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.
Like the Hebrew fable in which the letters of the alphabet argue their cases for the position of first letter, this short eighteenth century fantasy has the English Commonwealth of Letters rounding on the letter y as a Greek interloper, usurping their brother i’s rightful position at the end and even middle and beginning of words. Why the letters choose Apollo to judge the case is an irony lost on all the characters. But this is no surprise. After Apollo rules in y’s favor, their witless lack of self-awareness explodes into the internecine warfare of a roomful of Brexiteers. The letters d and th come to blows over murder and murther; the letters ugh demand reinstatement at the end of tho and thro; the letters s and c row over defense/defence and pretense/pretence; and so on.
Thomas Edwards (1699-1757) was an English critic and poet. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, his friend the printer and novelist Samuel Richardson encouraged him to write a book on spelling, which resulted in An Account of the Trial of the Letter ϒ [Upsilon], alias Y. The silliness first appeared in 1753 in two forms: one in the fifth edition of Edwards’ Canons of Criticism printed for the bookseller C. Bathurst (over-against St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleetstreet) and the other as a pamphlet for the bookseller W. Owen (at Homer’s Head, in Fleet-Street, near Temple-Bar).
The quarrelsomeness among the letters reflects the same among the not-so-gentlemanly scholars of the period. Edwards’ Canons of Criticism sets out principles for editing in the guise of a stiff critique of William Warburton’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Priest and later bishop of Gloucester, Warburton replied ad hominem, and the feud was on. Even the pompous bully Samuel Johnson joined in, disparaging both (presumably with an eye on elevating his own judgement if not his future edition of Shakespeare):
Soon after Edwards’s ‘Canons of Criticism’ <1748> came out, Johnson was dining at Tonson the Bookseller’s, with Hayman the Painter and some more company. Hayman related to Sir Joshua Reynolds, that the conversation having turned upon Edwards’s book, the gentleman praised it much, and Johnson allowed its merit. But when they went farther, and appeared to put that authour upon a level with Warburton, ‘Nay, (said Johnson,) he has given him some smart hits to be sure; but there is no proportion between the two men; they must not be named together. A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.'” (Dussinger, “Johnson’s unacknowledged debt”)
The version in the Books On Books Collection is the pamphlet: ”First and only edition, vii, , 23, pp., with half-title, disbound”, as it is described in the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue. Human petulance aside, the letters’ speechifying and Edwards’ observations about the alphabet’s history place The Trial squarely in the collection between letterpress works and the more trade-oriented alphabet books. As can be seen in the “before” pictures, though, the pamphlet required some attention before joining. That attention, however, would have to suit the nature of the collection.
From a coincidental meeting at a Maggs Brothers exhibition in London, Mark Cockram sprang to mind, and his words here confirmed him as the right choice:
This brings us to the world of book arts. As I progress with my work and life I have begun to engage with this genre in the book making world. I admit that in the past I was a bit of a book snob. Though I produced a number of book works I was unable to cut free of the shackles of the finely bound book, working towards the mastering the complexity of the book… dare I say I was blinkered? In retrospect it is only over the last 15 or so years that I have been able to bring together the various disciplines of the book with the art of the book (though I am sure many who will argue I have neither) It has taken time for me to be able to engage and combine. However I feel that working in this way I am able to be honest with my work, to reflect the now as opposed to rebinding the past. It is a personal journey. Please note there are other ways of doing things and opinions….. spelling and grammar. Please further note, the opinion of the author may change at any moment. This is due to having an open mind… of sorts. (Mark Cockram, Studio 5 Book Arts, 30 December 2019. Accessed 4 January 2020.)
The paper-labelled cloth box has an unusual heft, implying weighty content but opening to reveal the humorously modest-sized pamphlet.
The artist’s binding solution involves two paper-covered boards. These additional “before and after” pictures show further how the artist’s “lay flat” binding solution preserves as full a view as possible of the original’s gutter.
Note also how, inside and out, the front and back boards comment on the contents. The pamphlet’s title is echoed by the enlarged letters Y and ϒ. The faint palimpsest-like printing on the front and back covers (see above and below) and the overprinted inside covers echo the sourcing, disbound from an original binding.
And there is no missing Cockram’s fine press touch in the handling of the end papers and the spine’s red inner backing echoing the interior of the storage box.
Special thanks to William Laywood of Forest Books ABA-ILAB for explaining the notation from the English Short Title Catalogue pointing me down the road to discovering the Canons of Criticism and Professor Dussinger’s insights.
Dussinger, John A. 23 September 2004. “Thomas Edwards“, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed 9 October 2021.
Artist, curator and historian Jeffrey Abt wrote that the “irresistible” idea of placing an exhibition of artists’ books alongside the University of Chicago Library’s collection “broadly representative of the history of the book” started with a visit to famed art dealer Tony Zwicker‘s studio. It was also, however, almost as if he were taking a cue from this statement by artist-printers Betsy Davids and Jim Petrillo just the year before:
A representative collection of artists’ books often does not seem visually remarkable in a gallery, where a wide range of visual experience is the norm. The same collection, installed in a library or bookstore, can seem visually startling almost beyond the limits of decorum. — “The Artist as Book Printer: Four Short Courses” in Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, edited by Joan Lyons (Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1985).
The handful of images below would lead anyone to suspect that the 49 works (many loaned by Zwicker) were selected to startle and, in a subtle way, challenge the notion that ”a representative collection of artists’ books often does not seem visually remarkable in a gallery”. The peculiar shape of the exhibition catalogue deepens the suspicion. The rest of its design and identity of its designer — Buzz Spector — clinch it.
While Abt’s introductory essay rings the historical changes on the roots of book art — once there was Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés, but before Mallarmé, there was William Blake — the works included and the catalogue’s design ring some chimes of their own about book art. One way or another, all book art self-consciously draws attention to some particularly bookish element. For the most part, the 49 works listed in the catalogue ring true. The catalogue design itself, however, chimes not only to that notion of self-reflexiveness but also to wider notions about the nature of book art within contemporary art.
