Books On Books Collection – Nick Wonham

The Charm of Magpies (2018)

The Charm of Magpies (2018)
Nick Wonham
Casebound, cloth spine and paper over boards with specially printed flyleaves from Roger Grech at his Papercut Bindery. H370 x W260 mm. 27 pages unnumbered. Edition of 160 copies, of which this is #98. Acquired from Incline Press, 1 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

A long admiration for magpies has always threatened to crowd the Books On Books Collection beyond this beautiful work from Nick Wonham and Incline Press and the relief sculpture in paper by Calvin Nichols below. But one pair of works will have to be enough for joy.

Iridescence(2016)
Calvin Nicholls
Acquired from the artist, 1 September 2016. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

On the Incline Press website, Graham Moss and his team write:

Collective nouns A parliament of magpies has to be a favourite, especially if you’ve heard a group of them cackling together in the Springtime. But we prefer the alternative, a charm of magpies, which certainly suits this poem better. It is one version of a folk rhyme which has many local variants, all superstitiously foretelling the future through random occurrence.

Magpies are often known a thugs in the garden, stealing eggs and chasing off their more delicate rivals. As printers, though, we have a fondness for them because of their “ink on paper” plumage and their latin name pica pica, which recalls the printshop unit of measure.

In the interview under Further Reading, Wonham mentions Kurt Schwitters as a compositional influence, but in color and boldness, Joseph Crawhall‘s, William Nicholson‘s, C.B. Falls‘ and Christopher Wormell‘s alphabet books spring more to mind.

Left to right: Joseph Crawhall (1884), William Nicholson (1898), C.B. Falls (1930) and Christopher Wormell (1995).

As Moss and team point out on their site, the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes does not include the magpies among the counting rhymes, which is odd with so many versions to be had. Birdspot, formerly British Bird Lovers, favors Nick Wonham’s chosen version. For magpies interested in shiny trivia, the site also provides a link to a BBC television program whose theme song was based on the magpie rhyme. It was “composed and played by the Spencer Davis Group under the alias The Murgatroyd Band, just after Steve Winwood had left to join the supergroup Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Ric Grech”.

And to note just one touch of Nick Wonham’s subtlety, here is the page before the colophon. In all the other images, the magpies are roosting. This one in flight is also the only one in black and white. A brilliant “The End”.

Postscript: In correspondence, the artist has provided further insight on influences and his handling of color:

A note on the colour – the biggest influence on this was Rigby Graham, whose work Graham Moss introduced me to through the Old Stile Press book Kippers and Sawdust. Graham had just printed my first book, which had black and white linocuts, and was trying to inspire me to try colour. It worked; I was blown away by the majestic woodcuts and aspired to create books in a similar vein. Rigby liked an unusually coloured sky, he also liked to position his illustrations through the book so that the colours of prints on adjacent pages contrasted with each other to create dynamism and visual interest, something I have attempted in my book. Correspondence with Books On Books Collection, 9 September 2022.

Wonham also adopts and owns a compositional feature from Rigby Graham’s Kippers and Sawdust: the juxtaposition of the mechanical and the natural. His ownership is particularly apparent in his setting for the rhyme’s seventh verse.

Rigby Graham’s flight formation over a landscape (from 2022 Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association);
Wonham’s surveillance cameras for a perch.

Further Reading

Enid Marx“. 1 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

One For Sorrow … Magpie Nursery Rhyme“. November 2020. Birdspot. Accessed 5 August 2022.

Campbell, Gordon. July 2008. “Rigby Graham – Doctor of Letters – Artist“. University of Leicester, News and Events. Accessed 10 September 2022.

Nicholls, Calvin. 2005. Paper sculptures, 1995-2005. McHenry, IL: Follett Library Resources.

Opie, Iona Archibald, and Peter Opie. 1951. The Oxford dictionary of nursery rhymes. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Young, Richard. 15 December 2016. “Meet artist Nick Wonham“. Great British Life. Accessed 1 August 2022.

Books On Books Collection – Claire Van Vliet

The Gospel of Mary (2006)

The Gospel of Mary (2006)
Claire Van Vliet et al.
Woven binding with Barcham Green Cairo paper, housed in De Wint paper-covered and lined birch trays. Box: H320 x W274 x D42 mm. Book: H292 x W250 x D28 mm, 44 pages, center pulp-painted pop-up. Edition of 150, of which this is #27. Acquired from Thomas Goldwasser Rare Books, 18 June 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (2002), Tumblr Blocks (1996) and Batterers (1996) below, The Gospel of Mary is an outstanding work of collaboration. Its pulp painting, letterpress, woven binding and layout make this work an important addition to works by Claire Van Vliet in the Books On Books Collection. Van Vliet pulp painted the centerpiece and cover below with Katie MacGregor (Whiting, Maine), who also made the pop-up papers. Andrew Miller-Brown, the Janus Press workshop printer and founder of Plowboy Press, is credited and has signed this copy with Van Vliet. Audrey Holden, who has also signed this copy and worked on Tumbling Blocks, executed the binding. Rosemary Radford Ruether, feminist thelogian, provided the commentary on the text, both of which were typeset with the assistance of Ellen Dorn Levitt, whose collection of book arts projects and teaching materials now resides at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

The four photos below provide views of the binding structure and also the layout in which the commentary embraces the gospel text.

Below, the five-part pulp-painted centerpiece and the silver paper ribbons woven into the double-page spread stand out against the more subtly pulp-painted background. The pop-up echoes the images on the Barcham Green Boxley paper used throughout for the text and commentary (see above).

The size of the work and the way that the printing, paper, pulp painting, layout of text and commentary, pop-up and binding complement one another echo the age of illuminated manuscripts and incunabula. It would make for a rewarding exhibition to juxtapose The Gospel of Mary with several of them.

The entries below were previously published on 8 August 2019 and have been moved here.

Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (2002)

Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (2002)
Claire Van Vliet and Elizabeth Steiner
Four slipcases containing 16 book models are enclosed with the book in a cloth-covered clamshell box. Box: H282 x W226 x D55 mm. Slipcases: H128 x W104 mm. Book: H254 x W192 mm, 144 pages. Edition of 200, of which this is #13, signed by Claire Van Vliet. Acquired from James S. Jaffe Rare Books, 1 February 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The binding models and papers used for them are:


A — Aunt Sallie’s Lament; Aunt Sallie’s Lament without Flags; Aunt Sallie’s Lament non-adhesive version; Moeraki Boulders; Designating Duet. Papers used include Elephant Hide, Fabriano cover and Miliani Ingres, French’s recycled, Marblesmith, Bristol and Saunders laid.


B — Beauty in Use; Beauty in Use with text leaves; Deep in the Territory; Night Street. Papers used include Elephant Hide, French’s recycled, Bristol, Mohawk Superfine and Fabriano cover.


C — Gioia I; Gioia II; Sing Weaving; Compound Frame. Papers used include Elephant Hide, French’s recycled, Bristol, Mohawk Superfine, Linen Index, Neenah UV Columns and Marblesmith.


D — Bone Songs; A Landscape with Cows in It; Well-Heeled. Papers used include Elephant Hide, Mohawk Superfine, Arches laid, and Fabriano text and Miliani Ingres.

Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce (1996)

Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce (1996)
Claire Van Vliet and Audrey Holden
Paper cube issued in a non-adhesive paper box housed in a clear plastic box. 58 x 58 x 58 mm. Edition of 200, of which this is #134. Acquired from Abecedarian Gallery, 21 July 2019.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Working with offcuts from Praise Basted In: A Friendship Quilt for Aunt Sallie (1995), Van Vliet and Audrey Holden cut pairs of letters of the alphabet and glued them back to back. These constitute the cube-book’s leaves, which are folded and glued to permit the book to open into a variety of shapes. Gently tossed from hand to hand, the book will resume its cube shape. “Pris and Bruce” are the Hubbards, Janus Press patrons.

Batterers (1996)

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Batterers (1996)

Denise Levertov, Kathryn Lipke Vigesaa and Claire Van Vliet

Slipcase: H307 x W387 x D73 mm; Tray: H296 x W380 x D61 mm; Accordion: H270 x W356 x D33 (closed), H270 x W1115 mm (open). Edition of 500, of which this is #5, signed. Acquired from Van Vliet via Vamp & Tramp, 17 July 2020.

What is remarkable about this sculptural book is its fusion of collaborators’ efforts, of art forms, and of text, materials, techniques and structures.

In the late 1980s, Claire Van Vliet and Kathryn Lipke (née Vigesaa) were seeking a collaborative project. After Van Vliet spotted Denise Levertov’s poem “Batterers” in the American Poetry Review (1990:6), they agreed that the poem, which enfolds our abuse of the earth within a metaphor of domestic abuse, was the appropriate text to join somehow with Lipke’s series of structural artworks called Earthskins.

