The Robertson Davies Library has four small display cases for students in the BHPC Collaborative Program and Massey Fellows to mount exhibitions. 

The library has also begun to create online exhibitions, available on the University of Toronto’s Omeka platform:

Robert R. Reid Digital Ephemera Collection

Disjecta membra: Medieval Manuscript Fragments at Massey College, Curated by Julia King

Flora & Fauna: Nineteenth-century colour printing, Curated by Andreea Marin

Visitors to Massey College are asked to sign in and out at the Porter’s Lodge.

Current Exhibitions (closed)

Make Believe

The Secret Library of M. Prud’homme — A Rare Collection of Fakes

Curated by Heather Jessup and Claire Battershill

Massey Exhibition Co-Curated by Amy Coté

The artefacts, images, and stories in this exhibition come from a special collection of fakes and forgeries that has toured Canada this year in public libraries.

These fakes were brought to light by Bishop Henri Prud’homme. The Prud’homme family in Canada were descendants of Louis Prud’homme and his wife Roberta Gadois, who arrived to Montreal from Guînes, Pas-de-Calais, France, in 1650. The first Governor of Montreal, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, gave them 65 acres of unceded Kanien’kehá:ka lands, close to the place French settlers named Fort Ville-Marie. The Prud’homme family opened the first brewery in Canada in Montreal. Louis’s descendants eventually moved west to Saskatchewan.

The story of the library of fakes, which languished for years in the attic of the first bishop of the Diocese of Prince Albert, Msgr. Joseph Henri Prud’homme, is quite remarkable. It is believed that an anonymous donor left a small wooden crate on the porch of the bishop’s palace in the late 1920s during the difficult dustbowl days of the Depression. We assume that the objects were given to the bishop because he was a well-travelled man who would value and care for the contents of the crate. He had visited Rome, Jerusalem, Paris, Vienna, Athens, Constantinople, and Cairo, and had served as secretary-archivist to the Vatican.  Prud’homme spoke French, German, English, Italian, Polish, and the Indigenous languages of Saskatchewan, particularly dialects of Cree, such as Nakawē.

The Prud’homme Library collection has never before been exhibited or studied, likely because of an academic disregard for documents of questionable origin. Now, for the first time in Canadian history, these artifacts are on national display.


Funded by the Canada Council for the Arts

Ongoing & ever-changing

Robert R. Reid Digital Ephemera Collection

Texts selected by CAUSA & designed by Robert R. Reid

Life is the elimination of what is dead

— Wallace Stevens

A Curatorial research initiative presented by CAUSA (Collective for Advanced and Unified Studies in the Visual Arts) as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the John M. Kelly Library.

Expanding on Robert R. Reid’s purposeful/pioneering role as an initiator (designer/printer) of artisanal (typographically individuated) books  — produced (since 1949) in limited, connoisseurial editions  —  a fluent (ongoing) assemblage of self-contained Digital Ephemera (recognizably realized by Reid, in his ninety-first year) now functions to connect an academic library’s traditional Collection/Conservation process to an experimental programme of Curation/Revivification.

At the Robertson Davies Library, a continuously collaborative CAUSA curatorial commitment — and its self-defining aesthetic of forward motion  — links the conceptive/regenerative development of certain closely read writings to their timely (digitally dispersed) transgenerational capacity for Communicative Contemporaneity.

May 2018 , CAUSA Research Curators

Previous Exhibitions

Glenn Goluska, Early work

Winter 2019, in collaboration with St. Michael’s College

Curated by Chester Gryski

Image from The Bicycle

Glenn Goluska was born and raised in Chicago, and began his book designing career in 1975 at The Coach House Press. At the same time, he established his own private press with his wife Anne under the imprint imprimerie dromadaire.  Glenn did the design, typesetting and printing both in English and Russian. Anne bound the books. They both did the linocuts that enhanced the broadsides and the books. One of their books, Scott Joplin, received an AIGA award in 1983.