Not long after this 1986 exhibition, Spector wrote of “the language of the book” and all its parts — pages, signatures and cover as well as its letter forms and their placement on the spread page — as having a syntax. With its pencil-circled numbers, alignment guides, pastedowns and other designer’s marks appearing throughout — as if a printer’s devil had run amok and let the marked-up proofs go to press unchanged — the catalogue draws attention to that syntax, the underlying processes of bookmaking and and this object’s “bookness”. The colophon’s note initialed by Jeffrey Abt to Buzz Spector and “pasted” on the last page seals the self-reflexive joke of the markings throughout the catalogue.
Page 36 and cover 3 from The Book Made Art (1986) Permission of the curator and designer.
The second chime comes in the catalogue’s verbal and visual punning. Like book art, punning is self-reflexive, words playing on words. The title ”the book made art” can be read with different meanings: “the book made into art”, “art that is bookish” and so on. The catalogue’s trim and two-dimensional representation of three-dimensions create the visual pun of a glass or white cube. The verbal and visual puns also play with Abt’s “irresistible” context. Here in the Joseph Regenstein Library was an exhibition catalogue, teasing the viewer with a reminder that vitrines separated them from the bookworks. Reviewing two other exhibitions of book art, Spector elaborated explicitly on his visual tongue-in-cheek irony:
The dilemma in staging exhibitions of books as art objects is the denial of access to the work that conservation necessarily demands. … and it is a morethan passing irony that implications of hermeticism and elitism should surround books shown to a public using the library as a means of gaining access to texts. — Buzz Spector, “Art Readings” in The Book Maker’s Desire (Pasadena, CA: Umbrella Editions, 1995), p.13.
The catalogue also teases with its title and design by suggesting that once books have been placed on display like this, the setting is no longer a library but a “white cube gallery“. As the catalogue progresses, black-and-white photos of items from the exhibition appear on the verso page in frames that appear to be hanging on the trompe l’oeil cube’s rear wall.
Pages 14 and 20 of The Book Made Art (1986) Permission of the curator and designer.
But a viewer standing in the “brutalist” construct of the Regenstein Library and holding this catalogue of The Book Made Art might have asked, “What makes these objects I cannot touch — or, in some cases even if I could, cannot read — art?” There is the catalogue’s third chime. From the start, book art has faced a constant definitional or identity crisis and even the challenge “but is it art?” The catalogue’s title echoes Lucy Lippard’s Duchampian proposition: “It’s an artist book if an artist made it, or if an artist says it is”. The catalogue’s design says, “This is the gallery, these are the objects on display in it, they are art”.
The “white cube gallery” brings on a fourth and final ironic chime. In the 1970s and early ‘80s, artists’ books were pitched as a “democratic” medium and means by which art could escape the clutches of the gallery and reach a wider public. In another catalogue — the one for the 1973 Moore College exhibition, nominated as the first of book art — John Perreault writes:
Books as art, from the artist’s point of view and the viewer’s point of view, are practical and democratic. They do not cost as much as prints. They are portable, personal, and, if need be, disposable. Because books are easily mailed, books as art are aiding in the decentralisation of the art system. — John Perreault, “Some Thoughts on Books as Art”, in Artists Books, Moore College of Art, 23 March – 20 April 1973 (Philadelphia, PA: Moore College of Art, 1973), p. 21.
By the mid-80s, lo and behold, The Book Made Art’s catalogue-cum-gallery jokingly recaptures “books as art”. And in a further irony, by the mid-80s and since, the increased rareness and price of such bookworks have made them into galleries‘ and museums’ expensive objects of desire.
With the catalogue for The Book Made Art being so scarce and with its inclusion of images of only 13 of the 49 works displayed, it is difficult to reconstruct and imagine what the exhibition must have been like. Why try? By the mid-80s, book art had opened its arms to a variety of works not existing in the 1960s to mid-70s when the Moore College of Art and the Nigel Greenwood landmark exhibitions occurred. From what the catalogues for Dianne Perry Vanderlip’s Artists’ Books and Germano Celant’s Book as Artwork: 1960/72 convey, from the images for each that can be found, the experience in Philadelphia and London must have differed greatly from that in Chicago with The Book Made Art.
What follows is a resource for comparing and contrasting The Book Made Art with the two earlier catalogues. Although he is present in The Book Made Art through Spector’s Altered LeWitt entry, Lewitt and many of the earlier catalogues’ illuminati are missing: Art-Language (Atkinson, Baldwin, Burn, Hurrell, Kosuth and Ramsden), Carl Andre, John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Stanley Brouwn, John Cage, Robert Filliou, Mario Merz, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Phillips, Dieter Rot, Ed Ruscha, Daniel Spoerri, Lawrence Weiner and Emmet Williams. These omissions leave The Book Made Art with fewer works that are purely text-based, algorithmic or typographic (as in construction poetry). The overarching impression — urged on by Spector’s inspired design — is that The Book Made Art emphasizes more of the painterly and sculptural and offers a new group of claimants to the circle of book art illuminati: Beube, Broaddus, Löhr, Share, Smith, Spector, Van Horn and several others shown below.
In addition to images retrieved or provided by the artists, links to information about the artists, to sources or images of the displayed work or to images of similar work are offered. Where possible the links provided are persistent links (avoiding “Page Not Found” messages). As with the online annotation of Celant’s Book as Artwork: 1960/72 (see Further Reading), this one offers some comparison/contrast links to earlier and later bookworks to aid in appreciating continuities and departures.
Also under Further Reading, Jeffrey Abt has kindly provided additional context about the roles played by Tony Zwicker and Robert Rosenthal, Curator of Special Collections at the University of Chicago Library, in making The Book Made Art possible.
Caveat lector/observator: Even with a work’s measurements supplied by the catalogue, it is difficult to call to the mind’s eyes and hands the presence of the object — even harder to imagine the experience of an exhibition and its environment. Measure or scale is not the only issue. As one of the artists below — Timothy Ely — puts it: “Time is scale” and “On the scale of time, some books may well last a thousand years and a drawing on a beach only a few hours. Exhibits end and fortunes change.” But then that’s why it’s called an essay.
