The Graphic Alphabet (1996) David Pelletier Paper on board, embossed with the letter A, casebound, sewn and glued. H255 x W250 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 24 August 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.
David Pelletier’s 1996 Caldecott Honor Book follows in the footsteps (the tumbles?) of Suse MacDonald’s Alphabatics (1986) another Caldecott Honor Book. The difference between them is a fine one depending in part on the reader’s age — or the collector’s eye. Both push the reader’s visual imagination. Both provide the words to be associated with the letter and image. MacDonald has shapes and images that turn into letters, where Pelletier has letters than turn into images (A), images whose shapes hint at letters and enact words (B and Y), letters found in images (W and X) and letters made from shapes on the page and the enacted word (Z). In a sense, Pelletier keeps the reader jumping more than does MacDonald. He crisscrosses several of the subgenres of alphabet books: wordplay and visual puns, hidden letters, conceptualism and abstraction.
One can see an affinity with Claire Van Vliet’s Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce (1996) and Scott McCarney’s AlphaBooks (1981-2015), which underscores the cross-currents of alphabet books and artists’ books.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the permission of the author and The Book & Paper Gathering, this essay by Paula Steere is being reposted at Books On Books because Steere’s observations about bookbinding lead to a closer look at works in the Books On Books Collection. Keep Steere’s essay open in this window, then open another window for one of the entries in this baker’s dozen to start:
Compare images in the open windows. Just as Gary Frost’s conservation work shed light on book art, Steere’s descriptions and explanations can lead to a greater appreciation of these artists’ works and others.
Posted on Thursday 9th June, 2022 by thebookandpapergathering. Accessed 13 June 2022.
What stresses occur when we open a book? How do spine materials affect them? What are we really doing when we stick things on a book spine, sand them back, and then stick more things on? On what are we basing these decisions? As a book conservation student, keen to learn, I looked for spine structure information in popular conservation and bookbinding literature, but I found no satisfactory answers to my questions. So I did what I always do when I want to find out how things work: I talked to a mechanical engineer. This article is based on my MA Conservation dissertation research at Camberwell College of Arts, London. I realised early in the research process that I needed the knowledge of an engineer, and conveniently, there happened to be one in my family. Lee McIlvaine lives and works in the United States, has 30 years of mechanical engineering experience and specialises in mechanism and structural design. Five years later, we are still talking about book mechanics.
Spine lining materials are fundamental to the action of a book spine. Yet, a review of over 250 technical statements about book structure, lining materials or lining techniques from historical and contemporary conservation and bookbinding literature1 revealed that many statements are unqualified or unquantified. For example, Middleton (1998) advises that ‘when enough layers [of paper linings] have been applied, the end of the paper is trimmed off’, but he does not specify how many ‘enough’ would be. Technical information can also be contradictory between authors. For example, Szirmai (2001, p. 275) partially attributes the functional longevity of existing gothic bindings to the ‘restrained’ use of adhesive on the spine. However, Douglas Cockerell (1901, p. 152) advocates giving the spine ‘a thick coat of glue’ when lining heavy books. Diehl (1980 Vol. 1, p. 190) states that the hollow back is ‘one of the most commonest [sic] faults of construction’, but does not explain why. On the other hand, Middleton (1963) simply reports the historical use of recessed thongs with a hollow back to enable more throwup; he does not indicate whether this was a good or bad practice. Advice in the literature requires some level of experience to interpret it, and some statements in the literature reviewed are even technically incorrect2, all of which makes the advice unhelpful for learners. I felt an immediate kinship with an anonymous author who wrote in The British Bookmaker that
Vague generalities may always be used by theorists in describing a process of work, and they may suffice for those who know how to do it, and are consequently able to fill in the omissions of the unpractised and merely theoretical exponent of the craft, but for those who desire to learn, or for those who, being practised workmen, desire to extend their knowledge, vague generalities will not suffice. (1892-3, no page)
Clear and reliable information about linings is greatly needed. As Miller (2010, p. 100) rightly points out, ‘linings can sometimes be extremely damaging’. With that in mind, the starting point for my research was the well-known article by Conroy, ‘The Movement of the Book Spine’ (1987), in which he describes a fundamental engineering principle important for bindings – the tension and compression principle.
Mechanics of the book spine
When any material bends, it has a tension side and a compression side (Fig. 1). Material in the tension layer will spread apart, while material in the compression layer will, as the name suggests, compress. This principle applies when a book is opened (Figs. 2, 3). A book spine has a tension and a compression layer. The tension layer consists of the spine folds of the text block (the folded edges of the text sections) and the material adhered directly to them. All materials placed on top of this layer are in compression.
Fig. 1 – The action of a bending object, demonstrating the tension and compression principle. Original drawing by Paula Steere; graphic rendering by The Book & Paper Gathering
Figs. 2, 3 – Tension (A) and compression (B) layers: the tension and compression principle applies to any open book, regardless of the binding type. Photography by Paula Steere
When a book is opened, the movement at the spine folds is largely imperceptible, but its importance should not be underestimated. Too much movement could contribute to poor opening and structural failure. Each of the spine folds moves with some degree of independence. This localised movement can be thought of as a series of flexible mini-bends (McIlvaine 2017a), as illustrated in Figure 4. These mini-bends have different radii and are affected by adhesives and sewing. (Sewing structure will be discussed in Part II.) They create localised strain (deformation) (Fig. 5), and it is this localised strain that causes the spine to fail.