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Earthskins (1988-96)

Kathryn Lipke (Vigesaa)

Installation views of the works created from paper pulp, clay and pigments; some reaching 69 feet in length. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

When letterpress printers consider the reproduction of a short poem, the broadside is the most common art form adopted. Van Vliet’s adoption of it is anything but common. Instead, she has orchestrated a combination of structures and art forms. From the maroon-printed, brown linen slipcase slides a tray made of tamarack wood to which Lipke’s vacuum-formed panel of clay mixed with paper is fixed. As the black tray is lifted, layers of multi-folded paper attached to a backing appear.

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The top two layers are glued and sewn with multi-stranded red thread to the third and bottom layer, displaying the names of the author, work and Van Vliet’s press. The bottom layer is glued to a backing of three strong card panels tightly glued to two wood runners, sawn or routered into a slight U shape.

As the top layer is unfolded by pulling it apart, left and right, three tabs drop down to reveal Levertov’s poem.

Van Vliet’s combination of structures and forms offers multiple orders in which to read the poem, which pleased Levertov because she liked the poem in both the stanzaic orders of 1-2-3 and 1-3-2 (correspondence with Kathryn Lipke and Claire Van Vliet, 20 July 2020). In a book-like way, the covering tray slides from its slipcover, the cover is removed, and the accordion pages unfold to be read left panel first, right panel second and center panel third, emphasizing the embedded and central metaphor.

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Spread fully open, the structure assumes a single-sheet broadside form, and the “center” stanza moves from third to second in order. But there is a third order of reading, as it were. The broadside form “leans” into the art forms of print, painting and bas-relief sculpture. The text, images and design become a whole experience, an object to be taken in as a whole.

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Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Not only in form does Batterers “lean” into the form of painting: the imagery and colors arise from the technique of pulp painting, a technique defined by the work of Marius Péraudeau in the mid-twentieth century. Pat Gentenaar’s still life Water Dragon in this collection provides another example of the technique.

Top: cover image of Marius Péraudeau: Pulp Paper Paintings (Paris: Ernst Maget, 1991). Photo taken at British Library: Books On Books. Bottom: Water Dragon (n.d.) Pat Gentenaar-Torley. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

In pulp painting, the paper is the painting. Assisted by Katie MacGregor and Bernie Vinzani in their paper studio in Whiting, Maine, Van Vliet poured different colors of paper pulp into prepared forms to create three sheets of paper on which to print and then collage into the image that suggests dual images: that of a volcano and that of a woman reclining on her side or face down. The fusion of shapes, the fusion of color and fiber in pulp painting, and the fusion of clay and pulp in the covering bas-relief (which can also be used as a stand for the broadside) fuse with the poem’s words and metaphor. Once this artwork has been experienced, reading the poem printed in a traditional book can never be the same.

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Further Reading

The First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial“, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019.

Auburn, Luke. “Typographer and founder of Janus Press Claire Van Vliet to be presented with Goudy Award Nov. 2“, University News, Rochester Institute of Technology, 25 October 2017.

Craft in America, PBS Series, Claire Van Vliet (N.D.) Includes a short video with Kathleen Walkup (Mills College) 7 October 2009.

Library of Congress, The Janus Press, 19 October 2017.

Sullivan, James D. “A Poem Is a Material Object: Claire Van Vliet’s Artists Books and Denise Levertov’s “Batterers”“, Humanities, 2019, 8, 124; doi:10.3390/h8030124.

University of Wisconsin, Woven and Interlocking Book Structures, 9 November 2018.

Van Vliet, Claire. “Thoughts on Bookmaking by Claire Van Vliet of The Janus Press“, Poet’s House, 10 October 2019.

Books On Books Collection – Ken Botnick

“How does a book reflect a distinct way of thinking about a subject? How does the page become a dynamic landscape of visual and conceptual ideas?” So begins the description for a workshop run by Ken Botnick in 2017. His two works in the Books On Books Collection answer those questions with a resounding “This is how“.

Table of Contents (2020)

Table of Contents (2021)
Ken Botnick
Slipcased, boards with exposed sewn binding. Slipcase: H270 x W170 mm; Book: H265 xW185 mm, 56 pages.
Edition of 20, of which this is #5. Acquired from the artist, 3 May 2022.
Photos: Courtesy of the artist; Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Table of Contents has no table of contents. Instead the whole book is a meditation on a table of contents — that of James J. Gibson’s The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (1966). On the inside cover, Botnick characterizes Table of Contents as a “book-length visual/textual poem” and identifies the cento as its model. Cento is short for the Latin centonibus (“patchwork”) and describes the technique of appropriating others’ lines of verse to compose an original “collage” poem. Rather than lines from poems, though, Botnick has appropriated text from Gibson’s table of contents and figure labels.

Here is Gibson’s complete table of contents:

Gibson, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, pp. ix-xiv. Internet Archive.

Here is Botnick’s selection of text:

Table of Contents
Compression waves from a vibratory event
How are associations between events detected?
The stationary information for seeing one thing through another
Radiation from a luminous source
The physical reality of speech
The diffusion of volatile substances
The development of selective attention
The superfluous appeal to memory
The consequences of inadequate information
The consequences of rigidity
The special consequences of light
Transmitted light and transparent surfaces
The structuring of light by means other than reflection
The structuring of light by alphabetic writing
The stable and unbounded character of the phenomenal visual world
The perception of chemical values in the sea
The inspired air
The beginning of a theory

But that is not how Botnick’s cento is presented. In calling it a “visual/textual poem”, Botnick is too modest. It is much more than visual/textual: it is visual, textual, auditory and haptic — and is so from the start, proceeding by contrasts and complements, provoking multi-sensory activity and responses.

First of all, the slipcase is more of a “slipsleeve” from which the spine protrudes for fingers and eyes to feel the exposed binding threads, the pattern of knots and the ridges of the gathered signatures. This is the sewn boards structure, credited to Gary Frost, more on that later. The spine and fore edge offer bright colors that contrast with the deeply black sleeve that displays three slanting parallel cutouts in the cloth, exposing the board it covers. The pattern those cutouts make will become a recurrent visual and tactile theme as the pages turn.

As the tightly fitting sleeve pulls away from the board-stiff book, they make a “shirring” sound together. As the front cover turns, the title page bows upward showing nine impressed parallel lines beneath the words “Table of Contents”, and when that page turns, it crackles and makes a shuffling sound as its edge drags across the following bright blue page.

Through that bright blue translucence, the pattern from the slipsleeve reappears but rearranged and multiplied into a zigzag spectrum of colors. The physical turning of the translucent page “exposes” that zigzag spectrum and the second line of text in this poem: “Compression waves from a vibratory event”. Gibson’s text refers to the perception of sound or physical vibrations, and Botnick poetically overlays this with his selection of papers and introduction of zigzag waves of color. The zigzag pattern and its rounded elements, which on some pages are scattered, elongated, cross-hatched or sharp-edged, contribute a recurrent visual syncopated rhythm through the book. Toward the end, the zigzag moves into a more consistently vertical and angular, almost helical, appearance.

First leaf turned, second leaf turning, third leaf revealed.

Zigzag pattern scattered. Zigzag pattern become helical.

To deliver other visual and haptic effects, Botnick prints his translucent papers sometimes only on their reverse sides, sometimes on both, sometimes to the point of opacity as with the first leaf and other times to the point of transforming the colors about to appear on the next sheet beneath as with the second and third leaves. Of course, this changes the feel of the sheet from one side to the other. Botnick also uses six different paper types (including one with a watermark designed for this edition and made at Dieu Donné Paper). The variety in printing and papers introduces additional tactile and visual rhythms: slick and matte, smooth and rough, dark and light, etc. Again, proceeding by contrasts and complements, provoking multi-sensory activity and responses.

Visual effects achieved by printing on both sides of translucent paper layered over fine print paper.

Visual effects achieved by printing translucent paper to near opacity on one side, spot printing on the other side and layering that sheet over a translucent paper printed on one side.

Variation of paper types.

The sewn boards structure, executed by Emdash studio member Robin Siddall, offers the most effective means of achieving the sensory effects intended with the variety of papers, ink colors and printing techniques, as well as delivering a lay-flat binding. Each four-page signature consists of two separate sheets glued to the inner edges of a narrow folded card (the board) sewn and linked to the boards of the signatures before and after. The card used for those hinges is a Japanese washi called Moriki, known for its folding strength and colors, but how particularly apt those multiple hinges and colors are for this patchwork poem.

Detail of an open signature exposing the thread sewn through the board and showing the leaves glued to the edges of the board.

Gibson defines the haptic system as that “by which animals and men are literally in touch with the environment” (p.97). On the penultimate double-page spread, Botnick reveals the environment that touched his “book-length visual/textual poem” into existence: one of pandemic, isolation, violent exposure of institutionalized racism, the “Big Lie” and insurrection. Set in the now familiar zigzag pattern, the revelatory text annotates the lines of appropriated text and the prints, connecting both with the environment and the meditation on perception. Botnick’s book is certainly a distinctive interweaving way of thinking about these threads.