The Artists and their Works
Algardi, Alessandro. L’Immagine della scrittura [maquette]. Milan? (1983). Paint and graphite pencil over paper; codex binding in calf; 12 leaves. Signed. 20 3/16” x 14 1/4” x 3/4”. [No image of the work found]
Some of Algardi’s works can be seen here and more extensively and clearly in the online version of Ubeir Peeters’ book Alessandro Algardi (2006), pages 112-20 in particular. As a maquette, L’Immagine della scrittura (“The image of writing”) would have required the viewer to project in the mind the executed work. Algardi’s work ranges widely in materials: acrylic, oils, cementite, titanium, vinyl tempera, emulsified canvas and from large paintings to oversized and lesser books constructed of overpainted card and even plexiglas in various bindings, including the accordion. His constant subject (the written word) and use of impasto make Algardi’s work distinctive.
Allen, Roberta. The Traveling Woman, Book IV (1985). Paint and ink over paper; codex binding with string loops and painted boards; 6 leaves. Signed. 8 15/16” x 6 5/8” x 5/8”.
The Traveling Woman, Book I (1985) Roberta Allen Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Allen has provided images of Book I as all four books were similarly formatted. She notes, however, that the binding for all four books consists of archival paper, not boards. These artist’s books are one manifestation of The Traveling Woman oeuvre. Several stories from this vein of Roberta Allen’s imagination appeared in WhiteWalls, the magazine of writings by artists founded in Chicago in 1978, continuing up to 2002. In 1986, The Traveling Woman morphed into a novel.
The technique of roughly painted-over paper appeared among many of the works in The Book Made Art, thereby contributing to the exhibition’s painterly ambiance. While The Traveling Woman’s size is close to the US standard of 6 x 9 in., together with several other much larger painted-over paper bookworks, it must have created a colourful overall effect. It is a technique varying but traceable at least to the ‘70s if not earlier (for example, John Latham’s Skoob works) and continues today (for example, Bodil Rosenberg’s Vandstand).
Appel is mentioned in the Umbrella archives as being associated with the short-lived review/cooperative KLAB, but there is little else online. This image of the encounter of Dante with Beatrice comes from the Walker Art Center Library (see the image’s lower right hand corner) and yields two of the seven panels of the twenty-edition work in accordion form, published out of Amsterdam by Da Costa Editions. Zooming in on the image behind the link, one can detect considerable and vigorous overdrawing. Vibrant turquoise, orange and lavender distinguish this work from these images of other works by Appel in the Bibliotheca Librorum apud Artificem. Appel’s Postkarten in the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection shows up only in its slipcase.
Baltazar/Michel Butor.Zodiaque des Nuages (1984). Watercolor, ink, and pastel over paper; in codex gathering but not sewn; with rigid publishers’ cloth cover and slip case; 18 leaves with paper wrapper. Script in author’s hand. Signed by artist and author. With autograph postcard, decorated with collage, Butor to Baltazar, 10.19.85. 11 5/16” x 7 9/16” x 1 3/8”. [No image of the work found]
Baltazar is Hervé Lambion‘s nom de plume. He has created numerous livres d’artiste with many authors in addition to those with Butor. No online image of Zodiaque des Nuages is readily located. The image below shows a similar work: Entre Deux Avalanches (1980).
Two other artist’s books by Baltazar can be seen here in the Champetier Gallery, and several images and an analysis of another (with Butor’s text) — La main sur le mur — can be viewed here from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague. Baltazar’s work with the author Michel Butor has been extensive enough to warrant this lengthy (but minimally illustrated) essay. As can be gathered from the images of these other works and from the essay, Baltazar’s contribution to The Book Made Art served as an exemplar of the traditional artist’s book.
Beube, Douglas. Ashes: The Effect of Fire on Paper (1980). Cloth, fabric edging and cords, marbled and found papers, and specimen bottles; mounted on found and hinged compartment trays. Signed. 16 11/16” x 11 5/8” x 2 5/16”.
Pages 12 and 13 of The Book Made Art (1986) Permission of the curator and designer.
No online image seems available, and the one in the catalogue is black and white. Framed on the back wall of the page, it hangs there like a religious diptych. This work became the second in the M.A.D. trilogy (matches, ashes, dust), and full-color images of Ashes and the trilogy have been provided here by the artist. These can also be seen in full color and context in Beube’s Breaking the Codex (New York: Etc. Etc. The Iconoclastic Press, 2011), p. 186.
M.A.D. trilogy. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Beube has been extraordinarily inventive with the book as raw artistic material. His works have altered the codex form and deployed nearly every element of its “syntax” to address recurring political, social and philosophical themes. His outcomes range as well across larger sculptural works as well as action installations. Breaking the Codex documents the impression that Beube has foreshadowed and/or echoed nearly every variation of book art in play. With Beube’s Ashes and works below by Lori Christmastree, David Horton, Andrew Masullo, Anne Hicks Siberell and Paul Zelevansky, The Book Made Art gives a significant nod toward the tradition of the Cornellian “box” in book art (see “The Box from Duchamp to Horn” in Further Reading below).
____________. My Book Journal: 1980-1982. Graphite pencil, watercolor, coloured marking pens, stamping, coloured pencil, found and layered papers, photographs, miscellaneous materials, small objects, and ephemera; codex binding in printed fabric-wrapped boards; 33 leaves. Unsigned. 5 13/16” x 10 5/8” x 1 9/16”. [No image of the work found]
Images of bound sketchbooks from other date ranges can be found on the artist’s website. Here is Sketchbook #1: My Book Journal (1979), which comes closest to the work described for the exhibition.
Sketchbook #1: My Book Journal (1979) Doug Beube Collage, fabric, paper, gouache, graphite, water color, thread, silver gelatin print, rubber stamp. H6 x W10 x D2 1/2 in.
Brater, Meryl.Black Pool White Pillow #2 (1984). Graphite, graphite pencil, coloured pencil, and printing ink over paper with ribbon ties; combination codex and accordion bindings; four principal panels. Signed. 23 7/8” x 16 11/16” x 1 5/8”. [No image of the work found]
As described in the catalogue, this work combined codex and accordion structures. Another of Brater’s works — Hidden Agenda — appears to do the same but adds a protective four-fold envelope. The accordion form is well represented among the catalogue’s entries: Appel, Brater, Haynes, McCarney, Polansky, Robinson, Schnabel, Senser, Van Horn and Vogel.
