Books On Books Collection – Claire Jeanine Satin

Alphabook (1998/9)

 Alphabook (1998/9)
Claire Jeanine Satin
Circular box containing four segments of post-bound pages. Diameter 356 x D51 mm. Limited variable edition of 11, this copy with a segment on the Cherokee syllabary and a Cherokee sign tile on the cover. Acquired from the artist, 15 December 2022. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.  

From the artist’s description:

Alphabook is photo-etched and printed on 360 gm/m2 Fabriano Murillo with inks and metallic colors.   The sets of pages are grouped in four segments. Three consist of alphabetic notations, images, phrases, and poetry.   The fourth set consists of accompanying texts describing the alphabet or notations,  (in this case Cherokee).   The pages form circles when fully opened. A colophon page is included and signed at the end.   The circular containers were constructed and bound in Italian Ciralux cloth and topped with a water-jet cut tile designed by the artist.   The rim is gold stamped with the Latin phrase:   VERBA VOLENT, SCRIPTA MANENT.

This work has no externally visible title, only the Cherokee letter Ꮉ (for the sound “ma”) on the tile and that gold-stamped Latin phrase. Traditionally the proverb runs in the indicative — Verba volant, scripta manent (“Words fly, writing remains”) — but presumably to draw yet more attention to the solidity of the written word over the iffy ephemerality of the spoken word, the subjunctive volent (“Words may fly” or “If words fly”) comes into play. As the lid lifts, the work’s title Alphabook appears, indicating that, at its heart, this work of art is a book. The container’s circular shape, its inner segmentation and the post-bound segments may challenge the traditional notion of a book, but the segments’ text just as strongly asserts a bookish purpose, highlighting eleven prewriting and writing systems: Prehistoric, Hieroglyphs, Mayan, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Tibetan, Cyrillic and Cherokee.

With their pages pivoting on their central posts, the segments can sometimes display wingspans, nudging forward an interpretation of Verba volent, scripta manent that a writing system’s shapes permanently out-soar sounds on the air.

Segment open to Chinese page on the left, Arabic page on the right.

Fully opened, the segments evoke the Phaistos Disc, resident in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion on Crete. Dating sometime between 1850 B.C. and 1600 B.C, the disc remains undeciphered, hovers indeterminately among statuses of hieroglyph, syllabary and alphabet and is still subject to speculation about its source — Linear A or Linear B.

Phaistos disc, sides A and B after the 2014 renovation. Photos by C. Messier – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Drawing on pebble and cave art images from France and Spain created as long as 36,000 years ago, Alphabook reaches back further than the Phaistos Disc. The depicted shapes along the rim of the Prehistoric segment mark the millennia-long trail to the formation of any writing system, alphabetic or non-alphabetic.

Sequoya’s Cherokee syllabary is the youngest of the eleven marking and writing systems that Alphabook covers, a distinction that made this particular version of the limited variable edition attractive. In the Books On Books Collection, works of book art such as Gerald Lange’s The Neolithic Adventures of Taffi-Mai Metallu-Mai (1997), Cari Ferraro’s The First Writing (2004) and Helen Malone’s Alphabetic Codes (2005) among others address the origin period, but besides James Rumford’s children’s book Sequoyah (2004), no others address this remarkable single-handed creation of the Cherokee script.

Opportunities for book art inspired by newly invented alphabets and syllabaries or even by endangered languages abound. There is the Odùduwà alphabet (for the Yorùbá people) and ADLaM (for the Fulani language) as well as the syllabary that “comes with” its own artist: Frederic Bruly Bouabré and his syllabary for the Bété language (Ivory Coast). The Endangered Languages Project and Endangered Alphabets Project can both offer inspiration. In fact, the latter sparked Sam Winston’s One and Everything (2023), now part of the collection.

Alphabet Cordenons paper book (2020)

Alphabet Cordenons paper book (2020)
Claire Jeanine Satin
One of a series of unique works, each created with Cordenons paper, a fine paper that has been manufactured in Italy since 1630. This book uses alphabet letters, glittery strips of ribbon, sequins, crystals, and monofilament to create precise and inventive designs on the cover and each page. In a lavender cloth bag. Measures 9 x 7 inches. 10 unnumbered pages. Acquired from The Kelmscott Bookshop, 8 February 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

In Alphabet Cordenons, as the title suggests, the elemental meets the material. The ancient Greeks called the letters of the alphabet stoicheia (“elements”). In a sense, the elemental yields to the material. Not every letter of the alphabet appears in Alphabet Cordenons, and those that do, appear out of sequence, upside down, sideways, in varied colors and types of paper appearing through their cut stencil shapes. These aspects of materiality draw attention to the paper itself, which comes from a mill established in Corden0ns, Italy in 1630 and is still produced there.