It is telling that Table of Contents ends with black and gray, the colors that dominate the other work in the collection: Diderot Project (2015), which presents this pronouncement from Odilon Redon:

Even without the prismatic range of colors in Table of Contents, Botnick’s Diderot Project (2015) may outstrip the former in the number of ways in which Botnick makes not only the page but also the codex itself “become a dynamic landscape of visual and conceptual ideas”.

Diderot Project (2015)

Diderot Project (2015)
Ken Botnick
H290 x W194 mm, 150 pages. Edition of 70, of which this is #32. Acquired from the artist,
Photos: Courtesy of the artist; Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Clearly, like Table of Contents, this work is a “book-length visual/textual poem”, so it offers some insights on the book artist’s favorite rhymes, rhythms, metaphors, techniques and themes. First and foremost is his taking a literary work as his muse. With Table of Contents, it is James J. Gibson’s psychology book; in this case, it is Denis Diderot’s multi-volume Encyclopédie (Encyclopedia), a decades-long project with Jean le Rond d’Alembert and 138 other contributors. Nodding to the multiple volumes of the Encyclopedia, the artist refers to the sections of his work as Volumes 1, 2 and 3, although they are bound as one binding. The three volumes’ titles follow the Encyclopedia‘s overarching categories in its “System of Human Knowledge”: Memory, Reason, and Imagination. Digitally captured images from the Encyclopedia‘s plate volumes abound.

Table of Contents

Diderot Project, however, is not a condensed version or description of the Encyclopedia. Like literary works of ekphrasis whose words meditate on a visual object, Diderot Project is book art that meditates — inversely — on a literary work. The cover to Diderot Project does not show its name where the title is expected, rather it shows the name of its object of meditation. And it displays that name in a distinctive monumental way.

The front cover’s silver slab serif italic letters in all caps on textured, triple-dyed flax paper and the back cover’s diagram in the same palette strike chords that reverberate throughout the work. The chords are both obvious and subtle. Immediately, with a pattern of silver-gray compasses and directional stars, the doublures repeat the cover’s black and silver notes but on a less textured paper. Curiously the fly leaves of the doublures are not really fly leaves because they are pasted at their fore edges to separate leaves of black paper: a subtle hint to look beneath the surface, inquire into the mechanics. (An irresistible side note on the mechanics of the binding: the binder Daniel E. Kelm, in tipping the black fly leaf to the outer printed one, extends the fly leaf further into the book as a tipped-on hinge inserted through the first two signatures. The detailed image below on the right shows the hinging edge of the fly leaf between the signatures.)

L-R: Inside back cover, doublure with compass and directional star motif; Inside front cover, doublure leaf anchored to fly leaf; Binding detailed view of hinging edge of fly leaf extending between signatures.

Following that almost-Chinese fold of a flyleaf, the half-title drops any pretense of hinting. Turning the half-title with its 3×4 grid of black, brown, tan and gray squares on translucent paper reveals that the squares have been created by printing in silver, copper, light brown tint and no ink on the reverse. Underneath the half-title leaf lies another black page with the recurring silver-gray image of four buckets linked by their handles. The pattern of buckets is parallel to the interlinked image of compass and directional star on the doublures. It is another subtle hint: this time, to look at patterns for their similarities and differences arising from the mechanics of effects, to consider the commonality of tools whether at the low or high end of culture.

L-R: Half-title on translucent paper; inked reverse of half-title and the interlinking buckets.

If this reaction to the prelims seems a stretch, then the following run of folios surely validates it. Not only does the text articulate the parity of craft and tools (métier) with art and science, the watermark hand gestures to it, then the watermark hand joins its mirror image “to tie” the knot of the binding thread, and then the second watermark hand joins its printed mirror image at the same point. These six pages enact parallels of similarities and differences.

The layering of translucent paper printed on one or both sides, which also occurs in Table of Contents, is another of Botnick’s favorite techniques. He has even delivered a lecture at the Getty Research Institute entitled “Transparency as Metaphor“. Botnick’s use of it in the sequence below invites the reader/viewer to meditate with him on “the nature of craft, tools, memory, and imagination, while provoking questions about authorship in artists’ books”.

Running across the four pages of the two leaves of UV Ultra Clearfold, the enlarged present, past and future letters call on perception, memory and imagination to decipher the name: Diderot, emerged and submerged. However large his name is cast, though, is Diderot the author? By bracketing these transparencies with an image of a manufactory or workshop and a crowd of listeners and observers with pens poised, Botnick evokes the other 139 contributors to the Encyclopedia and his own host of collaborators, including Kelm (binding), Paul Wong (papermaking) and, importantly the Emdash studio (Catherine Johnson, Ben Kiel, Karen Werner and, in New Delhi, Ira Raja).

Tools, the workplace and studio lie at the heart of the Diderot Project‘s second volume, which boasts the following complex foldout which in itself validates Roland Barthes’ statement from his essay on the Encyclopedia‘s plates: “The object is the world’s human signature”.

Sensation, perception and the natural world lie at the heart of the third volume, and here is another of Botnick’s favorite techniques: typographic distinction. The right-side up text on the verso page is set in Walbaum, as is every instance of Diderot’s text. The upside down text on the verso and all the text on the recto are set in Trade Gothic, as is the case for more contemporary authors (Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin, respectively, in these instances). Note how Foucault’s upside down text reflects the action in the image of the camera obscura, and picks up the theme of perceptual flipping initiated with the watermark hand in Volume 1 and Diderot’s enlarged name across the translucent pages in Volume 2.

Both Table of Contents and Diderot Project reward revisiting for this kind of close reading, close looking, close fingering and close listening. Close comparison and contrast as well because together they answer “How does a book reflect a distinct way of thinking about a subject? How does the page become a dynamic landscape of visual and conceptual ideas?”

Further Reading

Notes on ‘Inverse Ekphrasis’ as a way into book art“. 17 June 2022. Bookmarking Book Art.

Artist Books: From Idea to Form – Workshop by Ken Botnick“. 18 March 2017. Lawrence Art Center, Lawrence, Kansas. Accessed 2 June 2019.

Botnick, Ken. 23 April 2015. Transcription of talk given as the annual Enid Mark Lecture. Smith College.

Botnick, Ken. 1 October 2015. “Diderot Project: Making the Book to Discover my Subject“. Boston Athenaeum. Video. Accessed 1 June 2019.

Diderot, D., & Alembert, J. L. R. 1967. Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences des arts et des métiers. Stuttgart- Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Fromann.

Frost, Gary. 2012. Adventures in Book Preservation. Coralville, IA: Iowa Book Works. See “Sewn Board Bookbinding More than a Thousand Years Later”.

Gibson, James J. 1966. The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gibson, James Jerome. 1950. The Perception of the Visual World. [With illustrations]. Riverside Press: Cambridge, Mass.

Books On Books Collection – Irma Boom

Colour — Based on Nature (2012)

Colour — Based on Nature (2012)
Irma Boom
Box holding softcover. H320 x W240 mm, 170 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 16 November 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This work of art in the form of a book explores and associates colors with 80 UNESCO World Heritage sites across the globe. On the exterior of each folio, all of them uncut, a single, solid color appears. As the folio is cut, the interior reveals striated variations on the exterior color.

The striations act like lines of rhymed and unrhymed verse. The whole volume could serve as a textbook on theory of colors, the destructive act needed to access the color reminding student and teacher of the fragility of the heritage sites being celebrated.

Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book (2013)

Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book (2013)
Irma Boom
Box holding miniature softcover. Box: H153 x W118 x D31 mm; Book: H55 x W44 x D30 mm; 800 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 3 June 2015.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In and of itself, a legible miniature book astounds. Add to it the design genius of Irma Boom and the astounding becomes book art. Recording her books in reverse chronological order 2013-1986 (with reverse pagination as well), Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book uses its structure and contents to make us think again and again about the reach of the book’s technology.

de Rijksmuseum (2012)

de Rijksmuseum (2013) Irma Boom Typeface Photo: Irma Boom Studios.

In 2013 the newly renovated Rijksmuseum opened with a new logo, new typeface design and publications design — all by Irma Boom and her studio. The new typeface — de Rijksmuseum — was developed by Paul van de Laan of Blue Monday under Boom’s artistic direction and appeared in museum signage and publications. The new typeface marks an interesting shift from DTL Documenta, the previous corporate font, designed by Frank E. Blokland. Blokland had studied with Gerrit Noordzij and later succeeded him at the Dutch Royal Academy of the Arts (The Hague). He founded the Dutch Type Library in the 1990s.

The previous style sheet leads with the serif version of DTL Documenta, while the de Rijksmuseum style sheet leads with the sans serif. Having applied to intern at Total Design in Amsterdam and been rejected by Wim Crouwel’s colleagues for her experimentalism, Boom must have especially enjoyed winning this commission. Just as much as the typographic differences, though, it is Boom’s roots in book design that differentiates the new from the old.

