Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sarah Wyman Whitman

Among the first of the artists who transformed commercial binding design, Sarah de St. Prix Wyman Whitman was a hard working visionary who in many ways represented the modern woman. She was a successful portrait painter, had a stained glass workshop, and designed hundreds of books for Houghton, many with simple lettering, like Timothy’s Quest below.

Timothy’s Quest
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Boston and New York:
Houghton Mifflin and Company,
Cambridge: The Riverside Press, n.d., © 1890
18 x 12
[unsigned, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

Whitman's pictorial designs for better editions were generally decorative stamped forms with Arts and Crafts elements and Art Nouveau motifs. Her distinct use of lettering, floral decoration and hearts was adopted by other designers.

Dorothy Q
by Oliver Wendell Holmes
Illustrated by Howard Pyle
Boston and New York:
Houghton, Mifflin and Company,
Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893
20.1 x 13.1
[unsigned, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan
by Lafcadio Hearn
Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company,
n.d., ©1894
21 x 13.7
[unsigned, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

 The Country of the Pointed Firs
by Sarah Orne Jewett
Boston and New York:
Houghton, Mifflin and Company,
Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1897
17.5 x 13.2
[unsigned, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

 The Marble Faun
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1899
17.1 x 11.9
[signed SW in a flaming heart on back cover, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

The earliest known binding by SWW is from 1880, a variation of a Rossetti design that was posted here in August, along with some biographical information--see When did we leave the Victorian era?

There are many resources you can view online to see more of  her work and read about her life. Knowing the work of this important artist is essential to understanding the development of American publishers' bindings.

Sarah Whitman bindings at the Boston Public Library
Sarah Whitman in PBO
PBO database: bindings by Sarah Whitman
Sarah Whitman bindings at the University of Rochester
Sarah Wyman Whitman by Betty S. Smith (Harvard Magazine)
Reflections on a Design by Sarah Wyman Whitman by David Gehring, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Francis G. Hutchins' essay on the Sarah Whitman's Lowell window at the First Parish in Brookline, MA

Te comment below was posted January 17, before I had to delete and re-post this article due to a problem with the system.
Rebecca Rego Barry said...
I'm thrilled to see SWW on your blog. Her work is beautiful! Coincidentally, I posted a blog entry about her on the Fine Books Magazine Blog recently after acquiring an edition of Thoreau's Cape Cod designed by her.

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