Monday, February 14, 2011

Craft Milestones in the Book Arts

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Monica Moses, editor in chief of American Craft magazine. The magazine marks its 70th anniversary this year, and as part of that celebration it will publish a “70 Years of Making” timeline for craft practice. Each craft can submit up to twenty milestones. Moses said that a milestone could be specific (development of a material, tool, practice or technique), or broad (a social, political or cultural event that changed the craft world). It could be the establishment of an organization, museum, gallery, association or foundation, or a media product (book, periodical, paper, web site, dvd). It could of course be a groundbreaking artist, a show or exhibition, or a significant craft achievement. In other words, anything that can be justified as critical to the development of craft.

Now, imagine choosing twenty milestones from seventy years of papermaking, binding and printing! After accepting that the book art list will honor only a tiny percentage of worthy milestones, I sketched in my list, and then sent emails to a number of artists to ask for their suggestions. A final complicating factor was that because of travel and other commitments, I had a week to do this. I greatly appreciate the artists listed below, who made time to send along their thoughts, especially as some of them were in the midst of preparing for the CODEX symposium and bookfair.

With that, many thanks to the artists who suggested book art milestones: Carolee Campbell, Betsy Davids, Amanda Degener, Gary Frost, Peter Koch, Paulette Myers-Rich, Richard Minsky, Bridget O’Malley, Jeff Rathermel, John Risseeuw, Harry Reese, Gerald Lange, Barbara Tetenbaum, Peter Verheyen, Kathy Walkup and Richard Zauft.

I’ve listed below their milestones and mine in no particular order. The point for me is not to match milestone to artist, but to get all of us thinking about how our field has evolved. There are some names that recur, and others that suggest another direction entirely. Which milestones would you add? Which are your top ten or twenty? Be sure to check out the June-July issue of American Craft for the full timeline. You will see my twenty, arrived at with much gnashing of teeth and after several discussions with artists via email and in person at the CODEX book fair. Feel free to comment and add your own thoughts.


Survival of Guild of Book Workers in the post-war period to grow beyond its NYC base in the 1970s-80s (now 105 yrs old). Largely responsible for the maintenance and transmission of fine craft techniques through its Journal and Standards seminars. Development of national traveling exhibitions. Development of regional chapters.

Hedi Kyle's April Diary of 1979, the prototype of all flag books.

Establishment of conservation program as part of Columbia University library school in 1981. Stimulated critical thinking about book structure and long-term viability. Program later moved to Texas and was dissolved in 2010.

Flood in Florence, Italy in 1966, which brought together the leaders of the conservation and binding fields and reintroduced non-adhesive sewn and limp structures.

North Bennet Street School bookbinding program in Boston. Started in 1986, this is still the only program to teach craft bookbinding in the US.

Richard Minsky’s iconoclastic and groundbreaking Birds of North America (1975).

Hedi Kyle’s flag book (April Diary, 1979). Innovative and now one of the most used structures.

Keith Smith’s non-adhesive binding books, the bibles for a new generation of book artists.

As for papermaking, clearly the work of Dard Hunter has made a huge impact on handmade paper as a craft, and his travels to far flung places links eastern and western paper traditions.

Twinrocker has had an amazing impact on handmade paper, broadening it from just the craft tradition to its use in art applications. A look at their early roster of interns includes Tim Barrett, Lee McDonald, Barb Tetenbaum—just amazing.

Tim Barrett being awarded the MacArthur genius grant in 2009, and Claire Van Vliet also awarded that honor in 1989 brings attention and validation from outside the book arts world to what we in it have always know to be its greatness.

1975 -- the First North American Hand Papermakers' Conference in Appleton, Wisconsin, organized by Joe Wilfer.

