Decorated Papers Exhibiton Opens at Houghton

Dutch gilt paper from the Rosamond B. Loring Collection of Decorated Papers.

Update: The final day of this exhibit has been moved to December 21, 2007.

August 31, 2007 – In the 1930s when Boston bookbinder and society matron Rosamond B. Loring (1889–1950) was unable to find ornamental papers she considered good enough to serve as end leaves for her books, she took matters into her own hands, teaching herself to make what are known in bookbinding as decorated papers. Her initiative, especially with paste papers, led to a revival in the craft and to an extensive personal collection comprising some 10,000 pieces, examples of which are on display at Houghton Library as part of a new exhibition.

By way of definition, if you’ve ever opened a book to find an ornamental end leaf, you’ve seen decorated paper. "Often in older books you find colored or patterned papers on the end leaves inside the front and back covers, the most common pattern being marbled paper," says Hope Mayo, Philip Hofer Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts at Houghton Library, and organizer of the exhibition.

These decorated papers are widely varied, by turns monochromatic or multicolored, simple or intricate, gilded or not. Although associated with older volumes, publishers use them even today. "Publishers still print special end leaves for particular editions," says Mayo. "Fine press books, artist’s books, limited editions—these are sometimes still bound in marbled papers or paste papers made for that purpose."

This paste paper in the collection was made by Loring's student Veronica Ruzicka.

Loring’s large collection, a gift to Houghton in 1950 upon her death, combines historical examples that date back to the 17th century with papers made by her contemporaries. It also features Loring’s own work and that of her pupil Veronica Ruzicka.  "It’s a very important collection, particularly in the categories of paste, marbled, Dutch gilt, and printed papers," says Mayo.

Each of these four categories is well represented with designs and concepts varying greatly according to a paper’s creator and the technique used. Paste papers, for instance, were Loring’s specialty. "A paste paper is made very simply," explains Mayo. "You take white paste of a thin consistency and add whatever color you like, usually with watercolors or tempera paints, and you use a paintbrush to spread it out very thinly on the surface of the paper. You can then make patterns in it with your fingers, with rubber stamps, or with anything you want to use."

The historical Dutch gilt papers in the collection, made primarily in Germany in the 18th century, also used a paste background but were then stamped with a pattern in bronze dust to imitate gold. Historically, they were often used on children’s books.
Also on display are marbled papers—made by creating a colored design with pigments floated on water or a glutinous liquid called size in a flat tray and then laying a piece of paper on top to pick up the colors—and printed papers, which are indeed printed, the early ones made with wood blocks. "You could have a pattern in a single color, or you could have as many different woodblocks as you wanted different colors in your pattern and you would then print the colors one by one," notes Mayo.

An example of marbled paper from the Loring Collection.

Dutch gilt and paste papers rose to the height of their popularity in the 18th century. "That was when they, if not came into being, were at least manufactured in large numbers," says Mayo. "Marbled papers seem to be a bit older and to have originated in the Orient. The earliest examples we have are in albums belonging to diplomats who traveled to the eastern Mediterranean. Europeans soon learned to imitate them and began to use marbled papers as end leaves already in the 17th century."

Loring herself specialized in making paste papers, but since there was little to be had in the way of formal instruction when she began, her own skills came from experimentation and from studying a late 19th-century bookbinding manual. Later, however, she took lessons and acquired "recipes" from another bookbinder, Charles V. Saflund of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, she supplied papers for end leaves or bookbindings for fine press editions printed by companies such as the Merrymount Press. She was also sought after as a lecturer and teacher. "Her activities were an important factor in reviving interest in the crafts of marbling and paste paper making," says Mayo.

The Loring collection contains original whole sheets of her work that measure as much as 25½  by 40 inches. Creating a consistent pattern on such large sheets took a steady hand and a good eye, and although she created most of her paper for print small runs, at least once she made enough of one design to cover 4500 books.  "She had to make many sheets of the same thing that looked enough alike that on a single volume they were not discordant," says Mayo.

An example of a 20th-century printed paper from the Loring Collection.

Making decorated papers also required imagination and an artistic touch and, in fact, exhibition visitors can view a number of Loring’s tools. The exhibit pairs some of her paste papers with the exact items, expected and not, that she used to make particular patterns. For instance, there’s a comb, a lace curtain, a potato masher, the rubber covering for a Chevrolet brake pedal, a doorstop, and a rolling pin with evergreen tree cutouts affixed to make seasonal paper for an edition of A Christmas Carol published by the Limited Editions Club in 1934. "You have to admire her aesthetic sense," says Mayo. "She made all these patterns up."

Loring and her husband, Augustus Peabody Loring, Jr., were well-to-do and actively involved in Boston’s social and charitable circles, and she also served as assistant librarian of the Club of Odd Volumes, a Boston club of book collectors. Although the club didn’t (and still doesn’t) admit women, says Mayo, Loring gave lectures on marbled and paste papers to its members and the group used some of her papers for its publications.

In 1942 Loring published her own book, Decorated Book Papers, which was written on the basis of her collection and included actual samples of decorated papers. "The book was an effort to set out history of decorated papers and their use in books. And in fact it was the first significant work in English to do that," says Mayo. Published by Houghton’s Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, the book became a standard reference work in its field. Reprinted twice, once in 1952 and again in 1973, it is due out in a new edition this fall and will include color photographs of the original edition’s samples and an essay by Mayo on Loring’s career. A second publication related to the exhibition will be Marbled and Paste Papers: Rosamond Loring’s Recipe Book, which will include a facsimile of her notebook of recipes and an essay on her materials and techniques by Sidney E. Berger, who is the Ann C. Pingree Director of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Mayo’s co-curators for the exhibition "Decorated Papers from the Collection of Rosamond B. Loring" were Susanne Olson, a librarian at the Groton (Mass.) Public Library, and Audrey Jawando, a technician at the Northeast Document Conservation Center. Both previously worked at Houghton, where they organized and cataloged Loring’s entire collection, which will soon be accessible through an electronic finding aid on OASIS, Harvard’s Online Archival Search Information System.

The exhibition "Decorated Papers from the Collection of Rosamond B. Loring" runs September 4–December 22, 2007 in the Edison and Newman Room, Houghton Library. Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 9 am-5 pm; Tuesday 9 am–8 pm, Saturday 9 am–1 pm. For details, call Hope Mayo at 617-495-2444.

A related lecture, "A Pretty Mysterious Business — Ox Gall and Gum Dragon: The Arts of Marbling Paper and Books," given by Charles A. Rheault, a retired printing industry executive and a longtime friend of Harvard College Library, is scheduled for Tuesday, September 18, at 5:30 pm, also in the Edison and Newman Room, Houghton Library.

This fall’s Frances and Philip Hofer Lecture will also focus on decorated paper. Sidney E. Berger, the Ann C. Pingree Director of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, will speak on "It’s Only a Paper Tune: The Reentry of Japanese Paper in the U.S." on Tuesday, October 30, at 5:30 pm in the Edison and Newman Room, Houghton Library.

For more information, see Exhibitions and Events.