Guide Rijksmuseum (2013)
Eric Spaans (text), Irma Boom (design)
Softcover with multiple foldout maps. Acquired at the Rijksmuseum.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

James Jennifer Georgina (2010)

James Jennifer Georgina (2010)
Irma Boom
Box holding casebound book. Box: H220 x W140 x D100 mm. Book: H194 X W126 X D90 mm; 1198 pages. Edition of 999, of which this is #699. Acquired from Bubb Kuyper, 28 May 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

James Jennifer Georgina is book art as epic family portrait, created with the fronts and backs of 1136 postcards, spanning ten years of travel by the Butler family. At 1198 pages, it comes close to War and Peace, and in one theme, it comes close to Anna Karenina. Tolstoy writes at the beginning of the latter, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” After poring over JJG, I wonder if that should have been “each unhappy family thinks it is unhappy in its own way”. In the end, the family portrait is one of considerable privilege, culture, shame, pain and love. What distinguishes the Butler family’s unhappiness besides that context of privilege is its form of documentation and, above all, Boom’s transformation of it into this monument of book design. Its three-part spine especially developed to allow this nine centimeters-thick book to open effortlessly to any page .

Boom’s other outstandingly designed hefty works include SHV (1996) commissioned by Steenkolen Handelsvereeniging (SHV), Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor (2006) and Artist, Work, Lisson (2017) commissioned by the Lisson Gallery. They can be viewed here, here and here, respectively.

Strip: One Mile of Urban Housing in The Hague (2003)

Strip: One Mile of Urban Housing in The Hague (2003)
Marja van der Burgh, Kees Christiaanse, Gertjan Giele and Gerard van Otterloo (eds.); Design by Irma Boom and Sanne Beeren; Photography by Hans Werleman.
Paperback, perfect bound, H175 x W142 x D40 (spine) and D48 (fore edge)mm. 256 uncut folios. Acquired from Galileo Alby, 28 September 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The primary purpose of Strip could not be further from that of Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip; nevertheless, its title and design pay a sort of homage to that accordion book with one side of the Sunset Strip at the top and other at the bottom. With its Chinese-fold pages, Strip has the same problem with thickness that any single-sided accordion has. Of course the Chinese fold offers the same advantage offered by the accordion fold: note how the section titles and photos wrap over the uncut folios, foreshadowing the treatment of the Rijksmuseum Guide above. Also like the Guide but unlike Every Building, Boom’s book is a form of information sculpture.

In some ways, Strip has more in common with the first edition of Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas, designed by Muriel Cooper at MIT Press, than with Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Just as Learning from Las Vegas is intent on architectural and urban design theory, so too is Strip. Just as Cooper’s monumental design swamped the textual content (so much so that the authors successfully pressed for a reduced-size paperback), Boom’s design almost does the same to Strip‘s content. Almost, but not quite. Strip‘s blockiness, its rubbernecking around the corner of pages and its jumps in perspective match up with the authors’ intent — to document an environment and its residents.

Nederlandse Postzegels, Poststempels 87/88
(1988)

Nederlandse Postzegels, Poststempels 87/88: Achtergronden, Emissiegegevens en Vormgeving (1988)
[“Dutch stamps, postmarks 87/88: background, issuance data and design”]
Irma Boom (design), Paul Hefting (text) and Piet Janmaat (photography)
Two softcover volumes. H250 x W188 mm, 228 pages combined. Acquired from Cornelis Verheij, 9 January 2022.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

This two-volume set accounts for Boom’s first published book design and her first book design award. It celebrates the special edition stamp designs commissioned by the Dutch PTT during 1987 and 1988 and features an index of the different postal cancellations used during those years.

Foreshadowing Strip, the interior pages are created in the Oriental style of single-fold folios bound with the fold at the fore edge. In Nederlandse Postzegels, however, printing occurs on both sides of the folios. The outer sides are printed with 4-color offset lithography, presenting images and text sometimes in portfolio and sometimes in landscape layout. Whether in portfolio or landscape, images will often run from the recto to verso page, wrapping around the fold. In the section on the designers and their designs, the main text shows in landscape and, like the images, runs over the fold at the fore edge.

The inner sides are printed single color — black — creating shadow images on the outer side. Only by cutting through each fold (as encouraged by the perforations in Colour Based on Nature) can the inner-side images be examined closely, but this would destroy the work and the intent. With the shadows from the inner side, the outer side takes on a collage-like appearance. The print on the inner side also often serves for communication. For example, in the illustrated historical survey of design with which the first volume opens, the roman numerals for numbering plates appear on the reverse side of the plates to which they are assigned. Of course, the roman numeral has to be printed in reverse on the inner side so that it reads aright on the outer side, which is especially appropriate for this section labelled — from behind, of course — ARTE ALLO SPECCHIO (“art in the mirror”).

Copyright page and Table of Contents (pages D and E); inner side of page D.

ARTE ALLO SPECCHIO (“Art in the Mirror”) printed on the inner sides of unpaginated pages I, J, K and L, with specchio running over the fold between K and L.

Clockwise: Unpaginated pages L and M; plate IV printed in reverse on inner side of page L (note on page L the interlinear caption for plate IV — pag IV Onbekende japanse kunstenaar, Hemelse muzikanten 8 eeuw [“plate IV, Unknown Japanese artist, Heavenly musicians 8th century”]); note image running over the fold between pages M and N; pages N and O.

Like all of Boom’s other works in this collection, Nederlandse Postzegels is not a quick read or easily navigated reference work. Its design demands from the reader an awareness that should translate into thoughtfulness about the accomplished designers and their designs, among whom are Anton Beeke, Henk Cornelissen, Wim Crouwel, Reynoud Homan, Cees de Jong, Frans van Lieshout, Karel Martens, Rick Vermeulen, Tessa van der Waals, Piet Zwart and many others.

The selected pages and their “inside surfaces” recount the separate efforts of Karel Martens and Reynoud Homan to design the Dutch stamp commemorating Australia’s bicentennial in 1988. Martens’ design conflicted with PTT requirements, so Homan stepped in. The descriptive text follows a landscape layout and reads over the fore edge fold, but page numbers and some of the illustrations follow a portfolio layout.

Pages 181-83.

Pages 186-87.

Top to bottom: Page 187’s text running over the fold to page 188; page 188 showing Karel Martens’ design of the coin commemorating William & Mary’s 300th anniversary of accession; inner side of page 188 cheekily showing the reverse side of the Martens coin.

Comparing herself to the kind of architect who produces social housing, Boom asserts, “books are industrially made and they need to be made very well. I am all for industrial production. I hate one-offs. On one book you can do anything, but if you do a print run, that is a challenge. It’s never art. Never, never, never.” But no less an institution than the Museum of Modern Art holds a copy of Nederlandse Postzegels. Display the book alongside the other five works above and the temptation to take Boom’s stance to be just as arch as that of Marcel Duchamp (“It’s art if I say so.”) is hard to resist. Nevertheless, ending with Nederlandse Postzegels, this entry defers to Boom and gives her the last word — at least on how the work came to be:

Since 1920, the PTT Art & Design Department had commissioned artists, architects and designers to design its services and products. To me, the whole idea of Dutch design comes from the design policy of PTT, especially in the 1970s and 80s when Ootje Oxenaar was head of the department.

Working at the Staatsdrukkerij meant enormous creative freedom. Those were the heydays of art-book publishing. If you made a book cover, they would encourage you to use foil or special printing techniques. The department was a springboard for young designers who would work there for one or two years and go on to something more exciting. After my internship, I went to Dumbar and the Dutch television (NOS) design department. After I graduated I went back to the Staatsdrukkerij, and ended up staying for five-and-a-half years. I learned a lot. In retrospect, it was a very productive and super-creative time.

I did jobs nobody else wanted, like the advertisements for the publishing department, which was – thinking of it now – a smart thing to do because I could experiment. Those assignments were completely under the radar but they were seen by Oxenaar. He invited the designer of the ‘crazy ads’ to do one of the most prestigious book jobs: the annual Dutch postage-stamp books.

Places like the Staatsdrukkerij don’t exist any more. When I started working there after graduation, I was immediately a designer (not a junior), and I quickly became a team leader. At that time I was very naive and fearless. I was not aware of an audience, and certainly not a critical audience! This vacuum is no longer possible for designers starting out today. I only became aware of the outside world after the prestigious postage-stamp yearbooks were published: hate mail from stamp collectors and design colleagues started to come in. But there was also fan mail.

The books polarised the design community. They won all the awards and a Best Book Award, my first one. In the jury report they mentioned ‘a brilliant failure’. Suddenly people knew who I was. I realised negative publicity has an enormous impact, more than positive publicity.” — Miltenburg, “Reputations: Irma Boom“.

Further Reading

Olafur Eliasson“. 17 May 2021. Books On Books Collection. Irma Boom designed the Eliasson catalogue called Contact, which is shown in that entry.

Irma Boom“. N.d. John M. Flaxman Library Resource Guide. Accessed 1 October 2018.

Boom, Irma. 26 November 2011. “Manifesto for the Book“. TEDxDelft. Accessed 2 October 2018. See especially for her comments on the two-volume Nederlandse Postzegels (1988), which foreshadows the Chinese-fold element of Strip, and also for Grafisch Nederland 2005: Kleur = Colour (2005), which foreshadows Colour — Based on Nature.

