At the Sign of the Umber Chicken: An exhibition of the work of the Poole Hall Press of Grimsby, Ontario

This private press was inspired by Carl Dair and his concern for legibility and clarity in communication. I helped him assemble the hand press he obtained from England and learned the joys of hand printing at his Orchard Press. When Carl died, I felt the need to continue private press printing and obtained by own Albion press. The Poole Hall Press is concerned with printing the work of Canadian writers and artists. William Poole in Reader, Lover of Books, Lover of Heaven (1978)

Bill Poole Interview with Morris Wolfe (1993)

MW: What is your love of printing about? What is that?
BP: The love of printing?
MW: Yeah
BP: Well, I don’t know – I just find it fascinating. I find you take a blank sheet and you put it down there, and you make it go, and that’s that. So it never ceases to fascinate me, that’s all.

This small exhibition in the Robertson Davies Library at Massey College in Toronto titled “At the sign of the Umber Chicken” has been curated by Kristine Tortora. I believe the exhibition marks the acquisition by Massey College of Bill Poole’s Poole Hall Press archive. It should not be missed.
at the of the umber chicken

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.

The two quotations above nicely sum up Bill’s views and the curator has placed each in a different case to remind us of his philosophy as we look at his work. These quotations are in addition a longer quotation from Bill Poole: A Wonderful Life by Morris Wolfe that sums up Bill as someone who “more than anyone I’ve known lived his life exactly as he wanted.”

The first case actually shows the work of another press that Bill was involved with, the Cheshire Cat Press. This was a collaboration between Bill, George Walker and Joseph Brabant. The object was to publish in Canada by Canadian hands the first illustrated Alice in Wonderland and the first Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Joseph Brabant edited and provided the introductory text, George provided the wood-engravings for the illustrations and Bill Poole printed the each book in 177 copies. Alice was published in 1988 and Through the Looking Glass in 1998. In addition, the three also illustrated and printed a number of other Alice related texts such as Some Observations on Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell and The Origins of the Poems in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately, we see only the covers of Alice and Through the Looking Glass, otherwise there would be no room in the case for these other items.

The Poole Hall Press was active from 1972 until Bill’s death in 2001. The second and third cases have examples of Poole Hall Press books but if there was an organizing principle as to what was included in each case, it was not clear. It might have been clear if the items identified either with the information placed on cards beside the items in the cases or identifying the items by number with an available list providing that information. A small quibble for a notable exhibition. The exhibition runs until the beginning of September. It can be seen Monday to Friday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Please check in with the Massey College Porter when you arrive.

By the way, I was left guessing about the meaning of “The Sign of the Umber Chicken”. I suggest that you visit the exhibition and see if you can solve the riddle.

[by Chester Gryski]