College Book Art Association Conference in Salt Lake City

Footbridge on University of Utah campusThe 2014 CBAA biennial conference was held January 2-4 on the campus of the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. The conference theme Print Produce Publish ( P3) was conveyed through the numerous tours, featured speakers, panels, exhibitions, and workshops. Most of the conference activities took place in the extraordinary J.Willard Marriott Library, including the panel presentations, the Members’ Exhibition, the Vendor Fair, and Members’ Showcase. The library is also the site of the Book Arts Studio and Digital Lab, where several demonstrations were held and where participants could actively engage in two P3 projects.

Invited speakers were Craig Dworkin: poet, critic, editor and professor of English at the University of Utah and Lesley Dill: New York artist, printmaker and sculptor.

CBAA Members' Exhibition at A juried exhibition of artists’ books made by CBAA members was on display in the Marriott Library in cases just outside of the Book Arts Studio. You can see the presses in the studio through the glass windows beyond the display cases.

An all-day production studio on the first day of the conference, P3 Now!, led by Edwin Jager and John O. Smith, invited members to drop in and contribute

P3 Now! keepsakewhatever ideas, images, artifacts, tools, or text they might have brought from their own studios to be turned into a printed book. Participants in the digital lab spent the day creating, designing, printing, collating and constructing a keepsake for all to take home.

Another all-day production studio event, Shift Lab [in code] led by Katie Baldwin, Sarah Bryant, Denise Bookwalter, Macy Chadwick, and Tricia Treacy incorporated both digital and hand techniques. Conference attendees were invited to tweet messages, which were then “retweeted” as collaborative letterpress printed broadsides. The Book Arts Studio was a hub of activity as participants raced to print and produce before the end of the day.

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Posted by L. Whitehill Chong

Currently on display at the Fleet Library

AN EYE FOR THE MODERN:
Selections from the Nina Abrams Bequest

January 4 – March 22, 2013

Harry and Nina Abrams began collecting the work of contemporary European and American artists in the 1930’s as well as many 20th century American and French painters. They collected what they liked and often were among the first people to buy works from emerging artists. Developing relationships with these artists was important to them as well. Abrams’ office and apartment home in Manhattan and in Putnam Valley, New York were filled with contemporary art, reflecting their diverse interests. As Harry Abrams said in a 1972 interview: “We love pictures, we love art and we love to live with art all around us. This has been our lifestyle.”* It is therefore not surprising that Abrams would publish books about the artists whose work they collected and whose careers they supported. *From the announcement of the Phillips de Pury sale of their collection in 2010.

The books displayed in this exhibit, represent selections from Harry and Nina’s own personal book collection and the bequest that Nina made to RISD. Hand printed livres d’artistes include portfolios of etchings, lithographs, or wood engravings, illustrating original poetry or prose, and produced in small editions. Other selections include modern photography, facsimiles of artists’ sketches and works by both well known and lesser 20th century artists. Many of these books represent the work of early avant-garde artists, in which Cubist, Futurist, Dada, and Surrealist perspectives can be seen. Also represented are works of Expressionists and later Pop artists. In all these books the beauty of the page, the lusciousness of prints on paper, and the elegance of design must have served the Abrams’ well, as inspiration for the possibilities of publishing.

Impressed by the quality of European fine art book publishing, but disturbed by the monopoly European, and especially French publishers had in representing historic and contemporary art and culture, Harry N. Abrams set out in 1950 to change the art world’s focus from Paris to New York. For the first time in the United States, a publisher resolved, against much criticism, to devote himself exclusively to producing fine art books. For over 25 years, Abrams publications broke new ground, contributing to the study of art history and concurrently the emergence of art libraries.

Laurie Whitehill Chong
Special Collections Librarian

Library Director Carol Terry describes how RISD became the recipient of the Nina Abrams bequest:

NINA ABRAMS AND RISD

Nina Abrams and Carol TerryI first heard of Nina Abrams in 1998 when a former library employee contacted me to see if we might be interested in a donation of books from the Abrams family collection. She said that a friend was working for Nina who was looking for possible recipients of a large number of art books.

