Phoebe Jane Easton (1916-2006)
Ms. Easton was well known to the bookbinding and decorative paper community for her many years of devotion and patronage of the “floating art” of marbling as an independent scholar. Her efforts helped to enhance our understanding of decorative paper history and fostered an international network of practicing artists. In 2004, Phoebe published a brief account of what prompted her passion for the topic:
On a rainy spring day while I was admiring my collection of fore-edge paintings, something caught my eye, something that I never before had paid attention to: the marbled end papers of the books. The beautiful papers differed greatly from volume to volume, and I had no idea how they were accomplished. When the rain slackened, I hurried to the library, certain that I would quickly find an answer. The library staff was of little help. I asked my husband, and to my astonishment, he did not know either. It is well to remember that this was 1968.
Inspired to learn more, Phoebe visited the Los Angeles County Public Library, but found little information on current practice of the art. This motivated her to travel across the US and abroad visiting many leading institutions as well as living masters to learn more. Her first publication was modest but significant. In 1972, she published a short article in Volume 8 of Coranto: Journal of the Friends of the Libraries, University of Southern California. Entitled “Suminagashi: the Japanese Way with Marbled Paper”, it provided the very first exposure to the tradition of marbled paper production in East Asia for many western readers.
Over a decade later, the late Muir Dawson published a limited edition of Phoebe’s book Marbling: A History and a Bibliography at his bookshop in Los Angeles in 1983. Her work contained original examples of historical and contemporary marbled papers from around the world and is now widely regarded as a major contribution to the field of marbling and decorative papers in general. In addition to expanding on her earlier writing on Japanese marbling, she compiled short historical accounts and bibliographic lists for different geographic regions, not only featuring Europe and America, but also for East Asia, Scandinavia, and the Islamic World.
Phoebe amassed a significant collection decorative papers, books, and artwork from across the globe. In 1998, Houghton Library at Harvard University acquired part of the collection that mainly contains the work of 20th century artists. Two early 19th century American items are a notable exception; a sample of an over-marbled printed sheet from a notorious unpublished edition of John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and a US government tax form dating to 1811 printed upon marbled paper.
A symposium at Houghton in conjunction with an exhibition at eth Widener library at Harvard soon followed that October. In addition to Phoebe, Robin Heyeck and Feridun Özgören also gave presentation about their work with marbling. Her collection joined that of Rosamond Loring, who assembled the first major decorative paper collection in the United States. Altogether these collections made Department of Printing and Graphic Arts home to one of the richest repositories in the world for decorative papers. An online descriptive catalog of the Phoebe Easton collection can be seen at http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~hou01622 and the collection may be viewed in person by appointment.
Aside from her patronage of individual marblers over the years, Phoebe was an avid supporter of publications such as Ink & Gall and was a member of organizations such as the Guild of Book Workers. She wrote a column on Marbling for the Guild of Book Workers Newsletter from 1987 to 1993. In addition to writing further articles and reviews, she was invited to lecture at the very first international symposium devoted to Islamic Marbling at Harvard in 1986. She subsequently attended the International Marblers Gatherings in Santa Fe and San Francisco, and her first Guild of Book Workers Standards Seminar in 2001.
Phoebe generously gave her permission for International Marbling Network to publish an online version of her revised bibliography. It is intended that this public resource will develop into an online searchable catalog in her honor. Anyone interested in providing further citations or editing and correcting the existing ones should contact Jake Benson.