Boom, Irma, Julia Blume, and Günter Karl Bose. 2002. Irma Boom. Leipzig : Institut für Buchkunst.

Lehkoživová, Irena. 23 November 2016 –14 January 2017. “Irma Boom“. Vi Per Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic. Well-illustrated with photos by Peter Fabo.

Miltenburg, Anne. 2014. “Reputations: Irma Boom“. Eye, no. 88, vol. 22. Interview.

Nochlin, Linda. 30 May 2015. “From 1971: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?ArtNews. Accessed 2 July 2021.

Rawsthorn, Alice. 14 March 2013. “Influences/Life in Design“. Frieze. Accessed 1 October 2018.

Zaborov, Victoria. “Reinventing the Book | Case Study: Irma Boom”. Medium. Accessed 2 July 2020.

Zaborov, Victoria. 2013. “The History of the Book | Case study: Irma Boom“. Thesis, Leiden University. Accessed 2 July 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Helen Hiebert

Alpha Beta … (2010)

Alpha Beta (2010)
Helen Hiebert
Lantern-structure book in open-sided box. Closed, H158.75 x W114.3 mm; opens out to 2971.8 mm. Box size: H171.45 x W114.3 x D133.35 mm.Edition of 25, of which this is #22. Acquired from the artist, 17 February 2021.

Each panel displays an alphabet letter cutout casting a shadow against a second layer of handmade paper. Appropriately, the letters follow in the Arts and Crafts style font designed by Dard Hunter, “the father of hand papermaking in 20th century America”, renowned scholar and author of Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft.

The book’s flexible hinges between the panels allow it to be set up in a variety of ways. As can be seen above and below, the right-reading alphabet appears on the less colorful side of the structure. When viewed from the more colorful side, the letters show in reverse, which is, of course, more evident with C-B-A than Y-X-W. The swirling strokes that shadow the right-reading letters reveal themselves on the more colorful side as asemic characters watermarked into the handmade paper. A fusion of paper, letters, form and meaning.

On the reverse side: C-B-A and Y-X-W.

The Secret Life of Paper: 25 Years of Works in Paper (2016)

The Secret Life of Paper: 25 Years of Works in Paper (2016)
Helen Hiebert
Artist-made paper covers sewn over two signatures with an original string drawing in the center. H282 x W218 mm, 22 pages. Acquired from the artist, 4 April 2016.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Catalogues like this are works of art about works of art. It came about as a result of an exhibition held at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center and the Waldo Emerson Library at Western Michigan University. The catalogue contains an illustrated chronology of the artist’s art and career up to 2015-16. Not only does it contain that work of string art in its center, its cover is hand bound and features a pulp stenciled handmade paper.

Curated Paper Collection #1 (2021)

Hiebert has begun a series of curated collection of papers from around the world. The first collection contains eleven papers. The largest sheet comes from Laureli Spokes: a handmade recycled rag paper from India (100 gsm), 357 x 502 mm. It features an exclusive retro two color silkscreened design that features a retro two-color silkscreened design. The smallest sheets are ten 200 x 200 mm squares of Kite Paper at 42 gsm in brilliant colors. Similar to waxed paper, it is translucent and folds well.

In material and process, the two most interesting papers are Tangram Watermark (100 gsm with thinner watermarked areas, 310 x 460 mm) and Portugese Cork Paper (140 gsm, 255 x 255 mm). Handmade with 100% bleached flax fiber and deckle-edged on all four sides, the Tangram Watermark comes from the Helen Hiebert Studio. The first image below shows the deep impression left by the watermark design cut out of a thin vinyl material and adhered to the papermaking mould. The second image, created with the sheet held up to the light, shows more clearly the tangram design left as a sheet is pulled. The cork tree sourced is highly renewable and organically grown. Handmade in Portugal from the tree’s outer bark, the naturally water-resistant sheet consists of thin layers of cork laminated to a coated base paper. The cork is acid free, but the backing paper, shown in the last image, is not.

The next two curated papers show similarities and differences arising in the Japanese and Korean traditions. The Nanohana Washi (48 gsm, 315 x 470 mm) is a “nature paper” from Awagami Factory in Tokushima, Japan. The images show the changes under different light and from views of different sides. Traditionally, Japanese washi (like Korean hanji) is made from mulberry plant fibers. Here, Awagami has used the nanohana plant (related to broccoli). It grows along the local Yoshino river, and Awagami collects the florets each Spring to mix into these sheets of washi, resulting in the green and yellow flecks. The lightweight hanji (15-19 gsm, 325 x 490 mm) is made from 100% dak (mulberry) fiber, grown and harvested in Korea by Seongwoo Jang, a fourth generation papermaker at Jangjibang, a hanji mill in Gapyeong, Korea. Hiebert notes, “The sheet was formed using the traditional Korean technique called webal or heulim ddeugi, where the slurry flows onto and off the frame in multiple directions, resulting in a strong sheet without a prominent grain direction”. The images in the middle row aim to show this with the sheet laid atop dark art paper in full sunlight and draped over the hand. The detail of the corner in the last row shows the two-ply of the sheet, where — in another interesting difference between the washi and hanji –two thin layers were couched together to form a single strong hanji sheet.

The next two papers are paired for uses and decorativeness. The silk-screened, matte-finish Italian Carta Varese Origami Paper (100 gsm, 350 x 500 mm) is heavier than traditional origami paper, it has a smooth surface and creases well with crisp folds. Smooth-surfaced and creasing well for turned in corners, this sheet with its red scroll pattern would serve well for endpapers. Debra Glanz designed the next set of papers — Paper Assembly (28#-32# text weight, 305 x 305 mm) — with that use, among others, in mind for book and paper artists.

The next two papers demonstrate the curator’s attraction to painterly surfaces. Silkscreen printed by hand with a lacquer-like ink, the Red and Blue Dragonfly Pattern Japanese Lacquered Yuzen Paper (140 gsm, 330 x 485 m) has the depth, texture and glow Japanese lacquer ware, which the first three images attempt to convey. The painting base consists of kozo and wood sulfite. The sheet of paste paper (230 x 305 mm) in the last image comes from the late Louise Lawrence (Larry Lou) Foster. It has an op-art feel to it. More of her unique papers painted with pigmented paste can be found in the limited-edition book The Paste Papers of Louise Lawrence Foster and in the Metropolitan Museum’s Thomas J. Watson Paper Legacy Project.

A blend of abaca fibers and cotton rag, Bistre Mixed Media (150 gsm, 280 x 360 mm) from Kelsey Pike’s Sustainable Papercraft in Kansas City, Kansas, is at once hard, resilient, durable, bulky, thick and soft. The images below attempt to show the sheet’s homogeneous surface and smooth, fine grain texture, intended as the name suggests for all fine art media – pencils, charcoal, conte, pastel, acrylic, watercolor, ink, gouache, etc.

For the Books On Books Collection, Curated Collection #1 presents a challenge for display and storage alongside Fred Siegenthaler’s Strange Papers and the Gentenaar-Torley’s first seven books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial. Helen Hiebert’s contribution to book and paper art warrants that place.

Curated Paper Collection #2 (2021)

Hiebert’s second round of curation comes with a helpful printed cheat sheet (although it was challenging fun to identify the samples in #1 without the initial help). With inclusion of a video link for creating a “butterfly” book, the cheat sheet also recalls Hiebert’s bustling business in lectures and workshops as well as tempts a collector to raid the collection with a ham-handed attempt.

The first paper in the curation comes from the Fujimori family business. According to its website, 6th generation Minoru Fujimori took over in 1945. In 1970, he was designated an “Intangible Cultural Property of Tokushima” in recognition of his skills. In 1976, Awagami washi was designated as a “Traditional Craft Industry”. In 1986, Fujimori-san was further honored as Master Craftsman and awarded the “Sixth Class Order of Merit, Sacred Treasure” by the Emperor.

Naturally the flecks of onion skin show up differently on the two sides of the sample, and the density almost completely disguises the lines of the mesh. The way the color varies in the light at different angles accentuates the supple drape of the paper.

Awagami Onion Skin Paper, 48 gsm

Like Minoru Fujimori above, Iris Nevins is a cultural treasure. Specializing in the reproduction of early marbled papers, she has delved into its past prior to the advent of marbling machines during the Victorian era and creates her “own marbling colors using, where possible, the same pigments used during the period”. On what shelves and in what crusty containers do such pigments reside?

As of August 2021, her work is still being accessioned by the Paper Legacy Project, a permanent collection house in the Metropolitain Museum Of Art, in The Thomas J. Watson Library.

Iris Nevins Marbled Paper

Madeleine Durham’s paste paper is also part of the Watson Library Digital Collection. In her artist’s statement, she refers to samples “representative of my landscape artwork”. With the sample that follows, dunescapes and seascapes come to mind.

Madeleine Durham Paste Paper, 129 gsm

This green banana paper comes from a company of the same name based in Kosrae, Micronesia. Among its products is the Green Banana Paper Wallet. The pictures cannot do justice to the toughness and almost slick feel of this paper. A raincoat or wallet made from it would keep a person and valuables dry and safe.

