Each animal is drawn using the Roman letters of the Bembo font family, based on a letter cut by Francesco Griffo (1450-1518) for the Venetian printer for Aldus Manutius (1450-1515) and named after the prolific Renaissance scholar Pietro Bembo (1470-1547). Stanley Morison (1889-1967) revived the font while at the Monotype Corporation.
For the Books On Books Collection, Bembo’s Zoo is a light-hearted reminder of the abecedaries and typographic themes of more serious works.
Shadow Canto One: Still Life (2018) Marlene MacCallum. Handbound artist’s book with slipcase, pamphlet binding with gatefold structure, digital pigment print on Aya. H237 × 175 × 10 mm (closed dimensions). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Opening the book’s gatefold. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Leafing through the book. Top view of binding and folds. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
According to the artist, Canto One had its dual inception in the death of a cedar waxwing at one of her windows and an image from Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962), a novel consisting of the fictitious poet John Shade’s 999-line poem of the same title: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane…”. While MacCallum’s Canto One appropriates and overwrites Nabokov’s text and, in her images and constructions, alludes to Shade’s imagery of the viewer seeing reflections and doublings of the interior and exterior spaces, the work stands entirely on its own but, in light of what follows, also as the opening movement to what feels like a long poem or symphony.
Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018)
Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018) Marlene MacCallum Hand bound artist’s book with slipcase, accordion binding with hard covers, digital pigment print on Aya (bird images) and Niyodo (music images), slipcase constructed of stained Tyvek wrapped around eterno boards, H237 × W160 × D14 mm (closed). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Unfolding side one of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Canto Two layers images of a dead bird lying on the ground with photos of anonymous graffiti art depicting birds in flight against the concrete walls of an underpass in Rochester, NY. The sense of counterpoint raised by the images carries over to the reverse side of the accordion structure.
Unfolding side two of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Between a single bird image across the two end panels, MacCallum has overlaid further bird imagery on musical notations from Bach, Mendelssohn and Satie that are merged into composite images across the interior accordion panels. The way the images of birds, ground and wall, and musical notation dance with one another foreshadows another intricate play in Canto Three.
Shadow: Incidental Music (2019)
Shadow: Incidental Music (2019) Marlene MacCallum. Hand bound book work with image accordion suspended over text accordion. Images are digital pigment prints on Digital Aya, hand-set letterpress poem and blind embossed soundscape letterpress. Case bound with digital pigment print covers. Dimensions: H237 × W159 × D11 mm (closed), H236 × W30o mm (page spread). Edition of 16, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Just as much as do the images, the structure of this work’s binding amazes — repeatedly. The top views show its intricacy but only partially.
Circling around the standing view from left to right, the view of a room unfolds and a dancer’s shadow appears and disappears.
After the standing view concludes and the horizontal view is to be indulged, yet another structural surprise comes from the printed text at the foot of the panels behind the folds and still another surprise at the head of those panels: single lines of embossed text evoking sound. Together, the images on the exterior panels and the printed and embossed texts on the interior appear to be reminders to look not only in the corners but to the floor and ceiling of the room as well.
With MacCallum’s other works (see Further Reading), the Shadow Cantos put her work in the same class as Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) and Abelardo Morrell’s A Book of Books (2002). If Shadow Cantos is an open series, a fourth volume has high hurdles to clear, which are perhaps raised even higher by the next work.
Shadows Cast and Present (2019)
The artist gratefully acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Originals grant program for funding this project and the CBC/Radio Canada for partnering to provide a national platform for this new work.
Given the conceptual and synesthetic play within the three cantos, this digital re-imagination of them follows on with a natural ease. With the assistance of Matthew Hollett and David Morrish, the artist has created an online variation of the long-poem format. Images, text, video and soundscapes come together in an interactive presentation of shadows cast in domestic spaces and by daily activities. Click on the image above or hereto view.
“I AM SEEKING TO UNEARTH A SOLUTION BEYOND THE CONVENTIONAL SYSTEM OF LANGUAGE FOR MAKING CONNECTIONS.” Masoumeh Mohtadi
Blindness (2020) Masoumeh Mohtadi Altered paperback, Persian/Farsi translation of Blindness by José Saramago. H210 x W145 x D20 mm, ۳۱۸ (318) pages. Unique. Acquired from Bavan Gallery, 9 January 2021.
As would be expected, the binding of this Persian trade paperback is on the right, but its front cover and copyright page promise the unexpected. Excising lines of text from every page in the book, Mohtadi then physically reweaves Saramago’s gripping tale of a pandemic of sudden blindness into illegibility, varied patterns and heightened tactility.
The flimsiness of the pages slows their turning. As does their frequent catching at one another as they turn. In the slow turning, different woven patterns appear — some suddenly, some gradually. Some patterns bring to mind the streets and cityscape the novel’s characters can no longer see. Some, the hospital warrens the quarantined inhabit. Some, the tradition of carpet weaving.
The excised and woven pages inflate the book as if it had been read and re-read. Closed, it compresses in the hand, feels airy and weighty at the same time; opened, it pricks at the fingers, casts shadow and light and drags the eyes to surface and depth simultaneously.
Mohtadi’s cutting, weaving, pasting and patterning appropriates Saramago’s novel in a thoroughly integral way. And for a Western reader, the Persian translation and script introduce another layer between text and mind that challenges perception and enhances appreciation of this work of book art. She succeeds in connecting.
Alpha Beta (2017) Ines von Ketelhodt, text by Michel Butor Plexiglass slipcase (287 x 203 x 14 mm) containing two volumes (278 x 198 x 3 mm), 48 unnumbered pages. Edition of 35, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artist, 14 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.
Paul van Capelleveen, curator at the National Library of the Netherlands, writes in his contribution to Ines von Ketelhodt’s exhibition catalogue Bücher///Books (2019):
The artist’s book is, perhaps, more than other book forms, a stage where conventions and innovations may be brought to life. On this stage, typography is a means of text interpretation; it can be visual, decorative, or alienating. It should be noted that typography is only one of the key players in artists’ books. We have to consider the book’s materiality (paper, binding, weight, size, etc.), its images or blank spaces, and interventions such cutting, erasing, pasting, embossing, and covering. The reader is a spectator, listener, and in many cases an actor as well. (P. 18)
With Alpha Beta, we are reader, spectator, listener and actor. Its plexiglas slipcase must be shaken sharply to start the two thin volumes slipping out. On acetate, the first recto page presents an extract from an essay by Michel Butor describing a fantastical library. The acetate pages crinkle and mesmerize as they turn. Alphabetically, letter by letter, the transparency lifts from Butor’s text all the instances of that sans serif character into the air, falls leftward and settles onto the accumulation of clear verso pages showing the letters reversed.
