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Jenn Bellfield (formerly Jenni Grey)

Jenni Grey Bookbinding


Jenn Bellfield (formerly Jenni Grey) studied as a mature student at Brighton University, gaining a BA in Graphic Design and MA in Sequential Design. Her bookbinding training included part-time classes and workshops with Faith Shannon, Jean de Gonet and David Sellars. She became Fellow of Designer Bookbinders in 1989. Initially worked in publishing, then part-time senior lecturer at Brighton University in the Department of Art and Design.

She has won many awards in National and International Competitions, and has work in important collections such as The British Library, The Bodleian Library, The National Poetry Library and The John Rylands Library in the UK, The Library of Congress and the Grolier Club in the USA, The Royal Library in The Hague, The Bibliotheca Wittockiana in Brussels, Winchester Cathedral and the Getty Collection.

“Since retiring I no longer take commissions or run workshops so I can focus on my own work. I am interested in combining different materials with the various skills I have developed over the years, utilising stitch, beadwork and jewellery making techniques. Alongside fine binding I am creating my own books and am in the process of making a collection of reinvented Victorian photograph albums. My most recent project has been to produce a book transcribed from over four hundred love letters found in a boot market.”

Winter’s Tale
Quotes from Shakespeare
Photographs by Neale M Albert
Piccolo Press, New York, 2021
Un-numbered edition
110 x 100 x 35mm
Bound in 2022

The materials used were lemon wood for the frame, the silk panel has seed beads surrounded by hand-made resin cabochons and goldwork embroidery. The brass fittings were made by Anthony Belfield.

“This bouquet of a book was inspired by Neale Albert’s flower photographs, which he sent every day to his friends during the dark days of Covid.” This is a lovely concertina format miniature book, but the copy I received was rather unevenly folded. However, this was fortunate for me as I enjoy projects that give me the opportunity to think of alternative solutions rather than taking a traditional bookbinding approach. In this case my idea was to make covers that were larger than the book to disguise the wonky pages, and as soon as I’d made that decision the idea of creating a binding structured like a flower press followed quite quickly.

A flower press is usually held together with wing nuts and bolts. However, they could have become visual distraction as I wanted the embroidered panels to be the main focus of the piece. It took a few attempts to make something that didn’t overwhelm the design but was still easy to operate, and it was very satisfying to find a good balance. To protect the book pages from damage, whilst ensuring the book remains easy to handle, the endpaper has been glued to the lower board.

Poisonous Plants by John Nash and W Dallimore
Illustrated by John Nash
Haslewood Books, London, 1927
305 x 200 x 28mm
Bound in 2022

Covered in hand dyed silk dupion, with machine embroidery and couched vintage cordé. The main feature of the design is the hand-made resin cabochons in a craquelure effect with embedded leaf skeletons. These are set in a surround sewn with seed beads.

Seemingly benign seed pod forms harbour not life but a symbol of death.

Straight From The Heart
Transcribed by Jenni Grey
Illustrated with images by Jenni Grey
Produced by Jenni Grey in 2019, Draft copy
213 x 155 x 37mm
Bound in 2023

Bound in dupion silk, with goldwork wires, embroidery threads, and hand-made resin cabochons embedded with metallic foil. Hand-painted doublures. The flat back book has a rounded wooden spine, which is attached to the binding with brass headcaps.

The book has been transcribed from over 400 letters bought at a boot market. As the relationship develops between this ‘not so ordinary couple’, the letters, originally sold as love letters, contain an insight into how they led their lives and their hopes and dreams. Reflecting this the design splits the shape of a heart between the front and back boards, only being viewed as a heart when the binding is open. The lines radiating out from the main form indicate the stream of consciousness of the writing and the varied topics of the letters.

Rizzoli International Publications, USA, 2009
325 x 265 x 40mm
Bound in 2017
Collection of The Clothworker’s Company

Covered in Italian linen, with glass seed beads, acrylic taxidermy eyes and lizard skin spine.
Box made by Anthony Belfield, constructed in tulip wood and ash veneer; with stainless steel fittings.

Reading the interview with Ofili reminded me that as people we often focus on difference rather than similarities and the design elements in the binding focus on these thoughts. Hence the design on the front board is not exactly the same as the back board, but they are similar.