In 1980, he left The Coach House Press in what he described as “a foolhardy venture into letterpress printing,” and became a freelance designer and printer under the name, The Nightshade Press. In this capacity he designed and printed books in limited editions for a wide range of people including Margaret Atwood, the Bronfman family, Hugh Anson-Cartwright and the Fisher Rare Book Library. He continued to win design awards for this work.

In 2011,  Glenn Goluska was awarded the Robert R. Reid Award and Medal by the Alcuin Society for lifetime achievements in the book arts in Canada. His work is held in many fine printing collections in Canada, the United States and internationally. More of it can be seen in the current exhibition at Massey College.

Glenn Goluska died in 2011.

Notes by Chester Gryski

The Artist’s Box

Exploring 19th Century Landscape Painting & Technique in Print

Curated by Chelsea Humphries

Fall 2018

Artists box

Advances in colour printing in the mid-to-late nineteenth century allowed for an unprecedented dissemination of artworks, advances in colour theory, and painting techniques. “The Artist’s Box” explores Victorian watercolour and landscape painting through contemporary art materials and instruction books curated from the Ruari McLean collection, featuring a nineteenth century watercolour paint-box and gorgeous full-colour wood engravings and chromolithograph prints.

An Old Tale, New-Told with Pictures

Illustrations of Famous Folk and Fairy Tales from the Ruari McLean Collection

Curated by Kirsten Brassard

Summer 2018

Beast proposing to Beauty

The Ruari McLean collection reflects the various uses made of the printing processes of the nineteenth century, including the illustration of children’s books.

This exhibition features famous folk and fairy tales in children’s books from the nineteenth century and considers how the illustrations in the books transform the stories – from the style of Cinderella’s ball gown to the fate of Little Red Riding Hood. “An Old Tale New Told with Pictures” is the subtitle of Beauty and the beast by E. V. B. published in 1875 by Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle (pictured here) and perfectly captures how even the oldest tale can be told anew, with a just a different picture.

Robert R. Reid

Celebrating his 90th Birthday and 69 years of Designing and Printing

Spring 2018

Curated by Chester Gryski

Robert Reid wood engraving

The press was founded in 1938 with the acquisition of my first printing press, but the more formal beginning was in 1949 in Vancouver when I published my first book, which goes at auction for around a thousand dollars, although I only charged $10 for it. The press has functioned with various kinds of equipment in different cities (Abbotsford, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, New Haven) with different imprints as seemed appropriate at the time.

The aim has always been to do fine printing, using the finest materials and the best type faces, of worthwhile texts that dignify the printing art. Substantial editorial content is necessary if private presses are not to be continually making silk purses out of sows’ ears, just to have something to print.

My approach to printing is totally sensual. I love the smell of ink, rollers, grease, hot lead; the sound of presses running, the tinkle of brass matrices on the Linotype, the sound of a Monotype caster; the feel of a sheet of handmade paper, the crispness of rag paper, the feel of a font of type; the sight of the first galley proof, the first page proof, a proof of a font of type, the printed page. Everything else springs from this sensual need and enjoyment, and I have generally treated printing as an avocation, rather than a vocation, although I have always made my living off it one way or another.

—Robert Reid, “Recent Arrivals & Other News from Lyndsay Dobson Books.” Grimsby, Ontario: Spring 1990.

Notes by Chester Gryski

Image by Andrea Taylor, “Robert” Wood engraving, A Young Printer in San Francisco, Heavenly Monkey, 2007.

Graphic Design in the Digital Age

Designs by Robert Reid with texts selected by CAUSA

Fall 2017

Electricity Is everywhere quote

Developing from affiliations with Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research (as initiated by Joseph Beuys and Heinrich Böll), CAUSA — Collective for Advanced and Unified Studies in the Visual Arts — aims to develop autonomous interpretation of visual culture within specific historical contexts. CAUSA functions in association with a ‘global village’ network of independent and institutional scholars — in tandem with a pluralistic community of socially engaged contemporary artists.