Traditionally the cellophane or transparent overlay and their predecessor the “flap book” were meant to reveal the layers of the human body, a geological formation or an edifice — to show us how something is made or built up. With an alphabet and punctuation, an infinite number of words, sentences, essays and books can be made. In Alpha Beta, however, as letter by letter is removed, what was made becomes indecipherable, disintegrates. Page by page, what was there depends on memory, or the eye’s ability to decipher from what is left, or a willingness to flip back to the beginning. We know, of course, that Butor did not piece together his disintegrating text letter by letter alphabetically in the first place, but materially and typographically that is what von Ketelhodt did to present the full text to us on the first recto page. If we return to that page to fix the text in memory, we notice that not only is it justified left and right, its words break at the end of a line without hyphenation or regard for syllabification. This is not typography in transparent service to legibility but rather to its own materiality and a concept or concepts. But what is it, what are they?
Just as strange is that Alpha Beta is materially multilingual. The first volume, Alpha, presents and disintegrates Butor’s text in its original French. The second, Beta, does the same in German.
Why this multilingual materiality? Could it be the advantage of appealing to two language markets? Could it be as simple as the text’s being available in French and German? There’s no denying von Ketelhodt’s multilingual proclivity. Many of her solo works involve multiple languages, but it is how and why that count. Consider her sequential photographic work Times Square 1-2-3 (2014). In it, she uses a quotation from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography in its French original for volume 1, German for volume 2, and English for volume 3. Von Ketelhodt took three photos in quick succession, with time exposure, from the same spot in Times Square. She then split the photos across the three volumes. To see the sequence, we have to look across the three volumes. By virtue of its focus on the effects of photography on the spectator and its availability in three languages, Camera Lucida was the ideal source from which to draw a quotation as inspiration and compositional material for Times Square 1-2-3.
So why this particular text from Michel Butor? A bilingual market advantage was probably decisive for Campus Verlag, publisher of Butor’s volume of essays in which von Ketelhodt found the text. If a trilingual market advantage had outweighed the additional production costs for Campus Verlag, von Ketelhodt might have created Alpha Beta Gamma instead. The essay she selected from Butor is “Les bibliothèques/Die Bibliotheken” (“The libraries”), which appears in the collection’s second part: “Itinéraires à travers l’univers de Maria-Helena Vieira da Silva/Reiserouten durch das Universum von Maria-Helena Vieira da Silva” (“Itineraries through the universe of Maria-Helena Vieira da Silva”). None of Butor’s essays are about the alphabet. So, still, why this particular text?
Butor wrote extensively in response to Da Silva’s works. A French-Portuguese abstract/figurative artist, she drew on cityscapes, railway stations, bridges as well as books and libraries for her source of figures. The libraries led to a series of canvases with titles such as Bibliothèque Humoristique, La Bibliothèque, and La bibliothèque en feu. The latter appears dimly reflected in the upper left-hand corner of this photograph from the Paris exhibition La Pliure (2015). A clearer image can be found on the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum’s site.
Display of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964, at Pliure: La Part du Feu, 2 February – 12 April 2015, Paris. Photo: Books On Books. Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s La bibliothèque en feu, 1974.
In its capture of Bruce Nauman’s referencing Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires, the photo is serendipitously apropos to Alpha Beta and its use of Butor’s “Les bibliothèques”. Butor’s essay is ekphrastic, built on the premise of referencing a visual artwork. It does not, however, describe the details of any particular one of the paintings; it is rather a fantasia on all of them, distilling them into a universal library. Von Ketelhodt’s ABC book is built on the very premises of Butor’s extract as well as on the premise of referencing the subject of Butor’s essay. Alpha Beta does not describe Butor’s essay; rather, it physically reaches into the text, extracts and abstracts from it an ABC book letter by letter. As the letters fly up, they could be those “birds that fly upward when you turn the pages”. The light reflected from the transparent pages could be that of the “soft lamps hovering”. The transparent pages recall the libraries’ “crystalline sonnets” and their “glass ceiling that reflects back the drowsiness, the leafing”. (See full English translation under Further Reading below.)
Von Ketelhodt’s work of art is far from an illustration of Butor’s universal library just as Butor’s essay is far from a verbal attempt to describe any one of Da Silva’s paintings. If this response to Alpha Beta seems “too clever by half”, consider the multilingual, self-referencing and self-referential complexity of the next work in the collection.
Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön (2007)
Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön (2007) Ines v. Ketelhodt and Peter Malutzki Catalogue casebound, thread-stitching, in printed linen-over-board cover with embossed spine title. H302 x W217 x D25 mm, 256 pages. Acquired from the artists, 21 August 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artists.
Inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’ epilogue to his short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, von Ketelhodt and Peter Malutzki embarked on their fifty-volume multilingual masterpiece Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön (2006), two decades before Alpha Beta (2017). Between 1997 and 2006, the fifty volumes appeared. For the catalogue, they collaborated with twenty-three authors. The site devoted to the project provides a look inside all of the volumes and its companion catalogue. The catalogue alone, however, works well as the tip “of the tip” of the book-berg as von Ketelhodt and Malutzki call it:
Now the fifty volumes lie before us, and we see they are actually only a tiny part of a huge ice-berg that is really a book-berg. Most of it we cannot see because it is below the surface, but we are aware of its existence. We see the project connected to a multitude of other books and are happy that, by the incorporation into public collections, it is now literally close to an enormous number of other books.
The fifty-volume work’s residence in libraries and collections around the world matters to the artists not only financially but conceptually. Only in that setting or frame does the artwork “converse” multilingually with simulacra of the Tlön library. The catalogue includes text in English, French, German and Spanish, and its own system of internal and external cross-referencing is enacted typographically and in color across Spanish, German and English in that order. After all, Borges’ short story was the origin of the work, and it is in Spanish.
Bücher /// Books (2019)
Bücher /// Books(2019) Ines von Ketelhodt Catalogue for the exhibition at the Klingspor Museum Offenbach, 3 March to 19 May 2019. Card slipcase (H281 x W233 x 21 mm), Perfect bound, photographic-board covered book (H280 x W230 x D19 mm), 192 pages. Acquired from the artist, 22 November 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
Catalogue entry for Alpha Beta. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.
Catalogue entry for Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.
Catalogue entry for Times Square 1-2-3. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.
Alpha Beta is von Ketelhodt’s primary solo work in the collection. As such, it does not reflect her extraordinary talent with photos (B/W and color) in making book art. The description above of Times Square 1-2-3, its representation in this catalogue of her work, and the catalogue’s cover have to suffice as place holders for now.