Fig. 4 – Imperceptible movement of the spine folds in an opened book. Original drawing by Paula Steere; graphic rendering by The Book & Paper Gathering
Fig. 5 – Localised bending at each spine fold increases strain. Sewing and adhesives also create non-uniform stiffness; for example, adhesive shrinkage pulls paper down and flattens. Original drawing by Paula Steere; graphic rendering by The Book & Paper Gathering
Linings also move, and these shearing forces contribute to the deformation of the spine folds. The choice of lining materials affects the extent of the deformation. Miller (2010, p. 100) defines linings as a support that allows the spine to flex ‘without the sewn sections parting’. While in reality we cannot eliminate deformation entirely, informed choices can minimise it.
A fundamental aim of spine linings, therefore, is to minimise deformation at the interface between the text block and the first layer (the spine folds and first lining). We can achieve this by minimising the spreading apart (deformation) of the spine folds in the tension layer. Based on principles of mechanical engineering, the first step is to place a stiff and thin first lining against the text block to minimise movement. All subsequent materials, including further linings, adhesive layers and covering material, should ideally be less stiff than this first lining. This is not always an easy task. The model in Figures 6, 7 and 8 shows how adhering a stiff material to a flexible material affects the strain distribution in a composite material. Acetate, a thin and relatively stiff material, is adhered to a sponge (Fig. 6, 7). When the sponge is bent, the stiffness of the acetate minimises movement at the acetate/sponge interface (Fig. 8A). This interface is in the tension layer, and the higher stiffness of this layer drives deformation into the less stiff outer sponge (compression layer), as shown in Figure 8B. This is a simplified model of a book spine, which is also essentially a composite of several materials.
Figs. 6, 7 – A stiff material (acetate) adhered to a less stiff material (a sponge). Photography by Paula Steere
Fig. 8 – The stiffness of the acetate reduces (but does not eliminate) the spreading apart (tension) of the sponge at A. This can be a model of the spine fold – first lining interface. When the tension layer is stiffer, the deformation is driven into the compression layer at B, which represents the exterior book spine and covering material. Photography by Paula Steere
Of course, driving deformation to the outer spine layers could potentially damage the spine leather and tooling of a tight back (Franck 1941, p. 7). We also do not want to prevent movement entirely, as the spine needs to flex to some degree for the book to open well. The required degree of spine stiffness is also affected by other variables, such as the thickness of the sewing supports and type of sewing structure. Nevertheless, the tension and compression principle applies equally to all books and offers tangible criteria on which to base spine lining decisions. However, this is only the first part of the story. We must also understand the performance mechanics of the conservation spine lining materials themselves – paper, linen, cotton and adhesives.
The mechanical properties of spine lining materials determine their use
Research indicates that paper lining materials are not robust enough for book spine linings. In 1708, Zeidler wrote in his book on the philosophy of bookbinding that ‘The French do not care to glue anything on the spine. Some glue only paper strips on, putting everything slovenly over and believing they have come just as far [as putting parchment or linen cloth on neatly and exactly]’3(p. 78). Szirmai (2001, p. 196) interprets these sentiments by saying that Zeidler ‘castigates’ French bookbinders for using paper linings in gothic books.
Conroy (1987, p. 4) supports the case against placing paper on the spine. He warns that paper is prone to breaking when stretched (due to tension) and buckles easily when compressed. McIlvaine (2017a) concurs, saying that while paper is a stiff material, it is not strong enough and is susceptible to tearing. Any imperfection would propagate easily. Paper has an irregular and random structure, which determines its physical properties (Corte and Kallmes 1961, p. 14–15; see Fig. 9). Its relative weakness could be attributed in part to this formation.
Fig. 9 (left) – Paper consists of randomly arranged separate fibres. Fig. 10 (right) – Fabric consists of twisted, woven and secure threads. Drawings by The Book & Paper Gathering
Fabrics tend to have a stronger base material and structure than paper (Fig. 10). For spine linings, the important properties of fabrics are tenacity (stress at break), extensibility (degree of stretch before breaking) and modulus (resistance to stretch). Tenacity is the term used to describe fibre strength; extensibility contributes to fold endurance; and modulus contributes to stiffness. These properties are determined by the fibre structure of the raw material. Linen is made from the bast stem fibres of Linum usitatissimum. The thick-walled, tube-like cells with small lumens or canals (hollow spaces) (Landi 1998, p. 22) are arranged in bundles, as shown in Figure 11a. Cotton, meanwhile, is made from the seed hair of Gossypium herbaceum and Gossypium hirsutum. Cotton fibres are very different from linen, forming single hollow and flat cells with a large lumen (Landi 1998, p. 21; Fig. 11b).
Fig. 11 – a: A cross-section of thick-walled linen cells arranged in bundles. b: Cross-sections of thinner, flatter cotton cells. Original drawing by Paula Steere; graphic rendering by The Book & Paper Gathering
The thick walls and bundle arrangement of linen cells make linen a stiff and strong material. However, the thick cell walls lower its fold endurance and make it prone to breaking when repeatedly folded in the same place (UAL, no date), because thicker walls undergo more strain when bent. This is analogous to bending a piece of cardboard versus a piece of paper – there will be more damage (deformation) to the cardboard because of its thickness. The thicker a material, the stiffer it becomes when bent due to the neutral axis principle (McIlvaine 2017c), illustrated in Figure 12. This principle states that when a material is bent, there is no tension or compression at the centre line, but deformation increases with distance from this central plane.
Linen also has less extensibility than cotton and will break more easily when stretched. Cotton has higher fold endurance than linen due to its structure: thin walls and a large lumen enable it to collapse on itself, reducing thickness locally and decreasing strain when folded (as per the neutral axis principle). These properties have been confirmed with data from fold endurance and mechanical strength tests published in the well-known books Conservation of Leather and Related Materials and The Textile Conservator’s Manual (Tables 1 and 2).