This image of Brater’s Hidden Agenda (1991) appeared on AbeBooks (23 January 2020); a thumbnail image of the same appeared on Printed Matter’s website the same date; and an exterior-only view can be found in the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection.
Broaddus, John Eric. Meridian Passage (1979). Paint and ink over paper; codex binding in painted boards; 9 leaves. Unsigned. 22 7/16th x 22 3/8” x 7/8”.
This unique work now resides with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Its record is “John Eric Broaddus, American, 1943–1990. Meridian Passage, 1979 Unique book, each page hand painted with acrylic, tempera, watercolor, and ink with abstract cut-outs Folio: 572 x 616 mm (22 1/2 x 24 1/4 in.) L15.99.2“.
Along with Allen’s, Apple’s and several others’ works below, the bold colours and cutouts of Meridian Passage underscore the painterly and sculptural nature of the book art celebrated by The Book Made Art. Despite the strong theme of democratic multiples around him, Broaddus explored the unique bookwork. Meridian Passage and the next work by Broaddus are unique, not limited editions or multiples.
____________. France I (1983). Found printed codex [popular geography] altered with paint, ink, coloured pencil, glitter, and cutting; with painted slip case and painted cloth outer wrapper; 104 leaves. Signed. 12 1/8” x 9 1/16” x 1 11/16”.
At 104 leaves, this was one of the larger works in the exhibition. The three small black-and-white images of double-page spreads in the catalogue do not do the work justice, nor does the one in The Cutting Edge of Reading by Renée Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert. With the latter, however, we have this bit of description to aid in visualising the work:
By cutting away large sections of pages, Broaddus playfully establishes astonishing connections between well-known monuments as well as between them and his own imaginative creations. … By clever cutting, a cute photograph showing children observing an artist drawing, it would seem, their portraits, metamorphoses on the other side of the leaf into a gigantic statue consisting of Watteau’s famous Arlequin partly framed within a dark blue Broaddus abstraction. — Hubert, Renée Riese, and Judd D. Hubert. The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Press, 1999), p. 230.
Best of all, though, for visualising the work, we have the tribute video from the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, which includes full-colour images and discussion by the Huberts and others.
Christmastree, Lori.You Have to Break the Glass to Get Out (1984). Graphite pencil, colored ink, watercolor, found materials, and glass shards over layered papers; unbound in double-lidded box with ribbon ties; 9 leaves. Signed. 25 1/4” x 19 1/8” x 2 3/16”.
You Have to Break the Glass to Get Out (1984) Lori Christmastree Photos of pages 3, 6 and 7: Courtesy of Misha Tomic via Buzz Spector.
Much of Lori Christmastree’s work and documentation of it were destroyed in a house fire. The artist Misha Tomic, her partner, kindly provided the images above, which echo her other works’ characteristic use of collage, ink and watercolour.
Crawford, Elsie. Willow Waterway (1985). Colored ink over wood veneer-backed paper scroll mounted on wooden dowel with leather tie; with hollowed-out tree stump case. Unsigned. 6 1/2” x 4 5/8” x 4” [No image of the work found]
Ely, Timothy C.Field Points 3 (1985). Ink and watercolor over pigment, foil-stamped, and embossed paper; in codex binding with painted boards with collage elements, and pigment and foil stamping; in drop-spine book box with buckram covering; 26 leaves. Signed. 16 3/4” x 11 5/16” x 1 1/2”. [No image of the work found]
Synesthesia, a work that in some ways exemplifies Ely’s output but in others does not, provides a stand-in here. It contains drawn and painted images by Timothy Ely and text by Terence McKenna. The typography and printing are by Philip Gallo and The Hermetic Press; the binding is by Daniel E. Kelm and The Wide Awake Garage; and the publishing, by the Granary Press. It is a limited edition (75). Note the precision of production, especially in the binding, as well as the distinctive effect of ink and watercolor over pigment. Compare it with the Baltazar/Butor work above. This is a distinctively American livre d’artiste.
Synesthesia (1992) Timothy C. Ely Bound between black boards blind stamped with multiple symbols and shapes; boards have touches of copper, blue, and pink paint; copper triangle with symbols written on it is mounted on front board; exposed spine shows 3 bands of sewing attached at each end to a metal rod running through each board. In black cloth box. 250 mm in box of 270 mm. Photos: Books On Books.
Forget, Carol.The Diplomat’s Handbook (1981). White cloth gloves stuffed with miniature flags of various nations, sewn end to end. Signed on display instructions. 8 1/4” x 4 1/4” x 3 9/16”. [No image of the work found]
With its flag-stuffed gloves punning on its title, The Diplomat’s Handbook hands us the catalogue’s first “book-alluding object“. The use of gloves finds later echoes in the work of Jules Allen (below):
The Book of White (in progress) Jules Allen Kid leather gloves, hand made paper, housing a collection of utilitarian antiques and collectibles from the mid to late 20th century. H270 x W80 x D50 mm
Forget’s tongue-in-glove tendency is evident from these images of another work — Margin Release (1976), a collection of loose cards (no binding, thus releasing the margins) — and from the New York Times’ mention of yet another of her works: “A Formica steak on a base of shredded newsprint, for instance, is titled ’Model for the Historical Novel (Meat Plus Filler)’ by the artist Carol Forget of New York.“
____________. VHF Salvation (1984). Found printed codex [Bible] altered with cloth ribbons. Signed on display instructions. 11 3/8” x 5 11/16” x 1 5/8”.
The caption for this work tantalisingly refers to signed display instructions. With that (and unable to enact the instructions), the viewers must have felt their noses being rubbed in both the catalogue’s joking “vitrine” and the exhibition’s real glass case. It is a guess that the instructions helped the viewer to decipher this instance of an “altered-book object” (or, in keeping with its spirit, an altared-book object) that preserves the altered book.
VHF Salvation is a King James Version of the Holy Bible altered with a multitude of ribbon placeholders protruding from its lower edge to provide the “very high frequency” means of “saving one’s place“. In a special issue of Visible Language, Renée Riese Hubert describes the work as an “aggressive antibook” (p. 130). Even though VHF Salvation preserves the book being altered — unlike Beube’s Ashes diptych (above), which alters the book or books beyond recognition — some viewers might nevertheless have felt as uneasy as some viewers of Meg Hitchcock’s more aggressive alterations of the Bible, Koran and Bhavagad Gita.