Also drawing attention to the paper are satin ribbon with graduated shifts of color, colored foil backing that lightens and darkens, and glittering beads threaded on multi-colored fish line. Each calls attention to the encaustic-like sheen that comes from the inclusion of mica in making Cordenons Stardream (285 gms) paper.

The finish’s indeterminacy under shifting light seems to find a mirror in the random order, selection and placement of the letters as well as the changing orientation of the ribbon.

Even more indeterminate is the fish line that flips about, curls within, and slips without the turning pages. But while materiality seems to outshine the elemental at every turn, the elemental reasserts itself in the peculiar orientation of the letters and the incompleteness of the alphabet.

Further Reading and Viewing

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Lyn Davies“. 7 August 2022. Books On Books Collection. Reference and fine print.

Timothy Donaldson“. 1 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Reference.

Cari Ferraro“. 1 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.

David J. Goldman“. Books On Books Collection. Reference. [In progress]

Rudyard Kipling and Chloë Cheese“. 15 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book.

Abe Kuipers“. 15 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.

Gerald Lange“. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s . [In progress]

Helen Malone“. 23 July 2020. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.

James Rumford. 21 November 2022. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book.

Tiphaine Samoyault“. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book. [In progress]

Ben Shahn“. 20 July 2022. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.

Tommy Thompson“. 21 August 2022. Books On Books Collection. Reference.

Sam Winston. Illustrated children’s book. [In progress]

Clodd, Edward. 1913. The Story of the Alphabet. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1913. Superseded by several later works, but is freely available online with line illustrations and some black and white photos.

Diringer, David, and Reinhold Regensburger. 1968. The alphabet: a key to the history of mankind. London: Hutchinson. A standard, beginning to be challenged by late 20th and early 21st century archaeological findings and palaeographical studies.

Drucker, Johanna. 1999. The alphabetic labyrinth: the letters in history and imagination. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson.

Ege, Otto. 1921/1998. The Story of the Alphabet, Its Evolution and Development… Embellished Typographically with Printer’s Flowers Arranged by Richard J. Hoffman. Van Nuys, CA: Richard J. Hoffman. A miniature. The type ornaments chosen by Hoffman are arranged chronologically by designer (Garamond, Granjon, Rogers) and printed in color.

Firmage, Richard A. 2001. The alphabet. London: Bloomsbury.

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

Goldman, David. 1994. A is for ox: the story of the alphabet. New York: Silver Moon Press. Children’s book.

Jackson, Donald. 1997. The story of writing. Monmouth, England: Calligraphy Centre.

Pflughaupt, Laurent. 2008. Letter by letter: an alphabetical miscellany. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Robb, Don, and Anne Smith. 2010. Ox, house, stick: the history of our alphabet. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. Children’s book.

Robinson, Andrew. 1995. The story of writing. London: Thames and Hudson.

Rosen, Michael. 2014. Alphabetical: how every letter tells a story. London: John Murray.

Sacks, David. 2003. Language visible unraveling the mystery of the alphabet from A to Z. New York: Broadway Books.

Samoyault, Tiphaine. 1996/1998 trans. Alphabetical order: how the alphabet began. New York: Viking. Children’s book.

Satin, Claire Jeanine. 1997. Claire Jeanine Satin : Artist Books: Verba Volent : Scripta Manent. New York: HarperCollins Exhibition Space.

Thompson, Tommy. 1952. The ABC of our alphabet. London: Studio Publications. Not a fine press publication, but its layout, illustrations and use of two colors bear comparison with the Davies book. It too is out of print and unfortunately more rare.

Vermeer, Beth. May 2016. “Claire Jeanine Satin and her research on Henry James”, Design of the Universe. Accessed 17 February 2020.

2 thoughts on “Books On Books Collection – Claire Jeanine Satin

  1. Barbara Johnson Johns 2021/03/18 / 17:12

    This is a most interesting form of Art merging the visible and the abstract with emphasis on the importance in our lives of books.


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