Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book Design in Canada, FAB Gallery, January 26 - Feb 20, 2010*

The 27th Annual Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada as organized by the Alcuin Society currently makes its Edmonton stop at the FAB Gallery, with specimens from the best of the best in Canadian book publishing from 2008.

Judges Frank Newfeld, Alan Stein and E.A. Hobart (Zab) selected 32 winning titles from 243 entries, eight provinces and 89 publishers to be exhibited across Canada, at the Tokyo International Book Fair in Japan, the Frankfurt and Leipzig International Book Fairs and compete in the biggest annual book-design competition in the world, in Leipzig, Germany, in February 2010.

With categories ranging from children, limited editions, pictorial, poetry, prose fiction, prose non-fiction, prose non-fiction illustrated and reference, it should be noted that this year there were two categories (prose non-fiction and reference) where a first prize was not awarded, a sign that the awards are used beyond congratulatory back patting and seriously contended to encourage the very best in Canadian design.

In the front room of FAB Gallery, the handsome category of Pictorial prominently displays Geoffrey James' Utopia/Dystopia as designed by George Vaitkunas and published by National Gallery of Canada and Douglas & McIntyre, but unfortunately the display copy appeared in pretty rough shape with a damaged spine. Dominated by excellent photographic prints and minimal text, Vaitkunas' handiwork was bold, but Harry Thurston and Thaddeus Holownia's Silver Ghost: An Homage to the Atlantic Salmon Rivers of Eastern Canada as designed by Andrew Steeves and Holownia (Anchorage Press) was seemingly more elegant in its understated appearance.

In the lower gallery, there was a palpable meta-moment as The Surface of Meaning: Books and Book Design in Canada by Robert Bringhust, (CCSP Press / Simon Fraser University) took home the top prize for prose non-fiction illustrated for its bold use of graphics. The urge to flip through the "Do Not Touch" samples, especially Tony Urquhart's Off the Wall as designed by Tim Inkster, (Porcupine's Quill) is a constant struggle when viewing book exhibitions, as often a lone double-page spread from a book does not do justice to the book as a whole object.

Interestingly enough, each category is judged by a different set of criteria, with each book assessed from cover to cover as a whole entity. From the detail of dust jackets to harmonious front paging and of course, attractive type, the two categories that stood out the most were poetry and children.

While children is one of the most difficult categories to judge, poetry offered the most desirable items to covet, including an elongated print for Stefan A. Rose's "The House that Stands" designed by Andrew Steeves (Anchorage Press) and a striking reissue of Gertrude Stein's seminal "Tender Buttons" by Bookthug and designed by Mark Goldstein.

The raison d'etre of the exhibition, however, lies in the limited editions, where the U of A's own Jonathan Hart and Sean Caulfield's "Darkfire", as designed by Susan Colberg and published by the University of Alberta, took home first place for their stunning unbound sheets wrapped in Japanese black-and-red silk. With two winning entries this past year alone, the exhibition as a whole is another fine example demonstrating the long history of the U of A achieving national recognition for its achievements in print and design.

*First published in Vue Weekly

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