Books On Books Collection – Robert Cottingham

A-Z: Robert Cottingham: An American Alphabet (1997-2012)

A-Z: Robert Cottingham: An American Alphabet (1997-2012)
Robert Cottingham
Hardcover. H x W mm, pages. Edition of 100. Acquired from Tandem Press, 10 September 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist and Tandem Press.

I had completed a number of canvases for AN AMERICAN ALPHABET and began to experience storage problems. The paintings were leaning against all available walls and were in danger of being damaged. For protection, I hung them as a group on one wall, stacking them four high by four across, … sixteen canvases that reached to the ceiling and formed a monumental mosaic of letterforms. This arrangement of tightly packed images created an energy I hadn’t anticipated. As I looked up at it for the first time from my studio floor, I was immediately transported back to those moments when my father and I ascended from the 42nd Street subway station. The sight lines in my studio matched the ones I’d experienced as a child looking up at the signs and lights of Times Square. (Cottingham, A-Z)

Cottingham’s time travel creates a longing in the viewer for travel in time and space. What that wall must have looked like. Those who might have enjoyed the 1996 show at the Forum Gallery in New York or the installation at the New York Print Fair in November 2011 or the Tandem Press exhibition at Madison, WI, in 2018 would have a limited idea (the images were not stacked four high). A-Z: An American Alphabet is as close as the rest of us will come to visualizing it. The artist book does have the advantage of letter by letter commentary from Cottingham.

Another plus in the book is Cottingham’s exploration of his process, tools and material:

The photograph is the starting point. Once I’ve chosen a specific image, I’ll do at least one preliminary sketch in black and white. This drawing familiarizes me with the image and allows me to make the first formal adjustments. The drawing acts as a value study — a sketch that helps determine the tonal range of the image, how dark or light the various elements should be. …/ Next comes the preliminary color study. This may be a watercolor or a gouache, sometimes handled loosely, sometimes treated as a more finished work. …/ I can now move on to the canvas. My preferred medium is oil. … The painting quickly takes on a life of its own, demanding further adjustments to color, tonal value, and form. But the preliminary work, like a map, guides me towards the new and always unexpected version of my original concept./ … / I consider printmaking an important adjunct to my painting. Many times, when I’ve completed a painting, I feel the need to do more work with the image — to dig deeper, exploring other aspects of its structure. Printmaking offers this opportunity. … / … An old world sensibility and craftsmanship is brought to the selection of paper (often hand-made), the mixing of inks, the preparation of plates or lithographic stones, and other steps in the process.

Cottingham also draws out the collaborative nature of printmaking, which in this case involved four Master Printers (Andy Rubin, Bruce Crownover, Joe Freye and, for the digital, Jason Ruhl) and, for the book design and layout, Linda Endlich. Another form of collaboration is influence, and Cottingham is generously open about his debts: Charles Demuth, Edward Hopper, René Magritte, Piet Mondrian and, of course, the design of the signs from which the letters come. Along with his contemporaries such as Chuck Close, Don Eddy, Richard Estes, Audrey Flack and John Salt, Cottingham represents the movement of Photo-Realism.

An American Alphabet also finds cousins in the Books On Books Collection. For found letters as objects, there is The Typographic Universe (2014), compiled by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. For found letters recreated with pastels and watercolor, there is Stephen T. Johnson’s Alphabet City (1995). For color and form (albeit in totally different media), there are Karen Hanmer’s The Spectrum A-Z (2003) and Tara McLeod’s ABC (2015).

Left: The Typographic Universe (2014) by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. Right: Alphabet City (1995) by Stephen T. Johnson.
Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection.

Left: The Spectrum A-Z (2003) by Karen Hanmer. Right: ABC (2015) by Tara McLeod.
Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection.

The artist and Tandem Press have been kind enough to provide images of the letters A and Z to compare with those in the book, a comparison that underscores the quality of the book and Cottingham’s art.

An American Alphabet: A (2001)
Robert Cottingham
Lithography, Edition of 40, 32 x 23 inches
Image courtesy of Robert Cottingham and Tandem Press

An American Alphabet: Z (2008)
Robert Cottingham
Lithography, Edition of 40, 30 1/2 x 23 inches
Image courtesy of Robert Cottingham and Tandem Press

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Stephen T. Johnson“. Books On Books Collection. 30 November 2021.

Meisel, Louis K. 1993. Photorealism since 1980. New York: H.N. Abrams.

Meisel, Louis K., and Helene Zucker Seeman. 1989. Photo-Realism. New York: Abradale Press.

Books On Books Collection – Stephen T. Johnson

Alphabet City (1995)

Alphabet City (1995)
Stephen T. Johnson
Casebound, sewn and glued. H276 x W226 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Blackwell’s, 17 August 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection.

A Caldecott Honor Book and New York Times Best Illustrated Book in 1995, Alphabet City goes beyond the alphabet letters as found objects, a sub-genre documented by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson in The Typographic Universe (2014). Johnson transforms his found capital letters with pastels, watercolor, gouache and charcoal into photo-realistic pictures in varying but similar sizes; for example, 26.5 x 22.5 inches for the A and 25.25 x 21.5 inches for the Z. These appeared in an inaugural exhibition in 1997 at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York. Johnson’s works are held in numerous permanent collections (mostly in the US) and private ones (mainly US-based but increasingly Europe as well), but they are closely tied to his children’s books: Alphabet School (2015) and A is for Art (see below). Most impressive is how he lifts the alphabet book from ordinary trade status to artist book.

Along with Robert Cottingham, Johnson established the photo-realistic alphabet as its own sub-genre, which has been explored by other artists such as Stephen Magsig in The Urban Alphabet: Paintings from Postcards from Detroit and Simon Jennings in Outdoor Types: An Urban Alphabet (2010)

A is for Art (2008)

A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet (2008)
Stephen T. Johnson
Perfect bound in case with doublures. H310 x 235 mm, 40 pages. Acquired from Amazon E.U., 4 September 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection.

In his review in American Art, Philip Nel coins an apt name for Johnson’s art — “alphabet expressionism” — which, on closer examination of texture and technique, applies also to Alphabet City. Go back and look at the foreground of the letter A in Alphabet City.

A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet has the feel of Moussorgski’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Although each movement “depicts” a different painting, the composer’s style comes through; although each letter alludes to different artists (for example, but not complete for each letter: A – François Dufrêne, Kurt Schwitters; B- Jim Dine, Willem de Kooning , C- Arman, Félix Gonzáles-Torres; D- Udomsak Krisanamis; W- Man Ray; X- Robert Rauschenberg; Y- Tom Wesselman, Robert Indiana; Z- Beatrice Mandelman, Mimmo Rotella), the artist’s vision comes through. To pull that off requires considerable versatility. Several of the images in A is for Art derive from sculptures and large-scale installations. Take a look, too, at his triptych of mosaics in the City Center Public Library of Lenexa, Kansas.

Also a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, A is for Art demonstrates two subgenres of alphabet books: the hidden and alliterative alphabet. An interesting, perhaps intentional, effect — even more so when the letters are difficult to find — is to make the viewer linger over the image longer than the museum goer’s average of less than 30 seconds per object. The ingenuity of Johnson’s alliterative sentences is almost as engaging as the images; even so, its main effect directs the eye back to the images. Here is the text for the letter A:

A a
Arrangement No. 1
Affixed across and around an angled letter A are an array of abstracted and assembled bits of advertisements, and apparent among them are apostrophes, ampersands, accents, and an asterisk.

If you spend only 13 minutes in this book (30 seconds per letter), you are missing out.

Music and numbers have also piqued Johnson’s creative curiosity, but another of his series works leads in a more intriguing, roundabout way back to A is for Art: the Kana Card series. On a trip through Japan, the artist acquired a set of Japanese flashcards for learning Katagana and Hiragana. Each 2 x 3 inch card becomes a canvas for paint and collage.

Alphabet School (2015)

Alphabet School (2015)
Stephen T. Johnson
Hardback. H286 x W236 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Book Depository, 5 November 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection.

Using monoprints on paper with digital enhancements, Johnson shifts technique yet again here. The photorealism yields to a graininess, but as with Alphabet City, the effect of making the reader look not just at the images but also at his or her environment remains.

Some letters are contrived (two bookends posed for the letter M). Most of the scenes, however, deliver an authentic sense of found letters (the C in the support of the globe atlas). Johnson has raised the bar on the hidden-letter theme, common in the genre of alphabet books, by several notches.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. 31 March 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Robert Cottingham“. Books On Books Collection.

Paul Cox“. Books On Books Collection.

