Sunday 6 January 2013

Bookplate Designer Sylvia Hahn (1911-2001)

Bookplate designer Sylvia Hahn
Happy New Year everyone, I hope you had a safe and enjoyable holiday season.

Occasionally in this hobby I come across little groups of letters and related bookplates like the one pictured here.  This particular lot consisted of two bookplates and a letter attributed to Canadian artist Sylvia Hahn.  Born in Toronto in 1911, she was an exceptionally talented and versatile craftswoman who was awarded the Governor General's Gold Medal for artistic achievement in 1932.  She then went on to a very successful career with the Royal Ontario Museum where she was a prolific painter, illustrator, engraver, designer, restorer, and writer.

Sylvia Hahn's personal bookplate
Hahn's design work included bookplates, which she often executed from wood engravings and pen and ink drawings.  A more complete biography of Hahn's extensive achievements may be found in the Canadian Women Artists History Initiative, but I'd like to include a short excerpt from the letter shown above (written in 1984), which offers some insight to Hahn's own bookplate design:
The things illustrated in my bookplate illustrate my pursuits and interests at that time - painting, sculpture, wood engraving, writing, jewellery work, cello playing, archery, swimming, astronomy, and the study of barn swallows.  I am afraid if I designed in again now the composition would be a bit emptier.  As one gets older it seems there is less time in a day for doing things!

She also pointed out that the medium employed on her own bookplate was wood engraving not wood cut:  "We engravers feel strongly on the subject - not that cuts aren't just as good, but they are different."

Hahn in her studio - date unknown
I feel lucky to have gotten this ex libris for my collection.  According to the letter, Hahn only made one printing of her bookplates and had run out of them save for this one that was tucked away "in my portfolio of prints and reproductions."

The other bookplate shown above was also designed by Hahn, for Canon Henry John Cody CMG, the 6th President of the University of Toronto.  I've already identified a few other bookplates designed by her as well, but further research is still needed before I can construct a complete catalogue of her ex libris work.

If you know of any other bookplates designed by Sylvia Hahn, I'd love to hear about them, just use the email above.  Otherwise, I encourage you to explore her work beyond her bookplates as well - her paintings and other illustrations show great talent and are an enjoyment.  Until next time...

1 comment:

  1. How wonderful! My Father introduced me to Ms. Sylvia Hahn when I was a budding young artist in elementary school. I cut grass for her in the summer months at her family home. Her Father, Gustav Hahn, built the home and she lived there with her beloved cats. In later years I often wondered how many of the Group of Seven visited there. I wish I had asked her so many questions. I remember a room with piles of paintings on canvas, leaning up against the wall, and a studio where she had so many "tools of the trade" for sculpting, wood engraving etc. All neatly hanging and outlined on the wall, so nothing would go astray without her noticing.