Princeton University holds Alpha Beta in its Graphic Arts Collection and provides two (unattributed) English translations of the extract. Accessed 18 August 2020. Here is one of them:
Arranged like bottles on their shelves, the volumes age in the large cellar, soft lamps hovering over creased or ringleted foreheads lowered in their attempts to decipher the comments. Here are the dictionaries, the espaliers of languages; in that aisle over there, the crystalline sonnets and haikus, the gemlike ballads. Opening a grating, you find yourself in a lofty reading room with a glass ceiling that reflects back the drowsiness, the leafing, the ecstasies. Like a climbing plant, the long sentence twines around the railing that runs along the galleries of the Romans-fleuves [sic; means “saga novels”] with their barges full of families, inheritances, conflicts, collapses, wearinesses and kisses. A bit farther on: the natural history shelves with their plant posters and flora; the birds that fly upward when you turn the pages and circle around the iron columns, touch their skulls [sic; “bump their heads”?] and then return to their leather and linen aviaries to sleep; the beasts of prey roaring and the fish gliding by the aquarium windows.
Book from the Sky to Book from the Ground (2020) Xu Bing Casebound, paper on board cover, sewn and capped with headbands. H257 x W182 x D22 mm, 216 pages. Accordion fold insert of An Introduction to Square Word Calligraphy, 38 panels, first panel cover, last panel pasted down. Four-panel insert of Square Word Calligraphy — Red Line Tracing Book, first panel cover, last panel pasted down. Four-page insert on translucent paper of English translation of the original Chinese painting Himalayas Landscript (Sketchbook). The page count here includes the preliminaries and the translucent insert. Acquired from ACC Art Books, 21 January 2021.
Perhaps the artist’s best introduction to Book from the Sky (1986-2012), Square Word Calligraphy (1993~), Landscript Series (1999~), and Book from the Ground (2003~). The timeline appendix runs through 2019, including the exhibition “The Art of the People” held at the Centro del Carme Gallery in Valencia, Spain (see a documented visit here). The publisher’s production values are exceptional. The full-color printing on matte paper is as true to a first-hand view of the works as could be hoped. The inserts reproduce the larger, scarce Square Word Calligraphy works, which makes this volume a collectible item in its own right.
A Prayer in Hell (2018) Jack Oudyn Palm leaf prayer book format of 12 timber slats with double-sided collages materials and images made with pomegranate ink on antique paper, water soluble crayon calico, wound dressings and PVA adhesive. Text from Nauru Files — Guardian Newspaper and Islamic prayer book. Open: H195 x W130 mm. Closed: H195 x W 55 x D35 mm. Slip case: 2 mm card with collage, H202 x W60 x D38 mm, to be displayed with the book. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
A Prayer in Hell is one of Jack Oudyn’s larger works. works refer to the Australian experience of the world’s refugee crisis (perhaps the largest diaspora in history), A Prayer in Hell is the most scorching of them all.
Materially, the work embodies the refugees and their experience in many ways — its palm-leaf prayer book pages even consist of “stressed and recycled timber slats”. The binding cords penetrate drawings of eyes on each slat, creating the effect of the faceless staring through bars. Although the work’s title alludes to the English expression “not a hope in hell”, the work itself nods toward hope appears in how the wound dressings, wound round the slat pages, gradually become cleaner. Under and over the dressings, strips of English and Arabic text are collaged alongside handwritten extracts from Islamic prayer books and reports of events and conditions in Australian detention centers. Complete with redactions, the English text refers to the scandals associated with the centers at Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Christmas and Manu islands.
Fish Books One, Two, Threeand Four (1999 – 2001)
All acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
This complete set of his fish books represents Oudyn’s Micro Press imprint well. Many of the small works are playful with language, form, and material and, often, socially satirical or critical. More hook-in-mouth than tongue-in-cheek, the fish books have provided the artist with ground for playing with collage and printing techniques. In imagery, they are reminiscent of Ric Haynes, Breughel and Bosch. In text, they encapsulate the punsterdom of book art (albeit without the usual book-related self-referencing, though “fish wrapper” would have been good for their covers); reveal the artist’s Dutch heritage in their numbering; and revel in Australia’s odd common fishnames (dart, flattie, stargazer, sweetlips, etc.). By Fish Book Four (2001), however, a socially sharper tone emerges. The dates of publication, which vary from those in the WorldCat links for each title, are taken from the artist’s website.
The Very First Book of Fish (1999) Jack Oudyn Booklet made of 200 gsm digital paper, sewn with single white waxed thread, 16 pages. Color laser print of mixed media drawings; ink, paint, collage on pages from telephone directory. H70 x W105 mm, 16 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #27. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
Fish Book Two(1999) Same format as first, except sewn with single red waxed thread; #49 of 50.
Fish Book Four(2001) Same format as third, except sewn with single dark gray waxed thread: #13 of 50.
‘ATE X 10 (2011) Jack Oudyn Japanese stab-bound booklet, with wax paper cover and Momigami fly leaves. H54 x W74 mm, 10 train ticket sleeves holding 10 small numbered cards collaged with advertising brochure photos. Edition of 2, of which this is #2. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
‘ATE X 10 demonstrates Oudyn’s wont to play language, form and material off image and vice versa. Bound in a Japanese stab binding by waxed thread and wax paper from the fish markets at Tsukiji in Tokyo, the book begins with a front fly leaf page bearing a tag line from the breast exercise mantra; on the same Momigami paper, the end fly leaf bears the colophon. The pages are made of Japanese train ticket sleeves containing numbered cards collaged with small photos from advertising brochures found near railway stations. As the fly leaf hints, the modest photos come from ads for breast enhancement services, an 8 x 10 promise relative to the images presented.
’16 Century Map’ (2012) Jack Oudyn Tab/slot-bound, single-fold, map paper on board, covering three outward-opening triangular cut tabs over center map paper on board; ink-stamped and drawn, with “you are here” sticker in lower left corner. H70 x W72 mm (closed). Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
This small unique work — and those that follow — lie outside the Micro Press imprint. As the artist writes on his blog, this is a trial attempt at juxtaposing the exterior old European map (showing Mesopotamia and the Euphrates, the Northern hemisphere’s cradle of civilization) with the interior Australian map of the Kakadu National Park to get at the concept of Tjukurpa, by which Australia’s Anangu refer to the creation period.
