In May 2017, the Heritage Crafts Association launched the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts at the House of Lords. They listed over 170 traditional crafts and placed them in one of four categories (Currently Viable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, and Insufficient Data). There were seventeen Critically Endangered Crafts of which Disappearing Fore-Edge Painting was one; this is where a book seems to have an ‘ordinary’ gilded or patterned fore-edge, but when the pages of the book are fanned, a painting is revealed as if by magic.
At the launch, Martin Frost, the remaining one disappearing fore-edge painter of which we are aware, demonstrated this craft, and all the images in this post are his. There’s more about Martin here. As I am posting this in Wimbledon month, the sequence of Martin’s painting of a tennis scene seems particularly appropriate. Here is the book as it looks normally with a gilded fore-edge.
The book is then carefully fanned and the pages held in a strong clamp. Martin starts the painting by creating the outline of the image.
More paint is added to build up the picture.
And finally, the image is finished, with a 1920s-style tennis player with a rather nifty backhand!
The Heritage Crafts Association were able to get a feature about the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts and Martin on the BBC TV’s The One Show. First he painted the fore-edge of a book for them showing the Brighton Pavilion.
And then, because the actor and comedian Ade Edmonson was being featured and interviewed on the same programme, they asked Martin to create a fore-edge especially for him which shows Ade as the character he played in The Young Ones, and also an image from a book he has written.
And, being Martin, he doesn’t just restrict his paintings to the fore-edge. That painting showing Columbus at the start of this post was only on the fore-edge. Here is the ‘head’ (top) of the book showing Columbus and native Americans, and there is a different scene painted on the ‘tail’ (bottom).
This is a craft that shows, as so many traditional crafts do, terrific skill, and one which we are in serious danger of losing. Please contact the Heritage Crafts Association for more information especially if you would like to support the work they do and contribute to ensuring that we don’t lose any more traditional crafts which are, after all, part of all of our shared heritage in the same way as heritage buildings and treasured landscapes.