Of course I was interested, and shortly made arrangements to visit Nina at her Putnam Valley home. Books and contemporary art were everywhere, and I began a process that continued over many years of visiting with her, making lists of books we might be able to use, and making arrangements to get them to the library. One such trip involved renting a car and with the able assistance of Susan Gifford, travelling to the Manhattan residence and loading up boxes of books. Other library staff members took a trip to the Putnam Valley home, transporting boxes of books back to RISD. This first phase of the gift resulted in hundreds of books “from the Estate of Harry N. Abrams, donated by Nina Abrams.”

Our friendship developed over this period of time, and my family made frequent visits not related to the books. We just enjoyed being with this fascinating woman, who had travelled widely and had met many artists in the course of her husband’s book publishing business. She had wonderful tales of meeting Picasso, Calder, Giacometti, and others. In her late 80’s she was planning a trip to South Africa and had Samarkand on the list for her next destination.

Both homes were filled with art. The auction catalog of the sale of her estate shows just a portion of what was originally in the collection. (Phillips de Pury, April 7, 2010).

She was very fond of RISD, and I accompanied her to RISD’s Athena Awards celebration in New York in November 2004 where her friends Christo and Jeanne-Claude were honored the Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Nina died at the end of February 2008, just days shy of her 98th birthday. In her will, she stipulated that the books in her collection, still numbering around 10,000 volumes, were to be divided between her son Robert and RISD. After Robert and I made our selections, there were still around 5000 volumes left, and these ultimately came to RISD as well. We found additional treasures for our collection, and the remaining books are gradually being sold for the benefit of an endowed fund in the name of the Abrams Family.

Carol Terry
Director of Library Services
January 2013

Posted by A. Bordeaux

Artist As Archivist: Maureen Cummins at Watts History of the Book Program

November 29 – December 1, one of several extraordinary Watts History and Culture of the Book Program events was held at the John Carter Brown Library and at other locations in town. The JCB’s autumn series entitled, Books of Business/Business of Books, featured a weekend of lectures, informal conversations and a letterpress printing/bookmaking workshop with guest artist Maureen Cummins. In keeping with the event series theme, a fascinating exhibition of historic record books of early American commerce were on display at the JCB Library. Added to that theme, Maureen’s artist’s books, derived from antique handwritten documents and extensive research into archival collections, provided glimpses of the past, but with contemporary and challenging new perspectives.

Maureen’s lecture on Thursday the 29th described how her work as an artist came to be focused on archival resources as inspiration for her book concepts and narratives. She related how her love of flea markets and antique stores has unearthed many thought-provoking raw materials from which to work. In the process of mining historic archival collections, she uncovers little known stories and facts that she sensitively weaves into a new visual narrative.

Accounts, title page

For example, in her artist book Accounts, the pages of this authentic 1860’s ledger book are filled with client names and sums from a busy New York based cotton trading company. Handwritten in elegant pen and ink, the pages themselves speak of wealth and privilege. Yet Cummins has printed over these ledger account pages excerpts from the WPA Slave Narratives, in bold, sans-serif type, bringing our attention to the wealth gained at the expense of other human beings. We hold in our hands two voices from the past, brought together in a profound visually compelling new way.

Another book by Cummins, Crazy Quilt, provides personal narratives of 19th and 20th century women who were placed in institutions for the insane when it was clear they were as rational as anyone else. In these brief stories we are reminded of how women’s issues were viewed not that long ago, and are still viewed in some contemporary cultures.

On Friday the 30th, in the Special Collections Reading Room of the Fleet Library at RISD, Maureen continued the conversation about her work, where the lively question and answer session from the night before had left off. Students had an opportunity to see some of her books close up and Maureen was able to delve deeper and more informally into her creative process. Several other artists’ books from the RISD collection that also derive from historic events or documents were compared and discussed.