Heller, Steven, and Gail Anderson“. 8 May 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Mackey, Bonnie, and Hedy Schiller Watson. 2017. Alphabet books: the K-12 educators’ power tool. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Nel, Philip. 2008. “The Fall and Rise of Children’s Literature.” American Art 22, no. 1: 23–27.

A Is for Art: Stephen T. Johnson’s Abstract Alphabet“. 31 August 2010. Nine Kinds of Pie.

Zerkin, Becca. 9 November 2008. “Alphabet City.” The New York Times Book Review. The review actually covers A is for Art.

Books On Books Collection – Clément Mériguet

ABCDead (2010)

ABCDead (2010)
Clément Mériguet
H170 x W140 mm, 56 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Chapitre Libraire, 10 September 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

An alphabet of sardonic commentary in words and images on death, human behavior, stupidity and fetishism. Starting with the skull for Avenir (“future”), Mériguet places his alphabet artist book squarely within the genres of the vanitas and still life. which in French is — appropriately — nature morte (“nature dead”). (In addition to the images below, the artist offers the images of an ivory carving to illustrate Éléphant, a tree stump for Oxygène and a dead bee for Pollen. With his medium being the computer, he clearly cannot resist compounding the punnery by describing his images as nature morte virtuelle.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Julien Gineste

Alphabet (2016)

Alphabet (2016)
Julien Gineste
Staple-bound pamphlet. H180 x W130 mm, 32 pages. Edition of 100. Acquired from ~zeug, 25 March 2020. Photos: Courtesy of the publisher, ~zeug.

These single-color risograph-printed photos of celebrities and literary figures are without labels. The reader’s ability to identify them depends on general, historical, literary and popular knowledge and some awareness of how the French pronounce the letters of the alphabet.

A clever piece to make us think about the relationship of text to image. If you can recognize the tennis legend Arthur Ashe, you have to know that the letter H is pronounced “aash” to make sense of his position in the booklet. No need to know there is no difference in saying “O”; you only need to know the face of Jackie O. Several of the personalities go by an initial that corresponds to their alphabetic position: Jay Z and Mister T, but did the French really call “Dubya”, the 43rd president of the US, “doobla-vay”?

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Sciullo, Pierre di. L’Après-midi d’un phonème — The Afternoon of a Phoneme (Paris, FR: ~zeug, 2019). Another exercise in French/English punning — if only in the title’s play on Mallarmé’s poem and Débussy’s musical homage L’Après-midi d’un Faune. The book is a more complex affair, being both an accomplished artist book and interview by Sandra Chamaret and Julien Gieneste of di Sciullo.

Books On Books Collection – Claude Sarasas

The ABC’s of Origami (1964)

The ABC’s of Origami (1964)
Claude Sarasas
Paper on board, casebound with illustrated endpapers. H264 x W188 mm, 56 pages. Acquired from Thrift Books, 7 September 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Its blend of multilingual treatment, paper craft applied to the alphabet and collage of origami figures against scenes of Japanese landscapes recommended this book to the Books On Books Collection as a curiosity. The less-than-always-clear origami directions and the words’ lettering, however, altering between black and white and shadowed to tilt in different directions to distinguish the English, French and Japanese, dull the curiosity.

The ABC’s of Origami is now in its second edition (2012). Without question, Ms Sarasas has pointed the way for combining abecedaries with origami objects.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Hasegawa, Taichiro. Magical origami alphabets and numerals (Japan: [publisher not identified], 1996).

Hwang, Joyce. Kirigami alphabet design 7: fun with paper folding and cutting (Union City, CA: Heian International, 1994).

Klein, Louis. Animals to fold: an illustrated cutout alphabet book on origami (London: B.T. Batsford, 1962).

Bookmarking Book Art – Diane Harries

Legacy (2018)

Legacy (2018)
Diane Harries
Venetian blind book. Monoprint, screenprint and collage. Closed: H107 x W233 x D25 mm; Open: H1000 mm. Unique.
Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Look at the circular and triangular pieces making up the clasp for this work Legacy (2018) by Diane Harries. Don’t they appear to be made of marble or some other polished stone? They actually come from coconut husk, shaped, polished and dyed. The only indigenous plant from the palm family in New Zealand is the nīkau, and the coconut trees present on one of its islands were likely planted. “Some say that when Māori came to New Zealand, they looked in vain for a familiar tree and seeing the nīkau, compared it to the coconut tree of their Pacific homeland. One translation of ‘nīkau’ is ‘without nuts’, in remembrance of the coconut.”

The choice of material — this crafted seed — strikes a subtle note in a work inspired by Harries’ experience with the Gordon Park Scenic Reserve, a protected lowland forest once common to the Manawatu/Whanganui region of New Zealand. An expanse of land preserved by what threatened it in the first place.

As the thread unwinds from around the circular piece of seed pod and the triangular piece is laid aside, the subtle notes grow. The fashioned clasp is the same sort used to hold up or let fall a venetian blind. But here the clasp works in reverse from that for a venetian blind: the winding holds the book closed, the unwinding opens it. The thread winds around and through what appears at first to be an accordion book, but with the first turned page or panel, it is clear that this is venetian blind structure. A structure that modulates the movement of light and air. Our artifice can be deployed “to open or close” nature.

A collage of hand-printed images (monoprint and screenprint) sound the more obvious note that this work addresses our impact on nature. Images of leaves and a wire fence strung along posts. Alternating panels of living and dead trees — a healthy and exotic bunya pine and the native, dead kahikatea (white pine).

As the panels extend fully, other material and images come into play. Staves of musical notation appear — here on a panel with the living, there on a panel with the dead. Just as fickle as a pretty human artifact that in one context winds to close and in another winds to open.

Images of wandering thread contrast with the straight lines of real thread connecting the panels. Scraps of tarlatan with its loose weave constrast with densely woven rectangles of thread.

Did the venetian blind structure and seed-based material choose the images, or did the images choose the structure and material?The choice of material and structure can play an obvious or subtle role — or both, or none at all — in a work. When material, form, technique and metaphor play together like this, the work becomes art.

Artist’s Statement

The botanical history of Gordon Park Scenic Reserve provides a window on the social changes that have marked the region. European settlers cleared most of the native bush for farmland, but this tiny patch of swamp forest three kilometres east of Whanganui was saved by an enlightened landowner. Today as conservationists, we mourn the loss of native species everywhere.

The plants there today tell these stories of loss and invasion. Drainage of the area for pastureland has put native kahikatea (white pine) trees at risk during drought and some have died. Their bleached skeletons stand sentinel to this historically neglected status. Paradoxically, the exotic bunya pine (Australian native) nearby, is valued as a marker of the original homestead (now removed), and is officially recorded as Protected Tree #96. The stories are enmeshed in our history and changing values, indicated by the woven fabric in the book.

However, regardless of their social meaning, there is splendour in both of these trees, and the music is a whimsical appreciation of beauty in the face of mankind’s fickle imprints upon the earth.

Further Reading

Chinnery, Colin. “The Chinese pothi (fanjia zhuang)“. The International Dunhuang Project. Site last revised: September 2016. Accessed 30 October 2021. The venetian blind book structure derives from one of the earliest known methods of binding: the Indo-Chinese pothi or palm-leaf sutra.

Department of Conservation, New Zealand Government. Manawatu/Whanganui. Site last revised: N.D. Accessed 30 October 2021

Books On Books Collection – Ernest Fraenkel

Les Dessins Trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé
à propos de la Typographie de Un Coup de Dés (1960)

Les Dessins Trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé, à propos de la Typographie de Un Coup de Dés (1960)
Ernest Fraenkel
Paperback, stapled to fold-in sleeve. H245 x W160 mm, 44 pages bound with 68 pages on 8.5 uncut folded and gathered sheets. Acquired from À la Page, 12 October 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Ernest Fraenkel should have left it at visually mapping Un Coup de Dés and offered it up as simply an artistic response to the poem. Even if it is a mapping of the condensed single-paged Cosmopolis (1897) version of the poem, think of the various renderings in handset chapbook form printed on letterpress or as lithographs, or etchings on glass, or even sculptures. It could have been the “Prometheus bound” to the “Prometheus unbound” of those who paid homage by appropriating the more expansive double-page spread book version (1914) that Mallarmé intended. Instead, it lies tucked away with 44 pages de l’explication. Professor David W. Seaman (Georgia Southern University), who has engaged with Fraenkel’s analysis, puts it well:

It must be said in [Fraenkel’s] defense that the idea is tempting: to make wordless patterns of the pages of the poem in order to see the ideogrammatic shapes more clearly. In addition, Fraenkel has contributed some worthwhile insights into the use of space and text in the poem, … However, there are three major objections to his project. First, he used, for most of his research, the text of the Cosmopolis edition of the poem, an edition which nearly everyone agrees is far from the author’s intentions, especially insofar as the ideograms are concerned; the preface to that edition gives ample warning of this. … / The second objection is that Fraenkel strays too far from the text, preferring to keep in mind a general idea of the meaning of the poem, and then go off according to the feelings the designs give him. … In fact,  sometimes Fraenkel recommends turning the design on its side or upside-down to see what image may present itself! / The third objection is that these designs are then used more or less like Rohrschach ink blots. (Seaman, pp. 142-43)

In his nine sets of single-sided uncut sheets, Fraenkel offers seven different diagrammatic approaches to the poem as it appeared in Cosmopolis, whose editors could not allow the poem’s lines to cross over the gutter to the next page as Mallarmé imagined the layout. The opening pages of Fraenkel’s seven approaches are laid out below in sunlight and paired with the textual opening page.