The data in Table 2 shows that linen is, on average, stronger than cotton because of its higher tenacity. Linen also has a much higher initial modulus (resistance to extension) than cotton, making it the stiffer fabric and a good candidate for a thin, stiff first lining. The less stiff cotton is a good second lining because of its higher fold endurance, and can be used to reattach boards if needed (more on that shortly).
In addition to fibre composition, the orientation of the yarns also affects the mechanical properties of fabric that are relevant to this spine lining design. Warp yarns (lengthwise grain, parallel to the selvage edge) stretch less (are stiffer) because they have a higher modulus than weft yarns (crosswise grain, perpendicular to the selvage edge). Warp yarns are more tightly twisted, and hence stronger (Hackler 2006), than weft yarns. They are tightly stretched during the weaving process (The Taunton Press, no date) to allow the more loosely wound weft yarns to be woven between them. I confirmed the higher stiffness of warp yarns by pulling the fabrics the same distance in both directions. Under tension, weft yarns stretched visibly more than warp yarns. Therefore, additional stiffness in the first lining can be gained by positioning the linen with the warp yarns across the spine width, which minimises the spreading apart of the spine folds. It is worth noting that the bias grain direction has been considered the strongest because the most fibres are available; however, in this orientation, the fabric also deforms easily, and therefore, could be susceptible to damage (Fig. 13).
The properties of adhesives should also be considered. Conroy (1987, p. 4) says that an adhesive does not need to be flexible; flexibility is required only if too much adhesive is used. McIlvaine (2017b) further reminds us of the neutral axis principle (Fig. 12) – thin layers of adhesive are desirable because thin materials strain less when bent.
However, the adhesive must still be thick enough to be effective. I carried out adhesion tests on aero linen and aero cotton swatches to find the smallest amount of adhesive that still yielded strong adhesion between the two fabrics. A 1:1 mix of Evacon R and wheat starch paste (1:3 wheat starch to water v/v) was used for additional strength. A thin, medium and thick layer of adhesive was applied with a brush to clear acetate to serve as a quantity guide. The adhesive was then applied by brush to both cotton and linen swatches to be adhered together. The linen was positioned on the cotton swatches so that both the warp and weft orientations were tested in the direction of the shearing force. The cotton was not used in the bias direction. The fabrics were pressed with a bone folder and air-dried for a minimum of two hours (Fig. 14). There was no adhesive failure or obvious strength difference between the thin, medium and thick coats of adhesive mix when pulling them apart with my hands under maximum manual shearing force (Fig. 15). Therefore, the thinnest coat of adhesive could safely be used to minimise deformation and cumulative stiffness without compromising adhesion strength.
Fig. 13 (left) – Bias grain under tension deforms easily. Fig. 14 (right) – Lining design adhesion test swatches: linen and cotton adhered together with thin, medium and thick layers of adhesive. Pencil arrows show the weft (crosswise) direction. Photography by Paula Steere
Fig. 15 – Manual adhesive strength test: pulling fabrics to mimic shearing forces experienced by spine linings when a book is opened. Photography by Paula Steere
Putting the principles into practice: spine lining design
To review, for optimum functionality and durability, spine linings should minimise deformation at the interface between the spine folds and first lining material. We can achieve this by placing a stiff and thin first lining against the text block to minimise movement and keep the spine folds from spreading apart. All subsequent materials, including further linings, adhesives and covering material, should ideally be less stiff than this first lining.
For the spine lining design based on this research, aero linen should be used as the first lining, with the stronger, stiffer warp yarns placed across the spine width from shoulder to shoulder (Figs. 16, 17). Thinner, less stiff aero cotton, with its greater fold endurance, should be used as a second lining to reattach the boards. (If the boards are still attached, a second lining may not be necessary at all.) To minimise cumulative stiffness in the outer (compression) layer, positioning cotton in the bias direction could be a good choice, since this is the least stiff of the yarn orientations. Additionally, all subsequent linings, such as the paper used to smooth an uneven tight back spine, should be kept to an absolute minimum, with thin adhesive layers throughout. For heavy text blocks, I use WSP and ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) mix (1:1) to adhere the linen to the spine folds, and I use wheat starch paste alone, without EVA, for materials in the compression layer (to reduce cumulative stiffness). For standard-sized books that are not very heavy, I use wheat starch paste on its own throughout the process; however, I have not tested swatches of wheat starch paste without EVA.
When adding more linings after the linen (and cotton, if reattaching boards), check opening characteristics after each lining has dried thoroughly. Paper linings can be omitted altogether in some instances; for example, if the tight back spine is even, in a case binding, or in a situation where throwup does not require additional control. Keep in mind the engineering principles discussed in this article when deciding on the number of additional linings and the choice of lining material: the compression layer (everything after the first linen lining) should ideally be less stiff than the tension layer. Thinly pared leather, discussed below, can be used instead of paper for additional linings to reduce stiffness.
Fig. 16 – Spine lining design based on the tension and compression engineering principle and the mechanical properties of spine lining materials. Original drawing by Paula Steere; graphic rendering by The Book & Paper Gathering
The quarter leather tight back in Figure 18 has a heavy parchment text block, and I wanted to experiment with traditional leather linings because the mechanical properties of leather are excellent for the compression layer of my spine lining design: it is strong, but not stiff, because of the structure of its main component, the protein collagen. The linings in this image are made of thinly pared leather. I have used a graduated lining technique, which I was delighted to discover during my research, to further minimise stiffness in the compression layer. The graduated lining structure is attributed to Francis Bedford, a nineteenth-century bookbinder acclaimed for the ‘even strain’ (Anonymous author 1893, p. 58) of his bindings. The rationale for the graduated lining structure is that the stiffness needed for a book to open well at any given place varies. The centre of the spine takes the greatest strain and should be the stiffest, while less stiffness is required near the beginning and end sections of the text block (McIlvaine 2017b). Subsequent linings after the first one are ‘a little further in’ (Anonymous author 1893, p. 58), stopping a little short of the shoulders, as illustrated in Figure 18.
