Jewelry and Bookbinding Featured in New Exhibition

The jewelry and bookbinding of artist Romilly Saumarez Smith will be the focus of a small exhibition this summer at the Yale Center for British Art.

“Structured Elegance: Bookbindings and Jewelry of Romilly Saumarez Smith” opens Thursday, June 24, and is the first exhibition to show both facets of the artist’s work and to explore the relationship between them.

Saumarez Smith has had a 25-year-career as one of Britain’s most acclaimed bookbinders. In the 1990s she began to use metal increasingly in her binding, gradually turning her attention to making jewelry. “Structured Elegance” will feature her bound books, commissioned in the 1980s by the British artist Eileen Hogan for Hogan’s own works for Camberwell Press, the Lion & Unicorn Press and Burnt Wood Press. Also on view will be a selection of intricate brooches, rings and necklaces.

Saumarez Smith studied binding and paper conservation at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London, and went on to become the first female union member and forwarder at London’s famed Zaehnsdorf Bindery (where she turned the sewn sheets into a book, with a back and cover). She was elected a fellow of Designer Bookbinders in 1984 and taught at the London College of Printing and the Guildford College of Art and Technology. Her public commissions include bindings for the Victoria and Albert Museum and for the annual exhibitions of the Booker Prize winners for contemporary fiction. Saumarez Smith is represented in the collections of the Contemporary Art Society, the Crafts Council, the British Library, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, and the New York Public Library, and she has exhibited in Britain, the United States, France and Germany.

While maintaining the standards of craftsmanship that her training provided, Saumarez Smith rejected the self-consciousness of “fine bindings,” being more interested in giving the structure of

the book a visible role and employing painterly approaches to surfaces. She de­veloped complex wax resist, techniques for the leather bindings and the use of large pressing plates for texture. Her approach led her to unusual materials, such as pillow ticking, which she treated with sweeping washes of leather dye and then rubbed with beeswax to create an understated play of light. She had frequently employed pieces of metal - wire staples and small squares of copper - on the covers of her bindings, and as her engagement with the material grew, she began to make her first pieces of jewelry.

“Structured Elegance” will be on view through Sept. 19.

The Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel St., is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. It will be closed on July 4. For more information, call (203) 432-2800 or visit

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