by Richard Minsky
Center for Book Arts
New York City
As reading becomes more digital, there has been a rise in the creation and appreciation of the book as totemic or iconographic object. In the 1970's a scattering of artists amplified a tradition that evolved through
Egyptian papyrus scrolls,
illuminated manuscripts, William
Blake, Delacroix, William Morris, Vollard, the Bauhaus, the Constructivists,
Futurists, Dada and
Book Art has grown from an esoteric medium with a few dozen practitioners and no audience to a field with thousands of artists, a wide audience, and a developing K-12 curriculum.
The act of
publication for many of these authors is to produce a single copy rather
than an edition, and to place it in an exhibition. The works often
combine linguistic and visual literature.
Authors now integrate conservation bookbinding with conceptual art and all forms of printing technology,
and during the last ten years there have been numerous museum exhibits including this type of work. Binders like
Gary Frost and Hedi Kyle have invented new book structures which have been
widely disseminated in a short period of time. Kyle's concertina form with alternating tipped fractional sheets has been used by hundreds of artists for unique and printed works. Thousands of schoolchildren are now taught this form every day.
Book Art has developed
into a diverse field that includes fine press bookmakers like Andrew
Hoyem, Diarists like Raymond
Holbert, and authors who use photocopy machines to make books, like Sharon
Davids was one of the first to switch from letterpress to computers
to make book art. Many authors are using ancient book forms to express
contemporary ideas, like Edna
Lazaron's use of the scroll in a jar for a work on terrorism.
Alternative book structures that are metaphoric or sculptural in their
construction may employ several printing processes in one work, as in
Clarissa T. Sligh's What's
Happening With Momma? Material as metaphor is also used
in miniature books, such as Jo Anna Poehlmann's Drawings
in a Nutshell.
There is a large group of authors who do not create their texts from
blank pages, but whose work consists of altering existing texts. John
Eric Broaddus worked this way, and there was a major exhibition at
the Center for Book Arts titled The
Altered Page. This exhibition drew on works from The Ruth and Marvin
Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry in Miami Beach, Florida.
This collection, with some 65,000 catalogued works, has provided crucial
support to many authors working in this field.
A look at the works of Stella
Martorell, and Claire
Van Vliet gives a good idea of the range included in book art.
The idea for an organization devoted to advancing book art came from
Abram Lerner, Director of The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum, in 1970.
I had been the museum's bookbinder for a year, and then became their photographer.
After shooting about 2,000 of the works in the collection, I realized
that there was not one book in the museum as art. When I asked Mr.
Lerner how that could be changed, he said, "If you want your books
to be in museums, start an organization to promote book art and you will
get museum shows."
At the same time as I was starting the CBA, Terry Belanger was organizing the Book Arts Press at Columbia University's library school. We had different missions that had some overlap. Where Terry was oriented to preserving traditional book crafts and the techniques of fine bookmaking in an academic environment, the CBA
mission was to bring together contemporary artists and artisans in a public workspace,
encourage cross-pollination of ideas and techniques, encourage collaborations,
provide artists and small/fine press publishers with training and facilities in which to produce their work,
mount exhibitions of contemporary and historical book art, and publish journals and exhibition catalogs to expand the public awareness of book art. In September of 1974 the
Center for Book Arts opened in a storefront at 15 Bleecker Street in Manhattan.
The first year or two exhibitions included hand papermaker Douglass Morse Howell, Bookbinder Daniel Gibson Knowlton, Book Artist Barton Lidice Benes
(including his Book of the Dead, with rubber stamped text and illustrations made from the ashes of Hans Schneider), and Syl
Pleasure Beach, in which the images were created during the process of making the color separations. The
Labrot exhibit included all the stages of production, from the original photos through the stripped negatives to the final book. Since 1974 the Center has mounted over 140
exhibitions. These include William Gibson's
Agrippa, a limited edition with text on a computer disk that erased itself as you read it, published by CBA alumnus Kevin Begos; The National Women of Color Artists Book Project; and Bookworks by Tom Phillips.
The Center's first publication, Book Arts, was in a magazine format that included interviews with contemporary book artists like Barton Benes,
Stella Waitzkin and Babi Jeri, reprints of 19th century articles on bookbinding and printing, articles on such diverse topics as techniques, book burnings, and the
Diamond Sutra, and a calendar of events and exhibitions. Each issue contained an original print from a wood
engraving. The circulation was international. CBA also printed and distributed documents
that were considered important to the field, such as Ulises
Carrión's seminal manifesto,
The New Art of Making Books. Book Arts magazine was only produced in two issues, and was succeeded by
Book Arts Newsletter, Book Arts Review and Koob Stra.
The Center now has about 40 faculty members, all of whom are active book artists.
While Terry was organizing academically at Columbia and I was putting together the CBA, Lucy Lippard and Sol LeWitt organized
Printed Matter, an artists' bookstore in Tribeca (lower Manhattan). This store addressed the distribution of artists' books that were produced as visual literature at a modest price, using available technologies like photocopy and offset printing, and there were hundreds of titles available for under $20.
This represented a large and growing segment of the book art community.
Lucy Lippard's 1973 book, Six
Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972
bridged the relationship between conceptual art and artists' books.
not specifically a book art
Studio Workshop in
Rosendale, NY, founded by four
women artists in 1974,
provides facilities for
papermaking and printmaking, and
has been an important sponsor of
artist book projects. In
Rochester, NY The Visual
Studies Workshop, a media
studies school, has
produced over 400 artist's books
since the early 1970's at The
Visual Studies Press, under the
direction of Joan Lyons. Joan is
also editor of the 1984 classic,
Artists' Books: A Critical Anthology and Source
In 1975 Joe Wilfer organized The First North American Hand Papermakers' Conference in Appleton, Wisconsin.
