Japan 2006

'Beautiful British Books' not only marked the first opportunity for DB to exhibit in Japan, but was also the first exhibition of its kind in that country. It was also, perhaps, a first for DB in another way, in that the exhibition enabled visitors to see DB bindings within a historical context.

Ashikaga Museum of Art (in Ashikaga City) is a modern, purpose-built building with all the facilities that any exhibitor could ask for. Ashikaga is renowned throughout Japan for its flower gardens and its university (with library) dating from the fifteenth century. Although the museum was the smallest of the three venues that hosted the exhibition, the layout inside was perfect.

To single out books within the exhibition for individual merit is impossible; needless to say, the works featured represented some of the best and most well-known books produced in Britain. The exhibition explored the nature of print, illustration, binding, decoration, format and structure of the book through the centuries. The exhibition began with Caxton and continued chronologically to classic examples of the private press and studio bindery movement such as the Kelmscott, Doves and Golden Cockerel Press. The exhibition then moved seamlessly on to the second part of the exhibition, which concentrated on the work of DB. As with all the exhibits, DB bindings were housed in display cases, many of which were purpose-built for the books they contained.

The actual setting up of the DB gallery took two days and was supervised by Midori Kunikata--Cockram working alongside a team of six curators and lighting and display specialists. To Midori's surprise, one of the senior members of the team turned out to be a work colleague from some twenty years ago. Mr. Horiya and Midori had worked on a Modigliani exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art (Tokyo). Mr. Horiya had also previously spent some time living in England, having been awarded a Henry Moore Foundation Scholarship, and he enjoyed being able to help set up the DB gallery.

The work of DB was very well received and greatly appreciated. The bindings were felt to be a fitting end to the exhibition, lending a wave of colour, contrast and variety in working styles. Many of the books were in individual cases, allowing the work to be seen from all angles. Where more than one book or a series of books shared a case, Midori and the team tried to create a harmonious balance - no one book dominating - thus allowing the singular nature of the book to remain evident. A number of design sheets and notes relating to some of the work were also on display. This gave visitors a unique insight into the various processes that go into making a contemporary, designed binding. In one area of the DB gallery, a workbench had been laid out with various hand tools, bench tools, leathers and materials. Visitors were allowed to explore this area and to get a 'feel' for the book.

Many of the exhibits in the historical part of the exhibition had not been seen in public before in Japan. The Koriyama Museum of Art (the second venue for the exhibition) was happy to be able to lend many of the exhibits. Universities and other public, private and company museums and galleries also contributed to the exhibition, including the Machida Printing Museum, Tochigi Prefecture Museum of Fine Arts, Morisawa Printing and the 'K' Collection.

One of the hardest working members of the exhibition team in Japan was Ms. Hiromi Sone (of Mongosteen Inc) who, from the very conception of the idea, co-ordinated and organised the exhibition and catalogue. She also visited Britain on a number of occasions to liase with the DB Japan Exhibition Committee.

The catalogue for 'Beautiful British Books' is sewn in sections and hardbound with colour illustrations of all the exhibits. Though much of the text is in Japanese, descriptions and other details are in both Japanese and English. The forward was written by Professor Joichiro Kawamura, with Lester Capon providing the forward to the illustrations of the DB bindings.




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