As I write these words, a cargo ship is chugging across the Pacific ocean, carrying freshly-printed volumes of In Plain Sight: Discovering The Furniture of Nathaniel Gould in preparation for PEM’s exhibition opening in November. In my last post for Connected, I shared a behind-the-scenes look of our photo shoot of Gould’s surviving furniture. Now, let’s take a sneak peek at the finished book and some secrets behind its production.
The production cycle starts with the book design. Our designer, Daphne Geismar, produced for us an elegant design that uses elements from Gould’s ledgers (recently discovered at the Massachusetts Historical Society) to evoke the world of Gould’s 18th century Salem, while still being an attractive book for a contemporary audience. For example, the main font is DTL Elzevir, an update of a Dutch type from the 1600s.
A particularly tricky aspect of both the design and the editing of In Plain Sight were the 77 pages of Appendices. The appendices are a treasure trove of information from the Gould ledgers for historians, collectors and genealogists alike. Kemble Widmer and Joyce King put forth extraordinary research efforts to decipher these ledgers, but how then should we best present the raw data and their findings?
Daphne created a clean, numbered table format and we compiled supplemental lists of Exports, Wedding Orders and Childbirth Orders, in addition to the more traditional comprehensive Client List and Furniture Orders by Form. We are excited to see what new research this publication of Gould’s ledgers enables.
We know that despite people’s best intentions, they will be judging our book by its cover. In Plain Sight’s cover photo is of a bombé chest from the collection of the Marblehead Historical Society. Dennis Helmar photographed the chest in the second floor bedroom of the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, in front of a particularly gorgeous panel of original wallpaper. The wallpaper is English, hand-painted and custom-made.
Check out the way the wallpaper design harmonizes with the carving on the grand staircase (discussed in curator Dean Lahikainen’s essay “Grand Houses and Rural Retreats”). Lee bought the imported mahogany used in this staircase from Gould.
We wanted to use period wallpaper for the catalog endpapers, but as impressive as it is, the Lee Mansion paper was far too busy for this element of the book. Instead, we used Webb House Damask, an English wallpaper from the Joseph Webb House in Wethersfield, Connecticut. It’s rare for wallpaper from the 1700s to survive into the present, and also rare to find a publication-quality file of a fully restored pattern. You can see the wallpaper in situ in the Washington Bedroom of the Joseph Webb House.
In order to make sure that all of our gorgeous photos and figures printed correctly, the printer sent us proofs of each image, so that we could see exactly how the color separations would look and make adjustments.
In the catalog we have two images of a fantastic desk-and-bookcase in the collection of the Met. These two photos were taken by different photographers, with very different lighting. We worked with the printer to match the color of the wood grain to the image in the catalog plate, which best represented the rich mahogany.
When the second round of proofs came back we were surprised to see that the well-meaning printer had Photoshopped out a burn mark on the Met desk’s top left door. Clearly they thought it was an imperfection, but we had them put it back in, for authenticity.
For a casebound (hardcover) book, there are many construction details to choose from, for example, the color of the cloth, the foil stamping and the binding ribbon. It was fun to look through all the colorful sample books.
From the first image pinup to the exciting day the first boxes of advances arrived at my desk, the production of In Plain Sight: Revealing the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould has been a very rewarding project. I hope that you’ll enjoy the exhibition…and the catalog too!