My binding for Goethe’s Faust (Harrap & Co., 1925) uses one of the illustrations by Harry Clarke, enlarged and simplified, worked in gold on black leather. The box of patterned silk fabric emphasizes the angularity of the design.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
When I was asked to bind a signed copy of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1929), I debated whether to use a classic Dublin silhouette as a design element or to make the design as quirky and high strung as the text. So I did both: the box is linen with an onlaid cityscape of Dublin worked in leather; the binding is a frame of Celtic knot work within which two animated devils from an early Irish manuscript lure us toward hell fires.
My binding for George Orwell’s Animal Farm (London: Secker & Warburg, 1945) was designed to convey the simplicity of the barnyard animals in their attempt to better their lives and eliminate their exploiters. The red color suggests socialist political thought; the circles, emphasized by corner onlays, suggest the inevitability of returning to an exploitative society
The Maltese Falcon
My binding for Dashiell Hammett’s, The Maltese Falcon (New York and London: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930) had a spirit of its own. Just when I was thinking about a design for the book, I received in the mail a thank-you calendar from the Audubon Society, in which I found a photograph of a falcon in full flight over water. That was my starting point for my design. The diamond-patterned background was taken from the original cloth cover, where it decorated the spine, worked in shades of grey on a very small scale. When I was searching for rhinestones to hide in the birds’ wings, Larry O’Shaughnessy commented, “Why rhinestones?” So I took my design to the local jeweler, who measured it for gemstones. The binding seemed to come to life. Strangely, the day after I finished it, when I walked out to the end of my driveway, there was a dead falcon at the edge of the field. She had been electrocuted on the power lines in the previous night’s thunderstorm.
I like to think that her spirit now lies in this volume.
The Ulysses project took a year. This copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses had an unusual provenance even for a first edition. The previous owners and the sequence of printing and sale of this particular volume became the subject of another small book, which accompanies the big book and is housed with it in a box with a drawer
The Grapes of Wrath
For John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (New York: The Viking Press, 1939) I combined objects mentioned in the book to suggest the search for a better way of life, with its failures and dreams.
Graphic Passion by John Bidwell is a catalogue for an exhibition held at The Morgan Library in 2016. The text of the catalogue was more than a guide to the exhibition. Instead, it explored the evolution of Matisse’s graphic style. Consequently, I tried to apply the master’s theories in combining design elements borrowed from his various printed works.