Freeman, Jane. The Book of Sisters (1978). Watercolor and color marking-pen ink over collage elements including packaging ephemera, postcards, clippings from magazines and books, and photographs; in codex binding with cloth-covered boards and fore-edge ties; 23 leaves. Unsigned. 5 9/16” x 8 7/8” x 1 9/16”.
The Book of Sisters (1978) Jane Freeman Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
As with Forget’s work, images of Freeman’s early works are hard to find. The description of the 23 leaves as a collage of packaging ephemera, postcards, magazine and book clippings and photographs — all covered by watercolour and colour-marking pen ink — serves well to capture Freeman’s approach in these additional images of another work — A Freelance Life (1988).
A Freelance Life (1988) Jane Freeman 9” x 6 1/2“ Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
____________. Worse Verse (1983). Found printed codex [poetry] altered with watercolor, color marking pen, and collage elements including string, postage stamps, and clippings from magazines and books; in codex binding in publisher’s cloth altered with paint; 12 leaves. Signed. 8 13/16” x 5 3/8” x 9/16”. [No image of the work found]
The New York Center for Book Arts shows four images of another work by Freeman — New, Improved (1985) — which is an altered Sotheby Parke-Bernet Inc. fine art auction catalogue. The artist has provided images of a similar work — Highly Important Paintings (1985) — shown below. With their heavily overpainted layers of acrylic and gouache obscuring and/or revealing parts of the underlying work and text and with tipped-in images and found bits of ephemera, these two works likely give an impression comparable to Worse Verse.
Highly Important Paintings (1985) Jane Freeman Auction house catalogue, each page collaged and painted. 10 1/4” x 8” closed. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
As mentioned in the entry for Robert Allen, the technique of painted-over pages has been widespread. So has the technique of painting over book and magazine pages and selectively allowing text to show through. Tom Phillips’ A Humument is perhaps the best known of the type that creates a new novel, a type not represented in the Chicago exhibition. The type that comments on the underlying form and content is well represented by Broaddus and Freeman.
Hartmann, Werner. Krankengeschichten (1979). White pencil over slate; assembled in cloth sleeves in codex format in cloth wrapper with ties; 10 slates. Signed. 11 5/16” x 7 7/8” x 2 1/4”.
In the catalogue, two images show Krankengeschichten (“Medical Records”) closed and open. Closed, it is a codex shape made up of page-size cloth sleeves; two cloth ties hold it closed like a hospital gown. Open, it displays one of ten dark slates removed from its sleeve and showing white-pencilled text and an image (a cross section? an X-ray?). Hartmann worked with images on slate in at least two other instances, but nothing as book-like as Krankengeschichten.
Haynes,Ric.Early Fish (1984). Paint, ink, and rubber stamping over layered papers in combination with decorative and marbled papers; in accordion-fold binding with rubber stamping and marbled-paper decorated slip case; 8 panels. Signed. 9 5/16” x 20 1/4” x 4 1/2”. [No image of the work found]
The description of Haynes’ entry conjures a work very different from his other work self-published under his Joke Bone Press imprint. With no image of Early Fish readily discoverable, Haynes’ Aquatic Yoga with Dangerous Foods (1984) may serve as an alternative with which to imagine what Early Fish depicts and to have a sense of Haynes’ sense of humor as well as to remind us of humor’s presence throughout The Book Made Art.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Aquatic Yoga subjects a number of targets to parody — including the New Age as well as the artist’s book as democratic multiple. His anecdote recounted in The Sun (March 1984) captures this:
Ric says that when he first published the book, “I took it to a ‘New Age’ bookstore and was thrown out for being insulting to the Art and Life of Yoga. However, I know that Yoga people, like the rest of us, get off on a nice chocolate mint-chocolate chip ice cream sundae with kaluha syrup on top and a shot or two of creme de cacao on the side once in a while. Maybe at least they dream of it. I am sure.” — The Sun (March 1984).
Along with her partner Dieter Froese (d.2006), Hines pioneered video installation art and co-founded Dekart Video. Both were part of the Fluxus movement. Displayed in the same space as Jana Kluge’s Untitled (see below), this loop of film altered with ink and mounted as a Möbius strip would certainly have contributed to the exhibition’s startle factor. The video behind the link shows the work more clearly and includes its reading by the performance artist Arleen Schloss. What a boon to book art exhibitions if each work displayed under glass were accompanied by similar videos.
Hines writes that the inspiration for The Endless Filmscript was twofold:
It was based on 2 concepts. One I wanted to correlate individual film frames with alphabet letters. And two, I was interested in the Möbius loop concept where the last sentence of a story leads back to the first. — Correspondence with Books On Books, 31 March 2020.
The Möbius strip is not uncommon in book art. Two outstanding examples are Daniel E. Kelm‘s Neo Emblemata Nova (2005) and Doug Beube’s Red Infinity #4 (2014). But combining the use of film with the allocation of one letter per film frame is one of the more uncommon challenges in book art to the page as a syntactic unit.
Hocks, Paula.No Caryatids(1982). Multiple: one of two. Black-and-white and color photocopy reproductions of collages; in codex binding with publisher’s cloth with inner and outer cloth wrappers; 115 leaves. Unsigned. 9 1/16” x 10 11/16” x 1 9/16”. [No image of the work found]
Founder of Running Women Press, Hocks (d.2003) relied on a photocopier to reproduce imagery and text that was hand written, typed, or clipped from printed material. This seems to have been more of financial necessity than allegiance to the ”democratic multiple”. Images of her other works can be found here. The Otis College of Art and Design has images of four of her works, including Head and Bodies 2, which illustrate the likely techniques of No Caryatids. The Paula Hocks archive resides at the New Mexico Museum of Art Library.
