Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Book Arts Tuesday-Sarah Wyman Whitman
We've returned from our wonderful three weeks in Paris. I'll be sharing thoughts and images from the trip as I have time to process them. For today's Book Arts Tuesday, I've looked back to the week before we left when my friend Cathy and I went to South Berwick, Maine where we visited the Sarah Orne Jewett House and Hamilton House. We had guided tours of the houses and gardens thanks to a program sponsored by Historic New England and the New England Wildflower Society.
Last summer was my Celia Thaxter summer so it was a pleasure to see the home of her close friend Sarah Orne Jewett and learn more about her. While there, we were introduced to the book covers and bindings of Sarah Wyman Whitman. Bonnie Hurd Smith has written an informative and inspiring post about Sarah on Boston Women's Heritage Trail website. She describes her as "a prolific artist who worked in a variety of media, a patron of the arts, and philanthropist who "influenced almost every aspect of creative life in Boston," according to the art historian Erica E. Hirshler." She began as a painter and studied with William Morris Hunt in Boston and Thomas Couture in France. She had a stained glass studio called the Lily Glassworks and designed windows for Trinity Church in Boston and Memorial Hall at Harvard University.
Sarah Wyman Whitman’s third and most prolific artistic career began in about 1884 when she was asked to design book covers for Houghton Mifflin in Boston. Her clean, linear designs were a marked departure from more elaborate and expensive book covers making her one of the most sought-after book designers in the country. Among the roughly three hundred covers she created were those for her writer friends Sarah Orne Jewett and Celia Thaxter.
Sarah believed passionately in bringing art to everyday life and to everyday objects, which were guiding principals of the Arts and Crafts movement first initiated in England around 1849 and popularized in Boston by the 1870s. In 1895, during a talk for the Boston Art Students Association (founded in 1879 by the first graduating class of the Boston Museum School), she told her audience,
“You have got to think how to apply elements of design to these cheaply sold books; to put the touch of art on this thing that is going to be produced at a level price, which allows for no handwork, the decoration to be cut with a die, the books to out by the thousand and to be sold at a low price.”...
Three years after her death in 1904 at the age of sixty-two, Sarah Wyman Whitman’s friends published a book of her private letters. In the introduction they wrote, “When she went out of this world, it seemed as if the high light had gone from everything.”
To find out more about Sarah Wyman Whitman:
A great collection of photos of her covers and bindings from the Boston Public Library
The Boston Women's Heritage Trail website
The University of Rochester Rare Books and Special Collections
Letters of Sarah Wyman Whitman