It is not strictly a Turkish-fold map, but the way the tab with indigenous colors snugly closes ’16 Century Map’ is just as mechanically satisfying.
vis-à-vis | face to face (2014)
vis-à-vis | face to face (2014) Jack Oudyn Blizzard-fold booklet, mixed media and collage with tea bag paper. H100 x W70 mm, six panels. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
A heavily stained, empty teabag glued across the two boards, whose opening is closed with the teabag string wrapped around a wooden button, serves for this booklet’s binding. A conversation between two people struggling for words, hence the near random use of found text, occupies the six panels. The abstract faces profiles are characteristic of Oudyn’s work, as is the use of acrylic medium as a block out or resist. Or perhaps it is egg yolk, which would be in keeping with the reference to eggs and, with the tea stains, in keeping with a breakfast-table conversation.
Age Marks (2014)
Age Marks (2014) Jack Oudyn Handmade waxed and stained paper book by Trace Willans. Mixed media and collage on paper. H85 x W65 x D10 mm, 44 pages. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
Trace Willans makes blank books from organic, sustainable media. Age Marks began as one of these blanks, its pages consisting of lightly textured machine-made lightweight paper (ca. 100 gsm), some stained and waxed. The result is not exactly an inscribed blank notebook, not exactly an altered book. Oudyn’s use of mixed media of different hand-made papers, tracing paper, found text, wax, reflective road tape, postage stamps, white acrylic ink, gouache and pigment creates a unique record of the aging process of mark making. Marks made by conversation, observation, inscription, printing, writing, drawing, collation, lifts and reveals, cutting, tearing, pasting, weaving, binding — all filtered through aging.
Small as it is, Age Marks is one of the most varied haptic experiences in the collection.
The Future of an Illusion (2017)
The Future of an Illusion (2017) Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn Sculptural tunnel book structure (three joined four-fold leporellos) enclosed in a folder and protective boxin a box,. Box made with Lamali handmade paper, suede paper (lining) and Somerset Black 280 gsm; Folder: Canson black 200gsm, skull button and waxed thread; Leporellos: center leporello made of Canson black 200 gsm, linen thread adjoining two leporellos made of Arches watercolour paper 185 gsm with acrylic, soluble carbon, gouache and transfer ink jet images. Box: H275 x W313 x D34 mm; Folder: H258 x W295 x D21 mm; Book: H250 x W290 x D16 mm closed, D410 mm open. One of an unnumbered, signed edition of 4. Acquired from Helen Malone, 12 September 2017.
This work’s title could not be more apropos. It is a scratchy thing to hold, its pages stiff and crackling as they turn. Patterns, images and letters struggle to emerge, only to be submerged by each other on the same or next page, which goes to show how difficult it must be to achieve entirely asemic markings. “Roughly asemic” might be the best hoped for.
Foster, Robin. “Feature Artist – Jack Oudyn“, Personal Histories, International Artist Book Exhibition, Redland Museum, UNSW, Canberra. 11 March 2014. Accessed 19 October 2020.
Image of map of My Ántonia reproduced in A Close Read: The Cather Projects (2012) Barbara Tetenbaum and Jennifer Viviano Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
For the Books On Books Collection, Barbara Tetenbaum’s works have offered a map for exploring the different ways that text, image, structure and material bring about enjoyment and meaning in book art and bookmaking. Broadsides, chapbooks, a codex, a sculpture and, yes, a map have joined the collection over time.
The broadside and chapbook forms seem to be both a rite of passage and a pastime of pleasure for book artists. For Tetenbaum, it has been both of these and a rite of remembrance of friendship. During Tetenbaum’s time at Circle Press, founded and run by UK artist Ron King, she reconnected with Chicago friends poet Michael Donaghy and his wife Maddy Paxman, who had moved earlier to London. Understandably taken with his poetry, she chose his “Machines” when King offered her the chance to set and print anything she liked while King and his wife were away on vacation.
The earliest of Tetenbaum’s work in this collection, the chapbook Machines (1986) pairs Donaghy’s neo-metaphysical poem with the asemic markings that Tetenbaum had begun to pursue as a technique in 1985. Taken on their own, the markings do not call to mind any particular image or metaphor in the poem. Considered more closely as a physical response to the poem, though, they do share in the poem’s building rhythm and density (see further commentary here).
Back in the US, the artist continued with the marks and Donaghy’s words. The broadside below was the result. This time, technique, form and subject cannot avoid similarity — like a reflection in a mirror. ‘Smith’ has a regularity but looseness often found in Donaghy’s poems, something essential to their charm. The iambic pentameter is not always iambic or ten-syllabled, and the length of stanzas vary. Flush right to Donaghy’s flush left, Tetenbaum’s lines of marking mirror the poem’s ragged right and variable counts — but not precisely.
A love poem that takes off from the act of trying to remember forging a name in a hotel register for an assignation that forged something true and lasting, ‘Smith’ is about making one’s mark as artist and responding, intimately, one human to another. To transfer her marks made in response to the poem, Tetenbaum used
coated wire (bell wire) brought to type high on a piece of MDF covered in carpet tape to hold them in place. This is a technique I learned from Elmar Heimbach and used in a bit of the illustration in O’Ryan’s Belt. (Correspondence with artist, 21 November 2020. Link added.)
Another of Tetenbaum’s earliest chapbooks, Donaghy’s O’Ryan’s Belt (1991) foreshadows her move toward work that responds with a growing independent relationship to the text.
The spine of O’Ryan’s Belt consists of a small fold. Inside, on either side of it, is a gathering of folios. The two sets of folios are sewn (belted?) together through the small fold. Each set includes a tunnel-book-like artwork of three layers. The first sits adjacent to the poem “A Spectacle”, and the second, to “The Hunter’s Purse”, a line from which the chapbook takes its name.
View of the “internal spine”, an inward fold of the cover creating a tab to which signatures on either side are sewn.
View of the tunnel-book image adjacent to “A Spectacle”
The colophon explains that stencils, string and other found objects were used to print the illustrations. Note how the artworks’ lines cross the pages but not into the space of their adjacent poems. It’s as if the artwork is asserting a claim — this is a part of, but apart from; or this is apart from, but a part of. The images created by the artwork seem more related to “A Spectacle” than “The Hunter’s Purse”. Both artworks capture the idea of the image started by the lines “The shape of man, a shadow on the ground,/ Returns a mirror image from pondwater.” As the poem proceeds, we see through the shadow/mirror image to the objects and gravel at the bottom of the pool. Hinting at stalactites or stalagmites as well as the layers reflected on and beneath the water, the first paper sculpture makes sure we recognize the poet’s shadow boxing here with Plato’s cave.
So snugly fitted to the structure, the artwork seems to be waiting to surprise the reader.