Douglass Morse Howell, papermaker

Launched in 1957, Sputnik 1 was the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite. Since then, more than 25,000 space objects have been tracked and as many as 8,000 of these man-made instruments currently orbit the planet. Sputnik placed a metaphorical “proscenium arch” around the Earth, and by the moon landing of 1969, the planet had been transformed from a global village into a global theatre. Because of their cyclical and simultaneous effects, these satellites can be considered as part of a new environment. Technology and nature combine to make a new art form in the satellite environment, just as new writing materials and new writing implements established a novel writing environment 6,000 years ago….Craft in any form has risen in value because of mechanization, automation, assembly lines, industrial farming, and on and on. Craft’s stock goes up in proportion to the dominance of mass culture in any given area of work or geographic location.

My second milestone is the invention of acrylic resin, which was the basis for acrylic paint and other water-soluble acrylic polymer developments. Invented by Otto Rohm in the 1940s, acrylic paint was first commercially available in the 1950s. Water-soluble acrylic media has allowed countless people to experience the art and craft of painting, from fine art applications to house painting and home repair. Acrylic polymers have been highly important in all fields, most recently in the guise of polymer plates for letterpress printing and printmaking. Collage as we know it today would not be possible without acrylic polymer media.

1983. Timothy Barrett publishes Japanese Papermaking: Traditions, Tools, and Techniques, based on his travels and research in Japan. The book was written from Barrett’s understanding of the history of paper as well as his experience as a papermaking practitioner. Barrett has trained a generation of papermakers at the University of Iowa Center for the Book to create conservation-sound paper. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2009

1945. Esthétique du Mal, by Wallace Stevens, is published by Harry Duncan with Paul Wightman Williams at The Cummington Press. It contributes to fine printing’s revival through its sensitive typography and presswork and Williams’s semi-abstract drawings.

Typo-L listserv (1993), Book_Arts-L listserv (1994), etc. Many other lists have followed including Letpress, but pioneers are still the leaders.

Founding of Twinrocker and their apprenticeship program which expanded the general knowledge of papermaking and spawned a large number of practitioners and teachers of papermaking.

Founding of the Friends of Dard Hunter

Social/political/cultural events & developments: broad acceptance of women in public roles (greatly increased the pool of talent available to the book art field, to say the least); emergence of the personal computer (not only as a specific tool that significantly affected book art, but also as the opening to digital culture in all its ramifications); the Internet; the flood in Florence (the recovery of so much awareness of historical binding practices):

1975-1990. Fine Print journal, followed by Bookways (1991-1995) and Parenthesis (1998-present), three of the journals that explore craft issues in the book arts.

Establishment of Twinrocker papermill!

Syl Labrot's Pleasure Beach (1976), where the images were created in the act of color separation.

Gerald Lange’s Printing digital type on the hand-operated press (1998) and the founding of the PPLetterpress group site (2001).

Walter Samuel Haatoum Hamady

Polymer platemaking

Richard Minsky’s 1973 binding of Pettigrew's History of Egyptian Mummies, included in the landmark exhibition, The Object as Poet at the Renwick Gallery (Smithsonian American Art Museum) in 1977.

Cummington Press

1984. New York’s Center for Book Arts opens The First Decade exhibition at the New York Public Library, showing work across the book art spectrum, from traditional craft to non-traditional experimental works of sculpture.

Windover Press

Organizations: Center for Book Arts in New York (as the first of the U.S. centers); U. of Iowa Typography Laboratory in the School of Journalism (wasn't that the first of the postwar higher education facilities?); U. of Alabama M.A. program (first and most craft-oriented of the graduate programs); PBI (year after year disseminating the latest in book art craft).

Where was the first collegiate fine press: Nebraska or Iowa? Or?

1982. “New American Paperworks,” an exhibition curated by Jane Farmer that toured the U.S. and Asia, in which handmade paper is shown in a variety of artistic formats and interpretations, including sculpture and installation.

1976. While printing Pleasure Beach on the offset press, Syl Labrot orchestrates a number of experiments, describing the result not as a book of reproductions but rather “a matter of making pictures with the printing press.”

