The Beauty of the Small Press
A post by ABDA Vice President Alissa Dinallo
I have been a William Morris fan forever. Beyond the fact that we share the same birthday, his intricate wallpaper illustrations and illuminated manuscripts have never ceased to amaze me. They have been an inspiration for designers, artists and illustrators for centuries. However, I have recently developed a different appreciation for Morris and his extensive work. Distracted by his decorative pieces, I never delved into his activism against the impacts of the industrial revolution on art, design and literature. Morris was at the forefront of the Arts & Crafts Movement of the late 1800s, lobbying against the rise of the machine and the rapid decline of and appreciation for the beauty of the hand-made, especially within the publishing industry.
Perhaps one of his greatest contributions to art and literature was the development of the Kelmscott Press. Run out of his home, Kelmscott manor, The Kelmscott Press sought to maintain artistry in reading. Creating original typefaces, making his own paper and printing by hand, Morris was the master of his own typographical adventures. Incredibly intricate designs printed onto fine linen paper created one-of-a-kind reading experiences that are both visually captivating, and easy to follow. Each book is a unique canvas with distinct ornamentation and aesthetic.
As book designers today, we are finding ways to weave life and beauty back into the mass-produced, printed book and slowly also into our digital platforms. There is also a rise in the prevalence and success of the small press. Smaller publishing houses and printing presses who focus on the art of book making, the beauty of reading, and the specialness of small print runs. Small presses willing to take risks, much like the times of the Kelmscott Press.
Founded by designer Mark Gowing, Sydney-based Formist Editions make carefully considered books and editions for lovers of art and design. With a true passion for form, abstraction, expression, humour and insight, Formist claim that ‘with admiration for the past, our titles and collaborations are focussed on responding to the present, so we can get on with making the future’. This attitude directly channels those of Morris and the Kelmscott Press.
Across the world in London, Visual Editions have been in existence for just over seven years and have published some of the most exquisitely designed books I have ever seen. Kicking off with their repackaging of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, they create narrative driven story experiences in the form of books, apps, websites, events and installations. They completely push the limits of traditional storytelling, creating real reading experiences. They’ve embraced technology and see the beauty and usefulness in publishing. It’s hard not to see parallels between their work and the Kelmscott press, especially in their understanding of the value of words and the experience of reading.
At the end of October the State Library of New South Wales and ABDA will be holding a Kelmscott Press viewing to honour of the wonderful work of William Morris and his legendary printing company. In addition to viewing material from the SLNSW’s William Morris collection, Mark Gowing of Formist and Zoë Sadokierski of Page Screen Books will share their experience of setting up small presses today. For further details visit our events page.
All illustrations by Alissa Dinallo