A Wayzgoose. What a wonderful word with very little to suggest its meaning, but it reveals a sublime insight into the history of print.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the wayzgoose was originally an entertainment given by a master-printer to his workmen to mark the beginning of the season of working by candlelight. In later use, it meant an annual festivity held in summer by the employees of a printing establishment, consisting of a dinner and (usually) an excursion into the country. Traditionally this was held on or around 24th August, Bartholomew-tide, St Bartholomew being the patron saint of bookbinders (amongst other things) – coincidentally this was also the date on which Gutenberg completed his bible in 1456. Over time, however, the date of the wayzgoose varied to any day in late summer [http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/08/origin-of-wayzgoose/].
As daylight broke on Saturday 1st April 2017, I fired up the C-Max and began my journey across the country. My destination was the picturesque Welsh town of Clyro and the Baskerville Hall Hotel for a weekend dedicated to the celebration of all things book. As legend has it, Baskerville Hall is where Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle penned the classic Hound of the Baskervilles and not to be confused with the printer John Baskerville. Clyro is the next village to Hay-on-Wye, famed for its annual literary festival and seems to be a perfect location for a new project exploring the book as an object. As Umberto Eco proclaimed, this is not the end of the book and with this in mind we (especially students of graphic design) need to stop asking whether the book and print will survive in the digital age and think more about how the book is adjusting in its new environment.
A more worthwhile activity is to look at how the book is surviving. In research for my Masters in 2014, I concluded that the book was not under threat, so much as it is readjusting its cultural position. What was emerging was a heightened awareness of the book as a material object, rather than just a holder of information. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Eco’s book (pardon the pun) and focus our efforts on the consideration of whether the internet, as a holder of information, will survive. The book is not only surviving, but it is thriving in the digital age as new technology is facilitating the evermore advanced approaches to printing techniques. One only has to look at the work of Anna Gerber and Britt Iverson at Visual Editions to see how advances in print production technology are facilitating innovation in book production that would have previously been just pipe dreams.
Back to the journey to the Welsh Borders and the reason for going. Emma Balch is the driving force behind the ambitious project to tell The Story of Books through a permanent and interactive museum housed at the Baskerville Hall Hotel in Clyro, launched with this inaugural Baskerville Wayzgoose. The weekend was full of enthusiastic and highly skilled letterpress artists and printers including; Justin Knopp of Typoretum, Dulcie Fulton from Mostly Flat and the marvellous Graham Moss from Incline Press. What this event shows us is that there is an irrepressible appetite for the tangible and the tactile and that this event joins the wayzgooses (wayzgoosi or wayzgeese? I wonder what the plural is?) popping up around the country most notably the St Bride’s Library in Fleet Street, London in May and there is also one in Manchester. That graphic design and print possesses a materiality that is found in objects, which draws upon the senses of touch and smell, not just sight. The trans-sensory impact of books cannot be experienced through the digital medium and it is this realisation that is creating a 21st century revival of the book and print, similar to the revival of vinyl; it is as much about the object as the content.
There remains a nostalgia for the heritage of the zeitgeist of the Victorian industrial advances and the dawn of mass-printing, but it also has a forward-looking approach in that the aesthetics are being tested and explored. It is not just a re-learning of the skills; there is a modern take on the potential and limitations of the medium, which would have originally been regarded as faults and misprints. There is something inherently British in this resurgence of the craft of printing. Not only is there a history of content being expressed at Baskerville Hall, whether political pamphlets, a celebration of the great writers and poets, or just a reflection of the industrial revolution, but there is a forward looking and future proofing of the techniques and values of the printing industry. The day was rounded off with a celebratory dinner with a reading by the poet Owen Shears from the poetry of Edward Thomas, from the Folio Society‘s latest publication marking the centenary of Thomas’ death.
What Balch is doing to such great effect is both preservation and promotion of a valuable constituent of Britain’s cultural heritage. By creating a vibrant community, outside of London, that brings together craftspeople from all over the country who are perhaps working in isolation, she is helping to preserve, protect and celebrate a British craft institution. It gives us the opportunity to celebrate, learn and share ideas about the techniques and history of all things print – by jove, it’s a Wayzgoose!