Seven different diagrammatic renderings. The one at the lower right shows Fraenkel’s sideways view.

The first rendering (above, upper left) is closest to what Mario Diacono and Marcel Broodthaers would create later in the decade.

Left: a METRICA n’aboolira (1968) by Mario Diacono (1968). Right: Image: Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1969) by Marcel Broodthaers (1969).

Fraenkel’s nine sets of sheets break down into eight of 8 pages and one of 4 pages. Below is the first set opened out.

The first set of eight pages

Compared with Diacono’s, Broodthaers’ and all the other works of homage to date, Fraenkel’s renderings retain a distinction and suggest other new directions not yet taken physically or digitally. Given the sculptural interpretations by Geraldo de Barros, Jorge Méndez Blake and Kathy Bruce, doesn’t Fraenkel’s first rendering call for a three-dimensional cantilevered homage constructed of slabs of blackened flotsam connected with brushed steel rods?

From the series Jogos de Dados (1986)
Geraldo de Barros
Photo: Julia Parpulov. Permission from Fabiana de Barros.

Biblioteca Mallarmé/Mallarmé Library (2011)
Jorge Méndez Blake
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Navigating the Abyss (2014)
Kathy Bruce
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Given the video created by Giulio Maffei transforming the 1914 book version into Broodthaers’ and the digital legerdemain of Karen ann Donnachie and Andy Simionato and Tayyib Yavuz, why not an animated digital transformation of the Cosmopolis version into the 1914 book version?

Le Vite dei Libri 26 – Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (2016)
Giulio Maffei
Permission from the artist.

Mallarmé’s Self-replicating Machine: A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance” (2018)
Karen ann Donnachie and Andy Simionato
Permission from the artists.

Experiment Book: “Un Coup de Dés”
Tayyib Yavuz
Permission from the artist.

And Professor Jed Rasula (University of Georgia), who has also explored Fraenkel’s work, suggests yet another medium:

Fraenkel’s sixty-eight seismographic and astral diagrams (or “stylizations”) practice a truly graphic mode of literary analysis. It was Fraenkel’s conviction that “a plastic text rests hidden in the extra-conscious layers of the poet, paralleling the verbal text of the poem” (9). … In their accentuation of the visual character of Un Coup de dés, Fraenkel’s designs are like watching a movie with the sound turned off, forced to rely on gesture rather than dialogue in order to follow the action.”

Except for the sound part, that could describe Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dés (1929).

Further Reading

Derek Beaulieu“. Books On Books Collection. 19 June 2020.

Raffaella della Olga“. Books On Books Collection. 8 December 2020.

Klaus Detjen“. Books On Books Collection. 9 September 2020.

Sammy Engramer“. Books On Books Collection. 1 June 2020.

Michalis Pichler“. Books On Books Collection. 19 August 2020.

Cerith Wyn Evans“. Books On Books Collection. 16 April 2020.

Eric Zboya“. Books On Books Collection. 1 June 2020.

Donnachie, Karen Ann, and Andy Siminiato. “Mallarmé’s Self-replicating Machine: A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance”. MATLIT: Materialities of Literature, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 1, p. 37-49, Aug. 2018. Date accessed: 23 March 2019.

Rasula, Jed. Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth (London: Palgrave, 2009). Accessed via Electronic Poetry Center, University of Pennsylvania, n.d. Accessed 14 June 2020.

Seaman, David W.  Concrete poetry in France (Ann Arbor: Umi Research Press, 1981).

Books On Books Collection – Nif Hodgson

Fluid Horizons (2021)

Fluid Horizons (2021)
Nif Hodgson
Slipcase. Modified dragon-scale concertina. Slipcase: H91 x W158 mm. Book: H90 x W156 mm, 20 panels. Variable edition of 10, of which this is #1. Acquired from 23 Sandy Gallery, 2 September 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

The opportunity to add another dragon-scale binding (see Rutherford Witthus and Zhang Xiaodong below) to the collection would have been incentive enough. The binding of Fluid Horizons is not, however, the usual dragon-scale binding as applied to multi-leaved scrolls. It comprises an effective accordion spine with leaves attached to the inside folds. What made Fluid Horizons irresistible is the effect the structure achieves with the unusual technique and material: screenprint and archival pigment ink on Arista II transparency film, Duralar polyester film and Lexan polycarbonate film.

Each book in an edition varies because its twenty images are selected from hundreds of photographs taken by Hodgson with the same horizon-dimension. Although not in sequence, each image influences the selection of the next, which creates a sense of progression. With the gradation of light and transparency across the selection, the sense of progression increases. But it is not a “film-like” progression of images, or snapshots taken one after another in sequence. Like memory and our sense of time, on which this work meditates, the progression is a fragile reconstruction. The transparent materials, expandable accordion spine and fluttering panels reflect the ephemeral, flexible and fragmentary way in which memory is shaped while also being affected by perception in the moment.

There is a further material ephemerality to the work. The panel surface is delicate, subject to dissolving from contact with moisture, smudging from fingers and scratching from grit. As Hodgson puts it, “the sensitive materials lightly wear with viewing and play, just as memory faintly fogs with time and recollection”. Fluid Horizons is a stunning union of form and metaphor.

Further Reading

Rutherford Witthus“. Books On Books Collection. 27 October 2021.

Zhang Xiaodong“. Books On Books Collection. 1 December 2019.

Chinnery, Colin. “Whirlwind binding (xuanfeng zhuang)“. The International Dunhuang Project. Site last revised: September 2016. Accessed 21 October 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Rutherford Witthus

Skip for Joy (2021)

Skip for Joy (2021)
Rutherford Witthus
Dragon-scale scroll bound to bamboo rod. H306 x W477 mm, 11 panels. Edition of 5, of which this is #1. Acquired from the artist, 18 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Rutherford Witthus’ work is strong, quiet, broad and distinctive. It blends Eastern and Western traditions of the book arts. It joins the blackletter fonts of the Cistercian monks with the typography of Hermann Zapf. It joins John Cage’s chance-determined selection in the creation of art with a group of physicists’ fascination with the crumpling of paper. It experiments with abstract art and Japanese fore-edge illustration and binding. It offers a meditation on Gilles Deleuze’s The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque through an intricately folded reprinting. The artist’s eclectic appreciation of  the work of Sappho, Walt Whitman, St. Francis, Gilles Deleuze, Søren Kierkegaard, Ernst Haeckel, Robert Herrick, Miguel de Unamuno and others finds an impressive unity across his body of work. Skip for Joy is the first of his works to be added to the Books On Books Collection.

Compounding its compelling structure, Skip for Joy displays accumulating lines of text one by one until there are ten lines of text on the tenth panel. For each line, Witthus draws its words and expressions from an entry in Roget’s Thesaurus. As each panel grows in width to play its part in the dragon-scale binding, each line grows, too, repeating words and adding more synonyms from its entry in Roget’s. Compounding the scaling of structure and text, Witthus varies his lines in color and position. Starting with the phrase “skip for joy” in orange on the first panel, he then adds the phrase “grit one’s teeth” in violet on the second panel beneath the orange line; then “desire” in red on the third above the orange line; then “do up and do” in turquoise on the fourth; and so on.