I used beads to reflect the way Ofili uses mapping pins in many of his pieces. The black and green colours indicate interlaced fingers of pale and dark skinned hands. Using the same sort of colour range as Ofili used in his black and gold pictures, I included some red beads. It occurred to me that they looked like drops of blood, which also seemed appropriate; we all bleed the same.

Ofili’s work often has an unsettling quality which I wanted to portray, but the elephant dung and pornography used by the artist would have no meaning for me, so I chose taxidermy eyes, selecting the green ones because they could either be used for cats or alligators, furthering this idea of difference and similarity.

The weight and type of paper used in this book mean displaying the binding in a standing position for any length of time isn’t ideal, so the box is designed to be both a storage container and an exhibition stand.

Ancestors by Jenni Grey
Repaired and re-invented Victorian Album
Laser cut images of Victorian photographs on clear acrylic
Made in 2019

The leather binding has been restored, and a new spine and cover panels have been added in dupion silk with loom woven beads.

It seemed particularly relevant to use a contemporary technique with one of the vintage albums I’ve collected because the Victorians were happy to use the new materials of the time, such as celluloid. Also, I liked the quality of the etched line created by laser cutting, which when used on clear acrylic creates a ghostlike effect which captures in visual form notions of mortality, memory and loss.

Unique bookwork by Jenni Grey
Produced by the binder in 2021
99 x 99 x 30mm
Bound in 2021

Bound in Italian linen with Miyuki delica and bugle beads, and Preciosa seed beads. Paste wash doublures. Box with sycamore sides, bookcloth cover, and hand-made brass fixtures.

Created originally for the Under 100 exhibition, the book contains 99 portraits on stamps of one or two colours, which are mounted on pages 99mm by 99mm. The collection is arranged by colour beginning with red and working through to black. Initially the binding was designed to have a flat spine but the book, with the extra bulk in the middle created by the stamps, had a natural tendency to fall into a curve. As a result the design was changed to accommodate a rounded spine, a loom woven panel with delica beads was added to compliment the decorative cover design which incorporates bugle and seed beads.

Where Land Meets Sea by Clare Leighton
Rinehart & Co., 1954
255 x 195 x 25mm
Bound in 2019
Private Collection

Hand dyed silk spine with loom woven glass seed beads and laser etched acrylic boards. Sycamore box with silk and beads.

The question I am asked most frequently is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ Often it can be just one element that provides the key to the whole binding. In this case it was finding the frosted beads which reminded me of the small pieces of sea glass that can still occasionally be found washed up on the beaches near my home. Because of their delicacy everything else had to coordinate : the materials, the quality of the etched line, the colours of the ice dyed silk and endpapers, were all worked and selected to harmonise with those beads.

Sea, Sky and Down by Richard Jefferies
Nicholas Parry, Tern Press, 1989 UK
Edition number 94 of 125
Bound in 2015

Bound in blue suede with soutache embroidery and multi coloured glass beads. Paste-wash doublures. Sycamore box with blue ash veneer and handmade brass fixtures.

As I live by the sea I was naturally drawn to this book. The binding takes its inspiration from the constantly changing colours of the sea and sky that I see daily from my workroom window, which, as the subject matter suggests, also reflects the colours and forms of the images within the book.

A History of Erotic Literature by Patrick J Kearney
MacMillan (undated)
Approx 300 x 220 x 20 mm
Bound in 2020
Private Collection

The binding is covered in dupion silk, with machine embroidery, hand stitched Russian braid, and silver lined beads. The Korean paper endpapers include hand drawn and airbrushed images. The wooden box has a hand-made brass hasp with a small padlock. The key is hidden in a recess under the box and held in place with a magnet.

There are many approaches I would have preferred to take with this book, shredding it being my favourite. I had agreed to undertake the commission after the owner had sent me an image of the frontispiece which was in the style of an arts and crafts border, including the torsos of two satyrs which wouldn’t have offended your granny. So, I was expecting to see the mastery of line of Beardsley, or the hedonism of a Fragonard, but instead the drawings inside were puerile. I was relieved when I had finished sewing up the book and I didn’t have to look inside it again. I decided to simply work on the theme of blue and green should never be seen. The materials were chosen to create the sumptuous binding the customer had requested, and the soft pink endpapers were his preferred colour. The outlines of hands, and shadowy silhouette, were intended to represent the unknown people producing books of this ilk, but in retrospect the drawings could look like hands mauling vulnerable flesh – perhaps a subconscious statement about the text after all!


Email: jennigrey@btinternet.com
Accepts Commissions: No