The broadside Co-Pilot extends this structurally interpretive technique. The poem “Co Pilot” (no hyphen in the original) hilariously turns the speaker’s conscience into a parrot on his shoulder, “a tiny Charlton Heston” squawking the Ten Commandments. But there is no parrot, no Charlton Heston, no Ten Commandments in the broadside’s artwork beneath the typeset poem.
There is, however, an eye peeking from four holes scattered among bubble-like transparent circles printed over a collage of images and texts from newspapers, health and housekeeping guides (from the Fifties?), history books, clothing ads and prayer cards. Are the eyes the conscience in bubbles beneath the surface of a clear punch bowl? Are those images the compromised and socially mundane background noise of the party?
The collage comes from a large photoengraved block, originally made for a tiny book, Collage Book #3, which explains the urge to turn the broadside upside down to examine the image: it’s an imposition of the unfolded, uncut pages of that book (correspondence with the artist, 21 November 2020).
Not strictly a work in the collection, the installation The Reading Room (2002) should be mentioned here — not merely because it occurred the same year as Co-Pilot but also because it is a reminder of a constant theme and a harbinger of other installations to come. Thin slabs of plexiglas bearing text in black serif type hang at angles to one another from clear fishing line. The words, phrases and sentences suspended in air are drawn from a short story composed by Tetenbaum; they are what make The Reading Room a room for reading. That’s almost all there is to do in it. If, as Anthony Powell’s character Lindsay Bagshaw says, “Books do furnish a room”, Tetenbaum’s installation proves, “Words do furnish a room”. What reading is, can or might be is that constant theme in the artist’s works — whether evoked by asemic markings, a walk through the words of a story, a “map of reading” or a “diagram of wind”.
The Reading Room (2002) Barbara Tetenbaum Installation at Nine Gallery, Portland, OR, December 2002. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Half-Life (2005) is the collection’s representative codex by Tetenbaum. A catalogue raisonné for works between 1978 and 2005, with a chronology of the artist’s life and an appreciation of her work from Uta Schneider, the book reveals several of the influences on Tetenbaum’s development, including Ron King (as noted above) and Walter Hamady (evident particularly in the Co-Pilot broadside). Tetenbaum is generous in her collaborations and acknowledgments. Although closer to a fine press edition than anything produced by Dick Higgins, Half-Life notes in its colophon the influence of his FOEW&OMBWHNW (New York: Something Else Press, 1969).
For a body of work realized after Half-Life, Tetenbaum spent a month in a gallery listening to a recording of Willa Cather’s 1918 novel, My Ántonia. The result was two installations and two publications: a catalogue called A Close Read: My Ántonia (2010) and an “artist’s book” or “bookwork” called Mining My Ántonia: Excerpts, Drawings, and a Map (2012). The collection currently includes only the map and the catalogue. Some work in this category of “response to literary material” can be primarily craftwork — as in those well-known narrative scenes sculpted from the pages of the book in question. Other responses to books — including altered books — stand as works of art yielding depths of meaning and aesthetic response on their own.
Of course, the antecedent to this in literature is called ekphrasis. W.H. Auden’s ekphrastic poem Musée des Beaux Arts stands on its own — though with — Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Even more so Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn stands on its own; the urn described is unknown. Tetenbaum’s direction of ekphrasis is inverse to that of Auden and Keats. The artwork comes after the literary expression. Nevertheless, her inversely ekphrastic artwork Mining My Ántonia stands on its own — though with — Cather’s My Ántonia.
A Close Read: The Cather Projects (2012) Barbara Tetenbaum and Jennifer Viviano Catalogue with three inserts sewn to folded card, published by Oregon Arts Commission. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
For the collection, the map has been framed between two sheets of glass to make enjoyment of its translucent paper a daily possibility. Each time the catalogue is opened, its binding harks back to O’Ryan’s Belt (see above). Three inserts of different trim sizes are sewn into the central inwardly folded tab.
The first insert provides details from the 2010 installation; the double-page spread below recalls the dangling tags from The Reading Room (2002). The second insert shows images of the artist book Mining My Ántonia and details from the second installation in the Hoffman Gallery at Oregon College of Art and Craft (2012); an image of the map from Mining My Ántonia: Excerpts, Drawings, and a Map is shown at the start of this entry. The third insert is a 14-page pamphlet from Nathalia King, Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College where the first installation occurred.
Put aside — difficult as it may be — the play of craft and art so plainly suffusing the print, paper and binding of the catalog and artist book, what are their relation to the text that drove them? Is it like making a “movie of the book”? Are we looking at some new form of literary/artistic criticism? As Nathalia King’s essay walks us through the installation, she points out how it teaches the viewer to read My Ántonia in multiple ways. To what degree, though, can we appreciate Tetenbaum’s book art or installations without having read My Ántonia? They certainly inspire the reader/viewer to read or re-read the work. But inevitably this reader/viewer is drawn back to enjoying Tetenbaum’s “making the novel her own” (as in the pun on mining). As with all book art, the more informed we are about the “material” of which it is made, the greater the enjoyment. We want to make such a work our own — to mine it — which may send us back to multiple quarries from which the artist drew her material. Cather’s novel is not the only material of which Mining My Ántonia is made. It is made of the artist’s experience of the novel in print, the novel as read aloud and the exterior/interior space in which that occurred. It is made of various papers, tabs, reveals and media. The artist book offers a solitary way of ”material reading”, but with the catalogue, it also offers a glimpse at the ambulatory and perhaps social way of reading offered in the installations.
Also offering a different way of reading, Diagram of Wind (2015) pulls further away from its responding point than Mining My Ántonia. A line in Donaghy’s poem “Glass” provides the title for this sculptural work, and the work’s structure draws on the poem’s sestina form in its undulating, layering structure. Yet Diagram of Wind goes far beyond that.
There are seven “pages” to this work, each sewn to green book cloth panelled with wooden slats and backed with gampi. The first page carries Donaghy’s sestina, each line letterpress printed on a strip of paper pasted to gampi paper. Less wide than the sestina page and shorter than the third, the second page shows an etching image of waterspouts rising from a body of water with mountains in the background. Less wide than the second page and shorter than the fourth, the third page consists of narrow, evenly sized white strips of paper pasted on gampi. The fourth page, slightly wider than the preceding page but still shorter than the following, offers the school-book-like statements:
Air movements have
helped to change the
whole face of the earth.
We usually call air move-
ments wind. Wind may be
started when cold and
warm air masses are
next to each other.
Suddenly much less wide than the fourth page but still shorter than the sixth, the fifth page presents narrow dark panels or strips that narrow in themselves and narrow the space between them as they descend the page. Much wider than the preceding page, shorter than the seventh and printed with blue and white dots reminiscent of Co Pilot (above), the sixth page gives guidance on determining the amount of space to leave between the top of a flume (an engineering structure for measuring water flow) and the height of the water moving through it. The narrowest page of all and ending flush with the slatted backing, the seventh page shows a print similar to that on page two, but here between the evenly spaced paper strips, there is a small ship in the distance and the subsiding whirlpool and withdrawing upper part of a waterspout in the foreground.