Second panel

Third panel

Fourth panel

What does Roget’s Thesaurus have to do with dragon-scale binding? The scroll’s first phrase and title provide a clue: an imperative to play. Anyone interested in playing with the dragon-scale (or whirlwind) binding usually goes to the site of the International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online. Among its descriptions so far of the forty thousand works found in the Buddhist cave library near China’s Dunhuang on the western edge of the Gobi desert in 1900, there is this passage:

Old Chinese accounts of whirlwind binding are very rare. However, there was a trail of clues left by a Tang dynasty (AD 618-907) rhyme dictionary called Kanmiu buque qieyun (Corrected rhymes), by Wang Renxu. … From the earliest accounts from the Song dynasty up to the Qing dynasty (AD 1644-1911), references to whirlwind bound books have always been connected with this text. … / Several examples of what is believed to be whirlwind binding have now been discovered in the Dunhuang collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the British Library. Most of these have not been rebound, so it is possible to get a clear impression how these manuscripts were bound and why they were bound in this manner. IDP

Where Western reference works are organized alphabetically, the Qièyùn rhyming dictionary is organized phonologically. But that phonological organization is complex: starting first by grouping characters according to the five tones, then grouping them into rhyming groups according to a character’s initial consonant, and then into groups according to the rhyme of a character’s final consonant. And determining those rhymes requires instructions — the fanqie method that explains via other characters how a character entry should be pronounced. In short, organization by phonological similarities — of tone, initial rhyming consonant and final rhyming consonant.

So to follow the lead of the dragon-scale bound Qièyùn, Witthus picks an English-language reference work whose entries offer plenty of content based on similarities — such as synonyms. Skip for Joy is playful art. Its “rhymes” are the repetitions and synonyms in a line of text. Its lines of text jump into the panels where they will and in whatever color that suits. In the tenth panel, the seventh line even breaks into a dragon-like undulation.

Tenth panel

As the dragon-scale scroll returns to its archival box, its colors and undulating line unite with the dragon in the box’s silk onlay.

Further Reading

Nif Hodgson“. Books On Books Collection. 27 October 2021.

Zhang Xiaodong“. Books On Books Collection. 1 December 2019.

Chinnery, Colin. “Whirlwind binding (xuanfeng zhuang)“. The International Dunhuang Project. Site last revised: September 2016. Accessed 21 October 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Richard Price & Ronald King

little but often (2007)

little but often: a pop-up alphabet love poem (2007)
Richard Price (text), Ronald King (design)
Dos-à-dos accordion book. H165 x W110 mm, 28 double-panel spreads. Edition of 350. Acquired from the artist, 6 October 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Richard Price’s lines recall the inventiveness of Emily Dickinson‘s and compression of Samuel Menashe‘s. For Dickinson, we have the artistry of Jen Bervin; for Menashe, we have that of Julie Johnstone; and for Price, we have his full-on collaboration with Ron King.

Harking back to The Half-Year Letters (1983), little but often pairs King’s lowercase pop-up alphabet with Price’s verses, just as its predecessor paired the uppercase with Roy Fisher‘s alphabet-inspired evocations of the 26 weeks from April through September. Also like its predecessor, little but often plays on the 52 weeks of the year, this time with its front and back covers illustrated with a playing-card suit of hearts, “numbered” a-m and n-z, and with two pages allotted to each week, each letter and each brief poem — as the title says, little but often. While The Half-Year Letters explores the forward movement of the letters alongside the movement of the year, this is love poetry in a book of back and forth. Text and design converse — and not merely by the letter.

The last letter and lines in the book exemplify this to perfection.

Of the few other pairs of couplets in the book, none is as back and forth as the letter z’s. Paired against one another, rhyming ab ab, each line beginning alike with its N-z phrase, the two couplets echo the back-to-backness and balance of the dos-à-dos structure. The phrases self-righteous space and tender absence can be read as allusions to the cut-out space around the letters. Or vice versa. Again, back and forth. “Angry” and “tender” bat each other back and forth, just as the final phrase turns the dos-à-dos sweetly back on itself.

Together, Price and King make the concertina book “smile brighter”.†

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. 31 March 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Ronald King“. 1 March 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Clark, Caroline. 23 January 2013. “Clark on Price“. Eyewear, the blog.

†Dante Alighieri. 1320. Purgatorio (Canto XI, 82). Hollander, Robert, Stephen Campbell, and Simone Marchesi. 1988. Dartmouth Dante project. When Dante meets and praises the illuminator Oderisi da Gubbio in purgatory, Oderisi directs the praise to his pupil Franco Bolognese as the one who really made “the pages smile brighter”.

Price, Richard. 2018. Digital. Essence Press. Collaboration with Julie Johnstone.

___________. 2008. folded. Essence Press. Collaboration with Julie Johnstone.

Wheatley, David. 31 October 2009. “Rays by Richard Price and The Hundred Thousand Places by Thomas A Clark“. The Guardian.

Books On Books Collection – Jon Agee, Alethea Kontis & Bob Kolar, Sean Lamb & Mike Perry, Lou Kuenzler & Julia Woolf

Why does the alphabet begin with the letter A? The long-held speculation that its origin from a sign designating “ox” made it the first in line because of the ox’s meeting the first of our survival needs — food — seems a stretch. Beyond B for beth meaning “house” (shelter) and C for gimel meaning “hunting stick” (in case we run out of oxen), what needs do the other twenty-three letters represent? Especially the letter Z.

Z began its life in seventh place with the Phoenician and Greek alphabets. With Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” extending only to five levels in the twentieth century, Z has had no need to represent — even after the fact. In Phoenician and Hebrew, the letter’s name is zayin, in Greek, zeta, and both mean “seven”. Now there is a credible rationale for a letter’s position in the alphabetical order. But then came Spurius Carvilius Ruga, a Roman headmaster who came up with the letter G, displacing Z, and then Appius Claudius Caecus, the developer of the Appian Way and “censor” with the influence in 312 BC to decide that Latin had no need of Z and its sound anyway and so banished it. After the Romans conquered Greece and began importing Greek words like zephyros, the letter Z returned and settled meaninglessly into last place.

Until the twenty-first century.

Z Goes Home (2006)

Z Goes Home (2006)
Jon Agee
Casebound, paper pasted on boards, sewn. H320 x W223 mm, 30 Pages. Acquired from Amazon, 1 July 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

In this first of four imaginative books bringing Z to life, the letter begins to take on real character, quietly descending a ladder from its day job at the city zoo, making its way home across a Bridge, stopping for a Cake and Doughnut snack, admiring itself in a Mirror, and so on until reaching its home at the end.

AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First (2012)

AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First (2012)
Alethea Kontis & Bob Kolar
Paperback, sewn. H270 x W245 mm, 48 pages. Acquired from Altair Books, 1 July 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the author and artist.

Kontis and Kolar give the letter a zestier, feistier temperament in AlphaOops. Z and Zebra start off well enough, followed by Y and X, but then P and the Penguins show up out of order and Z finds that keeping everyone in reverse alphabetical order is harder than it looks.

Z Goes First (2018)

Z Goes First (2018)
Sean Lamb & Mike Perry
H286 x W205 mm, 26 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 1 July 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the author and artist.

Lamb and Perry introduce a generally milder Z, accompanied by a helpful Y always ready to ask why and why not when the other letters are less than cooperative with Z’s going first.

Not Yet Zebra! (2018)

Not Yet Zebra! (2018)
Lou Kuenzler & Julia Woolf
Hardback, paper pasted on board. H256 x W256 mm, 28 pages. Acquired from The Saint Bookstore, 1 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the author and artist.

Kuenzler and Woolf let Z’s inner Zebra loose on poor Annie who just wants to paint her alphabet in the right order.

What has taken Z so long to find its raizon d’être?

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. 31 March 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Davies, Lyn, and Berthold Baskerville. 2006. A is for ox: a short history of the alphabet. London: Folio Society.

Diringer, David. 1968. The alphabet: A key to the history of mankind. Third edition, volume 1. London: Hutchinson.

Fischer, Steven Roger. 2008. A history of writing. London: Reaktion Books.

Firmage, Richard A. 2001. The alphabet abecedarium: some notes on letters. London: Bloomsbury.

Flanders, Judith. 2020. A Place For Everything: the curious history of alphabetical order. New York: Basic Books.

Grout, James. n.d. “Appius Claudius Caecus and the Letter Z”. Encyclopaedia Romana. Last updated 17 May 2021. Accessed 17 August 2021.

Rosen, Michael. 2013. Alphabetical: how every letter tells a story. London: John Murray.

Books On Books Collection – Mark Cockram

The Trial of the Letter ϒ alias Y (1753)

The Trial of the Letter ϒ alias Y:
An Account of the Trial of the Letter ϒ [upsilo
n] alias Y (1753)
Thomas Edwards
Bound and boxed (2021) by Mark Cockram
Box: H220 x W138; Book: H202 x W120 mm, 16 pages.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like the Hebrew fable in which the letters of the alphabet argue their cases for the position of first letter, this short eighteenth century fantasy has the English Commonwealth of Letters rounding on the letter y as a Greek interloper, usurping their brother i’s rightful position at the end and even middle and beginning of words. Why the letters choose Apollo to judge the case is an irony lost on all the characters. But this is no surprise. After Apollo rules in y’s favor, their witless lack of self-awareness explodes into the internecine warfare of a roomful of Brexiteers. The letters d and th come to blows over murder and murther; the letters ugh demand reinstatement at the end of tho and thro; the letters s and c row over defense/defence and pretense/pretence; and so on.