In its association with Massey College, CAUSA sustains a continuous process of philosophical reflection by connecting its programme of research to an expansive glimmering that was first formulated by Marshall McLuhan. He advises us, assuredly, “We may be drowning. But if so, the flood of experience in which we are drowning is very much part of the culture we have created. The flood is not something outside our culture. It is a self-invasion of privacy. And so it is not catastrophic. We can turn it off if we choose, if we wake up to the fact that the faucets of change are inside the ark of society, not outside.”

Travel Exhibition: Seasons & Directions

Curated by Manuela Büchting

Fall 2017

Collection of Cards

“When I lived in the Rocky Mountains hiking up the hill every morning to work, Literary Arts at the Banff Centre, I felt an incredible connection to all the nature around me. Almost every day, I saw the deer walking up and down the path. This energy gave me incredible inspiration for the arts and publishing. Meeting so many creative people from all over the world, I came up with the idea of starting my own little artist book press: deer press. The project of the Travel Exhibition started. The first Cycle of the Exhibition is about the Seasons, the cycle of a year, repeating life patterns, stories that we experience. The second Cycle is about the Directions: North, East, South, and West. The artists in the Cycle come from one of those directions, have a connection to it or just tell a story of what they experienced.

By now, 32 artists from Canada and Europe are sharing ideas, feelings and thoughts with their artist books, some stories are very personal, some universally connect us.” – Manuela Büchting, May 2017

Disjecta membra: medieval manuscript fragments

Curated by Julia King

Spring 2017

Gurney Pam

The Robertson Davies Library is home to a small number of medieval manuscript fragments. In the 19th and 20th centuries, antiquarians and booksellers circulated and sold detached leaves to libraries as examples of different styles of manuscript production. These fragments were often cut out of complete manuscript codices, since a bookseller could make more money selling 50 individual leaves than a fully bound book. Similarly, manuscript leaves were sold at a lower price point, making them more financially accessible to the amateur collector. This exhibit showcases the Gurney collection of manuscript leaves at the Robertson Davies Library, which span a wide range of styles, genres, and national origins.

Flora & Fauna: Nineteenth century colour printing

Curated by Andreea Marin
Fall 2016
See more here

Nineteenth century colour printing

This exhibit features nineteenth-century colour printing of flora and fauna. Studying herbs, plants, animals, birds, eggs, and collecting them was a widely sought out practice in 19th century England. Several of the books featured include female authors such as Anne Pratt who was a botanical and ornithological illustrator from Kent. Although Edmund Evans and Benjamin Fawcett had their own cases in the exhibit as they focused mainly on printing and designing art related to the natural realm, this exhibit also includes artists and engravers: Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, Elizabeth Twining, F. O. Morris, G. Pearson, William Dickes, Harrison Weir, T. and A. Constable, and John Absolon.

Book. Art.

An exhibition showcasing books constructed by Faculty of Information students as part of their final projects for a workshop course
Curated by Dr. Greta Golick
Spring/Summer 2016

Book Art

This exhibit showcases books constructed by Faculty of Information students as their final projects for a workshop course “De/Constructing the Book” taught by Dr. Greta Golick during the Winter 2016 term. Students examined books at the Fisher library highlighting the formal elements of the traditional codex such as paper, printing, and binding and artists’ books experimenting with format, text, and image that engage the reader in new ways. In the workshop, students constructed a variety of book structures: accordion, meander, pop-up, flag, and pamphlets in two styles: saddle stitch and stab stitch.

With minimal bookmaking experience and equipment, students have created books embellished with calligraphy, drawing, and pop-up elements and incorporating folding, cutting, collage, and printing techniques to add further dimensionality and functionality to their books. Book. Art. engages readers and viewers to question their own experiences with the form and the function of books in their lives.

Lest We Forget: Letters & Ephemera from the Archive of Carl Dair

Curated by Kristine Tortora
Winter 2016

Man with a pipe

See more here and here.