The poem that inspired this work uses images of the natural world — sand, smoke, wind — to build its metaphor of love’s paradox (its holding fast with an open hand). Humanity is in the foreground, nature in the background. Tetenbaum’s Diagram of Wind reverses that. Nature with its air movements and waterspouts move into the foreground. Then humanity with its controlling and measuring flume comes into the middle ground. And finally it ends with humanity’s ship on the horizon and nature’s dissipating waterspout in the foreground. Even though by virtue of its page one position the poem is in the foreground, it has become as much “material” for the artwork as the paper, ink, wood, cloth, earthy colors and physical structure are. The artist has transformed the poem’s sestina shape, its use of nature and its paradox into “material” for Diagram of Wind. In this instance of inverse ekphrasis, Tetenbaum has created a work that stands independently of, and in dependence on, its literary inspiration.
Tetenbaum has provided another way to experience the Cather Projects: The Slow Read (2018). Take a wander through that site, composed of an introductory page to “a public literary and fine art project conceived and produced by Barbara Tetenbaum honoring the centenary of the publication of Willa Cather’s novel My Ántonia“, a set of seventy-four links to the daily scheduled readings, a blog section, a “concordance” that is more an unfolding of the installation and artist’s book than a listing of words and phrases against page references, and finally a portfolio of artwork by Tetenbaum.
Michaelis, Catherine Alice. “Elemental Impressions, Artist’s Books Unshelved, Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, 20 March 2021. Accessed 22 March 2021. Video presentation and discussion of Diagram of Wind.
King, Nathalie. “Reading the Literary Text as ‘Art in Space’: Barbara Tetenbaum’s My Ántonia,” The Artist’s Yearbook, 2014-2015. Bristol: Impact Press, pp. 95-99.
Schneider, Uta. “Turning the Page”, pp. 18-28 in Tetenbaum, Barbara, James Carmin, and Uta Schneider. 2005. Half-life: 25 years of books by Barbara Tetenbaum & Triangular Press. Portland, OR: Triangular Press. Three key works not in the collection are described in Half-Life. The first would be an edition from the Gymnopaedia series, based on the artist’s response to Erik Satie’s musical compositions of the same name. The second would be Tetenbaum’s collaboration with Julie Chen that resulted in a powerfully moving work: Ode to a Grand Staircase (for Four Hands) (2001). The third key work returns to Donaghy’s poetry with the clear aim to incorporate sound in book art: Black Ice and Rain: Psalms 6.6 (2002). In the absence of the work itself, Uta Schneider’s description of it in Half-Life is as close as one can come to experiencing it.
Strange Papers: A Collection of the World’s Rarest Handmade Papers (1987)
Strange Papers(1987) Fred Siegenthaler Wooden, felt-lined briefcase, containing a large box enclosing a book and 101 rare handmade paper samples in individual portfolios. Covering paper for the box and book is two-layer handmade paper from Nepal made with the bast fiber of the Daphne papyracea. Briefcase: H x W x D mm. Box: H x W x D Book: H x W mm, 127 pages. Portfolios: Edition of 200 copies, of which this is #28, signed by Fred Siegenthaler. Acquired from Berkelouw Rare Books, 13 Aug 2020. Romana-Butten cover paper from Papierfabrik August Koehler in Oberkirch, W. Germany. Printed by G. Krebs in Basel, Switzerland.
As Siegenthaler explains in his preface, this is the work that started an international organization: the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists (IAPMA). By 1986, Siegenthaler was well positioned to start this international association focused on paper art and the craft and science of papermaking. Since the late 1960s, he had been experimenting with strange material for paper — glass beads, hay, leather waste, stinging nettles, tobacco, wasps’ nests and much more. By the 1970s, he was supplying handmade custom papers to Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg among others. Travelling the world for business reasons (Sandoz), he began collecting paper samples from like-minded artists and papermakers in Mexico, Thailand, Viet Nam and more than 87 other countries. And he was “convinced that [he] had a duty to include these exclusive, beautiful and rare creations in [his] collection and preserve them for posterity”.
So, in November 1985, he began writing (by hand) to his network and, later, new association colleagues telling them of his plan for assembling Strange Papers. With the 200 samples of each paper, each selected contributor also provided a structured description of the raw materials and process used. The resulting book not only delivers a wealth of knowledge on the portfolios of samples but also contains items worth placing alongside the portfolios in an exhibition: a sample of a Taoist sacrificial money note on handmade rice paper with embossed gold leaf, plant drawings by Marilyn Wold and small samples of shifu and kinu-shifu (woven papers).
To hold a piece of papyrus and feel its natural curl toward scrolling, its roughness on one side and its smoothness yet segmentedness on the other, brings the history of paper alive. The differences among all the samples — in touch, appearance and, for some, even smell — is extraordinary. It is hard to choose what is most enjoyable about Strange Papers: reading the entries, holding each sample up to the light to examine it, comparing one sample with another, or deciding which is the strangest raw material.
The text — Browsing and reading the entries yields fascinating tidbits. Hawaii’s Akia plant has poisonous bark, roots and leaves, which are discarded in papermaking, but, according to Pam Barton, Hawaiians pound them, put them in a porous container and sink it in salt water pools to narcotize fish to be caught. Donna Koretsky advises observing the Fancy Manila Hemp paper under varying angles of light to see how the coloring changes. From the region where the Hollander beater was invented, De Zaanse Molen’t Weefhuis cites a letter from the paper scholar Henk Voorn that in large shipbuilding works, Moss Paper “was nailed to wood with so-called paper nails under the copper skin of the hull.” In making Jute Paper, Natan Kaaren in Israel “used old sacks … cut up into shreds and placed to rot in a barrel of water … about a year.” The confluence of patience, planning, sense of tradition, attention to detail, awareness of function with creative exuberance is the chief effect of the entries.
Inspection and comparison — Each of the 101 samples calls for inspection. Holding each one to the light and turning it side to side to see the change in effect is seductive. Photographing each paper backlit through its portfolio’s oval cutout shares some of this pleasure of inspection. To the oval cutout’s left, the number-stamped side is shown; to the right, the reverse side. Each sheet rests on its portfolio folder and is angled for viewing the surface. The six similarly named papers of the twelve composed of some form of grass leap out for comparison.