Horton, David.In Celebration of the Discovery of the Abandoned Star Factory(1982). Multiple: one of thirty. Paper maché and electric motor in commercial salesman’s samples case; with cloth pouch containing: David Horton. In Celebration of the Discovery of the Abandoned Star Factory. Atlanta, Georgia. Nexus Press, 1982 [halftone illustrations and text printed lithographically with serigraphed designs over paper and string collages, and silver print (photograph); in codex binding in publisher’s cloth; 12 leaves]. Construction: unsigned. 11 15/16” x 15 1/8” x 5 11/16”. Codex: signed. 9 15/16” x 8 11/16” x 1”. [No image of the work found]
As noted in Ric Haynes’ entry, Horton can be associated with the comic or cartoon book tradition in book art. Although In Celebration does not fall into that category, it predicts Horton’s fictional character “Dr. Thelonious Tinker, Cosmic Archeologist”. According to Horton’s entry at William Paterson University, “In addition to making artifacts, appliances and notebook pages, he is currently drafting writings and drawings for a series of graphic novels on this character’s life and adventures“. This work by Horton with its commercial salesman’s sample case reflects the Duchampian “boîte-en-valise” tradition in book art, and its introduction of moving parts and motors reflects another sub-genre in the field. See Regan Avery’s The Groton Avery Clan (2014) or Doug Beube’s Dis/Solve(2018).
Kluge, Jana.[Untitled] (1984). Found printed codex [Spanish/English dictionary] altered with seawater borne vegetable and mineral matter. Signed. 4 9/16” x 5 7/8” x 1 11/16”.
The description above matches that for her work entitled se(e)a book (1984) displayed by Galerie Horst Dietrich in Berlin in 1987 as well as that for the description of the work entitled Book Written by the Sea, Cadaqués, Spain (1984) listed and shown in Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection (2014). In correspondence with Books On Books, Kluge writes that the work was one of a series created over the summers of 1983-85 in Cadaqués, Spain. The technique or tradition in book art of creating a work by exposing it to the elements runs back to Marcel Duchamp’s Le Readymade Malheureux (1919) and forward to Mark Cockram’s Kintsugi (2013) and Decomp (2013) by Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott.
se(e)a book (1984) Spanish/English dictionary, covered under water with seaweed and seashells, being formed by movements of the sea, dried in the wind and by the sun); 23 x 18 x 7 cm. Photographer: Horst Dietrich. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Photo of page from Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection (2014) Photo: Books On Books
From the late 80s though, Kluge felt another force impinging on the book form, and her work moved from collaboration with the elements to the communal and expanded into the digital. Her collaboration Gutenberg‘s Galaxy (2014) represents Marshall McLuhan’s themes of alphabetization, print culture and electronic medias altered by a “village” of artists employing audiovisual fantasies, video-works, digital art on paper and twelve electro-acoustical compositions.
Image: Courtesy of the artist
Kostiuk, Michael. Airplane Shadow Book (1981/82). Found codex, plastic airplane model, wood, and photolithography-offset reproduction altered with paint. Signed. 7 7/16” x 16 1/16” x 16 1/16”.
The found codex is apparently penetrated by a diving plastic model airplane (cut in two and attached to the back and front covers). From the Franklin Furnace “New Zealand Tour” of artists’ books, Kostiuk’s comments on his approach shed some light on Airplane Shadow Book, and images on his FaceBook page use an approach similar to that in Airplane Shadow Book.
I use the book format to involve the viewer personally and tactually [sic] by elements of surprise within the motion of opening and viewing the pop-up books and the physical or visual three-dimensionality of various works. Sometimes clear vinyl is used for pages, instead of paper, and are loose-leaf/ring bound, giving the viewer an option of hand viewing or, by attaching each grommeted page with push pins to a wall, linear viewing.
I use various artistic experiences to create an imagery that is both clearly stated and contradictory. The concepts are seen as paired imagery, visible speech narratives, and three-dimensional pop-ups, incorporated in various media of drawing, painting, and sculpture on photographic surfaces to create a personal style.
Kostiuk’s book penetration is quite distinct from those of, say, John Latham and Doug Beube. The Michael Kostiuk Collection is held at the University of Texas at Austin, but no online images are currently available there, and Airplane Shadow Book seems not to be part of the collection. Images of Kostiuk’s photography can be found in the Dallas Museum of Art.and archival material resides with New York’s MoMA.
Lavater, Warja.Jeu : livre en “papier modulé” (1980). Multiple: One of twenty-two. Cast paper, some color-dyed; in codex gathering but not sewn; in drop-spine book box with publisher’s cloth covering; 10 leaves. Signed. 18 1/2” x 11 11/16” x 1 7/16”. [No image of the work found]
Lazaron, Edna (d.2007). Terror (1985). Multiple: One of four. Black-and-white and color photocopies of collages over paper and transparent polyester, altered with ink, paint, and color photographs; in codex binding with foil over heavy paper front board altered with paint and string, and colored plastic back board, with electrical coil cord, string, and field clasp tie; in matte plastic draw-string bag; 6 leaves. Unsigned. 9” x 12 1/4” x 1 7/8”.
The catalogue shows two images of this work: closed and open. A related work — Terrorism (1985) — resides in New York’s Center for Book Arts and is shown in the catalogue Multiple, Limited, Unique (2011), p.88. The Joan Flasch Artists’ Books Collection holds two other works — Souvenir vignette/Yucatán (1982) and Markings (1985) — that suggest a penchant on Lazaron’s part for soft containers for her bookworks, further confirmed by the plastic sleeve enveloping Worth the Wait?, four images of which can be seen in the Artists’ Book Collection, University of Louisville Margaret M. Bridwell Art Library.
Worth the Wait? (197?) Edna Lazaron Unbound artists’ book folded to 11 x 11 cm with illustrations; 22 x 22 cm unfolded. Artists’ Book Collection, University of Louisville Margaret M. Bridwell Art Library.
Löhr, Helmut(d.2010). Blablabla (1985). Found codex wrapped in layered and rubber stamped colored tissue papers. Signed. 11 5/16” x 7 13/16” x 3 1/4”. [No image of the work found]
The many instances of Löhr’s works in the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum are nothing like that described in The Book Made Art. In Visual Poetry (1987), below, Löhr distorts blocks of type and the type within the blocks and presents them in irregular pentagrams. The text may be found text, but the production value is unlike that in most found codex works.
Visual Poetry (1987) Helmut Löhr Artist’s book, featuring typewriter art printed on double leaves cut in the shape of an irregular pentagram. Photos: Books On Books at National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum.
