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Yale Center for British Art Showcases Contemporary Bookbindings and Jewelry by Artist Romilly Saumarez Smith
Edward Young, The Complaint, or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality, London, Printed for A. Millar and R. and J. Dodsley, 1756, vellum boards with wax resist dyed leather straps, secured with copper staples, Collection of the artist, Photo by David Wood.
NEW HAVEN, CT.- The jewelry and bookbinding of artist Romilly Saumarez Smith will be the focus of a small exhibition this summer at the Yale Center for British Art. Opening June 24, Structured Elegance: Bookbindings and Jewelry by Romilly Saumarez Smith is the first exhibition to show both facets of her distinctive work and to explore the relationship between them. The exhibition will feature nearly fifty objects loaned by the artist and private collectors in the United Kingdom and United States.

A passion for materials and process has fueled Saumarez Smith’s twenty-five-year career as one of Britain’s most highly acclaimed bookbinders. In the 1990s she began to use metal increasingly in her binding, gradually turning her attention to making jewelry. Structured Elegance will feature her sophisticated and elegantly bound books, commissioned in the 1980s by the British artist Eileen Hogan for Hogan’s own works for Camberwell Press, the Lion & Unicorn Press, and Burnt Wood Press. Also on view will be a selection of intricate brooches, rings, and pendants. In addition, the exhibition will include a number of Saumarez Smith’s bookbinding tools and nine silver gelatin prints of her tools and materials, photographed by London artist Verdi Yahooda.

Romilly Saumarez Smith studied binding and paper conservation at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London and went on to become the first female union member and forwarder at London’s famed Zaehnsdorf Bindery (where she turned the sewn sheets into a book, with a back and cover). She was elected a Fellow of Designer Bookbinders in 1984 and taught at the London College of Printing and the Guildford College of Art and Technology. Her public commissions include bindings for the Victoria and Albert Museum and for the annual exhibitions of the Booker Prize winners for contemporary fiction. Saumarez Smith is represented in the collections of the Contemporary Art Society, the Crafts Council, the British Library, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, and the New York Public Library, and she has exhibited in Britain, the United States, France, and Germany.

While maintaining the rigorous standards of craftsmanship that her training provided, Saumarez Smith rejected the self-consciousness of “fine bindings,” being more interested in giving the structure of the book a visible role and in employing painterly approaches to surfaces. She developed complex wax resist, techniques for the leather bindings, and the use of large pressing plates for texture. Her imaginative approach led her to unusual materials, such as pillow ticking, which she treated with sweeping washes of leather dye and then rubbed with beeswax to create an understated play of light. She had frequently employed pieces of metal—wire staples and small squares of copper—on the covers of her bindings, and as her engagement with the material grew, she began to make her first pieces of jewelry. She honed her skills in this new discipline, a process she has described as akin to falling in love.

Binding books has given Saumarez Smith the confi dence to trust her instincts in design, as well as a certainty that her work would always somehow progress. She says: “[as] with any craft, you need a terribly clear idea what you’re doing and, after all the books, I think I fi nally have that. When something is right for me, I get a certain rush of excitement. … I think the same thing happens to every creative person and that, when it does, it can be very powerful…. When you realize that, you feel ‘I am in a tradition.’ To me, that’s a consolation, it’s a tremendous comfort.”
me, that’s a consolation, it’s a tremendous comfort.”

Yale Center for British Art | Romilly Saumarez Smith | "Structured Elegance" |


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