Thomas Edwards (1699-1757) was an English critic and poet. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, his friend the printer and novelist Samuel Richardson encouraged him to write a book on spelling, which resulted in An Account of the Trial of the Letter ϒ [Upsilon], alias Y. The silliness first appeared in 1753 in two forms: one in the fifth edition of Edwards’ Canons of Criticism printed for the bookseller C. Bathurst (over-against St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleetstreet) and the other as a pamphlet for the bookseller W. Owen (at Homer’s Head, in Fleet-Street, near Temple-Bar).

The quarrelsomeness among the letters reflects the same among the not-so-gentlemanly scholars of the period. Edwards’ Canons of Criticism sets out principles for editing in the guise of a stiff critique of William Warburton’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Priest and later bishop of Gloucester, Warburton replied ad hominem, and the feud was on. Even the pompous bully Samuel Johnson joined in, disparaging both (presumably with an eye on elevating his own judgement if not his future edition of Shakespeare):

Soon after Edwards’s ‘Canons of Criticism’ <1748> came out, Johnson was dining at Tonson the Bookseller’s, with Hayman the Painter and some more company. Hayman related to Sir Joshua Reynolds, that the conversation having turned upon Edwards’s book, the gentleman praised it much, and Johnson allowed its merit. But when they went farther, and appeared to put that authour upon a level with Warburton, ‘Nay, (said Johnson,) he has given him some smart hits to be sure; but there is no proportion between the two men; they must not be named together. A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.'” (Dussinger, “Johnson’s unacknowledged debt”)

The version in the Books On Books Collection is the pamphlet: ”First and only edition, vii, [1], 23, [1]pp., with half-title, disbound”, as it is described in the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue. Human petulance aside, the letters’ speechifying and Edwards’ observations about the alphabet’s history place The Trial squarely in the collection between letterpress works and the more trade-oriented alphabet books. As can be seen in the “before” pictures, though, the pamphlet required some attention before joining. That attention, however, would have to suit the nature of the collection.


From a coincidental meeting at a Maggs Brothers exhibition in London, Mark Cockram sprang to mind, and his words here confirmed him as the right choice:

This brings us to the world of book arts. As I progress with my work and life I have begun to engage with this genre in the book making world. I admit that in the past I was a bit of a book snob. Though I produced a number of book works I was unable to cut free of the shackles of the finely bound book, working towards the mastering the complexity of the book… dare I say I was blinkered? In retrospect it is only over the last 15 or so years that I have been able to bring together the various disciplines of the book with the art of the book (though I am sure many who will argue I have neither) It has taken time for me to be able to engage and combine. However I feel that working in this way I am able to be honest with my work, to reflect the now as opposed to rebinding the past. It is a personal journey.
Please note there are other ways of doing things and opinions….. spelling and grammar. Please further note, the opinion of the author may change at any moment. This is due to having an open mind… of sorts.
(Mark Cockram, Studio 5 Book Arts, 30 December 2019. Accessed 4 January 2020.)


The paper-labelled cloth box has an unusual heft, implying weighty content but opening to reveal the humorously modest-sized pamphlet.

The artist’s binding solution involves two paper-covered boards. These additional “before and after” pictures show further how the artist’s “lay flat” binding solution preserves as full a view as possible of the original’s gutter.



Note also how, inside and out, the front and back boards comment on the contents. The pamphlet’s title is echoed by the enlarged letters Y and ϒ. The faint palimpsest-like printing on the front and back covers (see above and below) and the overprinted inside covers echo the sourcing, disbound from an original binding.

And there is no missing Cockram’s fine press touch in the handling of the end papers and the spine’s red inner backing echoing the interior of the storage box.

Further Reading

Special thanks to William Laywood of Forest Books ABA-ILAB for explaining the notation from the English Short Title Catalogue pointing me down the road to discovering the Canons of Criticism and Professor Dussinger’s insights.

Dussinger, John A. 23 September 2004. “Thomas Edwards“, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed 9 October 2021.

Dussinger, John A. 1 January 2016. “Johnson’s unacknowledged debt to Thomas Edwards in the 1765 edition of Shakespeare.” Philological Quarterly. In The Free Library, University of Iowa.  Accessed 9 October 2021. Dussinger is quoting James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, rev. L. F. Powell, 6 vols. (Oxford U. Press, 1934-1964), l:263n3.

Books On Books Collection – Michele Durkson Clise

Animal Alphabet: Folding Screen (1992)

Animal Alphabet: Folding Screen (1992)
Michele Durkson Clise
Accordion book. H160 x W160 mm, 13 panels. Chronicle Books © 1992, Marquand Books, Inc. & Michele Durkson Clise. Acquired from Greensleeves Books, 7 September 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Perhaps better known for her earlier series of detective stories about a toy bear named Ophelia, Michele Durkson Clise’s accordion book stands out among alphabet books for its text, graphic art and twist on the genre’s usual categories.

Animals are the most frequent topic of alphabet books, and the most usual text structure is a single letter to a page, accompanied or followed by an animal (or animals) whose name begins with the letter. Another common text structure is the hidden letter, where the letter has to be guessed from the image or is hidden in the image.

In Clise’s Animal Alphabet, instead of the single letter, we have a single animal corresponding not to a letter but to the animal’s name at the end of a rhyming couplet. Where are the letters? There is no D for dog on the first page normally belonging to A, but the page normally belonging to B does show a bear. Was something missed on the first page; might the dog might be a Lhasa Apso? Not with those ears and that tail. And back to the bear; where is the letter B?

The disconnect between alphabetical order and the animals depicted is distracting and enjoyable. The pauses and stumbles it causes lead to looking closely at the images, perhaps postponing discovery of the letters. From where did these striking images come with their black and white engravings of the animals against varied backgrounds of light or dark green, light or dark brown and light gray on glossy card stock? The fine lines in the animal images suggest etching. Several of the backgrounds appear to be wood engravings. In a trade book, the printing is surely offset, from which the technique of drawing is hard to tell. Perhaps the answer resides in the artist archive at the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library in the Seattle Art Museum. Or in someone’s encyclopedic eye for antique prints.

Despite the “distractions” of the accordion fold, the pull of the anapest (tum-ti-tum) rhythm and the animals aligned with rhyme not the letters, the somewhat hidden letters eventually emerge. For the reader not attuned to acrostics, there they are at the start of each couplet’s lines: Alligator, Bobolink, Crocodile, Dromedary … Yellowhammer, Zebra.

Which is it — “necessity, the mother of invention” or ”invention, the mother of necessity”? Whichever, with Clise’s Animal Alphabet, we have the necessary and right letters, words, lines, rhyme, rhythm, textual, graphic and material structure.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Blamires, David. 1990. Adult alphabets: examples of English press alphabet books from the last hundred years with an alphabetical description, copious illustrations and a checklist of press alphabet books. Oxford: Hanborough Parrot.

Cooper, Cathie Hilterbran. 1996. ABC books and activities: from preschool to high school. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press.

Mackey, Bonnie, and Hedy Watson. 2016. Alphabet Books: The K-12 Educators’ Power Tool. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Books On Books Collection – David Clifford

Letterpress Printing ABC (2004)

Letterpress Printing ABC (2004)
David Clifford
Miniature. H78 x W78 mm, 62 pages. Edition of 50 numbered copies, of which this is #48. Acquired from Bromer Booksellers, 1 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.

Among the several outstanding production features of Clifford’s miniature is its variation on Claire Van Vliet’s binding structure in The Gospel of Mary (2006). It first becomes apparent in the double-page spread below. As with most of the structures demonstrated in Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (2002), the binding structure consists of woven strips of paper to hold the folios together and attach the cover. The top-down view of Letterpress ABC shows the gathered folios and, if enlarged in a browser, also shows the paper tape running from the cover and across the gathers.

Staking his claim over Andrew Morrison as first past the post, Clifford starts his A-Z with the last symbol of the alphabet (“Ampersand”) and closes with the same Z term (“zinco”). There are other overlaps in terms, but the two efforts differ so rewardingly — Clifford’s woven binding, typeset definitions, miniature trim size and handmade paper versus Morrison’s children’s board book hinged binding, demonstrated definitions, larger trim and Somerset paper — that one cannot be chosen over the other.

