Timothy Ely

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Timothy C. Ely (born February 9, 1949) is a contemporary American painter, graphic artist, and bookbinder, known for creating single-copy handmade books as art objects.

His one-of-kind manuscript books combine elaborate and often mysterious painted and drawn folios contained within finely crafted bindings, which are his inventions[1] or variations on traditional binding techniques.[2] Each book carries layers of both materials and meaning. Close study of each drawing can elicit revelations, personal to each viewer.

Born in Snohomish, Washington in 1949, Ely has been making books since he was a child, mixing drawing, painting, and words in his journals and stapled comic books. His childhood interests in such topics as astronomy and chemistry have carried forward into his adult work. He was deeply influenced by his father’s hardware store and the local public library, where he spent his time after school. It was later, during his undergraduate studies (Western Washington University, BA 1972), that Ely’s philosophy of art, expression, and books began to coalesce. Following graduate school (University of Washington, MFA 1975), Ely undertook a self-directed study of bookbinding and began to fabricate the work he is known for today: a fusion of his unique take on English style binding techniques with his visionary drawings.

For the last forty years, his books and other works have sprung from a central core of concepts, owing to a fascination with obscure or seemingly incomprehensible forms inspired by science and other projections from the history of the human imagination. This spectrum of inspiration includes such things as fractured and whole grids, cypher systems, landforms and landscapes as viewed from a satellite, and the archeological overlay of some of these sites, especially those containing libraries. Originally, the atlas format provided a platform for the rendering of his complex maps, which gradually gave way to an expanded psychological viewpoint of a larger universal scheme.

Much of Ely’s work is richly annotated with his own glyphs he calls “cribriform.” While they are made up of a finite set of marks, they take on many different “meanings” depending on the tool with which they are drawn. He has written and spoken often about the roots and evolution of these drawings.[3][4] Gestural in their formation, these trailings evoke a sense of language and meaningful discourse. Though suggestive, they never yield up a firm translation.

With a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1982) Ely traveled to Japan, Italy, and England to study bookbinding and paper making. He then moved to New York where he established a studio and taught at the Center for Book Arts. During his decade in New York, Ely traveled to Europe, Central America, and Scandinavia lecturing, exhibiting, and teaching.[5] From New York, he moved his studio to Portland, Oregon, back to his native Pacific Northwest. He has had numerous solo exhibitions, most recently at the Jundt Art Museum and The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, and has participated in countless group exhibitions. His work is in many private and public collections, including the Library of Congress, the Brooklyn Museum, the Boston Athenaeum, the Getty Research Institute, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Lilly Library.

Ely has also collaborated with the writers David Abel (Memo 7 and Other Works, 1989) and Terence McKenna (Synesthesia, 1992), who also wrote the introduction to the 1995 trade publication of Ely's 1985 unique book Flight Into Egypt.[6] Ely has also illustrated a small number of conventional or commercial projects.

A selective and far from exhaustive list of Ely's works includes: Heliotropy (1983, Smith College), Countercode Archeo-logic (1984, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas), Triad (1985, Temple University), Optical Aleutians 4 (1986, National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum), Elementals (1989, Yale University), Totem (1989, Library of Congress), Sense 9 (1990, Florida Atlantic University), Doppler Gossip (1991, Brooklyn Museum), Alpha Deep (1991, Princeton University), Saturnia (1994, Lilly Library), Arka (1995, University of Utah), Pelidnota (1995, Stanford University), Gamma Cruxis (1997, Columbia University), Tables of Mercury (2000, Multnomah County Library), Time Stunt: Spore (2001 Boston Athenaeum), Compound 12 (2005, University of Denver), Halo Chalice (2005, Lilly Library), Trajections (2006, Reed College), Formation (2008, University of Idaho), Index (2009, Lilly Library), Interference (2012, Bradley University), Polarity (2013, Lilly Library).

Ely currently lives in rural Eastern Washington near Spokane.

Timothy C. Ely is represented by Abby Schoolman Books, New York, NY.


  1. ^ Ely, Timothy C. (Fall 2004). "The Transcendental DRUM LEAF®" (PDF). Bonefolder.
  2. ^ Hale, Julie and Beth Sweet (eds.). (2011). Masters: Book Arts: Major Works by Leading Artists. New York: Lark Crafts. pp. 152–159. ISBN 978-1-60059-497-7.
  3. ^ gonzagau (2010-09-08), Tim Ely, retrieved 2016-02-29
  4. ^ Leutz, Pamela Train (2010). The Thread That Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press. pp. 39–50. ISBN 978-1-58456-274-0.
  5. ^ Ely, Timothy C. (2012). "Timothy C. Ely CV".
  6. ^ Ely, Timothy C. (1995). The Flight into Egypt: binding the book. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-0620-0.
  • Ely, Timothy C. Flight Into Egypt. San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1995.
  • Hale, Julie and Beth Sweet (eds.). Masters: Book Arts: Major Works by Leading Artists. New York, Lark Crafts, 2011.
  • Leutz, Pamela Train. The Thread That Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders. New Castle, DE, Oak Knoll Press, 2010.
  • The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist. Vol. 1, No. 1, 2004.
  • Hubert, Renée Riese, and Judd D. Hubert. The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists' Books. New York, Granary Books, 1999.
  • Lewis, Roy Harley. Fine Bookbinding in the Twentieth Century. Riverside, NJ, Simon & Schuster, 1984.

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