I also adapted the graduated lining technique to the leather covering material to reduce overall stiffness. The leather over the centre spine folds is thicker than that over the beginning and end spine folds. This was achieved through tapered paring, as shown in Figures 19 and 20. A comparison of opening characteristics before and after treatment can be seen in Figures 21 and 22.
In conclusion, exploring the forces present in a book spine and the mechanical properties of familiar book conservation materials has helped me to overcome the ‘vague generalities’ found in the literature. Understanding mechanics and materials enables the conservator to take advantage of engineering concepts that offer tangible criteria on which to base spine lining decisions. I discovered several hidden gems along the way, such as Zeidler’s ire, Bedford’s famed workshop, and, of course, that anonymous kindred spirit from The British Bookmaker for whom vague generalities would not suffice.
Special thanks to my colleagues at the College of Arms, Becky Tabram and Christopher Harvey, head of conservation, who encouraged and allowed me to explore these ideas while I was a conservator there. Their experience and knowledge of books and our ongoing conversations and practical experiments in the workshop were invaluable.
1. I reviewed approximately 36 books and articles, spanning the years 1658 (in a 1977 translation) to 2017.
2. Technical statements in the literature were cross-referenced with a mechanical engineer, Lee McILvaine, for scientific accuracy. This research document is available upon request.
3. Translation by Isana Skeete (2017). No published English translation of this book could be found.
Anonymous author (1892–3) ‘Editorial’, The British Bookmaker, 6, no page number.
Anonymous author (1893) ‘On forwarding’, The British Bookmaker, 7(75), p. 58.
Cockerell, D. (1901) Bookbinding: The classic Arts and Crafts manual. New York: Dover Publications.
Conroy, T. (1987) ‘The movement of the book spine’, The Book and Paper Group Annual, 6, pp. 1–22.
Corte, H. and Kallmes, O.J. (1961) Statistical geometry of a fibrous network. New York: Regis Paper Company.
Diehl, E. (1980) Bookbinding: Its background and technique (2 vols). Rev. edn. New York: Dover Publications.
Franck, P. (1941) A lost link in the technique of bookbinding and how I found it. Gaylordsville, Connecticut: The author.
Hackler, N. (2006) Understanding fabric grain. Rev. edn. Gainesville: University of Florida.
Landi, S. (1998) The textile conservator’s manual. Butterworth-Heinemann: Oxford.
McIlvaine, L. (2017a) Email to Paula Steere, 8 April.
McIlvaine, L. (2017b) Conversation with Paula Steere, 13 April.
McIlvaine, L. (2017c) Email to Paula Steere, 26 April.
Middleton, B.C. (1963) A history of English craft bookbinding technique. Hafner Publishing: London.
Middleton, B.C. (1998) The restoration of leather bindings. Rev. Ed. Delaware, London: Oak Knoll Press, The British Library.
Miller, J. (2010) Books will speak plain – A handbook for identifying and describing historical bindings. Michigan: Legacy Press.
Silverman, R., Cains, A., Ruzika, G., Zyats, P., Reidell, S., Primanis, O., Puglia, A., Anderson, P., Etherington, D., Minter, B., Brock, D., Zimmern, F. (2006) ‘Conservation of leather bookbindings: a mosaic of contemporary techniques’, in Kite, M. and Thomson, R. Conservation of leather and related materials. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 225–243.
Skeete, I. (2017) Translation of passage in Zeidler, J. (1708), 17 May.
Szirmai, J.A. (2001) The archaeology of medieval bookbinding. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate.
Zeidler, J.G. (1708) Buchbinder-Philosophie oder Einleitung in die Buchbinder-Kunst. Hall im Magdeburgschen: in Rengerischer Buchhandlung.
Paula Steere has an education background and was head of Art and Design in a secondary school in London before retraining in book and archival conservation at Camberwell College of Arts from 2015 to 2017. She has worked at the College of Arms, the Wellcome Collection, the Senate House Library, the London College of Fashion Archive, the Victoria and Albert Museum and UCL Special Collections. Currently she is a preventive conservator, volunteer coordinator and grant writer at the Hershey History Centre, a nonprofit museum in Pennsylvania, US. She is also a book conservator in private practice.
Letterpress Printing ABC (2004) David Clifford Miniature. H78 x W78 mm, 62 pages. Edition of 50 numbered copies, of which this is #48. Acquired from Bromer Booksellers, 1 August 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.
Among the several outstanding production features of Clifford’s miniature is its variation on Claire Van Vliet’s binding structure in The Gospel of Mary (2006). It first becomes apparent in the double-page spread below. As with most of the structures demonstrated in Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (2002), the binding structure consists of woven strips of paper to hold the folios together and attach the cover. The top-down view of Letterpress ABC shows the gathered folios and, if enlarged in a browser, also shows the paper tape running from the cover and across the gathers.
Staking his claim over Andrew Morrison as first past the post, Clifford starts his A-Z with the last symbol of the alphabet (“Ampersand”) and closes with the same Z term (“zinco”). There are other overlaps in terms, but the two efforts differ so rewardingly — Clifford’s woven binding, typeset definitions, miniature trim size and handmade paper versus Morrison’s children’s board book hinged binding, demonstrated definitions, larger trim and Somerset paper — that one cannot be chosen over the other.
An additional pleasure from Clifford’s book is its complement to two other Heavenly Monkey publications in the Books On Books Collection: Francesca Lohmann’s An Alphabetical Accumulation (2017) and Rollin Milroy’s Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020). If it were not for Rollin Milroy, the attentive reader and I would forever struggle with the puzzle of how Clifford’s 2004 binding came to be influenced by Van Vliet’s 2006 binding. Milroy writes:
Claire came to Vancouver in ’04 and gave a day-long class, which David (& his daughter Yasmine) attended. The project was already in development (probably even printed), and D showed Claire a dummy and got some pointers. I didn’t realize ABC preceded her own Gospel.
