronto ON, Fredericton NB, Halifax NS and St. John's NL, though November 2020.

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

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