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By Barbara Hodgson & Claudia Cohen

In the 1570s, Bologna university professor Ulisse Aldrovandi revealed to the scientific world an astonishing room filled with exotic curiosities. His displays of marine life, minerals, fossils, botanical specimens, and manmade instruments were intended to show the universe - as it was known at the time - and to provoke questions about life. Aldrovandi's cabinet was just one example of the phenomenon of collecting and exhibiting natural history specimens that had begun in the mid 1500s.

Although museums eventually replaced private collections as repositories of the natural world, individuals still are drawn to create their own cabinets of curiosities. Two such persons, Claudia Cohen and Barbara Hodgson, have collaborated to present in book and cabinet form, an introduction to their own collections.

As collectors of curious and intriguing objects, Barbara Hodgson and Claudia Cohen have delved into the past to explore humankind's passion for accumulating beautiful, odd and marvellous things. They discovered a lineage that, in its modern form, stretches from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. It includes aristocrats, scientists, philosophers and artists who created fascinating cabinets of curiosities, or Wunderkammern, to display their accumulations of natural history objects, scientific apparatus, artifacts and art.

The WunderCabinet is Cohen and Hodgson's interpretation of these 16th-to-18th-century cabinets of curiosities. It is a glimpse into the authors' own collections through essays, images and objects, presented together in an imaginative and elegant package. By means of the two essential wunderkammer divisions, Naturalia and Artificialia, Hodgson and Cohen scrutinize the practical, the esoteric, the aesthetic and the bizarre. In Naturalia, they divide natural history into evolution, metamorphosis, sea life, herbaria, crystal structures and ornithology. In Artificialia, creations by artists, artisans and scientists, they include labyrinths, rules of perspective, timepieces, scientific instruments, exotic artifacts and magic delights.

In the spirit and mode of the authors' ongoing series of books exploring color (see here and here), the many & diverse images in The WunderCabinet will take a variety of forms, whether engraved, hand drawn, hand coloured, layered or collaged. Objects included with the book follow this tradition and complement the topics covered in the book.

Bookbinder Claudia Cohen has been working with some of the top names in fine press and artists' books for over three decades, including Gehenna Press, Pennyroyal Press, Cheloniidae Press, the Museum of Modern Art, Grenfell Press, the Whitney Museum, and David R. Godine, to name a few. She is also the creator of numerous books of paper ephemera, including Chasing Paper, and has collaborated with Hodgson on The Temperamental Rose and After Image, essays and interpretations of color history. Hodgson is a book designer and author of over a dozen books, including the novels Hippolyte's Island and The Tattooed Map. She co-curated exhibits at the Vancouver Museum based on two of her non-fiction books Opium and No Place for a Lady.

The WunderCabinet was published in early 2011 in an edition of 30 signed and numbered copies. The book (8.5 x 10.25 inches, 56 pp.) was designed and composed in Bembo by Barbara Hodgson. Reg Lissel spent ten months making over 1,000 foolscap sheets of paper specially for this project, which were printed damp by Rollin Milroy at Heavenly Monkey. Each copy is contained in a box decorated with onlaid wood veneers forming geometric patterns. Inside, in addition to the book, each box contains in various compartments a unique assortment of approximately two dozen objets culled from the creators' own collections (e.g. shells, fossils, plants, optical devices and plaster casts) with a descriptive listing (each list written out by one of the authors), making each copy a unique wunderkammer in its own right. The books (copies 11 - 30) were bound in leather with wood veneer onlays, matching the boxes, and gilt tooling.

Copies 1-10 will form a deluxe issue, issued in a special two-drawer specimen cabinet containing additional items. The bindings for these copies were full leather with geometrical trompe l'oeil onlays.

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