Sample 1.1 Composed of Poaceae — poa annua, poa trivialis. Netherlands. Not of the same family as the following sample, which goes to show how the same common name does not always identify the same substance. Both Lawn Grass samples were cut by lawn mower, but 1.1 was harvested over a longer period and fermented. Both were cooked for two hours, but 1.1 underwent another half hour of boiling. This sample’s darker color and slightly greater heft may be due to its difference in family or the washing process. Both feel brittle and make a crinkling sound when flexed.
Sample 19.5 Composed of Stenotaphrum secundatum. Israel. With this sample, the pulp was washed for a further two hours after boiling and then strained through a screen under high pressure, which may account for its greater translucence. Sample 19.5’s wrinkles are more shallow than 1.1’s and resembles wax paper. Both samples have a pungent dry grass smell.
Sample 14.2 Composed of Cortaderia selloana. Australia. The color and texture differ greatly from those of the next sample. This one is almost linen-like, not fully apparent from the photo, and is lighter, more flexible and less brittle than the next sample. It has almost no smell. The sample’s description is not extensive, which limits comparison of processing.
Sample 22.1 Also composed of Cortaderia selloana. USA. The darker color may be due to inclusion of stalks and fibrous plumes and possibly the season of harvesting. This sample is far less dense and far more brittle than 14.2. Where 14.2 has that linen-like texture on its number-stamped side, 22.1 is actually more polished between the bits of stalk or leaf. Its smell is slightly metallic.
Sample 15.5 Composed of Phragmites australis. Australia. Cut with a garden shredder before soaking then boiling in a solution of 17% caustic soda (500 gms in 30 liters). Beating occurred by chopping with a Chinese-style vegetable cleaver, then running through a sink garbage disposal unit, then running through a kitchen blender. Its color, lighter than the next sample’s, matches with its weight and stiffness, both less than the next sample’s.
Sample 18.1 Composed of Phragmites communis. USA. Cut into 2-3 inch length. Soaked then boiled in 20% caustic soda. Processed with a Hollander beater. The densest and least translucent of all the grass samples above. It has a huskier smell than the Common Reed sample above.
The strangest raw material — This is truly a contest. Carrots are a strong contender, but so are hemp from old fire brigade hoses, moss, peat and stinging nettles. The following are chosen due to their inorganic, silicate and worrisome nature. Except for the sample made of 100% polyethylene fibers, all others consist of organic material.
Sample 32.1 Composed of 100% asbestos fiber. Light and flimsy, it feels like cloth; seems odorless; but this is not one to handle or sniff too closely. Its white, greyish color and dimpled texture will be familiar to anyone who attended school in the latter half of the twentieth century and looked up the ceilings.
Sample 28.1 Composed of 70% strands of glass, containing about 200 tiny fibers, 20% Kozo and 10% polyvinyl alcohol fibers for binding. The glass strands feel tough and breakable; they shine like satin under glancing light; their pinkness comes from dye. Odorless.
Among the contributors with other works represented in the Books On Books Collection are Winifred Lutz, Maureen Richardson, Raymond Tomasso and Therese Weber. Each also appeared in one of the first seven books published for the Rijswijk Paper Biennial, which along with Siegenthaler’s works here, Helen Hiebert’s The Secret Life of Paper, paper samplers from Velma Bolyard and Maureen Richardson, works from Taller Leñateros, watermark art from Gangolf Ulbricht, and pulp painting works from Pat Gentenaar-Torley, John Gerard, Claire Van Vliet and Maria Welch form the core of the collection’s subset focused on paper. Other references are listed under Further Reading.
The Works and its update (below) are useful and valuable to have alongside Strange Papers. Both illustrate Siegenthaler’s breadth of artistry beyond papermaking, and the former includes a comprehensive essay on that artistry by Nana Badenberg. Along with John Gerard and Gangolf Ulbricht, Siegenthaler is one of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries’ masters at using watermarking to make art. His self-portrait, included in The Works, provides an outstanding example of watermark art, described at length by Badenberg. She records Siegenthaler’s watermark contributions to works by Horst Antes and Meret Oppenheim as well as his papermaking for the artists mentioned in this entry’s introduction. Her commentary on the technical, material and conceptual aspects of Siegenthaler’s work in each of its areas of development — “incorporation” (similar but more subtle than appropriation), “revealments”, book objects, paper castings of the human form, “repulpings” (recycling of precious papers), pulp painting and sculpturing, signage, erotica and religious works — enriches any encounter with his art.
Nachtrag zu: Fred Siegenthaler Das Werk: neue Arbeiten aus den Jahren 2010 bis 2015 / Addendum to: Fred Siegenthaler The Works: New Works from 2010 to 2015 (2016)
This double-page spread provides a snapshot of continuity and development. The cards made from repulping and recalling Siegenthaler’s earlier work with this technique speak to continuity — as does the juxtaposition of the overpaintings from 2000 and 2011 on the next page. The nature of Siegenthaler’s 2010-2015 absorption with color on the verso page contrasts with his earlier handling of color in the Kopfüssler and the facsimile leaf of the Gutenberg Bible on the recto. Like Strange Papers, the Addendum reflects the careful planning and exuberant creativity characteristic of Siegenthaler’s entire career.
The Vedute Foundation was established in 1991 to create a special collection of “spatial manuscripts” — visualized, tangible and accessible objects to convey concepts of space. The key constraint on the invited artists, architects and designers: the work’s dimension must be that of the Gutenberg Bible, 44 x 32 x 7 cm in closed form. Given that constraint, it is odd how rarely the collection is mentioned in the domain of bookworks, book art or artist books. It shows up in Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden’s 2020 “A comprehensive reading list for artists’ books”, but book artist and trained architect, Marian Macken has most thoroughly redressed this oddity in Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (2018).
At the end of 2020, the Vedute collection stood at 223 items. Among them, Piranesian Window by Cees Nagelkerke performs the ideal introduction. Its form and title capture the multiple meanings of vedute (views), some intended by the collection’s founders, some not. Views are things seen — which this art object is. Views are prospects from which to see — which a window offers. Views are perspectives — for which Giambattista Piranesi’s etchings are famous. Views are thoughts held — which “Piranesian” implies. The work’s title could be that of a manuscript on art history and philosophy.