And here is the entry for Letterpress extracted from proofs for Heavenly Monkey’s checklist to be published in 2022:
Given the effectiveness of Svensson and Diaz’s Letters alphabet book-in-a-box effort, it is surprising that they did not follow up the alphabetical theme from Animals, especially since animals have made up the most popular category of alphabet books for centuries. Another 24 or 25 books in boxes beckon. Alphabetical cubes of birds, cats, dogs and the zemmi! And what about the ampersand? And what different paper artistry might Diaz have performed if requested to fill out the series with further innovation? Consider Claire Van Vliet’s alphabetical Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce (1996), Helen Hiebert’s Alpha Beta (2010) and Karen Hanmer’s The Spectrum A to Z.
Before its acquisition by Harpers in 1985, William Collins & Sons settled on the less risky venture of four books in boxes: Animals, Letters, Numbers and Colors. First with Elgin Davis Studios, James Diaz was the paper engineer behind all four and later joined David A. Carter (see his tribute to Bruno Munari here) to produce The Elements of Pop Up: A Pop Up Book for Aspiring Paper Engineers (1999), still used as a primary textbook.
Of course, B. S. Johnson and Marc Saporta pioneered boxes containing loose pages or leaves to be read in any order, but to find contemporary books in boxes where the box is not just a storage mechanism but functionally integrated, we have to look to Ed Hutchins, Sue Johnson and Hedi Kyle among others.
The art of the alphabet seems to be a rite of passage for graphic artists. Perhaps it is that art and the alphabet find common ground in the urge to make sense of the world. Perhaps it’s that the alphabet’s invention, development and artistic treatment present a rich tradition for artists to follow or challenge. Perhaps it’s that letterforms and the alphabet offer raw material, subject and organizing principle all in one. Semic or asemic. Calligraphic, typographic or even plastic. Representational or abstract. All are options. But most often, something bookish results. From Islam Aly’s 28 Letters(2013) to Ludwig Zeller’s Alphacollage (1979), a significant part of the Books On Books Collection is taken up with book art based on the ABCs and letterforms. The Collection’s two facsimiles of Geofroy Tory’s Champ Fleury provide a useful historical backdrop that throws into relief several of the Collection’s works and their performance of this rite of passage.
Geofroy Tory de Bourges (c.1480-1533) straddles the letters of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Appointed by François I in 1530 as his printer, Tory operated on the Petit Pont under the sign of le Pot cassé (“the broken pot”) and was known for his workshop’s handwritten Book of Hours (1524). Rooted in the horae tradition reaching back to the 13th century, Tory’s Book of Hours is an early-to-mid-Renaissance version of its predecessors. As beautiful as his Book of Hours is, Champ Fleury (1529) became his best known work. Authored and designed by Tory, it was produced by hand typesetting and letterpress printing in Paris with Giles Gourmont. Printed less than 100 years after Gutenberg’s innovation, Champ Fleury represents the printed book toddling out of its incunabula period.
Book of Hours Geofroy Tory (1524) Bound in the 18th century, 113 leaves of vellum. Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection (Library of Congress). Accessed 30 May 2021.
According to Jeremy Norman’sHistory of Informationsite, the first separate printed title page appeared in 1463. Subject indices date back to the 13th century, originating at the University of Paris, and the first printed indices, to 1470. Champ Fleury‘s front matter boasts a title page, two prefaces to the reader, a statement of the King’s Privilege awarded for the book for ten years (a forerunner to the copyright page), a name index without location references and a subject index with folio references. Champ Fleury’s back matter consists of a colophon preceded by a lengthy appendix illustrating various forms of the alphabet (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, etc.).
Tory’s placement of the indices in the front matter rather than the back matter reflects the gradual development of the anatomy of the book towards the structure that would ultimately be codified in reference works like the Chicago Manual of Style. Paratextual elements like the title page, table of contents, page numbers, etc., did not spring up overnight. If, as Eric Havelock and others assert, society, the arts and culture are a superstructure erected on the foundation of the alphabet (see below), Champ Fleury and its “letterology” make for a particularly fitting exemplar of the book as an element of the superstructure arising from the alphabet.
Perhaps book artists sense this, which again leads to that alphabet art rite of passage and the elaborate variations on it. The illustration of various forms of the alphabet in the appendix also draws on another developing tradition: the typesetter/printer’s sample book advertising the firm’s fonts. Abecedaries and artist books have sprung from that tradition, too.
Tory was not the first to propose an art and science behind the letterforms of the alphabet. Predating his efforts were Giovanninno de’ Grassi (1390-1405), Felice Feliciano (1463), the Anonymous Chicagoensis and Anonymous Monachensis (1468?), Damianus Moyllus (1480), Fra Luca Pacioli (1509), Sigismondo Fanti (1514), Francesco Torniello (1517), Ludovico Arrighi (1522), Albrecht Dürer (1525) and Giovanni Battista Verini (1527). Leading up to Champ Fleury, these earlier efforts track the development of humanism. Arguably, Tory’s effort is a capstone, combining myth, allegory, metaphysics, geometry, linguistics, calligraphy, typography and cryptography.
Book One, concerned with the mythical origins of the French language, also addresses the fabled origins of the alphabet: the story of Jove, Io and Mercury behind the letters I and O and their claim to being the first letters and also the tale of Apollo’s accidental murder of Hyacinth explaining the letters A and Y and their similar claim. Two works in the Collection built on alphabet origin stories are Francisca Prieto’s Printed Matter series (2002-2008) William Joyce’s The Numberlys (2014), but many more follow in Champ Fleury’s art and science footsteps.