Mud Hand Prints was published by an early champion of Long, Coracle Press, which is also represented in The Book Made Art by Erica Van Horn (below). The incorporation of raw natural material in book art has a long tradition and ongoing
Masullo, Andrew.Pandora (1985). Twenty tablets wrapped in letterpress- and photolithography-offset-printed papers; in hinged box with glass-covered compartments containing dried flowers, a photograph, and found papers; box covered with found and painted papers. Unsigned. 2 5/16” x 6 5/8” x 4 5/8”.
Masullo retains the work, and the only view of it is that in the catalogue. Like Beube’s entry in The Book Made Art, the description of Masullo’s will remind the viewer of Joseph Cornell’s boxes. According to Masullo, the work’s full title is 1029; Pandora. His subsequent works (mostly paintings in vibrant colours and numbered sequentially), the titles are simply the number reflecting the order in which they were created. According to most articles about Masullo, the numbers reflect his aim “to prevent the viewer from being unduly influenced by words“. More than that, as Masullo writes: “using words to explain my visual life is something I do my best to avoid“ (correspondence with Books On Books, 17 February 2020).
So if the work had been named only 1029, how might the viewer in 1986 have responded to this hinged box, closed with a “P”-shaped clasp and containing dried flowers in their glass-covered compartments, images of classical busts and the Sphinx, medical drawings of the human organs, a globe and twenty tablets wrapped in paper and embedded in the upper half of the box? From that clasp, might the viewer have sussed that it was “Pandora’s” box? Would the viewer have known what had been irretrievably released by opening the box? Hard to say: like Pandora, the viewer/reader today cannot un-know what is known when responding to this work of art. The conundrum does, however, focus attention on the role of words and text in book art.
McCarney, Scott.Home Sweet Home(1985). Multiple: One of four. Paper in accordion-fold binding with decorative and marbled paper-covered Boards; with paper-covered slip case. Signed. 11 5/8” x 9 1/12” x 1 3/4”.
Home Sweet Home (1985) Scott McCarney Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
The role of words and text in Scott McCarney’s art runs long and deep. McCarney’s use of the pop-up and leporello forms is most often seen in his abecedaries, a common genre in book art that is surprisingly not represented in The Book Made Art. As Spector might put it, in Home Sweet Home, McCarney is a master of the syntax of the book. Using the leporello and pop-up structures, the forms of letters and their placement on the spread page, he creates a striking effect of simultaneity.
Miller, Brenda. The Aleph (1985). Pastel over stencil pattern-cut decorative paper [correction per correspondence with artist, 8 May 2020: “Blue editing pencil on hand made paper from sisal, cut from alphabet stencil“]; in codex binding with leather over boards and gold foil title stamping by Gérard Charrière; 31 leaves. Signed. 16 13/16” x 15 1/16” x 1 5/8”.
Miller’s other alphabet-related works differ from The Aleph in their size and in this work’s more literary inspiration (the Borges story, according to Miller in correspondence with Books On Books, 21 March 2020). This “blue editing pencil on hand made paper from sisal, cut from alphabet stencil“ and Miller’s Horizontal alphabet (26) south-east in the Harry Ransom Center Book Collection, University of Texas Austin, share Gérard Charrière as binder. Clearly from the title of the latter, it is closer to the spirit of the installations under the titles Vertical Alphabet and Horizontal Alphabet, which can be seen on the New York MoMA site. An interview with Barbara Haskell on the occasion of an exhibition at the Whitney explains Miller’s conceptual and systematic creative technique.
Osborn, Kevin.Vector Rev (1983). Multiple: One of one hundred. Color offset lithography over decorative die-cut papers with glass marbles; in fan-shape binding (hinged near base); with brushed aluminum outer covers and cloth ribbon tie with aluminum clasp; 140 leaves. Unsigned. 19 3/16” x 2 1/16” x 1 7/8”.
Like Kay Hines’ The Endless Filmscript and many other works displayed in The Book Made Art, Osborn’s Vector Rev challenges to the very structure of the book. But this challenge is rooted in the book’s historical structure. Books shaped like fans are an Asian and Indian tradition, dating back to manuscript sutras.
Photos: Left – “Pattra”, Cangminzho • CC BY-SA 4.0; Right – “Palm leaf manuscripts of 16th century in Odia script”, Manoj Choudhury • CC BY-SA 3.0.
Phillips, Nicholas. Egyptian Hours (1980). Multiple: One of ninety. Color intaglio over paper altered with cutting, watercolors, thread, and graphite pencil; unbound in paperback edition leather folding case; 8 panels. Signed. 6 7/16” x 6 7/16” x 1 3/4”
Egyptian Hours falls somewhere between book and portfolio box. Somewhat like photos and captions in a photobook, text and relief images play off one another, but mediated by glyphs in the “table of contents”, the named hours are distant from the images associated with them. If the table of contents were held apart, the distance would shorten, but the images are so evocative, there is more pleasure in guessing the nature of the hour that the image represents: the image of a window lattice through which to watch, an image of a tile fragment or the image of archivally numbered shards.
Egyptian Hours (1980) Nicholas Phillips Photos: Books On Books at the National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum.
____________. Tales of the Floating World (1983). Multiple: One of forty-five. Color intaglio over paper; unbound with two protective boards in publisher’s cloth and paper-covered telescoping box; 9 leaves. Signed. 10 1/4” x 10 3/16” x 1 1/16”.
Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
A sequence of images where the viewer floats away from the earth and its orbit to the far reaches of the universe. Starting with a view of the pyramids at Kareima (from drawings I’d done from high up on the Gebel Berkal), thence a low earth orbit view of cloud formations over the ocean, and so on past the moon to be amongst the exploding galaxies. The images increase in size as we travel: from the single squares at the start to the doubles for space walk and moon to the final image where the view opens out across 3 side-by-side sheets. The colophon text, a quote from a 17th cent Buddhist priest [Tales of the floating world, by Asai Ryoi] says it all. — Nicholas Phillips
The words of Asai Ryoi, partially hidden in the first row’s center image, are
Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating …Tales of the Floating World (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University, 1984).
