Inspiration at the State Library

If your in the big smoke for a Saturday morning board meeting, why not enjoy your afternoon? Held in the beautiful Gallery Room on the ground floor of the Mitchell Library, I was spell bound by the presentation ‘William Morris and the Legacy of the Small Press’ delivered by Sarah Morley, curator of rare books and manuscripts.

We were given an overview of the aims of the Kelmscott Press that went to particular lengths to ensure all elements of the printing operation were handmade. This included

  • papers
  • inks
  • fonts and typefaces and
  • bindings.

Morris created intricate borders, ornaments and initials for their editions. Read a facsimile of the Kelmscott Press Edition courtesy of eBooks@Adelaide (University of Adelaide – free books online):

A note by William Morris on his aims in founding the Kelmscott Press 

We were then treated to a close up (but not hands on) examination of selected texts from the 18 strong collection held at the State Library.

The second speaker was Mark Gowing of Formist publishing. His discussion of individually created fonts for each text was illuminating. He suggested that part of the reading experience is to concentrate on understanding the type: it may take a few minutes of concentration, and a little longer to read a 1500 word essay, but that is complimented by the ‘core and response’ to the title’s content. Investigate more of Gowing’s work at Mark Gowing Design.

The final speaker, Zoe Sodokierski, an academic at UTS, discussed her Page Screen Books small press that utilises an online platform for their print-on-demand experiment.

Among the three books mentioned by Sodokierski was Lace Narratives by Cecilia Heffer. Serendipitously, this text is a sophisticated combination of two areas close to my heart: textiles and books.

Watch Drawn Threads – A Process Video (Cecilia Heffer)  directed by Zoe Sodokierski.

When Zoe mentioned how her reading of Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus, specifically a discussion on ‘paragraphs and paddocks’, has been part of the collaborative discussion with Cecilia, I had a moment of intense clarity. I had recently read those exact pages and marked these for discussion with my students.

Bail wrote:

A paragraph is not so different from a paddock – similar shape, similar function. And here’s a connection worth pondering: these days, as paddocks are becoming larger, the corresponding shift in the cities where the serious printing’s done is for paragraphs smaller. A succession of small paddocks can be irritating as long ones wearisome. The single-idea paragraph which crowds the newspapers is a difficulty. Newspaper writers spend their lives trailing after people above the ordinary in some way or other – the human equivalents to earthquakes, train crashes, river in flood – and write small paragraphs about them, when everybody knows that a brief rectangular view is not enough. The people written about in newspapers have already made something visible of their lives, large or small, brief or lasting, which is surely why journalists take an interest out of all proportion in newspaper proprietors: for here is one of us, or almost, who is larger than life. Holland [character in text] too would attract journalists, some with the bedraggled photographer in tow from the Sydney broadsheets. These days it’s common to trudge (as the reporters were forced to do) across a paddock that seems to go on forever and ever, amen. Other paddocks may be congested, untidy, restricting movement. It’s just as easy these days to get clogged up or tripped in the middle of a paragraph! As in a paddock it is sometimes necessary to retrace our steps. Easy to lose heart, lose your way. In these and other situations the impulse is to take the short cut. ‘A problem paddock’ – there’s a common description. Words, yakety-yak, are spoken within the paddock (paragraph). The rectangle is a sign of civilisation: Europe from the air. Civilisation? A paragraph begins as a rectangle and by chance may finish up a square. Who was it said the square doesn’t exist in nature? A paddock has an alteration in the fencing for the point of entry, just as a paragraph has an indentation to encourage entry. A paddock too is littered with nouns and Latin in italics, even what appears to be a bare paddock. When Holland began planting the trees it was casually, no apparent design.

A paragraph is supposed to fence off wandering thoughts.

(pp. 32-34, 1998)

Notice how Cecilia’s lace works on page 49 successfully utilise absence?

Travelling home on the City Circle train, I was pleased to enjoy the beauty of St James Station with it’s meticulous tiling featuring the Gothic Revival colours that have informed my decor for many years.

Now, to let the inspiration settle into future plans …





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