Arts & Events

Collector Jack Walsdorf comes to Collins

Bibliophile Jack Walsdorf shared his experiences in book collecting in a lecture and in the Art 280 course.

Collins Memorial Library is currently host to an exhibit of rare and limited books printed on the Kelmscott Press, created by William Morris. Morris is a true artist, his abilities not limited to the intricate illustrations currently on display. We are privileged to have this exhibit, brought to us by Jack Walsdorf, a lifelong collector and enthusiast of Morris and the Kelmscott Press. His lecture on Sept. 20 was thoroughly enjoyed and informed the audience of his journey as a book collector, always on the hunt for Morris’ work.

Walsdorf’s adventures in collecting began during his undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A professor brought examples of books printed off the Kelmscott Press to class, and his “love affair” with Morris and the press was ignited.

In his twenties Walsdorf interned at a library in Oxford, lucky enough to be only 20 miles away from Morris’ country home, which is where he purchased his first Morris book and began his career as a collector. The book was only a fragment of the actual book, “The Heavenly Earth,” the third volume of, but held enough value that his lifelong passion for collecting Morris’ books was set.

While Morris worked for the Oxford library he made weekend trips to London to learn even more about Morris’ work. In Walsdorf’s first year of collecting, his personal library totaled 88 books, three of which were Kelmscott. Within 16 years, in 1983, Walsdorf’s library of Morris summed 1,000 books. He grew tired of his quest to collect Kelmscott Press books and sold his collection.

“They would be in a good home, where students and scholars can put them to use,” Walsdorf said.

He sold the lot in 1985 to the University of Maryland. His passion for collecting dwindled for less than a year but in secret he once again began collecting.

Walsdorf shared the opening line of his next book, written in 1984, “With this book I start my second quest for Morris.” His love of Morris and the hunt for books was too strong for him to deny.

In his lifetime Walsdorf has collected over 9,960 books, averaging 226 books a year. The most books he collected in a single year was 400, the lowest number collected dipped at 14.

Walsdorf believed everyone should have a passion for something; he quoted Socrates and stressed the importance of having a passion.

“The unexamined life is not worth living, part of life is examining…it’s a wonderful thing to have a passion for something,” Walsdorf said. “Book collecting is a passion, the joy is the hunt. I’m still on the hunt.”

The exhibit “William Morris and the Art of the Book” will be on display until Oct. 14. This unique exhibit holds limited editions of books printed on Morris’ own Kelmscott Press.