Library Acquires Sarah Whitman Bookbindings

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Private collector Jean Paul Michaud, a Maine native and resident of Brooklyn, New York, has donated his library of bookbindings designed by Sarah Whitman to Bowdoin College.

Numbering 328 volumes, this collection is among the larger and more complete collections of Whitman bindings anywhere, comprising 85 percent of her known designs.

Thoreau’s Cape Cod (1896) binding design by Sarah Whitman.

Thoreau’s “Cape Cod” (1896) binding design by Sarah Whitman.

Boston artist Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904), a highly regarded painter by training and founding member of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, turned to design and decorative arts in the 1880s — as a book cover designer and stained glass artist.

Socially connected to publisher George Mifflin, she was regularly employed by Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin to elevate the appearance of mass-produced books by creating graceful, elegant cover designs.

Her stylings reflect the graceful and simple aspects of the Arts and Crafts movement, and her work helped to transform book covers from drab casings to eye-catching works of art.

During her two-decade career, she established herself as a preeminent and influential figure in the male-dominated business of trade bookbinding design, with more than 380 books to her credit.

Hawthorne’s "Marble Faun" (1889) binding design by Sarah Whitman.

Hawthorne’s “Marble Faun” (1889) binding design by Sarah Whitman.

 

Whitman’s work in stained glass is also represented at Bowdoin by a window in Memorial Hall.

In 1902, her friend Sarah Orne Jewett, Bowdoin’s first woman honorand, commissioned Whitman to create that work in memory of Jewett’s father, Theodore H. Jewett (Class of 1834).

The collection of Whitman bookbindings complements other significant book arts collections in the Bowdoin College Library, including the Susan Dwight Bliss Collection of fine bindings, the Jane Webster Pearce Book Arts Collection, collections of fine letterpress printing, and artists’ books.

These materials are particularly useful as resources for studying the decorative arts, social history, printmaking and design, and the role of women in the arts.

The books are available to the public in the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, located on the third floor of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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