Perishable Press

When Harold "Jay" Kyle invented the Boxcar Base system, that revolutionized letterpress and caused the big revival. That along with digital typesetting and typeface design and software.

Gary Frost

Development of a material, tool, practice or technique: the rise of offset printing; PVA? (when was it developed? I've always imagined it belonged to the 50s era of plastics technology, but I don't really know); the emergence of the Vandercook (70s) as the press of our time for book artists; digital typography; PageMaker (earliest widely used page layout software); Coptic sewing (popular example of the transition to visible structure and medieval sewn structures); tunnel book (as example of the rise of displayable non-codex structures).

Craig Jensen and BookLab for sustaining high craft standards in production of fine books. Under Craig's working supervision this enterprise produced fine edition binding in runs of 25 to 500 that excel in finesse of craft and magnificent action in the hands of readers. Craig also pioneered fine "print-on-demand" book production setting standards that are still far, far from achieved. Note his collaborations with Russell Maret (Aethelwold) and Gaylord Schanilec (Sylvae).

Leonard Baskin’s combination of contemporary printmaking/illustration and letterpress in book form was quite influential on others who would follow in his path.

Book arts go online: Richard Minsky, University of Idaho, Peter Verheyen Book Arts Web (1994/5)

Book, periodical, etc: Keith Smith's instructional books; J.A. Szirmai, The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding; Bonefolder.

Internet communications with information sharing that allowed text, videos and images to be sent globally to anyone who needed to learn a technique, find a press or press parts, or to find community, sell work, list exhibits, etc. This is huge! It saved the dying and/or arcane knowledge base of the trade printers and typesetters and transmitted it to the next generation. It helped us locate the very rare old books that were once used in high school shop class or trade schools to teach letterpress techniques. These are now getting quite expensive and desirable. Internet commerce and Fed Ex shipping have allowed me to obtain book arts supplies online including metal type, book cloth, rare papers and hard to find inks. Email has allowed me to send a PDF of a proof to a poet in Ireland to review and return electronically. Websites. The ability to see others’ work, to put my own out there. The access cannot be underestimated. The digital revolution has helped in many ways to strengthen my work as a book artist and letterpress printer as it has streamlined so many of the business and communications side of things, as well as offering new printmaking possibilities with digital/analog combinations.

Ditto Hamady

Founding of Visual Studies Workshop Press/Nexus and other offset artist presses.

Off-loading of letterpress equipment into the studios of university art departments and small press publishers as the print industry moved from metal to electronic type.

The development of photopolymer relief printing plates for letterpress printing, though slow to be adopted by the field (both commercial and art/craft/hobby/educational), has had an enormous impact on allowing the craft of letterpress to continue farther into the 21st century than many would have predicted. Fueled, in fact, the resurgence of small design/commercial letterpress shops catering to a new public.

The development of digital type, joined and facilitated by polymer plate technology, has changed typography and design, which are interwoven into the craft of letterpress.

Groundbreaking artist: Kathryn/Howard Clark (for pioneering the revival of hand papermaking in America); Hedi Kyle (not only for all the influential specific structures she introduced, like the flag book, but also for modeling the creative process of inventing or adapting a structure); Gary Frost (for the influence of his elegant structures appropriate for smaller lightweight books); Tom Phillips (for leading the way to the altered book); Alison Knowles (pioneer of book as installation); Susan Joy Share (book for performance).

Claire Van Vliet was the first to use contemporary printmaking in conjunction with the Vandercook proof press, and Walter Hamady, who followed her at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was the first to promote this type of press for edition printing.