Tory’s late medieval/early Renaissance perspective gives way to 20th and 21st century poetics and phenomenology in most works of the Collection. Aaron Cohick’s The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) (2017) offers a good example. Another — closer to Tory’s moral and geometric perspective but of a more modern spirituality — is Jeffrey Morin and Steven Ferlauto’s Sacred Space (2003).
Compile all the abecedaries ever created and it would approximate the result of Adam and Eve’s task of naming all the creatures and things of the world. Leonard Baskin echoes that innocence in Hosie’s Alphabet(1972) with its words and animals supplied by his children. If Adam and Eve had had an alphabet, they might have been tempted into pareidolia, which is represented in the Collection by VUES/LUES: Un Abécédaire de Marion Bataille (2018) and Typographic Universe (2014) by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. Heller and Anderson’s compendium extends to letters formed of natural and drawn objects from the real world, which Champ Fleury’s appendix foreshadows with its floral and fantastic alphabets.
Of course, Tory’s work is not an abecedary. In Books Two and Three, it develops into a full-blown treatise on letterforms whose meaning and appearance are explained allegorically and driven by the compass, rule and geometry expressed within a 10x10x10 cell cube. It would overstate the case to call it “typographic design”. As drawn, Tory’s diagrams would serve poorly for cutting and forming punches or matrices (although it has been done). Nevertheless, his geometric approach foreshadows the grids and algorithms of Wim Crouwel’s New Alphabet (1967), Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans’ Alphabet(1970) and Ji Lee’s Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004).
Before the age of computers and algorithms, though, the artist and designer Bruce Rogers did bring typographic design to bear on Champ Fleury. The Grolier Club sponsored the printing of George B. Ives’ English translation. Rogers’ design “translates” Champ Fleury just as much as Ives does, perhaps more so. The Grolier Club edition is one of only ten books to be set completely in the Centaur typeface designed by Rogers.
Of course, the translation entails a complete resetting of the text, and Centaur naturally delivers crisper letters. Also, in redesigning with Centaur, Rogers alters the original’s layout and, therefore, the reader’s experience of it. Notice in the OAHK pages above and in the three double-page spreads below how Rogers changes Tory’s flow or jumpiness to something fixed or stately. Attention to the page and its layout offers book artists as well as book designers yet another creative avenue. For proof of that, compare the Collection’s entries for Angel, Baskin and de Cumptich.
Architecture is another of Tory’s well-developed analogies and explanations of the ancients’ thinking behind the letterforms. In his drawings below, he aligns the letters AHKOIS with the parts of a building and letters IL with floor plans. He connects the circularity of the Coliseum’s exterior and the ovalness of its arena with the proper shape of the letter O. In the Collection, the analogy reappears fantastically in Johann David Steingruber’s Architectural Alphabet (1773/1972), Antonio Basoli’s Alfabeto Pittorico (1839/1998) Antonio and Giovanni Battista de Pian’s efforts in 1839 and 1842.
The architectural analogy provides Tory with his segue from plane to solid geometry in aligning the shapes of letters with human anatomy and virtues. His three-dimensional analysis of letterforms also finds contemporary analogues in two of Pieter Brattinga’s Kwadraat Blad series: Crouwel’s, mentioned above, and Anthon Beeke’s Alphabet (1970). Tory’s three-dimensional letterforms foreshadow Crouwel’s investigation of units based on the assembly of organic cells and his later musings on a laser-generated four-dimensional typography (Elliman, 62). And it is hard to evoke anything more humanoid and three-dimensional — albeit far less analytical or prudish — than Beeke’s alphabet formed with naked female models. (Tory comments that in a correctly drawn A, the crossbar will virtuously cover the genitals of Vitruvian man inscribed in the 10×10 grid. Modesty seems to extend to H as well but not so much to O and K.)
The calligraphic impulse that underlies Champ Fleury‘s typographic representations shows itself clearest in the woodcuts for the Cadeaulx alphabet in the appendix. The Books On Books Collection has its share of calligraphic abecedaries such as Marie Angel’s An Animated Alphabet (1996) and Andrew Zega and Bernd Dam’s An Architectural Alphabet (2008) as well as more purely calligraphic alphabets such as Islam Aly’s, mentioned above, and Suzanne Moore’s A Blind Alphabet (1986) .
Two artists whose abecedaries blend the calligraphic and typographic are Robert de Vicq de Cumptich and Cathryn Miller. In de Cumptich’s Bembo’s Zoo (2000), letters and punctuation marks from the Bembo typeface form calligraphic animal shapes. Miller’s L is for Lettering(2011) joins up the alphabetic rite of passage, calligraphy and typography by allying each of her hand-drawn letters with the name of a typeface from “A is for Arial” to “Z is for Zapfino”.
The last page of Tory’s illustration of additional alphabets is not the end of his work. The colophon plays that role. Curiously, Tory misses out the character that plays that role for the alphabet itself: the ampersand. “Curiously” because the character & appears throughout Champ Fleury — even at the end of the colophon’s fourth line in French — and it is after all the most flowery of the alphabet’s characters. Perhaps some book artist will follow Bruce Rogers’ example in his joking Depression-era homage to Tory on the back of Champ Rosé and create an homage to Tory and Rogers of three-dimensional ampersands.
Golec, Michael. 2015. “Champ Fleury in the Machine Age”, lecture at the School of Visual Arts, NYC. Uploaded 4 June 2015. Accessed 12 May 2021. Good slides and a comparative look at Tory’s original and Rogers’ resetting.
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.