An additional pleasure from Clifford’s book is its complement to two other Heavenly Monkey publications in the Books On Books Collection: Francesca Lohmann’s An Alphabetical Accumulation (2017) and Rollin Milroy’s Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020). If it were not for Rollin Milroy, the attentive reader and I would forever struggle with the puzzle of how Clifford’s 2004 binding came to be influenced by Van Vliet’s 2006 binding. Milroy writes:

Claire came to Vancouver in ’04 and gave a day-long class, which David (& his daughter Yasmine) attended. The project was already in development (probably even printed), and D showed Claire a dummy and got some pointers. I didn’t realize ABC preceded her own Gospel. 

And here is the entry for Letterpress extracted from proofs for Heavenly Monkey’s checklist to be published in 2022:

Courtesy of Rollin Milroy. 2021 © Heavenly Monkey.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Andrew Morrison“. 15 September 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Francesca Lohmann“. 25 June 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Heavenly Monkey“. 21 November 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Allen, Susan Macall, Fletcher Manley, Kathleen Burch, and Claire Van Vliet. 2015. The Janus Press at sixty: San Francisco Center for the Book : February 14 through May 24, 2015. See p.108 for Van Vliet’s binding of The Gospel of Mary.

Books On Books Collection – Tara McLeod

ABC (2015)

You think the beginner’s ABC, the primary colors and the humble linocut are so simple? That’s the challenge posed by this accordion wrapper’s overlap of a red A with a yellow B and its overlap with a blue C.

ABC (2015)
Tara McLeod
Miniature accordion book. Wrapper: H90 x W90 mm; Acccordion closed: H85 x W85 mm; 26 hand cut multi-color lino block letters printed on 200gsm Lana Desin Blanc. Acquired from National Library of New Zealand, 1 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with the artist’s permission.

With each letter’s stylistic shift in shape …

with each panel’s chromatic shift around the shifting shapes …

Tara McLeod’s artistry shows how these 26 signs, 3 colors, blade, block and surface are both anything but simple and everything that is simple.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

The Last Word on the Ampersand“. 27 June 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Andrew Morrison“. September 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Tara McLeod: Pressing Boundaries Exhibition”. Emma Jean Framing Gallery. 19 September 2019. Accessed 21 August 2021.

McLeod, Tara. 2004. The ampersand : the character known as an ampersand is an abbreviated form of and. Auckland: Pear Tree Press.

Books On Books Collection – Andrew Morrison

Chroma Numerica (2019)

Chroma Numerica (2019)
Andrew Morrison
Perfect bound cased in quarter-hinged paper-on-board binding. H143 x W145 mm, 60 pages, printed on one side. Edition of 30, of which this is #17. Acquired from the artist, 2 September 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

In the children’s book tradition, counting books and alphabet books often come paired. Chroma Numerica‘s partner appears with the same binding earlier in Andrew Morrison’s work below, and in both cases, the printing process is the real subject — not the learning of numbers or letters. From his wood type, Morrison rolls out oversized numbers 1-30 printed in a chromatic scale on Somerset Book 200gsm paper.

Provenance (2018)

Provenance (2018)
Andrew Morrison
Casebound with dustjacket. H152 x W155 mm, 9 foldouts, 6 leaves (including 1 trimmed short), 2 end leaves. Edition of 30, of which this is #28. Acquired from the artist, 2 September 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

While Chroma Numerica and A-Z use printing processes to count and spell out their subjects, Provenance uses folds and stitching to conceal texts and images that reveal the making of the book itself. More than the other two books, Provenance requires “reading with the hands”. The two sequences below show the result and process — or the effect then cause — of needle perforation and wire stitching. In the first, the perforation can be seen along the right-hand edge, then along the left, and then in the middle of the unfolded image, which is annotated with a description of the printing process and paper. In the second sequence, the wire stitch can be seen in the gutter; then, with the two tabs pushed back, the German stitching machine comes in view, again annotated with a description of the printing process.

Provenance recalls those sets of binding models produced by Gary Frost, Karen Hanmer and others, but it may be too fragile for the constant reading with the hands that it would undergo as a teaching tool. It is more to be carefully and gently admired — a beautiful peacock admiring itself in the mirror of itself.

Two Wood Press A-Z (2013)

Two Wood Press A-Z (2013)
Andrew Morrison
Hardcover. Casebound glued. H180 x W155 mm, 56 pages. Edition of 30, of which this is an A/P. Acquired from the artist, 5 May 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

An inspired A-to-Z, with tongue in cheek evident in the material form as well as the text. At first, there seems to be no letter A, but closer inspection reveals the ampersand sneakily placed at the start of the alphabet on a page glued halfway up the pastedown. For the letter C, we have “chase” — the heavy steel frame used to hold type in a letterpress. Of course, the type held in a chase would read as in a mirror, and so “C. WADE.” and “HALIFAX.” do just that in their “paper” chase. E for embossing is, of course, embossed. The usually difficult search for a word or term beginning with X is not a problem for typophile and provides a self-defining demonstration as does “yellowing” for Y. For the letter Z, we have to take it on trust that the images are the result from “an etched letterpress printing plate made of zinc”.

Ampersand& (2007)

Ampersand& (2007)
Andrew Morrison
Board cover, perfect bound. H180 x W180 mm, 22 pages. Acquired from the artist, 5 May 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

The sneaky ampersand at the beginning of Two Hand Press A-Z may have escaped from Ampersand& — or given the density and evenness of the possible escapee’s color, perhaps not. Any collection of wooden type will have “character”-giving flaws — nicks, nocks and abrasions. So it is with this … what is the collective noun for ampersands? The variation in shape of these ampersands and Morrison’s flaunty display of them deliver even more character. And note the watermark in the Somerset paper peeking through the third image below.

Further Reading

The Last Word on the Ampersand“. 27 June 2020. Books On Books Collection.

David Clifford“. 15 September 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Bliss, Douglas Percy. 2013. A history of wood engraving: the original edition. New York: Skyhorse Press. Originally published by J.M. Dent in 1928.

Frost, Gary. 1996. Teaching set of historical bookbindings. Utopia, Tex: Gary Frost, Dry Frio Bindery.

Hanmer, Karen. 2013. Biblio Tech. Glenview, IL: Karen Hanmer Book Arts.

Books On Books Collection – Borje Svensson & James Diaz

Letters (1982)

Letters (1982)
Borje Svensson and James Diaz
Book in a box. H61 x W61 X D61 cm, 18 accordion panels and diorama. Collins © 1982, Borje Svensson.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Animals (1982)

Animals (1982)
Borje Svensson and James Diaz Letters (1982)
Book in a box. H61 x W61 X D61, 18 accordion panels and diorama. Collins © 1982, Borje Svensson
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Given the effectiveness of Svensson and Diaz’s Letters alphabet book-in-a-box effort, it is surprising that they did not follow up the alphabetical theme from Animals, especially since animals have made up the most popular category of alphabet books for centuries. Another 24 or 25 books in boxes beckon. Alphabetical cubes of birds, cats, dogs and the zemmi! And what about the ampersand? And what different paper artistry might Diaz have performed if requested to fill out the series with further innovation? Consider Claire Van Vliet’s alphabetical Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce (1996), Helen Hiebert’s Alpha Beta (2010) and Karen Hanmer’s The Spectrum A to Z.

Before its acquisition by Harpers in 1985, William Collins & Sons settled on the less risky venture of four books in boxes: Animals, Letters, Numbers and Colors. First with Elgin Davis Studios, James Diaz was the paper engineer behind all four and later joined David A. Carter (see his tribute to Bruno Munari here) to produce The Elements of Pop Up: A Pop Up Book for Aspiring Paper Engineers (1999), still used as a primary textbook.

Of course, B. S. Johnson and Marc Saporta pioneered boxes containing loose pages or leaves to be read in any order, but to find contemporary books in boxes where the box is not just a storage mechanism but functionally integrated, we have to look to Ed Hutchins, Sue Johnson and Hedi Kyle among others.

More celebrations of the alphabet and book as “total expansion of the letter” to come.

Books On Books Collection – Molly Peacock & Kara Kosaka

Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions (2014)

Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions (2014)
Molly Peacock & Kara Kosaka
Casebound with headband and collaged endpapers. H236 x W146 mm, 158 pages. Acquired from The Book Depository, 6 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Given the intent spelled out in its specimen below, Frank Heine’s “Tribute” should add to the fabulistic atmosphere of Peacock’s fictions played out by her 26 characters each named after a letter in the alphabet. Despite the book’s colophon extolling the typeface, there is something about it, however, that does not quite work for Alphabetique.

Tribute (2003), Frank Heine, Emigré Fonts; Type specimen sheet attributed to François Guyot (1565), Luna: Folger Digital Image Collection.