At the Sign of the Umber Chicken: Poole Hall Press

Curated by Kristine Tortora
Fall 2015
See more here

print of a chicken and rooster

This exhibition honours one of the most significant persons in private press printing in Canada. Bill Poole taught industrial design at OCA (now OCADU) in Toronto. His printing began prior to 1967 and the Poole Hall Press dates from 1972. In 1979, Bill Poole convinced the Grimsby Public Library to host the first Wayzgoose and he convinced private press printers from Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario to make the trek to Grimsby. This provided an opportunity for printers to meet each other, exchange work and sell some items to the public. It was well received by all and continues to this day. In 1981, the first Wayzgoose Anthology brought together signatures from the participating printers. This is a second aspect of Bill Poole’s legacy. The third aspect is what is on display here – his own work – at the Poole Hall Press.

On the Fringe (and in the Margins)

Curated by Timothy Perry
for the 2015 BHPC Graduate Student Colloquium
Winter 2015

On the Fringe Calligraphy

To be at the edge of things is, paradoxically, both precarious and empowering. What is on the fringe can be easily effaced or ignored. But the fringe also offers opportunities for creativity and critique. Coach House Press has been at the centre of fringe publishing in Canada since its founding in the 1960s and specializes in experimental works in a variety of genres.

Margins  not only provide a physical border for the text of a book, they also provide a space for communication. Authors and printers have used margins to imprint information about the text to readers, and readers have used the same space to respond to the text.

Seals of Approval: The Material Culture of Early Modern English Indentures

Curated by Elisa Tersigni
Winter 2015

Old Caligraphy

This exhibit featured indentures and other legal documents from the library’s palaeography collection. Most documents were from sixteenth- to seventeenth-century England and provide valuable insight into the legal and material culture of the early modern period.

Printing Shakespeare for the Cold War

Curated by Alex Somerville
Fall 2014

Printing Shakespeare for the Cold War

In 1965 typographers, book artists, and illustrators – many of them from Socialist states in Eastern Europe – celebrated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth with a design competition at the Leipzig book fair. Entries included type settings of sonnets, excerpts from plays, and the best in graphic design that many countries had to offer. The contest spoke to both the timeless appeal of Shakespeare and the rivalry between East and West that characterized the cold war.

The exhibits feature a selection of the entries to the competition in Leipzig, held by the Robertson Davies Library. The exhibit also features some material borrowed from Canadian graphic design scholar Dr. Brian Donnelly.

Stealing Time: Design Bindings and Artist's Books

Curated by Don Taylor
Spring 2014

Stealing Time Exhibit

“In the past 30 or so years, seemingly whether time has permitted or not, I have occasionally caught myself taking this precious commodity away from my work as a bookbinder and restorer to produce what I have always called “my own” work. This has usually taken the form of design bindings, i.e. interpretative fine bindings of an existing text, and artist’s books in which I have acted as creator of both text and binding.

…In recent years, I have had to sneak periods of up to a few weeks on the trot to take part in shows conceived and executed within the small community of letterpress printers, binders, calligraphers, and others committed to the book arts. These are my friends and colleagues … These moments of stolen ‘me time’, as much as they are challenging and even infuriating, are as wonderfully luxurious and satisfying as an extended bubble bath.

Nevertheless the market for such work lies in the range between small and non-existent. So what is the point of this kind of larceny? Love of the materials, respect for collaborators, and the desire to ‘make’ – that’s what makers do – all in the name of keeping books, in all their incredible variety, giong strong. After all the book is of course incomparably civilization’s greatest achievement. Let’s not forget that. – Don Taylor, March 2014

Stuff & Snuff: Fifty Years of Massey College

Curated by Elisa Tersigni
Fall 2013
See more here

Snuff Massey Mascot

Massey College celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2013; this exhibit celebrates half a century of college life and history.

Sports et divertissements

Curated by Andrea Stewart
Spring 2013

Sport set divertissements

“This publication is made up of two artistic elements: drawing, music. The drawing part is represented by strokes – strokes of wit; the musical part is depicted by dots – black dots. These two parts together – in a single volume – form a whole: an album. I advise the reader to leaf through the pages of this book with a kindly & smiling finger, for it is a work of fantasy. No more should be read into it.