Blue Whale (2015) Jane Paterson Self-covering accordion book. H140 x W155 x D10 mm (closed); W750 mm (open). Unique. Acquired from the artist, 15 April 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
An acquisition early in the early days of this collection, Blue Whale forged the way for later acquisitions that painted with paper. At the time, the artist was asked how Blue Whale was created:
In answer to your questions about the processes I use, I should explain that I have a background in textile design and a great love for indigo dye. Since starting making books I have experimented with dyeing paper in an indigo vat. I use khadi and various mulberry papers that have excellent wet strength and allow me to use many of the decorative processes that I use with textiles. I also dye card board from boxes and have exciting results tearing the wet layers apart. I made the sea in the Blue Whale book from fine paper that had partly disintegrated in the vat. The cover was made by clamping khadi paper between 2 square blocks so that the dye seeped underneath in interesting ways. The whales are made from dyed khadi. Artist’s correspondence, 9 April 2015.
Paterson’s technique in Blue Whale occupies a middle ground between collage and pulp painting. The way the artist has manipulated the nearly disintegrated, indigo-dyed fine paper to evoke the depth, surface and spray of the sea is remarkable. Additional examples of her work with indigo dye as well as other book art techniques can be found in the Artists Book Club Dove (ABCD) site.
Khadi is also the name of a papermaking company founded in the 1980s in India. Based outside the village of Tarihal near Hubli, in Karnataka, South India, Khadi runs a mill that manufactures the 100% cotton-rag paper. The company also works with suppliers in Nepal (GET Paper) and Bhutan (Jungshi). The process is described here and demonstrated here.
Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History, Issue 1 (2020)
Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History, Issue 1 (2020) Edited by Gill Partington, Adam Smyth and Simon Morris Dos-à-dos (flipped), perfect bound softcover, H314 x W314 mm, 132 pages (including the end pages left intentionally blank); fold-out double-sided print of Jérémie Bennequin’s erasure of Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom”, H940 x W940 mm; saddle-stitched chapbook of Craig Dworkin’s “Clock”, held in a mock 45 RPM record sleeve, H180 x W180 mm; vinyl LP recording of Sean Ashton’s novel Living in a Land, H314 x W314 mm; Acquired from Information as Material, 10 October 2020.
In its design, typography, format and media components, the first issue of Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History embodies its domain. So much so that this metaphorical box of artifacts stands as a contribution to the study of material texts as much as any of the journal’s inaugural articles.
Jérémie Bennequin’s double-sided, bilingual print of his erasure of Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom” recalls the palimpsest — a longstanding topic of material text study. Also, by standing in for Poe’s swirling maelstrom, the print’s image of spiralling erasure raises the domain’s recurrent theme of text-and-image interaction as well as that of the self-reflexiveness of such art. Using the book or text as physical material with which to create a work is central to book art as is the self-referencing that arises.
Bennequin’s choice of text also alludes to his other work. The short story’s themes of abyss, shipwreck and nothingness occur prominently in Poe-loving Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard, the 19th century poem that made us modern and launched (is still launching) scores of artists’ books paying material and conceptual homage. Bennequin is one of those artists.†
The print’s spiral erasure on a background of text serves as one of several voices in this journal issue’s intermedial†† harmony (or cacophony). The spiral reappears in Craig Dworkin’s meditation that scales up a pocket watch’s clock spring to the size of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1980). Dworkin finds the spiral in the fossil of a Holocene fish that swam over the bed that became the jetty. He “materializes” the watch’s minutes against the geological and evolutionary time frames of the formation of the Great Salt Lake and the fossil. On the back cover of the chapbook, its entire text is repeated in a spiral of text blocks. The chapbook slips back into its 45 RPM-size sleeve to echo the spiralling inscription of sound in vinyl grooves that actually occurs on the LP recording of Sean Ashton’s novel Living in a Land.
After Bennequin’s print, Dworkin’s meditation and Ashton’s LP, the journal itself appears, sporting the spiral as a logo on its trompe l’oeil cover. Not only drawn from Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, the logo draws from the stage costumes of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, which recur throughout the journal’s pages reminding us of drama as another medium in which the materiality of the text matters. In its own physical manifestation, the journal wears the materiality of the text on its sleeve and in its pages. The pages themselves spiral around a hole drilled through the center of the issue, echoing the sculptural extremity of inscribing, the book art technique of excising and the concept of nothingness central to many artists of inscription such as Robert Barry and Carl Andre, as this exchange shows:
RB: There is something about void and emptiness which I am personally very concerned with. I guess I can’t get it out of my system. Just emptiness. Nothing seems to me the most potent thing in the world.
CA: I would say a thing is a hole in a thing it is not. — Arts Magazine 47 (1972): 46
On its two page 2’s (a result of the dos-à-dos or back to back binding), Incription offers its own Magrittean take on holes:
In dos-à-dos binding, two codices are bound back to back in a Z form. So usually there are two fore-edges, two spines, and both codices have the same vertical orientation.
Inscription is bound dos-à-dos, but with only one fore-edge and one spine. Materially emphasizing the theme of inward spiralling, Inscription‘s two halves are upside down to one another. Their vertical orientations differ as can be seen in the following photo of the two front covers splayed away from the spine. The cover designer has obviously joined the fun by creating two fore-edges with the trompe l’oeil and “two” spines, one downward reading in the English style and, when flipped, one upward reading in the European style. Of course, therefore, there are two Tables of Content in opposite orders and two editorial prefaces, of which “one is considerably better: this is deliberate”. (Tongue-in-cheek humor seems to reside in the DNA of material text studies — and especially in book art.)
Two Tables of Content — naturally in reverse order for the dos-à-dos bound volume.
With the page layout spiralling from each end of the issue toward the spiral-set colophon placed in the center (usually part of the endmatter), we have spirals inscribed within spirals.