This seminal event brought together about 30 papermakers who were
creating fine papers for printing and printmaking, as well as paper art
using dyed pulp, inclusions, and sculptural forms. During the following
25 years many authors made works in which the content was created
in the process of papermaking.
In 1977 The CBA organized a similar conference in New York, with 200 participants, that included a hand papermaker from Japan who was a Living National Treasure, and bookmakers
Walter Hamady of The Perishable Press and Henry Morris of Bird & Bull Press. Henry delivered an incredible rant against what he called "Song of Solomonitis," that disease afflicting the fine bookmaking world that caused so many printers to produce one more redundant edition of a classic text like Moby Dick.
In 1976 Martha Wilson started Franklin Furnace
Archive, which collected and exhibited artists' books, and also provided a venue for performance art. This collection eventually reached over 10,000 volumes and was acquired by the library of the Museum of Modern Art.
In the late 70's I had a visit from Barbara Lazarus Metz, a CBA artist member from Chicago who wanted to start a center there. She co-founded Artist Book Works in a storefront, with a letterpress shop, bindery and exhibits. That eventually merged and became
The Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper
Arts, which is now directed by book artist Bill Drendel.
There are many academic programs.
Columbia College is particularly interesting because it bridges the zone between academic and public workspaces.
In addition to his own creative
work, Walter Hamady ran a program at
the University of
Wisconsin-Madison that was probably
the most prolific book arts program in the country during the 70s, 80s, and
early 90s. In 1984 Richard
Gabriel Rummonds organized a
meeting in Alabama of a
group that became the Collegiate Press Council.
The group was renamed Collegiate
Book Arts Press Council, and produced
the National Collegiate Book Arts Press Exhibition, that had an influential nationwide
tour 1986-88. They later changed
the name to the Council of Book Arts
Programs in order to be more inclusive and less academic.
There are many outstanding programs now producing book artists. Among them are those of John
Risseeuw at Arizona State University, Steve Miller at the
University of Alabama, Kitty Maryatt
at Scripps College, and Kathy Walkup at Mills College. Ed Colker started many programs, including those at SUNY
Purchase and The Cooper Union in New York City. He also updated and
expanded the program at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia,
which had been host to important book artists in the late 1960's. Kim Merker established a strong program at the
Iowa, connected to the Writers'
Workshop and the Typographic Lab run by Kay
Amertand. There are many more.
John Cole took a different direction in 1977
as the first Director of The
Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. It now has at least
42 affiliated centers nationwide, that promote literacy and book awareness. Not intended as workspace facilities, they have a broader mandate and work with regional partners to reach the
Pacific Center for the Book Arts (PCBA) was founded in 1978 by a group led by book artists and educators Frances Butler, Betsy Davids, and Kathleen Walkup. This was not a facilities based organization in the beginning, but in 1996 Mary Austin and Kathleen Burch recognized a growing need in San Francisco and the Bay Area for a facility specifically designed for the book arts. They organized The
San Francisco Center for the
Book, which includes PCBA and The Hand Bookbinders of California. According to its website, it is the first and only center of its kind on the West Coast, modeled after two similar organizations, The Center for Book Arts in New York and the
Minnesota Center for Book Arts
(MCBA) in Minneapolis.
The MCBA was formed in 1983 when Jim Sitter was brought to the Center for Book Arts by Annabel Levitt, who published under the imprint Vehicle Editions using the CBA presses. I met with him and we discussed strategies for establishing, organizing, administering and funding a book art center. Jim was an incredible entrepreneur, who went back to Minneapolis and raised what seemed to us an enormous amount of financial backing, and opened a Center three times the size of what we had in New York.
The Washington, D.C.
area is served by Pyramid Atlantic in Riverdale, MD, which has been
active since 1981. Artist Helen C. Frederick is the Founder and Executive Artistic Director.
Pyramid Atlantic is serving as the owner, developer and manager of a new center: The Site
for Electronic Media, Art and Technology (SEMAT) in downtown Silver Spring, MD.
In the late 1980's
and Research Center of The
National Museum of Women in the Arts started mounting an annual Book
as Art exhibit. Most museums, including the Metropolitan
Museum of Art and Museum
of Modern Art in New York, regarded book art a subcategory of library
research rather than as curatorial art. Clive Phillpot, the MOMA
Librarian, purchased the Franklin Furnace Artist Book Collection in
1993, shortly before he left that position.
1995 Steven Clay's Granary
Books published The Century of Artists' Books
by artist Johanna Drucker and
Artists Books: A
Critical Survey of the
Literature.. Though not
about the Book Art movement,
they extend the study of
Artist's Books begun by Joan
Lyons. Specific to this topic is the 2005 Granary publication of
Betty Bright's No
Longer Innocent: Book Art in America 1960-1980.
In the early 1990's Cheryl Shackleton Hawkins developed a program titled "Cultural Autobiography." Inner city teens came to the Center for Book Arts and learned to make books to express their inner feelings about their cultural heritage. The results were surprising and moving, and were good art. The program was written up in the School Library Journal, and similar programs developed nationwide. There are now courses for school teachers, project guide books, and other teaching aids directed at youth. Teaching book art has been shown to increase reading skills.
The next phase of the Book Art Movement will be a conference on
K-12 Book Arts Curriculum Development. By introducing kids to book art
and giving them projects throughout elementary schooling, we expect that
there will be a dramatic increase in both the number of authors
producing book art and the audience for these works.
Peter Verheyen's Book
Cor Knops' Book
Gary Frost's Future
of the Book
let me know if there are any corrections or additions.