Green Banana Paper, 180 gsm

Dó paper is a traditional Vietnamese hand-made paper dating back to the 3rd century BC. Made from the self-stripping bark of the Rhamnoneuron balansae tree, Dó paper appears to be headed toward the state of papyrus. Urbanization leading to scarcity of the tree, the narrow seasonality of the bark’s availability (between August and October) and incursion of industrial paper production pose sharp challenges to its survival. The sample below may become a rarity.

Vietnamese Dó Paper, 15 gsm

This piece of translucent unbleached abaca is best appreciated alongside Hiebert’s video “Making a sheet of abaca” (15 August 2020).

Translucent Unbleached Abaca, 75 gsm

Like Shibori, this paper below is thin or tissue washi that has been folded and dyed. The dark, irregular lines where the dye has accumulated in the folds create a sharp contrast with the translucence of the laid lines and chain lines imprinted by the mesh in the papermaking frame.

Itajameshi, 35 gsm

Manohir Upreti discusses lokta paper, “the King of Nepalese paper”, in the Geest van papier = Spirit of paper (2004), one of the Rijswijk Biennial volumes put together by Peter and Pat Gentenaar-Torley. Upreti’s sample and this one below from Hiebert’s curation demonstrate the dramatic patterns possible with this paper.

Nepalese Lokta Paper, 60 gsm

Tony Carlone‘s cattail paper reflects his artistic aim to source material “in a proper and sustainable manner”. His output includes sculptural pieces formed by spraying, pouring and casting processes, large-scale pulp paintings, and straightforward flat sheets for print processes. The cattail paper appears heavy but is actually light and supple.

Cattail Paper, medium weight

Nicholas Cladis is an American-born interdisciplinary artist who lives and works in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. An active researcher and practitioner of traditional and non-traditional papermaking processes, he makes the paper elements of his work in Echizen—an area with over 1,500 years of papermaking history—and is also an international liaison for the papermaking community there. The contrast of the Coral paper’s two sides invites standing a window and turning the sheet over and over against the light.

Coral Paper, 45 gsm

Patty paper, as in waxed paper for food patties, makes its way into Curated Paper Collection #2 for its properties of translucence, proportions suited to origami and challenge as a printing surface. While a butterfly book might make result in an interesting use of this paper, a White Ermine Moth book would respond to all three features.

Patty Paper, lightweight

Further Reading

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

The First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial“, Books On Books Collection. 10 October 2019.

Fred Siegenthaler“, Books On Books Collection. 10 January 2021.

Baker, Cathleen, and Frank Brannon. 2009. The Paste Papers of Louise Lawrence Foster. Whittier, North Carolina: SpeakEasy Press.

Hunter, Dard. 1978. Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, 2nd ed. New York: Dover. Republication of the second, revised and enlarged 1947 edition.

Hiebert, Helen. 2012. The papermaker’s companion: the ultimate guide to making and using handmade paper. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Kurlansky, Mark. 2017. Paper: paging through history. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Müller, Lothar. 2016. White magic: the age of paper. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Ta, Ren. 8 April 2019. “Dó paper”. Green Course-Hub. Accessed 10 July 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Michael Snow

Cover to Cover (1975)

Cover to Cover (1975)
Michael Snow
Cloth on board, sewn and casebound. H230 x W180 mm. 310 unnumbered pages. Published by Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Unnumbered edition of 300. Acquired from Mast Books, 10 December 2020. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

After a long search since first sight of it in 2016 at Washington, D.C.’s now defunct Corcoran Gallery library, the original hardback edition of Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) finally joins the Books On Books Collection. Thanks to Philip Zimmermann, more readers/viewers have the chance to experience Cover to Cover — if only through the screen — than the original’s 300 copies and Primary Information’s 1000 facsimile paperback copies will allow.

Amaranth Borsuk describes the work and experience of it in The Book (2018), as do Martha Langford in Michael Snow (2014), Marian Macken in Binding Spaces (2017) and Zimmermann in his comments for the exhibition “Book Show: Fifty Years of Photographic Books, 1968–2018” (for all, see links below). Like Chinese Whispers by Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas and Theme and Permutation by Marlene MacCallum, Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover has that effect — of evoking an urge to articulate what is going on and how the bookwork is re-imagining visual narrative, how it is making us look, and how it makes us think about our interaction with our environs and the structure of the book.

The already existing commentary about Cover to Cover sets a high hurdle for worthwhile additional words. One thing going on in the book, though, seems to have gone unremarked. Some critics have asserted that, other than its title on the spine, the book has no text. There is text, however. It occurs within what I would call the preliminaries, and they show us how to read the book.

Front cover and its endpaper

On the front cover, we see a door from the inside. Then, on its pastedown endpaper, the author outside the door with his back to us. On turning page “1” of the preliminaries, we see in small type a copyright assertion and the Library of Congress catalogue number appear vertically along the gutter of pages “2-3” (a tiny clue as to what is going on).

Pages “2-3”

Over pages “4” through “14” from the same alternating viewpoints, the author reaches for the door handle, the door is seen opening from the inside, and the artist is seen walking through the door (from the outside) and into the room (from the inside). But who is recording these views?

Pages “10-11”

Over pages “15” through “24”, two photographers appear. Facing us, they are bent over their cameras — first the one outside (clean shaven and wearing a short-sleeved shirt) behind the author, then the one inside (bearded and wearing shorts) in front of the author. As the author moves out of the frame, we see that the photographer inside is holding a piece of paper in his right hand. All of this occurs through the same alternating viewpoints. At page “21”, the corner of that paper descends into the frame of the inside photographer’s view of the outside photographer, and after the next switch in viewpoint that confirms what the inside photographer is doing, we see a completely white page “23”, presumably the blank sheet that is blocking the inside photographer’s camera aperture. Page “24” is the outside photographer’s view of the inside photographer whose face and camera are blocked by the piece of paper.

Pages “16-17”, pages “20-21” and pages “24-25”

Over pages “25” (from the inside photographer’s viewpoint) and “26” (from the outside photographer’s), something strange happens with that piece of paper. Fingers and thumbs holding it appear on the left and right: we are looking at photos of the piece paper as it is being held between the photographers. What’s more, on the outside photographer’s side of the paper is the developed photo he just took of the inside photographer with his face and camera hidden by the sheet of paper. We are looking at images of images. But what is on the other side of that photo paper? — a blank with fingers holding it, which is what page “27” will show us from the inside photographer’s perspective. But whose fingers are they?

Pages “26-27”

From page “25” through page “38”, we see images of this piece of paper being manipulated by one pair of hands. The thumbs appear on the verso (the view from the outside photographer’s perspective), the fingers on the recto (the view seen by the inside photographer). By page “34”, it is upside down. By page “37”, we can see that the photo paper is being fed into a manual typewriter. But does the pair of hands belong to one of the photographers? Or a typist — the author?

For both pages “42” and “43”, the perspective is that of a typist advancing the paper and typing the title page. On both pages, we can see the ribbon holder in the same position. Pages “44-45” return to alternating perspectives, page “44” showing the photo paper descending into the roller. Page “45” presents itself as the full text of the book’s title page, curling away from the typist and revealing the inside photographer on the other side of the typewriter. Page “46” shows the upside-down view of the title page as it moves toward the inside photographer and reveals the outside photographer on the other side of the typewriter. Not only are we seeing images of images, we are witnessing the making of the book’s preliminaries.

From page “48” through page “54”, the photographers alternate views of blank paper advancing through the typewriter. By pages “55” and “56”, the typewriter has moved out of the frame. Look carefully at page “56”, however, and you can see the impression of the typewriter’s rubber holders on the paper. As a book’s preliminaries come to a close, there is often a blank page or two before the start of the book, which in this case is page “57”, showing a record player.

Zimmermann notes that, at somewhere near the book’s midpoint, the images turn upside down, and that readers who then happen to “flip the book over and start paging from the back soon realize that they are looking at images of images produced by the two-sided system, and indeed the very book that they are holding in their hands”. He notes this as another mind-bender added to the puzzlement of the two-sided system with which the book begins. Yet the prelims foretold us that the upside-downness, back-to-frontness and self-reflexivity of images of images were on their way. Without doubt, Cover to Cover is an iconic work of book art.

Further Reading

Afterimage (1970). No. 11, 1982/83. On the occasion of an exhibition of his films at Canada House in London, an entire issue on Snow’s work.

… Cover to Cover is the result of another distanced use of self in the course of art-making. Snow is subject/participant as he and his actions are observed and analyzed by two 35 mm cameras… simulataneously recording front and back, the images then placed recto-verso on the page… Snow is subject observed in the book at the same time that he is also choosing and making decisions about images. Cover to Cover in 360 pages, [sic] becomes a full circle — front door to back door or the reverse. The book is designed so that it can be read front to back and in such a way that one is forced to turn it around at its centre in order to carry on. Regina Cornwell in Snow Seen and “Posting Snow”, Luzern catalogue.