Left (or is it right?): the drilled hole centered on Ubu Roi‘s omphalic costume. Right (or is it left?): the spiral-set colophon.
Across the issue, the text block rotates like a vinyl record around the central hole.
By the time the colophon is reached, the reader/viewer’s head may be spinning, which could make it easier to read the colophon — wherein it is revealed that the book has been set in twenty different versions of Garamond type in a sequence such that the first letter of a line comes from the first version of Garamond, the second letter from the second version and so on, with the sequence starting anew with the next line. More spirals within spirals.
The materiality of this inaugural issue demonstrates how Inscription‘s focus “is not just on the meanings and uses of the codex book, but also the nature of writing surfaces (papery or otherwise), and the processes of mark-making in the widest possible sense”, as the editors put it. The care and creativity with which this first issue has been put together offer raw material with which to “take the study of material texts in new directions”. Mark-making by erasure, printing, juxtaposing, drilling, vinyl inscription, land erosion, evolution, land art, stage costumes, choice of type, page layout, binding, sleeving — all this even before we come to the articles themselves (see the photos of the Table of Contents above)!
For academics, book artists, printmakers, poets, and artists – and every permutation of roles, subsidiary roles and sub-subs of role — Inscription is rich, exuberant, eye-opening and eye-twisting, and eminently collectible as a work of art in its own right. Which is why it is in the Books On Books Collection.
† For Bennequin’s homage to Un Coup de Dés, see “Jérémie Bennequin“, Books On Books Collection, 11 April 2020.
†† “Intermedial” is taken from Trevor Stark’s Total Expansion of the Letter: Avant-Garde Art and Language after Mallarmé (2020), p.9. It refers to “the zone of indeterminacy between mediums, social practices, and temporalities” into which Mallarmé’s question “Does something like Letters exist?” threw the poet and avant-gardists. The question is ultimately a phenomenological one, which the study of material text inherently addresses.
A similar, related neologism — “intermediation” — was adopted from Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1965 by the language-, book-, and publishing-artist Dick Higgins in “Intermedia“, republished in Leonardo, Volume 34, Number 1, February 2001, pp. 49-54. It is not the same thing as intermediality or mixed media. As Higgins expressed it, “Many fine works are being done in mixed media: paintings which incorporate poems within their visual fields, for instance. But one knows which is which. In intermedia, on the other hand, the visual element (painting) is fused conceptually with the words.”, p. 52. It can be argued that works of intermedia are one way in which artists address intermediality.
Chapbook, handmade paper covers, risograph printed on French Paper. H180 x W78 mm, 16 unnumbered pages. Edition of 200, of which this is #8. Acquired from the artist, 20 August 2020.
Created as a handout for an exhibition, this small chapbook delivers a powerful haptic effect with its pulp-painted handmade paper cover and risograph printing on French paper. The cover feels like bark, the paper like dry leaves. The tree-branch layout of lines echoes the sensation, and the content recalls “Silent Poem” by Robert Francis, which itself begs for a book artist’s interpretation.
This work of pulp painting that sits so well with that of Pat Gentenaar-Torley and Claire Van Vliet deploying the same technique came into the collection because of Welch’s contribution below to the tenth Artists’ Book Cornucopia, organized by Alicia Bailey.
Erratic Obsession (2019)
Single sheet cut and accordion folded. H116 x W 71 mm (closed), H420 x W561 (open). Wrapped in sleeve with slot-and-tab closure, housed in four-flap linen box with ribbon tie. Edition of 10, of which this is #8. Acquired from the artist, 20 August 2020.
Erratic Obsession speaks to several obsessions in the Books On Books Collection. The first is one with the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Stetson), an obsession provoked by book art from Harriet Bart and Caroline Penn (and teaching a class in Philadelphia on American fiction). The text in Erratic Obsession comes in part from the Gilman short story about a woman driven mad by social and marital pressures, and in part from Annie Payson Call’s Nerves and Commonsense (1909). The latter is a collection of Call’s self-help articles in the Ladies’ Home Journal and runs contrary to the subversive early feminism of Gilman’s story.
What Maria Welch has done with a single piece of paper speaks to a second obsession: the fusion of structure and content.
Unfolding this mirrored spiral-cut, single-sheet booklet feels like pulling strips of wallpaper from the wall, as the main character does in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. By printing on both sides of the single sheet, Welch has doubled down on the mirrored structure. By going dark on one side and light on the other, she has tripled down on the structure. All of these structural choices echo the oxymoronic face-off of the title — the erratic vs the obsession — which in turn echoes the themes of Gilman’s story: a wife’s freedom vs a husband’s control, the individual’s mind and self vs society’s expected behavior. Welch’s structural tensions are also responding to the tension between Gilman’s and Call’s perspectives.
Interesting that the artist provides instructions on how the work should be displayed. Preferably in the round. Preferably that folds 1 and 31 (the first and last) stand upright, that folds 2-6 and 26-30 lay flat, that folds 7-9 and 23-25 stand upright, that folds 10-12 and 20-22 create mountain peaks, and that folds 13-19 form the central upright accordion. But the work displays equally well in an erratic spill. Again, a fusion of structure and content.
In its techniques of pulp painting, blow-out papermaking, kirigami (paper cutting) and origami (paper folding), Erratic Obsession rings a third obsession in the collection: the fusion of technique with content. With pulp painting and blow-out papermaking, the image or patterns are intrinsic to the paper, just as a character might think its personality and will are intrinsic to its self. With paper folding and cutting, the techniques are external to the paper, just as societal and marital pressures bend and sever the character’s self. Of course, Call would likely have it the other way round: socialization and commonsense provide the wholesome; willful personality cuts and bends it. No wonder: another of Call’s books was How to Live Quietly (1918).