For the Dried Up & Stultified I have written a Chorale which is serious & respectable. This Chorale is a sort of bitter preamble, a kind of austere & unfrivolous introduction. I have put into it everything I know about Boredom. I dedicate this chorale to those who do not like me. I withdraw.” – Erik Satie

The Most Satisfying of Pastimes: 50 Years of the Aliquando Press

Curated by  Kristine Tortora
Winter 2013

Aliquando Press

This exhibition marks the 50th year of the Aliquando Press. Displayed here are a selection of books and personal papers spanning five decades of private presswork by Will Rueter – including the very latest, dated 2013. The quotes were plucked from the printer’s own words over the years – a record of Will’s enduring love of letterforms and his deep respect for the traditions associated with all aspects of bookmaking (not to mention his sharp wit, humble spirit, ongoing enthusiasm, and unwavering dedication to hard work). The Aliquando Press collection housed here at Massey is part of a living legacy of craftsmanship and forms an invaluable addition to the archive of Private Press History in Canada.

50 Manuscript Leaves: An Exhibition of Selected Leaves from Otto F. Ege's "Fifty original leaves from Medieval Manuscripts"

Curated by Brian Maloney
Fall 2012
See more here

Manuscript Leaves

“These fifty manuscript leaves were selected to illustrate the art of the manuscript during the period of its greatest development and influence. They have been taken from books written in various European scriptoria by Benedictine, Franciscan, Carthusian, Dominican, and other orders of monks. Many are enriched with handsome borders, initial letters, and line-endings rendered in color, and twenty-five are illuminated with burnished gold or silver. The texts include the Bible, various church service books, the writings of the Church Fathers, and some of the classics.” – Otto F. Ege

Material Narratives: The Book That Was

Curated by Matt Schneider
Spring 2012

Material Narratives

With each passing year the shadow of the growing ebook industry falls further across the world of print, and the rumblings of print’s demise grow in intensity and severity. The proliferation of inexpensive ebook readers and the development of ebook reading apps for cellphones and tablet computers have helped bring ereading into the mainstream, filling subways, buses, and streetcars with readers hunched not over a paperback volume, but rather an electronic device with an LCD or eInk display. Newspapers continue to print articles on the death of print, but these articles are as likely to appear on newspaper websites as in print. It is in this atmosphere that we must seriously consider the future of books as one in which electronic texts are the norm and print is the exception.

Fighting the Giant & Fighting Death: An Exhibition of Bible Illustrations from the Robertson Davies Library Collection

Curated by Elizabeth Klaiber
Fall 2011

Fighting the Giant

What is particularly exciting about having so many images from so many different types of books to observe at one time, is that one is able to compare and contrast the depiction of the figures and scenes. Such observations as examining the interplay between text and image within these books, whether text is even present and how that lack of text calls us to think about the strength of a reader’s memory of a Bible story, what kinds of movements or stances are used by the artists, how different techniques of engraving and printing affect the aesthetics of an illustration, and what audience these books and images were intended for, may all be explored through this exhibition.

Illustrating Illustration, 1733-1930

Curated by Jessica Duffin Wolfe
Spring 2011
See more here


This exhibit of books that illustrate illustration aims to turn the eye of the medium on itself. The two display cases, On Drawing, and On Printing, trace a perspective on illustration through the development and modernization of mass visual culture between 1733 and 1930.

Displaying rare books from the Robertson Davies Library, this exhibit accompanies Illustrating Illustration: Towards a Graphic Criticism, the interdisciplinary colloquium held by the University of Toronto’s Book History & Print Culture Program at Massey College on February 12, 2011.

Nineteenth-Century British Literary Annuals

Curated by Lindsey Eckert
Fall 2010
See more here

Nineteenth Century British Literary Annuals

Literary annuals had a massive influence on the British publishing market from the mid-1820s through the 1840s. Published in the fall before Christmas and New Year gift-giving season, the volumes were marketed as beautiful and respectable presents that were especially appropriate for young ladies. Typically between three and four hundred pages, annuals contained a mixture of prose and poetry by famous authors or the Romantic and Victorian periods and their aristocratic contemporaries. William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Walter Scott, Robert Browning, Countess Blessington, Lady Caroline Lamb, and Lord Morpeth were among the contributors.

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