Conversation with Maureen at RISD

Saturday December 1st was spent printing and bookbinding, in a hands-on workshop, held in the book lab of AS220. Maureen asked each participant to come up with a word or short phrase to print on the letterpress, with each person printing a small edition of their page. When all the pages were printed and collated, they created a kind of visual poem, with both elegant and humorous combinations of text and meaning. Students were taught a simple pamphlet stitch binding and each went home with a keepsake book of their very own.

For more information about the work and career of Maureen Cummins, go to http://www.maureencummins.com/  The RISD artist book collection has two of Maureen’s books and several hand printed prospectuses from her other books. A new book based on documents from the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire, which took place in Manhattan over one hundred years ago, will be added this summer.

Posted by L. Whitehill Chong, Special Collections Librarian

In Celebration of John Cage’s 100th Birthday

John Cage would have turned 100 on September 5th and in honor of his work and the significant influence he has had on artists past and present, there is a website inviting participation in this world-wide celebration. John Cage: 2012 Centennial Two other important links you might want to check out are Cage 100: walking along paths the outcome of which I didn’t know  and Laura Kuhn’s blog.

Inspired by Cage’s writing and work, Connecticut book artist, Robin Price, has joined in the celebration. Her recently created bookwork, As You Continue, is a response to Cage’s words of encouragement after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake that heavily damaged the building of the Crown Point Press. In Robin’s book, the John Cage quote “As you continue, which you will do, the way to proceed will become apparent” is written with sumi ink and brush, using her left (non-dominant) hand on 7 random sections of large USGS topographical maps. The map pages are stab-bound with a strip of Fabriano paper, letterpress printed with the title and handling directions.

Robin’s use of the map as a substrate for Cage’s words reflects the view that all journeys in life are paved with uncertainty, but as you proceed with courage, and assess your surroundings, you will find your way. In applying this metaphor to the process of creative thinking and making, the parallel is clear. The journey for artists is complex and often the way ahead is undefined, even as the first tentative steps are taken and then assessed. From this point a glimmer of where to take the next step emerges and eventually a destination is reached, often far from what was first imagined.

For Robin, the act of writing became a meditation, as seen through her own observations of the process from her website:

METHOD: Using my unskilled left hand is as authentic to the content – as I interpret it – as I can be.

STRUCTURE: The writing activity is time-based/sequential in the making and the viewing; the sheets for each writing remain together & are bound sequentially

INTENTION: I think about whom this message might help, besides myself, as I write it again and again: people I know and people I don’t know who might find it useful for repeated viewing.

DISCIPLINE: Practicing each time before I begin a new stint of writing settles me, then I breathe deeply as I write the book pages, quieting my mind as much as possible.

NOTATION: I am notating Cage’s words – as recalled by Kathan Brown – onto sheets of maps, to suggest travel and finding one’s way.

INDETERMINANCY: The assortment of USGS topographical maps for any one book reflects a mostly-random gathering process.

INTERPENETRATION: It was only after I carried these words with me for a year and a half that I found my way to authenticity.

IMITATION: I imitate what I perceive as a state of meditation.

DEVOTION: This practice is the most intimate of a few tributes I have made over the years for John Cage, or, rather, the way in which I perceive his life and work as it affects mine.

CIRCUMSTANCES: For eight months beginning in late 2011, injuries had left me incapable of printing letterpress or doing other strenuous studio activity; a gentler path was called for.

You can see As You Continue and another of Robin’s artist’s books in the library’s Special Collections, 43, According to Robin Price, as well as an exhibition catalog, Counting on Chance: 25 Years of Artist’s Books by Robin Price, Publisher, which features many of her other works. The library has a 1993 catalog of the retrospective exhibition of the work of John Cage, Rolywholyover: A Circus, which was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and designed in consultation with him.