For example, its capital G squats like an un-Guyot-esque toad in the seventh chapter, and the capital Q lacks Guyot’s swordlike swash so appropriate to the tale of Q, master of the quilloned thorn knife who rises to the position of Royal Flower Keeper. Nevertheless, the choices of font (lowercase and smallcaps for the children, uppercase for the grown-ups, roman for the married sister and italic for the single) and the use of color for each character’s name ring true throughout the narrative. Like the layout and choice of font, Kara Kosaka’s collages fuse with the narrative and, unlike the typeface, deliver the atmosphere the fictions deserve.

When the character T appears (a maple tree), characters from the other vignettes show up, including the offspring of the articles A and THE, but this coalescence is only a feint toward an ensemble tale. The stories of U-Y return to standalone status, making the twenty-sixth chapter a surprise gathering of all the letters, albeit not in their characters of the preceding twenty-five fictions.

What happens to Z, the zoologist, is perhaps the most original of all the fictions. Any hint beyond the choice of font in that preceding sentence would spoil the surprise for the book artist with a mastery of letterpress, access to an extensive collection of typefaces and the readiness to be inspired to complete delivery of what Alphabetique deserves.

Further Reading

Richardson, Charles Scott. 2009. The end of the alphabet. London: Portobello Books.

Winston, Sam. 2006. A dictionary story. London: Circle Press. This is an example of design and art delivering just deserts to the text.

Books On Books Collection – Cristina Balbiano d’Aramengo

Alphabet Flag Book (2010)

Alphabet Flag Book (2010)
Cristina Balbiano d’Aramengo (photos by Federico Novaro)
Flag book. H207 x W176 mm, 14 panels, 28 flags. Edition of 20. Acquired from the artist, 21 July 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

In part, the Alphabet Flag Book is a case of web-found art. In 2008 Federico Novaro initiated a blog of editorial news and reviews. Like a chapter in an illuminated manuscript, each article opens with the enlarged image of a letter or punctuation mark taken from Novaro’s photo of the cover of the book being reviewed. Friend of Novaro, Balbiano d’Aramengo proposed the flag book structure and then found that there were enough images for an edition of twenty unique copies.

For each copy, the artist could have followed an alphabetical order with each row of characters reading left to right. Or a boustrophedon order with A-G reading left to right in the top row, H-N reading right to left in the second row, and so on as the ox plows. Of course, the artist’s eye for harmonies of color and shape when selecting from the found images has a role in choosing the order of content. But then there is the need to fill the 27th and 28th flags. The availability of punctuation marks in the found images solves that constraint. In fact, the front and back covers embrace them. The symmetry of the marks on the covers is even enhanced by the precision of the belly band that holds the book closed. So what order will the covers reveal?

The artist has been kind enough to provide the following behind-the-scenes photos of the process.

Photos: Courtesy of Cristina Balbiano d’Aramengo.

Despite the alphabetical sorting process to assemble the content for each copy, the result is far from alphabetical.

To have followed a left-to-right order or boustrophedon order would not have embraced how a flag book’s structure breaks up the traditional codex pages vertically and horizontally no matter the angle of view. The explosion of non-alphabetical color and shapes inside the orderly covers is a bit like the chaos of the internet behind that simple rectangular search button between the clamshell covers of a laptop.

Further Reading

The Art of Reading in a ‘Post-Text Future’“. Bookmarking Book Art. 21 February 2018.

Hedi Kyle’s The Art of the Fold: How to Make Innovative Books and Paper Structures (2018)“. Bookmarking Book Art. 24 September 2018.

Flanders, Judith. 2021. A Place For Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order. London: Picador.

Books On Books Collection – Tana Hoban

A, B, See! (1982)

A, B, See! (1982)
Tana Hoban
Hardcover, casebound. H252 x W286 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Cattermole 20th Century Children’s Book, 7 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Made in dark-room conditions with light-sensitive paper, actual objects and cutouts, these photograms lift this simple ABC book to the plane of object recognition and to the level of art. Other artists who have applied photographic techniques to the abecedary are Anthon Beeke, Eileen Hogan, Peter Hutchinson, Simon Jennings or Stephen T. Johnson. Each has a distinctiveness of eye, technique or conceptualizing. Hoban’s seems to lie in extracting something more from that simple imposition of white on black.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Anthon Beeke“. Books On Books Collection. 21 June 2021.

Books by Tana Hoban and Complete Book Reviews“. Publishers Weekly. Accessed 19 August 2021.

Photogram“. Art Terms. Tate Gallery. n.d. Accessed 19 August 2021.

Allison, Alida & Hoban, Tana. 2000. “I” of the Beholder: An Interview with Tana Hoban. The Lion and the Unicorn. 24. 143-149.

Batchen, Geoffrey. 2016. Emanations. The art of the cameraless photograph. München: Prestel Verlag.

Books On Books Collection – The Poetics of Reason (2020)

The Poetics of Reason (2020)
Text: Éric Lapierre, Ambra Fabi and Giovanni Piovene, Mariabruna Fabrizzi and Fosco Lucarelli, Sébastien Marot, and Laurent Esmilaire and Tristan Chadney. Design: Marco Balesteros
Five-volume set of perfect bound paperbacks in bellyband; laminated display letters on front cover, tinted fore-edges. H212 x W130 mm, 712 pages. Acquired from Small Projects, S.A., 19 February 2020.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

“The Poetics of Reason” was the title and theme for the fifth Lisbon Architecture Triennale in 2019 (the first was in 2007). Awarded the ADG Laus 2020 Golden Prize in the category of editorial graphic design, this work stands well with Bruno Munari’s three small 1960’s books on the square, circle and triangle, now available in a single volume, and calls to mind several works testifying to the relationship between architecture and book art. In the first of the five volumes, Éric Lapierre even interweaves with his text on architectural rationality illustrations from book artists such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Sol Lewitt and Ed Ruscha — all without comment, in itself conveying their implicit relevance. His similar display of a page from Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard — that progenitor of modern and post-modern book art — speaks to the role that space — les blancs, as Mallarmé calls it — plays in these adjacent communities.

136 pages

The second volume, by Ambra Fabi and Giovanni Piovene, draws in Leon Battista Alberti, of course, whose columns ornament works by Mari Eckstein Gower, Helen Malone and many other book artists.

136 pages

Drawing on Gaston Bachelard and Juhani Pallasmaa as it does, the third volume, by Mariabruna Fabrizzi and Fosco Lucarelli, calls to mind the work of Olafur Eliasson and Marian Macken here in the Books On Books Collection and elsewhere. Anyone familiar with Richard Niessen’s The Typographic Palace of Masonry will appreciate Fabrizzi and Fosco’s exploration of where architecture, imagination and memory intersect.

136 pages

In the lengthiest of the five volumes, Sébastien Marot takes us into the territory of urban architecture and the anthropocene, also occupied by book artists Sarah Bryant, Emily Speed, Philip Zimmermann and many others.

216 pages

The last and shortest volume, put together by Laurent Esmilaire and Tristan Chadney, consists mostly of photos that may remind the viewer of Irma Boom’s Elements of Architecture, with Rem Koolhaas, or Strip, with Kees Christiaanse — especially in conjunction with the tinted fore edges.

88 pages

Referenced below, Pedro Vada’s review of the Triennale and the five separate sites across which it occurred in Portugal provides more insight into the five volumes themselves. Marco Ballesteros LETRA website provides additional images of the five volumes’ design.

Further Reading

Architecture“. 12 November 2018. Books On Books Collection.

SOCKS Studio, an extraordinary website run by Fabrizzi and Lucarelli.

Beaumont, Eleanor. 16 January 2019. “Interview with Irma Boom“, The Architectural Review.

Munari, Bruno. 2015. Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Vada, Pedro. 24 July 2019. “Details about Lisbon Triennale 2019“. ArchDaily. Accessed 17 August 2021.

Bookmarking Book Art – Books on Book Art | 4 August 2013

See also Resources (in progress) page.


Abt, Jeffrey. The Book Made Art: A Selection of Contemporary artists’ Books Exhibited in Joseph Regenstein Library – University of Chicago, February Through April 1986 Exhibition catalog.

Antaya, Christine and Sloman, PaulBook Art: Iconic Sculptures and Installations Made from Books Gestalten (May 26, 2011). Documents current art, installation, and design created with and from books. “The fascinating range of examples in Book Art is eloquent proof that–despite or because of digital media’s inroads as sources of text information–the book’s legacy as an object and a carrier of ideas and communication is being expanded today in the creative realm.” Book jacket. See interview with Antaya and some of the artists here.