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018).

Langford, Martha. Michael Snow: Life & Work (Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2014).

Macken, Marian. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (London: Taylor and Francis, 2017).

Michelson, Annette, and Kenneth White. Michael Snow (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019).

Zimmermann, Philip. “Book Show: Fifty Years of Photographic Books, 1968–2018“, Spaceheater Editions Blog, 3 February 2019. Accessed 16 December 2020.

But as the scene “progresses,” an action is not completed within the spread, but loops back in the next one, so that the minimal “progress” extracted from reading left to right is systematically stalled each time a page is turned, and the verso page recapitulates the photographic event printed on the recto side from the opposite angle. This is the disorienting part: to be denied “progress” as one turns the page seems oddly like flashback, which it patently is not; it might be called “extreme simultaneity.” Two versions of the same thing (two sides of the story) are happening at the same time. Zimmerman.

Books On Books Collection – Mandy Brannan

30 St Mary Axe is a skyscraper in London's mai...

30 St Mary Axe is a skyscraper in London’s main financial district. Designed by Sir Norman Foster architectural studio, built in 2001-2003. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

London’s 30 St Mary Axe is referred to as “the Gherkin,” which a glimpse of the building on the skyline proves unmistakably appropriate.  Mandy Brannan’s bookwork homage to the Gherkin is as architecturally intricate as the building’s cladding, and somehow more satisfying, perhaps because it’s less pickled.

30 St Mary Axe: Cladding (2009)

30 St Mary Axe: Cladding (2009)
Mandy Brannan
Flagbook. H102 x W134 mm. Edition of 20, unnumbered. Acquired from the artist, 20 March 2019. Photo: Books On Books Collection

This work — 30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009) — and 30 St. Mary Axe: Cladding (2009) are among several architecture-inspired works of book art that Brannan has created. The text in the one called Situated could have come straight from Pallasmaa, Bachelard or Merleau-Ponty:

Being situated is generally considered to be part of being embodied, but it is useful to consider each perspective individually. The situated perspective emphasizes that intelligent behaviour derives from the environment and the agent’s interactions with it.

Clearly we are not dealing with some mere mimetic piece of craftwork.

30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009)

30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009)
Mandy Brannan
Modified flagbook. H121 x W154 mm. Edition of 20, unnumbered. Acquired from the artist, 20 March 2019.
Photos: Books On Books Collection

Cladding uses a straightforward flagbook structure, but not only is it double-sided with the architectural photographs, it also places text on the inner side of the accordion support and a statement about the 5,500 panels of glass cladding on the Gherkin. The modification in Diagrid is the inward curving of the flags and their formation of the shape recalling the Gherkin. The wording on the reverse of the accordion is the definition of the architectural term diagrid: “a design element used for constructing large buildings with steel that creates triangular structures with diagonal support beams”.

In addition to the flagbook- and modified-flagbook arrangements of the photos, Brannan has enriched the substance of these works with her manipulation of her photograph of 30 St Mary Axe, reflecting a nearby building. Using several different methods, digital programs and then printer settings for digitally printing, she delivers an almost kaleidoscopic, reflective and self-reflexive effect in each work. In a sense, the work demonstrates the artist’s behavior — her choices of material, subject, text and technique in each work’s making — and how it derives from her environment and her interactions with it. By integration of text, image, color, structure and material, Brannan also situates the “Gherkin’s” architecture in our hands and gives us the opportunity to contemplate, appreciate and perhaps experience the sense of being situated and embodiment.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Bachelard, Gaston. The poetics of space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994).

Hale, Jonathan A. Merleau-Ponty for architects (New York: Routledge, 2017.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The eyes of the skin : architecture and the senses (Chichester: John Wiley, 2005).

Bookmarking Book Art – Alicia Martín

Alicia Martín’s series of installations called Biografías has been frequently noted across the Web — Designverb (2009), Crooked Brains (2010), SFCB Blog (2011), Huffington Post (2012), Inhabitat (2012), My Modern Met (2012, 2013), Arte Al Límite (2014), TiraBUZón (2014), El Cultural (2014, 2015) — but Nicola Mariani’s 2013 interview with Alicia Martín is the most useful entrée to this book artist and her work. The most telling insight from the artist elicited by Mariani is this:

Las intervenciones en la calle son de impacto visual, provocan curiosidad, sorpresa y la necesidad de llevársela en el móvil, en el iPad … y compartirla….  Son efímeras, por un tiempo asaltan al que va por la calle sin dejarle indiferente, la escultura “real” es la sensación que ha quedado en cada una de las personas y en la manera de recordarla, pensarla, contarla…. Una vez que se desmontan sólo queda en la memoria del que las ha vivido. Como cuando se lee un libro.

The interventions in the street have a visual impact, provoke curiosity, surprise and the need to capture it on smartphones, on iPads … and share it…. The installations are ephemeral, striking the passers-by in a brief moment allowing no indifference; the “real” sculpture is the feeling that remains in each of them, the way they remember it, think it, tell it…. Once the installations are dismantled, they remain only in the memory of those who have lived them. Like when you read a book

When I came to The Hague in June 2015, too many months passed before I visited Lidy Schoonens, owner of a bookshop devoted to book art, book arts and calligraphy, and one of the founder of the Leiden Book Arts Fair. In her shop on the fourth floor of the early 20th-century house on Johan van Oldenbarneveltlaan, I found myself sitting across from one of the orchestrators of Alicia Martín’s visit to construct her installation for the Paper Biennial 2012 at The Hague’s Meermanno Museum — an experience that put a “real” Martín sculpture in her memory. With her help, I was able to find these images of the installation.

Biografías (2012)

Alicia Martín

Photo: Courtesy of Lidy Schoonens

Biografías (2012)

Alicia Martín

Photos © Ed Jansen 2012.

Lidy described how the community quickly filled large dumpster bins with old books otherwise destined to be thrown away. Martín proceeded to manipulate and attach them to a wire frame, leaving their open pages to flutter and give sound to the cascade. By virtue of its here-today-gone-tomorrow status and its metaphoric metamorphosis of books into a torrent of now barely accessible information, Biografías reminds the viewer of the ephemerality of what appears to be permanent and urges “living” such moments of art to store the sight and sound in memory — or YouTube.

Biographías in Cordobá (2009).

In 2020, the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea in Santiago da Compostela has celebrated its Covid-19 reopening with another of Martín’s works — Biblioteca IX (1998) — in an exhibition entitled “Wonder Women: Women Artists in the CGAC Collection”. More of Martín’s work can be found on Mutual Art and in the series of exhibitions listed at Photography-Now.com.

Further Reading

Large-Scale Book Art Installations (updated)”, Bookmarking Book Art, 27 July 2018.

Books On Books Collection – Robin Price

as you continue (2012)

as you continue (2012)

Robin Price

Housed in acrylic tube, eight pages including letterpress printed colophon page, seven pages of USGS topographic maps inscribed with sumi ink by hand, bound with a small piece of Fabriano Tiziano green in Japanese side-stitch. H184 x W679.5 mm unfurled. Edition of approximately 65, of which this one is dated and initialed on 7 November 2012. Acquired from the artist, 25 March 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

When as you continue first appeared, Jen Larson wrote of it in Multiple, Limited, Unique: Selections from the Permanent Collection of the Center for Book Arts (2011):

… this work serves as an elegant meditation and metaphor on the subject of life journeys — and orienting oneself in the midst of landscape or circumstance that can only be apprehended by survey and the will to move forward.

The year 2012 marked the centennial of composer and artist John Cage’s birth. An aficionado of “chance”, Robin Price revisited this work that had begun in December 2010 when she discovered on the Crown Point Press’ Magical-Secrets website the quotation by Cage. Cage had made this remark to Kathan Brown in 1989 after the Crown Point Press’ building was condemned following an earthquake. By chance, it now seemed fitting as a centenary birthday wish to this artistic master of “the purposeful use of chance and randomness”. Also by purposeful chance, Price turned to a technique that seemed entirely fitting for the work, its history and her personal perspective. Price writes:

… I took up the project anew and practiced writing on several different occasions, feeling dissatisfied with various trials. Eventually I found my way to writing with my left (non-dominant) hand as the most authentic expression I could bring to the content, as visualization of struggle, fear, and acceptance of imperfection.

Counting on Chance (2010)

Counting on Chance: 25 Years of Artists’ Books by Robin Price, Publisher,(2010)

Robin Price

Perfect bound. H305 x W229 mm. Acquired from the artist, 25 March 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The very covers of the book were created by chance operations. Generated solely on press using three of the four process color printing plates from the book’s interior via “make-ready”, areas of image were built up on the paper by repeatedly passing the sheets through the press, and consistently rotating the sheets prior to their feeding through ensured variation among the covers within the edition.

