I am a great fan of bookplates. I dream of winning the lottery and becoming a collector of bookplates. The ones pictured here are by Estonian artist Vello Vinn, dated 1971 and 1970. These and more by Vinn can be found at The Digital Exlibris Museum.
I had never heard of Vinn until one day I was rambling around the marvellous 50watts drooling over Russian bookplates, and accidentally stumbled across Vinn’s illustrations for Helvi Jürisson's Putukajutud (Insect Stories, 1983, Estonia). I fell head over heels - possibly because of the insects, but also the intricacy and humour in the drawings ...
From the other side of Europe - Estonia, to be exact - these beautiful works really called out to me. I have never seen a work by Vello Vinn in real life, and know nothing about him, so I began to search around the internet for more information. Vinn seems to be an elusive character, however, and I haven't had much success outside of 50watts, and Wikipedia with the aid Google Translate (it might help if I could read Estonian). However, I did discover to my delight that bookplate art is one of Vinn's specialities. Apparently he has produced some 108 bookplates (and still seems to be going strong), all printed by himself, and very rare.
Vinn’s work has been described as ‘visionary’, comprising illustrations and etchings as well as bookplates. He specialises in drypoint etching; I imagine Vinn huddled over his etching plate, squinting to see the marks as he makes them. They are breathtaking in their technical skill and delicacy of drawing.
I grew up in the 1970s and early ‘80s when this genre of artwork was popular on album covers, posters, cartoons, films, illustrations etc. I am sure this is an influence which has found its way into what I do now (in spite of years of art school training!) and perhaps a reason Vinn’s work resonates so strongly with me.
I would love to know more about Vello Vinn and his work, but I am finding it a struggle. The critic and historian Jüri Hain refers to Vinn as a 'curiosity in Estonian graphic art'*. Even Will Schofield remarks on his Vello Vinn page on 50watts that he has been unable to find any collections of Vinn's work either in print or online, and notes that no-one in Estonia has apparently ever attempted to imitate Vinn's work. Maybe not in Estonia, but somebody here in Scotland fancies a go ...
I'd love to get hold of a copy of Putukajutud - if anybody knows where I could find one, please get in touch!
*Jüri Hain’s essay in Eesti Kunstnikud / Artists of Estonia (2007, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Estonia).
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Heather Eliza Walker
Artist in Edinburgh, Scotland