Ootje Oxenaar Spines (Design Brief No. 4)


On the whole, a book’s spine is its most prominent feature. One would be better advised to not judge a book by its spine, and forget the cover we hardly ever see. Alas, book spines often get little attention—unless they belonged to Ootje Oxenaar. Although renowned for his designs for Dutch banknotes and postage stamps (and the subject of our fourth Standing Room Only Lecture), Oxenaar was a prolific designer of book spines. This wasn’t done for commercial publishers, but for books in his own library. When he didn’t care for what he saw poking out from a shelf (or when he needed to procrastinate) he would make his own spine for a book. The result is a fantastic and fantastical mosaic made of tall-and-skinny strips, hand-lettered and drawn with great skill and great whimsy. With a brief essay by Dawn Oxenaar Barrett, former dean of the architecture and design division at RISD and former president of Massachusetts College of Art and Design, this fourth issue of our Design Brief is sure to make you sit up straight.

Author: Dawn Oxenaar Barrett
Size: 6 × 9 inches
Pages: 16
Binding: Saddle-stitch pamphlet
Publisher: Katherine Small Gallery, 2020