 Images and text used with permission of Robin Price. Posted by L. Whitehill Chong  

Paper: Indispensable Substrate

Currently on view in the library is an exhibit focusing on the indispensable material that artists have used for centuries…Paper!  Most people think of paper as mainly made from trees, which is still pretty much what most of our ordinary paper for daily use is. But did you ever think about what paper was made of before we started using trees? This exhibit shows examples of precursors to the paper we know today, showing the development of surfaces for writing and mark-making from parchment and papyrus to paper made from plant fibers and even old rags. Both European and Asian paper-making techniques are highlighted, with examples of paper-making moulds and deckles, as well as specimens of fibers and sheets. Different kinds of paper have been used to create decorative papers for bookbinding and printing, using such techniques as marbling, block printing, folding and dyeing as in Japanese Itajime papers, Japanese marbling or Suminagashi, and paste papers. Handmade papers have been used in many artists’ books and a selection of student-made books is on display.  Hand Papermaking, a journal devoted to the creation and study of handmade paper has produced a series of portfolios featuring specific image-making techniques, all using handmade paper.

As a substrate for much of the world’s writing and art-making, paper still has the ability to captivate and inspire, to record and dispense ideas, and to add a subtle but satisfying tactile element to communication.

All RISD Library exhibitions are open to the public 8:30 am to 7:00 pm weekdays.  This exhibit will be on view through July 8, 2011

posted by L. Whitehill Chong

Watts Program: Transformations of the Book

To start off the Spring 2011 series of workshops and lectures for the Charles H. Watts II Program in the History and Culture of the Book, students from Brown and RISD learned first hand about contemporary handmade artists’ books and fine printing. The first presentation was given by Rosemary Cullen, Special Collections Librarian at the John Hay Library on February 16th. Students were shown examples of artists’ books from their collection of over 400 titles. Many of these books, fabricated by hand, stretched the boundaries of traditional book structures and materials and a lively discussion of what made them a “book” instead of a sculpture followed.

On Friday February 25th students were shown a selection artists’ books from the Fleet Library’s collection of over 1400 titles, by Laurie Whitehill Chong, Special Collections Librarian and Curator of Artists’ Books. These books, also varied in concept, structures, materials and craft, were first read aloud or performed followed by an an in-depth discussion and analysis of each book. When it comes to “reading” artists’ books, there are so many layers of meaning. Exploring how each artist used images, text, materials and structure to communicate to the reader proved that the possibilities are endless.

Following the presentation in the RISD Library students then went to the John Carter Brown Library where RISD Professor Jan Baker, of the Graphic Design department, showed student made artists’ books from her own classes. Participants were invited to look over the books on their own and select one that they would present to the group. Seeing the quality and integrity of student work helped the current students to feel that making a book of their own was possible.

On Saturday February 26th, students were treated to a special workshop given by Steve Miller, printer extraordinaire, book maker and director of the Masters Program in Book Arts at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. In this workshop, held in the type shop of RISD’s Design Center, students learned how to print a “Sandragraph” on the letterpress. A Sandragraph, created by Harry and Sandra Reese of the Turkey Press, is a fabricated low relief printing plate that is made to be type high. When printed, this plate creates a textural abstract design or subtle image that forms the background to subsequent layers of printed type and image, adding depth to the printed page. It also makes the text and images less isolated and stark against a pure white background. Creating a Sandragraph involves simple materials such as a piece of MDF board, acrylic gel, muslin, and all manner of low relief bits of paper, string, cardboard or any other textured detritus. Students got to make a sample plate, set up the plate on the press, learned how to lock it in, ink the plate and print. In the process, Steve gave many useful tips for printing and also showed many wonderful examples of printed broadsides and books that incorporate Sandragraph prints. One of the many take-aways from  Steve’s workshop was that spontaneity and playfulness in printing can work very happily with the demands of precision.

