Libraries fore-edge lecture

“The Idylls of the King,” written by Alfred Tennyson, features a double fore-edge painting – two paintings on one book. It is part of the Jeffery D. Chaddock Collection.

Photographer: Tyler Stabile/Ohio University Libraries

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Guest lecturer to highlight history of fore-edge painted books


The intricate paintings on the fore-edges of books have intrigued the world for centuries.

In an upcoming lecture, the Libraries will invite the Ohio University community to learn about the rich history and art form displayed on fore-edge painted books.

Author Jeff Weber, preeminent authority on the history of fore-edge painting, will give a lecture, “A History of Fore-edge Painting Today,” on the fourth floor of Alden Library on Wednesday, Nov. 19, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Weber’s discussion will coincide with the opening of the exhibit “Hidden Treasures on the Edge: Fore-edge Painted Books from the Jeffery D. Chaddock Collection.”

Fore-edge paintings, watercolor directly applied to the fanned pages of a closed book, are essentially hidden by gilded, gold leaf edges. One would never notice the images until the pages of the book are fanned, revealing the hidden work of art. Some of the earliest fore-edge paintings consisted of delicate designs, symbols and patterns. In later years, these paintings evolved to depict representational artwork such as landscapes, portraits, seascapes, cityscapes, ruins, erotica and historical imagery.

Jeff Weber’s informative lecture will highlight the history of fore-edge painted books, particularly emphasizing the rare books from the Jeffery D. Chaddock Collection, a promised gift to the OHIO Libraries’ Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections.

In a special Libraries’ publication on fore-edge books, Weber spoke with writer Jen Doyle, a graduate student in journalism (’14). According to Weber, the components of fore-edge painted books tell multiple stories.

“The fore-edge painted book is a work of art in itself,” Weber said. “Each piece tells several stories: that of the printed book, the painting and the relationship between the two.”

The origins of fore-edge paintings can be traced to the 10th century when books were inked with identifying marks such as numbers and symbols and shelved with the fore-edge facing out.

Weber’s journey into the world of fore-edge painted books began during his youth, where he was surrounded by the knowledge of his grandfather Carl J. Weber, author and Rhodes Scholar, and his father David C. Weber, author and library director emeritus at Stanford University.

While serving as an apprentice for Jake Zeitlin, a rare bookseller located in Los Angeles, Weber compiled data for 20,000 fore-edge paintings, which later served as the basis for two books.

Today, Weber continues to lecture and author books and articles on the colorful history of fore-edge painted books.  

Please join the Libraries in welcoming guest lecturer Jeff Weber as he shares his extensive knowledge of fore-edge painted books on Wednesday, Nov. 19, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.