Colfax, WA: Timothy Ely, 1990-. Unique. Hardcover. Bones of the Book is the second in a three-book series that differs significantly from most of Ely’s other work. These books are both biographical and autobiographical. Each honors the important influence of family members in Ely’s life, and combines it with an aspect of bookbinding—the format Ely has chosen to house his artwork throughout his career. In each case, there is also a third narrative that plays a significant role in Ely’s identity as an individual and as an artist.
The series began with Binding the Book:The Flight Into Egypt in 1985. Egypt is about Ely’s grandfather, the journal he left behind about his mysterious trip to Egypt between the wars, bookbinding, and the geography of Egypt. For much more information about Binding the Book: The Flight Into Egypt, see The Flight into Egypt: Binding the Book (Chronicle Books, 1995).
In Bones of the Book, the visual narrative combines Ely’s origins (Snohomish, WA, his parents, and their hardware store), and the close relationship between book structure and human anatomy. The third book has yet to be made. Ely plans for it to be about his Uncle Jack and his work as a combat photographer in the Pacific during WWII. In addition to the three-fold, co-mingled story line in Bones, as in all of Ely’s art, there are layers of references drawn from alchemy, mathematics, mythology, geography, and geology.
"In the early part of the last decade of the 20th century, I wished to contemplate my origins, especially the early and all-consuming attraction to the form of the book and how that might have evolved for me. Beyond deep reading, I have found that the best way to become informed about an event or gather a bit of enlightenment is to make an expressive book.
Bones of the Book began as a thought structure aimed at the skeletal system of the body and of the book, as they seem to me to contain functions that echo each other. I also wanted to fuse the influences of my parents and their choice of livelihood into the book by referencing the location of their hardware store and its impact on what I have chosen to do as an artist. My parents, Everett [b. 1914] and Frances [b. 1918], met at a paper mill where they both worked, then married at the outset of America’s involvement in World War II. In about 1948, they opened a hardware store in Snohomish, Washington (a map in the book drawn from memory is an attempt to locate the store in space), which set the tone for my entire life until they retired in 1978.
The hardware store.... I long to travel back through time and view it again, for until I began this contemplation, I was not really aware of how much that family business, the community it served, and the tools and materials it contained affected me. I was introduced to the hardware business around the age of 11, not knowing how connected to the arts of the book this would be. It was to be my first real training in the process of building things, and, coupled with the local library where I practically lived when I wasn’t at the store, really became the focus of my interests. When I first began to work this out, I came to believe that there was an inextricable link between what influenced me, and how I came to know the craft of making a book. There seemed to be in place an existing gnosis which acted as both a guide and a set of techniques—a skeletal anatomy was at hand.
I began drawing bones in graduate school after a trip to a forbidden beach at the mouth of the Hoh River yielded up a hoard of bird, fish, and crab remains. Though the Hoh Reservation was off limits, some cigarettes gave us entry. That same summer a second pile of bones from draft horses in central Washington gave me a new scale. Then, my Uncle Jack, living in Alaska, would provide the third leg of the bone ‘tripod' of visual clues by sending me boxes of bones from a lonely beach near Hoonah, Alaska.These bones would provide both visual inspiration and material for inks. (Bone black ink is especially bluish and potent!)
Bones of the Book reflects both my identity as a maker of things, and bones as structural supports, and how that metaphor maps itself onto the cultural object/artifact of the book. As parts of the book traditionally have names of body parts to identify the book terrain, this seems apt. Books have a dorsal structure—a spine—and just as in a humanoid, if this is damaged the book is compromised. A book has a head and tail, and sometimes this head is crowned in gold, gilded, or otherwise given an ornamental treatment. As the names of a book’s parts and their function lend connection to bones and anatomy, so also does the chosen structure of this book. The search for both an appropriately robust and workable binding, and one that properly expresses my artistic intentions, provided a series of opportunities to examine a sampling of medieval books that satisfy these requirements. The structural skeleton of Bones of the Book is supported by a continuous membrane of aged gampi, a Japanese paper possessed of astonishing properties. This paper forms a long, double fold along each folio and is known as a “half loose” guard. Being somewhat impenetrable to adhesive, this paper reduces the friction of the folio so that it facilitates, without drag, the mobility of the book structure. Put simply, it opens well without adding stress to the binding. In tandem with the sewing supports, cotton textile, and tissue as metaphoric muscle mass, the book begins to resemble an intelligent and projective body. The Doctor said ‘‘It’s alive!’’
Bones of the Book was finished as of June 11, 2015. It puts to rest and completes a long examined set of ideas, and its own initial structural challenges provoked a method of working that I can see to have a multiplicity of future uses." [Artist statement, T. Ely/ July 2015/ Colfax, WA]
Timothy C. Ely is a renowned and enigmatic figure in the book world. His one-of-a-kind manuscript books combine elaborate and often mysterious painted and drawn folios contained within finely crafted bindings, most of which are original designs or variations on traditional binding techniques. Each book carries layers of both materials and meaning. Each drawing and element elicit revelations, personal to each viewer.
“For the last forty years, his books and other works have sprung from a central core of concepts, owing to a fascination with obscure or seemingly incomprehensible forms inspired by science and other projections from the history of the human imagination. This spectrum of inspiration includes such things as fractured and whole grids, cypher systems, landforms and landscapes as viewed from a satellite, and the archeological overlay of some of these sites, especially those containing libraries. Originally, the atlas format provided a platform for the rendering of his complex maps, which gradually gave way to an expanded psychological viewpoint of a larger universal scheme.
Much of Ely’s work is richly annotated with his own glyphs he calls “cribriform.” While they are made up of a finite set of marks, they take on many different “meanings” depending on the tool with which they are drawn. He has written and spoken often about the roots and evolution of these drawings. Gestural in their formation, these trailings evoke a sense of language and meaningful discourse. Though suggestive, they never yield up a firm translation.” [A. Schoolman]. Fine in Fine Archival Box. Tight, bright, and unmarred. Planetary Collage Standard binding with hand-sewn hand-dyed Irish linen end- bands and half loose guards, elaborately blind-tooled brown goat skin spine; resin and pigment encrusted boards, boards incorporate six works of art on paper; resin, rivets, paint, ink, and wax; gilt, colored foil, and blind tooling; decorated endpapers by the artist, manuscript and letterpress title page signed and dated by the artist, drawn and painted throughout in ink, dry pigment, watercolor, and graphite. Housed in a custom drop back box by the artist. fo [30cm x 44.5cm x 3.5cm] np. [twenty- four double-page spreads. 34 leaves total]. Item #9758