In the afternoon, Steve Miller gave a public lecture back at the John Carter Brown Library entitled “21st Century Letterpress and the Artisan Book”. Steve spoke of his career as a printer, having studied with master letterpress printer Walter Hamady of Perishable Press in Wisconsin. Following grad school he established his own Red Ozier Press with Ken Botnick and moved to Manhattan to set up shop. Miller sought out various poets and writers such as Alan Ginsberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Isamu Noguchi, Billy Collins, and Octavio Paz, to make small printed chapbooks of their works. Later he moved to Alabama where he developed the MFA Book Arts Program, which he directs. In the past several years Steve has been recording interviews with book artists and poets and this series of podcasts is available on iTunes. He is also proprietor of the Red Hydra Press at the University. Steve is one of the co-founders of the Paper and Book Intensive, an exciting two week series of workshops and classes in the book and paper arts.

Steve spoke in depth about his own journey as an artist, calling himself a “floaty poet boy” with a passion for poetry and printing. He feels his mission has been to awaken authors to the joy of the printed page and to establish a long term relationship with them. This was clearly evident in the samples of collaborative book projects he brought with him. Printing for Steve represents magical moments of attention where he is totally focused on every detail of a print.  In Steve’s words, “it’s not a single ‘ah ha!’ moment, but a long slow ‘aah haaaa….’ action.” It’s all about the making of a printed page, the very foundation of the artisan book.

In his long career he has worked with many  notable artists in the field of book and paper arts.  He talked about the work of Hedi Kyle, who has contributed so many innovative book structures to the field, Carolee Campbell of Ninja Press, who has been printing fine books for nearly 25 years, and Harry and Sandra Reese who started their press about the same time as Steve in the late 1970’s.  Paper is the substrate of all fine printing and as interest in the hand printed page grew in the 1970’s and 80’s, the need for quality handmade paper led to the founding of two important paper making establishments, Twinrocker Paper in Indiana and Dieu Donné Papermill in New York.  The demand for quality type and the casting of new type faces was met by such companies as Bixler Press and Letter Foundry in upstate New York.  Small museum collections of antique presses such as John Horn‘s in Arkansas provide important models for reference and research for the contemporary printer, often assisting them in troubleshooting the mechanics of their own antique working presses. In support of book artists and printers, there are many long standing educational institutions and book arts centers across the country that Steve mentioned as well such as the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina where Steve frequently teaches and recently redesigned their state of the art letterpress studio.

It was a rich and full weekend immersion in all things “book art”.  Thanks to Steve Miller, we got a taste of the depth and variety of contemporary artists’ books and fine printing and a clear message that the “artisan book” is here to stay.  Though the artisan book has and will continue to go through changes, it has a strong legacy of passionate and focused practitioners who continue to influence the book arts with their collective wisdom and experience.  The handmade book is alive and well and it is through collections of artists’ books at Brown and RISD, and instructors like Jan Baker and Steve Miller who are training the book artists of tomorrow, that the legacy will continue.

Many thanks to Lisa Long Feldman, coordinator of the Watts Program, to the John Carter Brown Library and Staff, to Rosemary Cullen of the John Hay Library, and to the RISD Graphic Design department for all they did to make this weekend possible.

posted by Laurie Whitehill Chong

RISD Artists’ Books on exhibit at Salve Regina Gallery

Currently on exhibit at the Salve Regina University Gallery is a selection of artists’ books from the RISD Library collection.   These include books by Carol Barton; Julie Chen & Nance O’Banion; Johanna Drucker; Eve Faulkes; Rand Heubsch; Paul Johnson; Russell Jones; Angela Lorenz; Judith Mohns & Francois Deschamps; Lois Morrison; Rosemary Simpkins; Jill Timm; Claire Van Vliet; Deborah Wieder & RISD faculty Anne West.  Pop-up structures and accordion variations as well as other innovative book structures and printmaking techniques provide a glimpse of the rich and varied resources from our collection.  If you get a chance to visit Newport, be sure to see this exhibit.

Rhode Island School of Design Artist Book Exhibit

March 18 – April 11, 2010

Gallery Hours:

Monday – Thursday:  11 am – 4 pm

Sunday:  2 – 4 pm

The gallery is located in the Antone Academic Center on the corner of Lawrence and Leroy Avenues in Newport, RI.    lwc