Piranesi’s mid-eighteenth century etchings Vedute di Roma(Viewsof Rome) and Carceri d’invenzione (Imaginary Prisons) are the obvious sources of inspiration. Alongside the images on the Foundation’s site, however, Nagelkerke relates a dream of about the work. The dream’s logic and the mirror in the window frame might recall for some Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
– … Please, continue relating your dream … – I wandered through vast ruins … along wrecked bridges … feeling remarkably at ease. – How did you find the window in this windowless world? – When a cool breeze wafted inside, I suddenly saw it. It showed a landscape, within the distance a city. There was complete tranquillity and harmony there, like in a painting by Piero della Francesca … I stood there for some considerable time and I became increasingly saddened, because I discovered that I was looking at something that had vanished forever. – But how did you manage to take the window? – I wanted to touch it … as a result, I immediately fell down. The gap left in the wall closed by itself … I picked it up and continued on my way, meeting people who spoke to me saying that I should leave the Carceri. I was taken to a gateway. No one looked at, or said anything about, the window… In the square where I found myself, there was an intense, chaotic commotion. The window still reflected something of the vast space I had left. The exterior showed traces of the wall in which it had been mounted. I looked through it and saw everyday life …
Together, the embedded mirror-to-mirror view and the window enact multiple enigmas. The mirror-to-mirror view recreates that Escher-like perspective to which Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons was a forerunner. The open window invites the reader/viewer to look through: “Reader/viewer, read and look by means of the Piranesian Window, read and look to the other side of the Piranesian Window“. In the context of Nagelkerke’s dream, the spatial manuscript brings dreams and traces of the vanished into everyday life. Imagination has created the form that captures imagination but also frees it.
In Piranesian Window, Nagelkerke has delivered a surreal object that, messing with our minds, embodies Piranesi’s distinctly non-neoclassical quip: Col sporcar si trova (“by messing about, one discovers”) (Lowe, p.19). It is a dictum well suited to The Vedute Foundation‘s 223 works (1990 to 2019) and those to come.
The Black Page Catalogue(2010) Coxwold, UK: Printed by Graham Moss (Incline Press) for The Laurence Sterne Trust. Contains 73 numbered leaves in a matte black card box (H235 x W168 mm). The leaves are glossy cards (210 x 148 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (chiefly colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a single-sheet folded pamphlet (“Printing the Black Page” by Graham Moss, Incline Press) and two cards, one of which is the invitation to the exhibition inspired by the ‘black page’, p. 73 of the first edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, held at Shandy Hall, Coxwold, North Yorkshire, 5 Sept.-31 Oct. 2009, and the other, sealed in an envelope, being the index of the contributors and their page numbers. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Collectors come up with the most ingenious reasons for acquiring things. In this case — along with astrological, numerological and other rational rationale — Rebecca Romney’s reminder that The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is one of the earlier instances of book art led inevitably to my acquiring Shandy Hall’s The Black Page Catalogue. But it took time.
Several months after enjoying the Romney essay, I met Brian Dettmer in January 2015 by happenstance at a book art exhibition in New Haven, CT. As we chatted about past inspirations of book art, Tristram Shandy came up, so he told me of an upcoming event called “Turn the Page” in Norwich, UK, where I could more easily see some of his work — and one in particular having to do with Tristram Shandy. So in May 2015, I went.
Tristram Shandy (2014) Brian Dettmer Carved and varnished, two copies of the 2005 Folio Society edition of Tristram Shandy. H230 x W190 mm Commissioned by The Laurence Sterne Trust, Coxwold, UK. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The marbled page, an “emblem of my work”, p. 169. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) by Laurence Sterne Illustrated with wood engravings by John Lawrence. Set in ‘Monotype’ Plantin, printed by Cambridge University Press on Caxton Wove Paper. New York: Folio Society, 2005.
So a year passed. Another visit to “Turn the Page” was made. And as I was leaving, lo, a sign and small display came unto me:
Only a negligent collector would ignore such clear signs.
Parson-Yoricks-to-be can select their own favorites here.
Emblem of My Work (2013)
Emblem of My Work (2013) Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust. Consists of a 24-page booklet and 170 numbered cards in a hinged blue paper-covered box (H160 x W105 x D60 mm. The leaves of this catalogue are bright white cards (152 x 92 mm) on which the artwork is printed; the reverse of each provides the “page” number and the contributor’s comments on the art. The booklet provides alphabetical and numerically ordered indexes listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 225, of which this is #79. Acquired from Shandy Hall, 1 October 2019. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Volume III of Sterne’s work was the first to be handled by a publisher. Presumably the famous success of the first two self-published volumes helps to explain James Dodsley’s agreement to printing copies in which each page 169 and each page 170 showed uniquely marbled squares. Images from an original copy held at the British Library can be seen here. As Patrick Wildgust, director of Shandy Hall, explains in the booklet:
The central section of p. 169 was laid upon the marbled mixture in order that a coloured impression could be taken as cleanly as possible. This was left to dry and then reverse-folded so the other side of the paper could also receive its marbled impression. This side of the paper became page . As a result, the marbled page in every copy of Vol. III is different — each impression being a unique handmade image. In the text opposite on p. 168, Sterne tells the reader that the marbled page is the “motly emblem of my work” — the page communicating visually that his work is endlessly variable, endlessly open to chance.
Two favorites — one for page , one for  — artists with other works in the Books On Books Collection. Left: Ken Campbell. Right: Eric Zboya.
Paint Her To Your Own Mind (2018) Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust. Contains 147 numbered leaves in a brown paper-covered box (174 x 124 mm). The leaves are bright white cards (145 x 105 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (chiefly colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a “title page” and “index leaf” listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 200. Acquired from Shady Hall, 6 June 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Page 147 of Sterne’s sixth volume of Tristram Shandy is blank. On the preceding page, he metaphorically throws up his hands over any attempt to describe the most beautiful woman who has ever existed and exhorts the reader: “To conceive this right, —call for pen and ink—here’s paper ready to your hand, —Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind—as like your mistress as you can—as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you—‘tis all one to me—please your own fancy in it.” So, accordingly, Shandy Hall invited 147 artists/writers/composers to follow Sterne’s instruction to fill the blank page 147. From the 9th through 30th of September 2016, their efforts were displayed in the Shandy Hall Gallery, Coxwold, York.
The curious reader can choose his or her own favorites here.
The Flourish of Liberty (2019)
In Volume IX on p. 17, the reader reads Corporal Trim’s advice to Uncle Toby, who stands at the Widow Wadman’s threshold about to propose marriage:
Nothing, continued the Corporal, can be so sad as confinement for life — or so sweet, an’ please your honour, as liberty. Nothing, Trim — said my Uncle Toby, musing — Whil’st a man is free — cried the corporal, giving a flourish with his stick thus —
The Flourish of Liberty (2019) Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust. Contains 103 numbered leaves in a gray paper-covered box (174 x 124 mm). The leaves are bright white cards (148 x 105 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (black and white, several in colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a “title page” and “index leaf” listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 150, of which this is #133. Acquired from Shandy Hall, 26 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.