The Book as Instrument: Stephane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book, and the Transformation of Print Culture – Anna Sigridur Arnar. An academic study of the literary and cultural seedbed of book art. “This is a highly ambitious, original account of Stéphane Mallarmé’s lifelong engagement with the book and the vast network of forces (cultural, aesthetic, political) that both informed this engagement and were transformed by it. Anna Sigrídur Arnar seamlessly brings together divergent areas of inquiry in order to support the idea that the book was and remains a site of numerous debates about democracy, public and private space, the uses of art and print, and the role of authors and readers. The Book as Instrument is elegantly written, in engaging and highly readable prose. Arnar succeeds in presenting and analyzing with remarkable lucidity ideas that many of us have learned to approach as difficult and thus nearly off-limits. This will be an important work of scholarship for a variety of disciplines.” (Willa Z. Silverman, Pennsylvania State University).

Art Is Books: Kunstenaarsboeken/Livres D’Artistes/Artist’s Books/Künstlerbücher – Guy Bleus. Catalog of a travelling exhibition in 1991. See also Artists’ Books on Tour edited by Kristina Pokorny-Nagel.

No Longer Innocent: Book Art In America 1960-1980 – Betty Bright. A history of an important period in book art. Like Drucker (below), Bright categorizes book art, places it within the movements of the period and profiles its individual and institutional supporters. Artbook review.

Artists’ Books: The Book As a Work of Art, 1963-1995Stephen Bury. Explores the impact artists had on the format of the book.

A Century of Artists Books — Riva Castleman. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1994. NAL pressmark: AB.94.0020. A catalog of an exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The selection tends toward the livre d’artiste but does address the impact of the digital shift on artists’ books.

Chapon, François. Le Peintre et le Livre: l’Age d’Or du Livre Illustré en France 1870–1970. Paris: Flammarion, 1987. NAL pressmark: 507.C.172

Courtney, Cathy. Speaking of Book Art: Interviews with British and American Book Artists. Los Altos Hills: Anderson-Lovelace, 1999. NAL pressmark: AB.99.0001

New Directions in Altered Books – Gabe Cyr. A book of projects and techniques by a book artist.

The Century of Artists Books – Johanna Drucker. “A folded fan, a set of blocks, words embedded in lucite: artists’ books are a singular form of imaginative expression. With the insight of the artist and the discernment of the art historian, Drucker details over 200 of these works, relating them to the variety of art movements of the last century and tracing their development in form and concept. This work, one of the first full-length studies available of artists’ books, provides both a critical analysis of the structures themselves and a basis for further reflection on the philosophical and conceptual roles they play. From codex to document, from performance to self-image, the world of artists’ books is made available to student and teacher, collector and connoisseur. A useful work for all art collections, both public and academic.”Paula Frosch, Metropolitan Museum of Art Library, Library Journal.

#5168 Altered Book – Special Effects (Design Originals) – Laurie Goodson. One of a series of booklets on book-alteration techniques. Other authors include Beth Cote and Cindy Pestka.

Altered Books, Collaborative Journals, and Other Adventures in Bookmaking – Holly Harrison. A showcase of book art with an emphasis on multi-artist collaborations.

The Cutting Edge Of Reading: Artists’ Books – Judd Hubert and Renee Hubert. Published in 1999, a close examination of 40 examples of book art. Illustrated.

Books Unbound – Michael Jacobs. A book of projects by a book artist.

Johnson, Robert Flynn. Artists Books in the Modern Era 1870–2000: the Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books. London: Thames & Hudson, 2002. NAL pressmark: AB.2001.0002

Artists’ Books: A Critical Survey Of The Literature – Stefan Klima. A 1998 monograph summarizing the debates over the artists’ book. 

Book + Art: Handcrafting Artists’ Books – Dorothy Simpson Krause. A book of projects by a book artist; covers mixed-media techniques as well as bookbinding.

The Penland Book of Handmade Books – Jane LaFerla (Editor); Alice Gunter (Editor); Lark Books Staff. Tutorials, inspiration and reflective essays by book artists.

500 Handmade Books – Steve Miller. A highly illustrated, wide-ranging coffee table book.

Artists’ Books on Tour – Kathrin Pokorny-Nagel. Catalog of a travelling exhibition organized and sponsored by MAK (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna), MGLC (Llubljana’s International Centre of Graphic Arts) and UPM (Museum of Decorative Arts) in 2011.

1,000 Artists’ Books: Exploring the Book as Art – Peter and Donna Thomas, Sandra Salamony. External and internal views of works, descriptions at the end of the book.

Joseph Cornell’s Manual of Marvels: How Joseph Cornell reinvented a French agricultural manual to create an American masterpiece – Dickran Tashjian and Analisa Leppanen-Guerra (editors). A part-facsimile, part-DVD, part-boxed-presentation that gives some idea of the artwork by Joseph Cornell held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The artwork is Cornell’s alteration of the Journal d’Agriculture Practique (Volume 21, 1911), a handbook of advice for farmers.

Playing with Books: The Art of Upcycling, Deconstructing, and Reimagining the Book – Jason Thompson. Techniques-driven; covers bookbinding, woodworking, paper crafting, origami, and textile and decorative arts techniques.

Masters: Book Arts: Major Works by Leading Artists – Eileen Wallace. Illustrated selection of work from 43 master book artists with brief comments from the artists about their work, careers, and philosophies.

The Book As Art – Krystyna Wasserman; Audrey Niffenegger (Text by); Johanna Drucker (Text by). An illustrated volume covering over 100 artists books held in the permanent collection of the Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.

Book Art: Creative Ideas to Transform Your Books, Decorations, Stationary, Display Scenes and More – Claire Youngs. A crafts book of 35 projects.

Books On Books Collection – Karen Hanmer

The Spectrum A to Z (2003)

The Spectrum A to Z (2003)
Karen Hanmer
Tunnel book. 5 x 5 x 18 inches. Pigment inkjet prints. Edition of 20, of which this is #17. Acquired from Vamp & Tramp, 3 September 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with the artist’s permission.

The Spectrum A-Z is a satisfying addition to the Books On Books Collection for several reasons. Accordion book, flip-book and pop-up book treatments of the alphabet abound, but this may be the only tunnel book treatment. If not, surely the blending of the the alphabet with tunnel book structure and the color spectrum secures its uniqueness. Also, the springiness achieved in this tunnel book makes it alive and special.

In response to questions about the work, Hanmer commented on the work’s creation and sent along the screen shot below of the Photoshop files from which she printed the letters A-D:

A screen shot of the Photoshop files used for printing. Courtesy of the artist.

I print them with crop marks, cut the larger thing out and into quarters, and then cut around the individual letters (used to use a Havels #11, now I use a Swann Morton #10A scalpel blade, and a 6” ruler with sandpaper on the back so it does not slip for the straight bits, freehand for the curves). Years go by when I don’t need to make another, so I have a non-printing comment reminding me of the grain direction. If the letters were long grain, the structure would be limp and unsatisfying.Assembly with 1/4″ 3M 415 tape. PVA would make it wrinkly. Mohawk Superfine Cover, I think 80#. Whatever printer I have at the time, now an Epson SureColor P5000. (Correspondence with Books On Books. 19 October 2021)

The Havels #11 and Swann Morton #10A.

The color spectrum followed out and part way back by the book comes eclectically from the order of the default RGB swatch palette in Adobe’s version of Photoshop prior to Creative Suite in 2003. As for the structure’s springiness, Hanmer comments that she is not wild about it,

but 20 years ago I did not know that I could cut several little tabs with a woodworking gouge out of the accordion for each letter and attach the letters to the tabs to relieve the tension, and 2021 Karen does not feel like adding several more hours to the process of assembling these. She also likes the security of having each panel adhered for its full length. And now that you mention it, the springiness would make it a lot more fun to play with, so maybe it is not so bad after all. (Correspondence with Books On Books. 19 October 2021)

The Spectrum A-Z was made in response to a call from the Chicago Hand Bookbinders, which thrived from 1978/9 through 2009. The Biographical/Historical Note for the CHB archives mentions that, “Among its notable projects was a series of fifteen collaborative artist’s alphabet books in varying formats, created between 1987 and 2004”. Of course, from time to time, other “organizations of the book” have issued calls for artist alphabet books. But with the infinite gradations in Roy G. Biv’s spectrum and the customizability within Creative Suite, surely now another call is bound to result in a rainbow of followers of Hanmer’s innovation.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Gage, John. Colour and Culture : Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009.

Webb, Poul. “Alphabet Books – part 1“, 27 December 2017; “Alphabet Books – part 2, 29 December 2017; Alphabet Books – part 3″, 1 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 4“, 3 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 5“, 5 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 6“, 8 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 7“, 10 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 8“, 12 January 2018. Art & Artists. Accessed 2 September 2021. “For the color” from horn-books to the alphabet books of the early 20th century.