Structured Elegance: Bookbindings and Jewelry by Romilly Saumarez Smith

A passion for both materials and process fueled Romilly Suamarez Smith’s twenty-five year career as one of Britain’s most highly acclaimed bookbinders. In the 1990s she began to use metal more frequently in her binding, gradually turning her attention to making jewelry. Structured Elegance, which featured a selection of her sophisticated and elegantly bound books along with a number of her subtle and intricate brooches, rings, and necklaces, was the first exhibition to feature both facets of Saumarez Smith’s distinctive work and to explore the relationship between them.

Romilly Saumarez Smith (born 1954) 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. The small display at the Center showcased the bookbindings commissioned in the 1980s by the British artist Eileen Hogan for Hogan’s own works. While maintaining the rigorous standards of craftsmanship that her training provided, Saumarez Smith rejected the self-consciousness of fine bindings, in favor of 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 her imaginative approach led to the use of unusual materials and the increasing use of metal pieces—wire staples and small squares of copper—and her exploration of jewelry-making.

View works from the collection included in this exhibition here.


The exhibition was curated by Eileen Hogan, artist and Professor in Research at Wimbledon College of Art, University of the Arts London, with Elisabeth Fairman, Senior Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Center.

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Structured Elegance: Bookbindings and Jewelry by Romilly Saumarez Smith installation, Yale Center for British Art, photo by Richard Caspole