In addition to the theme core to Price’s art, Counting on Chance embodies another aspect key to her work: choice and collaboration. Published in conjunction with the exhibition held at Wesleyan University’s Davison Art Center, the volume includes a brilliant essay by Betty Bright, interview by Suzy Taraba and a catalogue raisonné prepared by Rutherford Witthus. Like choosing the right colors, the right combination of fonts, the right layout, the right weight and opacity of paper, and the right structure, Price’s choice of collaborators (or their choice of her) in her work and publishing is an artistic practice itself.

The Anatomy Lesson (2004)

The Anatomy Lesson: Unveiling the Fasciculus Medicinae (2004)

Joyce Cutler-Shaw

Housed in a custom-made, engraved stainless steel box (H370 x W326 x D44 mm), concertina binding co-designed with Daniel E. Kelm and Joyce Cutler-Shaw, produced at The Wide Awake Garage; twelve signatures of handmade cotton text paper, the central ten signatures each made up of one sheet H356 x W514 mm and one sheet H356 x W500 mm glued to the 14 mm margin of the first sheet, for a total of 96 pages, each measuring H356 x W253 mm.
Binding of leather covered boards (a hologram embedded in front cover) with an open spine, taped and sewn into a reinforcing concertina structure: H361 X W259 mm.
The hologram, produced by DuPont Authentication Systems, features an early eighteenth-century brass lancet. Edition of 50, of which this is a binder’s copy. Acquired from the binder, Daniel E. Kelm, 15 October 2018.

Generating two double-page spreads, one for the Fasciculus Medicinae on the left and Cutler-Shaw on the right, the foldout pages extend to 1016 mm.

Responding to the 1993 Smithsonian challenge to book artists to create a work in response to a scientific or technical work in the Dibner Library, Joyce Cutler-Shaw approached Price for assistance in creating a unique book based on Shaw’s response to the Fasciculus Medicinae (1495), the first printed book with anatomical illustrations. A decade later, Price was convinced to issue this 50-copy edition. In Counting On Chance, Betty Bright recounts the story behind this brilliant collaboration. Detail and additional images about the work can be found here.

Further Reading

Counting on Chance: 25 Years of Artists’ Books by Robin Price, Publisher, exhibition catalog / catalogue raisonné. Wesleyan University Davison Art Center, 2010

Bright, Betty. No Longer Innocent: Book Art in America 1960-1980 (New York: Granary Books, 2005), pp. 249-50.

Bright, Betty. “Handwork and Hybrids: Contemporary Book Art,” in Extra/ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art, edited by Maria Elena Buczek (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010). Essay highlighting the work of Robin Price and Ken Campbell.

Bookmarking Book Art – Alicia Bailey and the Artists’ Book Cornucopia

For a decade, Alicia Bailey has played the role of Ceres to book artists and collectors, bringing them the Artists’ Book Cornucopia. And this has been in addition to creating her own bookworks, organizing other exhibitions and running Abecedarian Gallery and Raven Press. Artists’ Book Cornucopia X marks the tenth and last cornucopia but not the end of their impact.

Cornucopia implies abundance and variety, and Alicia Bailey has delivered both. A glance at the ten catalogues finds a consistently high level of participation — always at least thirty artists — and every catalogue has shown a “variety of varieties”. Consider these varieties:

Variety of structures: accordions, boxes, flag books, girdle books, pop-ups, miniatures, portfolios, scrolls, sculpted shapes, wallets, etc. The variations within each type would require a hunt through The Art of the Fold (Kyle and Warchol), Structure of the Visual Book (Smith) and Book Dynamics! (Hutchins) to identify them properly. In ABC X, all of the structures mentioned above are represented. Over the decade, the Artists’ Book Cornucopia have spilled out structural innovations such as Merike van Zanten’s A Soldier of the Second World War (ABC I), Pamela Paulsrud’s Touchstones (ABC II), Cathryn Miller’s Universe: Foundation Trilogy (ABC III), Louisa Boyd’s miniature Stardust (ABC IV), Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s Spirit Book #67 (ABC V), Candace Hicks’s Trees of a Feather (ABC VI), Karen Hardy’s Vellicate (ABC VII), Bryan Kring’s Shared Illusion (ABC VIII) and Josh Hockensmith’s After (ABC IX). The abundance of innovations makes a visit to the Abecedarian Gallery site for numerous second-guessings worthwhile.

The variety of material used by the artists overwhelms: beads and buttons (Ednie), cactus needles and jute (Reka), cement and glass (Bryant), ceramic and cardstock (Wolken), copper and redwood (Anstruther/Grasso), fishing line and wire (Johnston), fish-skin and mull (Klass), leather and “metal findings” (Melis), magnet and museum board (Burton), palladium and aluminum leaf (Bailey), ribbon and slide viewers (Grimm), silk and sinew (Alpers), thread and tyvek (Asato), window screen and wood (Fleming), zippers and fabric (Melhorn-Boe) and, of course, upcycled books (Anastasiou). Any appreciation of the ingenuity of materials selection and manipulation across the Artists’ Book Cornucopia requires a rewarding read of the descriptions provided in each of the catalogues.

Then there is the variety of techniques: blind deboss (Lawrence), calligraphy (Towers), chromogenic prints (Grimm), collograph (Dokudowicz), cyanotype (Biza), gelatine monoprinting (Powers-Torrey), intaglio (Larson), letterpress (Nakata), linocut (Knudson), photopolymer (Larson), risography (Powers-Torrey), silkscreen (Anastasiou) and woodcut (Lucas). Like the materials used, the techniques employed are almost too many to name, and of course, those named are used by more than the one artist mentioned.

And, of course, a riot of papers: abaca (Welch), Alabama kozo (Sico), Awagami Shin Inbe (Gorham), cotton-abaca (Lucas), Domestic Etch/Lana Laid/Masa/Niddegen (Powers-Torrey), Hahnemühle Ingres mouldmade pastel paper (Ednie), indigo flax (Johnston), Somerset (Moyer) and Thai Momi marbled paper (Towers), which of the varieties used are far too few to mention.

And varied carriers of colour: acrylic (Johnston), crayon and botanically dyed ink (Ednie), digital ink (Reka), gouache (Thrams), milk paint (Anstruther/Grasso), pencil (Fleming), pulp painting (Welch), Sumi and walnut inks (Towers), textile ink (Melhorn-Boe) and watercolour (Ednie,Thrams and Towers), again far more could be mentioned.

Likewise, the variety of shapes and direction is kaleidoscopic: zigzag, circular, globular, vertical, horizontal, square, cuboid and boustrophedon (left to right to left to right, etc.). And that is before any listing of the Platonic shapes in Sarah Bryant’s The Radiant Republic.

The wide variety of themes in ABC X echoes the same breadth across the previous nine catalogues. Here we have architecture (Bryant), botany and discovery (Gower), chronic illness (Wolken), the city (Dokudowicz), environment (Lowdermilk), industrial landscape (Burton), the literary (Bailey), pain (Reka), sexuality (Grimm), travel (Melis), wildlife (Thrams) and #MeToo (Ellis). The named representative artist is just a starting point for each theme, and the themes mentioned are only alphabetical, not exhaustive.

Perhaps the one varietal shortcoming of ABC I-X is that most of the artists participating hail from the US. When another nationality appears in one of the catalogues, it surprises. Over time, “vintners“ from the following countries have shown up: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Greece, Korea, Netherlands, Poland, UK and Venezuela.

The abundance and variety of Alicia Bailey’s Artists’ Book Cornucopia prove one premise and question another from Johanna Drucker’s The Century of Artists’ Books:

If all the elements or activities which contribute to artists’ books as a field are described what emerges is a space made by their intersection, one which is a zone of activity … There are many of these activities: fine printing, independent publishing, the craft tradition of book arts, conceptual art, painting and other traditional arts, politically motivated art activity and activist production, performance of both traditional and experimental varieties, concrete poetry, experimental music, computer and electronic arts, and last but not least, the tradition of the illustrated book, the livre d’artiste. The Century of the Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 2004, new edition), p. 2.

ABC X and its nine sisters shout a resounding “Amen”, but the rich quality and originality of the works displayed whisper “‘the’ century?” At the close of the 21st century’s second decade, Ceres is smiling.

Further Reading, Listening and Viewing

Bailey, Alicia. “‘Narrative Threads’ uses book art to explore stories”, PostIndependent, 3 May 2018. Accessed 2 December 2019.

Bowen, Sara. “Artists, Books and Interviews #2: Alicia Bailey”, Book-Art-Object, 20 November 2011. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Dillard, Julia “Curator Alicia Bailey on the Intimacy of Artists’ Books and Everything You Didn’t Know about Book Arts”, Art Gym Denver, 23 October 2017. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Froyd, Susan. “#45: Alicia Bailey”, Westwood, 19 September 2013. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Isaacs, J. Susan. The Book: A Contemporary View (Wilmington, DE: Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, 2011), p. 15.

Leutz, Pamela. “This Time Is: Alicia Bailey”, The Guild of Bookworkers, 25 April 2018. Accessed 7 November 2018.

Wolfson, Zach. “Beyond the Gallery with Alicia Bailey”, Infusion5, 17 April 2014. Accessed 7 November 2019.