The near demise of the old style letterpress printing industry which first caused tons of used presses and equipment to be dumped on a smaller craft/art/educational market that was not ready for it, and then the rise of that field causing a demand for that old equipment some 10-30 years later, after much had been scrapped or sent abroad, coupled with the closing of Vandercook/Vandersons, has lead to increasing difficulty for young craft printers in finding affordable and available presses and type and equipment. This has to have a large effect. We have more educational programs than ever before training art and craft printers and fewer of them will be actually able to set up their own shops as before. Include in there the shrinking of the typefoundries casting quality type for serious printers. (Which increases the push to move from type to polymer.)

Claire Van Vliet (1989), Timothy Barrett (2009), Matthew Carter and Nicholas Benson (2010) become MacArthur geniuses gaining recognition in a broader context.

Explosion of crafty manuals by everyone for everyone.

One contributor to the craft side of letterpress was the sudden availability of good quality presses for printmakers. Vandercooks, C&P and Heidlebergs all got scrapped or sold off or given away. Then typefoundries all over America began to close- and that was a huge concern. The saving of M&H Typefoundry and situating it at the Presidio in San Francisco was another important milestone to keep hand setting foundry fonts available.

1991. Jim Trissel at The Press at Colorado College publishes The Cycle of the Day, a Book of Hours, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, which demonstrates the expressive potential of polymer plates for letterpress printers to incorporate into their work bodies of text printed from improved digital fonts, as well as various kinds of mark-making, and imagery from the web.

Significant craft achievement: Xu Bing (not only did he hand-carve all those blocks for thousands of characters--then he redid them a second time); Philip Smith's wall of fine bindings, Lord of the Rings; Arion Press’s Moby Dick, or maybe the Bible (just the outsize letterpress ambitiousness of those editions); any recent Julie Chen book (the mind always boggles); Emily McVarish's Flicker (the book printed from the feet of the type)

Gerald Lange's book, "Digital Printing on the Cylinder Hand Press" and the technical knowledge sharing common in our field was very important.

Increased niche letterpress printing has lead to a greater awareness of the desirability of handmade papers. Increased numbers of papermaking classes and programs in higher education is providing more young artist craftspeople making paper and wanting to furnish the market with HMP. Compare to mid 1970s when Twinrocker and John Koller and Bob Serpa were just about it.

Julie Chen

Creation of Center for Book Arts by Richard Minsky (1974) as model for regional book arts centers throughout the US. Provided venue for instruction and exhibition.

Paper and Book Intensive founded in 1983 at Oxbow, MI

The establishment of MCBA of course! The rise of book arts programs where the commercial aspects of letterpress have given way to the art and craft of the artists book; The CBAA.

Claire Van Vliet’s Bone Songs (1992), perhaps the first artist’s book with text laid out in the computer and printed from polymer plates.

Growth of academic book arts programs/centers at the graduate level, including Alabama, Iowa, University of the Arts-Philadelphia, Scripps College, Columbia College Chicago, Utah, Arizona, etc.

Book Arts in the USA exhibition (1990), the exhibit that circulated through Africa and Latin America courtesy of the United States Information Agency.

Fine Print and Bookways founded and gone away. Still among the best!

The introduction of the Vandercook as an editioning press was quite significant in fostering the “fine press renaissance” of the mid-1970s and into the 1990s, and the documentation and promotion and preservation of this movement by Fine Print, and followed by Bookways, and followed by Parenthesis was quite significant. It should be noted that alternative publishing and the do-it-yourself concerns of the mid-1960s and 1970s were primary in furthering such publications.

Drucker’s The Century of Artist’s Books (1995), Bright’s No Longer Innocent (2005).

Wordpress, Blogger enable website creation allowing artists to easily share their work.

The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist founded 2004. First (still only) open-access journal for book arts that is freely available.

ETSY as online marketplace for craft products including books.

(Aside from Craig Jensen and BookLab), the single milestone in Craft development in book arts of the last 60 years has been its general decline and more isolated survival. From a wide, demanding base of excellence and expertise, printing, papermaking, printing and book production handcraft has declined. This is not a negative remark any more than the comment that physical books have lost status in a context of their screen delivery. Dedication to craft excellence is not an easy path and obstacles of distraction and displacement are everywhere.

Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts (Easthampton, Northampton) as a mecca for all disciplines of book arts including printmaking, letterpress, binding, edition binding (Gehenna Press, Arno Werner, Alan James Robinson, Dan Keleher, Claudia Cohen/Sarah Creighton/Carol Blinn/David Bourbeau/Dan Kelm, others?)

Collegiate Book Arts Exhibition, 1983-86. 140 artists' books traveled to 9 sites. First comprehensive exhibition of artists' books.

Polymer plate makers; laser cutters; ink jet printers; the work of Hedi Kyle and Gary Frost; the book and paper intensive; the superannuation of the vandercook press; and desktop publishing; and samizdat type design.

The Fine Printing Conference at Columbia University, May 19-22, 1982. The conference, run by Terry Belanger when he had Book Arts Press at Columbia (this was pre-RBS days), was perhaps the first time a group of practitioners across a broader spectrum of book arts met together to discuss their commonalities (paper, binding, ink, type). It was here that conservators began to educate printers and binders about the importance of archival materials, for instance.

The emergence of book arts programs at Mills College, University of Alabama, and others, as well as the development of book arts centers, such as Minnesota Center for Book Arts, were significant in providing interest and training in the emerging book and printing arts.

People. We can look back at the people that Lawrence Barker (who trained with Howells) taught at Cranbrook during about a 7 year period: Hamady, Koller, Winifred Lutz, Roland Poska. That's incomplete. Then there are the many printers and bookmakers that Hamady taught and who went out into the field to teach others or to produce. Wow. Twinrocker influenced the field with its intern program (MacGregor, Tetenbaum, and others I can't recall right now), let alone its model for business and shear production. Tim Barrett is nearly single-handedly responsible for the firm establishment of Japanese hand papermaking as a craft interest in this country. I attended one of his first workshops after he returned from Japan and used that information later in teaching 20 years worth of students that bit of papermaking.

Desktop publishing in all its forms, from Ditto and Mimeo to Xerox to Ventura to Quark to InDesign, from Laser to Inkjet. In 1988 Betsy Davids was doing it on a Mac+ in California and Richard Minsky was doing it in DOS on a 386 in New York. Betsy went from the computer to RIP for offset and commercial paper and Richard went straight to inkjet on handmade paper through a postscript interpreter. This was a huge shift in craft discipline from letterpress.

Exhibition: “Center for Book Arts: The First Decade,” in 1984 organized by Francis O. Mattson, Curator of Rare Books at the NYPL, which put 132 examples on exhibit at the main library (42nd St) where hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to an outstanding selection of CBA members' work from across the country and around the world.

The primary technological change in contemporary studio letterpress was the conjoining of the photopolymer plate process and desktop publishing, which occurred in the early 1990s. The introduction of the GUI interface on the Macintosh computer, the development of the Linotronic imagesetter, the Altsys PageMaker page layout software, and the availability of digital type were of primary influence in this regard.

Exhibition: “Book Arts in the USA,” in 1990 (which premiered at the Center for Book Arts in connection with a conference on the same subject) was an exhibition that circulated in Africa and Latin America for two years. It reached a huge audience and inspired artists in many countries to become bookies.

Barton Lidicé Beneš’s Sculpture Books exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery, 1974 and Letters from Aunt Evelyn exhibition at the CBA, 1975.

Stella Waitzkin’s Sculpture and Wall Works exhibition at the James Yu Gallery, 1975 and A Library-Sculpture exhibition at the James Yu Gallery, 1977.

More generally for craft, Rose Slivka as Editor-in-Chief of Craft Horizons for 25 years changed the way people perceived craft and changed the sort of craft objects that people made. Polly Lada-Mocarski was her Bookbinding Editor. The fact that the magazine had a bookbinding editor was itself remarkable, and there could not have been a better one than Polly. Polly Lada-Mocarski thought that Buckminster Fuller’s Tetrascroll was a milestone.

