Books On Books Collection – Abe Kuipers

Letters (1971)

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Letters (1971)
Abe Kuipers
Self-covered set of folios. H257 x W190 closed, W380 open. 8 folios. Edition of 80. Acquired from Bubb Kuypers Auction, 22 November 2022.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Pieter Brattinga‘s 250×250 mm Kwadraat Blad series championed the innovative typographic designs of Wim Crouwel, Gerard Unger, Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans. Theirs were radical explorations of the letterform. Even “bad boy” Anthon Beeke‘s cheeky Alphabet was based on the Baskerville typeface — at least as far as the nude female models could be posed to approximate it. At the same time, further north in The Netherlands, Abe Kuipers was pursuing a very different kind of offbeat presentation of the alphabet.

As far back as the ’40s and ’50s, Kuipers had been interested in the alphabet’s origins. In 1951, he had organized the Fifty Years of ABC for the Prinsenhof in Groningen and years later published a book based on it with Wolters-Noordhoff (Groningen). In 1971, drawing on that activity, he participated in the “Létteretét projekt”, aimed at educating the people of Groningen about letters and their origins. Like the enterprise and its manifestations, the name Létteretét is an offbeat construction. Office rooms in high rises were lit to form letters at night. A poster illustrating the origin of letters (and promoting his 1968 book) was posted on billboards, in shop windows and in schools and libraries.

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The bottom right corner panel reads:
this history of the letter was written and drawn by abe kuipers in may 1971. printed in silkscreen by De Ark
this print is part of the Létteretét project in Groningen.

Kuipers reconfigured this poster into an artist’s book of 80 copies. Its bright colors, ad-like images, cartoonish drawings, photos, typewriter lettering and hand-scrawled text pull the ancestors of A, B, C and D (aleph, beth, gimel and daleth) into the present in folios folded in half and loosely held by a folio formed from the poster’s title panel. Articulating aleph into the face of a cow, a cartoon businessman re-enacts the ancient Semitic sound’s naming of the animal, which wears an inverted A bridle recalling the letter’s first discovered shape. The be-suited cartoon character alludes to paleographical theory that the alphabet had its roots in signs for accounting and inventories. The letter B receives similar treatment in the vacation postcard. The character in desert clothing says beth at the pair of pup tents forming the letter B on its side, the swimsuited man explains that “tent” equals “house”, which beth designated, and, having drawn the development of the sign into its modern form, the swimsuited woman articulates the letter. And so on for all the letters of the alphabet.

Certainly Kuipers knew that there were books and exhibitions for educating the general populace about the origins of the alphabet. He had been there and done that. But it is a wonderful proposition that art and design should confront the general populace with it and that they should be aware of it in everyday life.

Further Reading

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

Lyn Davies“. 7 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

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

Cari Ferraro“. 1 February 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Rudyard Kipling and Chloë Cheese“. Books On Books Collection. [In process]

James Rumford. 21 November 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Ben Shahn“. 20 July 2022. Books On Books Collection.

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

Bernal, Martin. 1990. Cadmean Letters : The Transmission of the Alphabet to the Aegean and Further West Before 1400 B.C. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.

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.

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

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

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

Kuipers, Abe Johannes. 1968/1969. Opschrift Op Schrift. Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff.

Moziani, Eliyahu. 1984. Torah of the Alphabet or How the Art of Writing Was Taught Under the Judges of Israel (1441-1025) : -The Original Short Course in Alphabetic Writing Conceived by Israel in Sinai. Herborn: Baalschem.

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

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.

Shaw, Gary. 15 April 2021. “Ancient ABCs: The alphabet’s ‘missing link’ discovered in Israel“. The Art Newspaper.

Van Genderen, Ans. 2022. “Abe Kuipers“. Dutch Graphic Roots. Eindhoven: [Z]OO producties. Accessed 20 November 2022. Also available in print from [Z]OO producties.

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