Cycles like the return to handwork and "green"—today is similar to the late 1960s/early 70s.

Rose Slivka arranged a series of panels on “The Art/Craft Connection” ca. mid-1970s that were printed in the magazine. There were four panelists: Richard Minsky represented book art, John Kelsey represented woodworking, Pete Voulkos represented ceramics, and Dale Chihuly represented glass.

Establishment of: NY Center for Book Arts 1974; Fine Print Magazine 1975-90; Rare Book School 1983; MCBA 1985; SFCB 1996; Codex Foundation 2007; CBAA 2008.

Bunting Magnetics introduction of their magnetic flatbase in the mid-1980s, the development of water-soluble sheet photopolymer, were made known to the fine press community through the work of the San Francisco printer Julie Holcomb. The stabilization and sophistication of desktop publishing allowed this approach to be furthered by several fine press printers—primarily James Trissel, Bradley Hutchinson, and Patrick Reagh. The latter also introduced an economical magnetic flatbase and provided processing for plates that made this technology quite accessible.

Franklin Furnace

Establishment of

Five MFA programs: MFA in Book Arts Program at the University of Alabama 1985; U. Iowa Center for the Book MFA program begins 2011; Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts; University of the Arts MFA in printmaking and book arts; and Mills College MFA in Book Arts and English 2009.

Franklin Furnace and Printed Matter as repositories/archives/bookstores for public education and consumption.

Paper/Book Intensive which brought conservators, paper artists, book artists and librarians together in a co-creative environment, allowing for an exchange of materials and processes which led to new developments in these fields.

Lloyd Reynolds introducing italic calligraphy to a new generation of artists and school children, and made it an "everyday art" accessible to anyone with ink and a pen nib or an avenue for artistic expression.

Founding of the Center for the Book, which led to many other book arts centers being established around the country.

Founding of artist residency programs focused on the book arts: Women’s Studio Workshop, Nexus Press, etc.

Publication of Fine Print

In the late 1980s, Adobe Systems introduced the Postscript Type 1 format and along with it a line of very professional and historically considered typefaces. The Adobe team was made up of folks who were young calligraphers and designers who—in the most impossible scenarios, and of great significance—hung out in the fine printer Jack Stauffacher’s print shop. Their concern for classical type and the influence of metal type on the direction of digital type is directly connected here.

Martha Stewart (sorry, but it had a strong effect for us, as she showed the world what a bone folder is, etc.)

What Peter Verheyen started in 1994, the Book_Arts-L listserv. Richard Minsky interviewed Peter for the October 2010 issue of Fine Books & Collections magazine. Peter discusses the impact this listserv has had globally. To me this is a strong contender for a milestone.

Increasing use of polymer plate

PC/Desktop publishing and everything that came after

The establishment of the Center for Book Arts in 1974 and its subsequent effect on producing craft-oriented printers, binders, papermakers and designers. Add Dieu Donné as a major paper influence. Then add the workshop programs at Arrowmont, Penland, Haystack, PBI, and elsewhere and the multiplier effect is obvious.

Richard Minsky

The Adobe work was significant in developing my own concerns about the idea of making digital type perform in a classical manner. Gerald Lange’s Kill Series, 1992, is considered the first to explore the idea that digital type and page layout software could play a significant role in replacing the dwindling sources of metal type, and produce a book in the traditional manner (as opposed to thinking of the computer as an experimental medium in this regard).

Visual Studies Workshop and Joan and Nathan Lyons had a huge impact on generations of photographer bookmakers. That influence and those students/artists/teachers who followed brought credibility to the offset-printed artist book, firmly placing offset books, from the 'democratic multiple' to the art photo book, in a secure area of contemporary artist books. (Not ignoring Ruscha and Walker and others.)