Polansky, Lois.Anatomical Digressions (1985). Gold ink, graphite pencil, charcoal, printing ink, watercolor, paint, and dry transfer and self-adhesive lettering over cast and machine-made papers; in accordion-fold binding; 12 panels. Signed. 15 3/8” x 11 1/2” x 3 3/4”. [No image of the work found]
U&LC, February 1985, Vol 11, No 4 contains “The Metamorphosis of a Book”, an essay on Polansky’s bookworks. A small thumbnail appears on the “Art in Embassies” site, and two loose album pages have been offered for sale by RoGallery (see below).
The Heart Leves (n.d.) Lois Polansky From “Lois Polansky”, Art in Embassies, U.S. Department of State, accessed 3 February 2020.
Album Pages IX & X (n.d.) Lois Polansky From RoGallery, accessed 5 February 2020.
Robinson, Aminah Brenda Lynn.Sapelo Hog Hammock Community (1984). Cloths, buttons, and embroidery yarns; in accordion-fold binding; 3 panels. Signed. 24” x 16 5/8” x 2 3/4”.
A halftone image of the bookwork is included in the catalogue, so the full glory of the work has to be appreciated by a look at its quilt work companion. The quilt work shown below surpasses the book work in size, but both thrust a vibrant narrative grounded in the African concept of Sankofa, “learning from the past in order to move forward“. Both works draw on her extended visits to Sapelo Island, Georgia, USA. [Image of the book art from Artnet]
Senser, Andreas.I remember Italy (1985). Paint, graphite pencil, and ink over layered papers, found illustrations and text, photographs, and clear polyester; in accordion-fold binding; 11 panels. Unsigned. 13 3/16” x 10 3/16” x 15/16”. [No image of the work found]
Images of thirteen works by Senser can be viewed at Visual AIDS. The one below is the only accordion-fold among them.
Share, Susan Joy.The Bell Show (1982). Game board and game board pieces, black-and-white and color photocopies of packing ephemera, found illustrations, and text, altered with watercolor, paint, and rubber stamping; mounted on painted publishers’ cloth-wrapped panels; in end-to-end gate-fold binding with brass snap-buttons on buckram band closure; 4 panels. Signed. 14 7/8” x 14 5/8” x 1 9/16”.
The Bell Show (1982) Susan Joy Share Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Another example of Share’s “architectural” flair in making art of the book’s form, Vivian’s Photos (below) from the same period combines discarded photos of buildings and sidewalks with painted papers to create changing atmospheres and architectural formats. This work did not appear in The Book Made Art but did show up in Book Ar(t)chitecture, curated by Richard Minsky the year before.
Vivian’s Photos (1984) Susan Joy Share Cloth, board, photo, paper, acrylic, cord. The eight signatures are made from board-weight collaged panels, laminated to linen hinges. The signatures are oversewn onto a single common cord, creating a clothesline-like appearance. A collage folding-box contains the piece. 7” x 6.25” x 2.5” opening to 6.25” x 13″” x 30”. Photos: Hiro Ihara. Courtesy of the artist.
Update: still more can be found in this interview with Helen Hiebert, accessed 15 November 2020.
Shaw, Karen.Petit Larousse: Various Editions (1980). Found materials including twelve miniature blank books, pins, metal title plate, glass-lidded box, cotton, and small labels altered with dry-transfer lettering. Signed. 12 3/16” x 16 1/4” x 2 1/2”.
The catalogue provides a halftone image, but the zoomable, online images at the Yale Art Gallery, where the work is part of the Allan Chasanoff Collection, provides some of the color’s impact. Shaw’s bookworks have a great sense of humor, as does the best of book art. These images of another of her dictionary-related works demonstrate that humor well.
Entomological–Etymological Specimens Karen Shaw From a series of nine. Open: 14” x 22”. When these works were displayed, they were only partially open and mounted on the wall to resemble the shape of butterflies. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Siberell, Anne Hicks. Wotan (1984). Colored and cast plasters imbedded with found objects including photographic slide mount altered with paint, packaging labels, and ruler fragment; with wood box and cover and elastic band closure containing ink on vellum manuscript poem. Unsigned. 8” x 5 15/16” x 1 3/8”.
Wotan (1984) Anne Hicks Siberell Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Unboxed: Wotan (1984) Anne Hicks Siberell Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Clockwise from top left: Goddess Doormat (), Archaeology (), Three Blind Mice (), He Said She Said () and Pisa (). Anne Hicks Siberell. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Skuber, Berty.A Different Game (1977). Ink, graphite pencil, and watercolor over paper in combination with black-and-white photocopies, black-and-white photographs, color photographs, and postage stamp; unbound in publishers’ cloth drop-spine book box; 16 leaves. Signed. 9 1/16” x 6 3/4” x 15/16”.
Last two pages of the bottom row from A Different Game (1977) Berty Skuber Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
This work has “long, strong legs”. It appeared as recently as 7 March – 7 June 2019 in the exhibition called Anatomia del linguaggio at the Galleria dell’Accademia di Belle Arti in Macerata, Italy. In requesting that the work be framed in two rows, one above the other, each eight pages long, and shown on a wall, or displayed in a vitrine, Skuber makes clear that she does not think of A Different Game as exclusively a book. In correspondence, she also notes, “This was the form most typical of my work at that time, most of which, like this piece, made use of photographs, India ink, watercolor, and elements of collage.“ In 2002, Henry Martin wrote an insightful piece in NY Arts Magazine about Skuber’s work then. Skuber’s work will be shown in New Orleans in 2020, and for that show she writes: “Words are an essential part of [my work], and another of its features is a constant return to grids and grid-like stuctures that also have something to do with a sense of the scansion of time. This is particularly clear, moreover, in my animated video collages, all of which are visible on my website, and three of which I’d especially call to your attention: Widdershins, parts 1 & 2 (2015-2016); Epicycles/eclipse (2013); and Sieben Farbraeume, for which the best English title might be “Seven Spaces, Seven Colors” (1996).
Smith, Keith A.Book 91 (1982). Multiple: One of fifty. Die-cut and embossed paper with string; in quarter publishers’ cloth and paper-sides binding; 24 leaves. Signed. 10 3/16” x 14 3/8” x 1 1/8”.
Phil Zimmerman published Book 91 under Spaceheater Editions 1984 and released the video above in 2013. Another example of how an accompanying video can somewhat counter the glass case. Also known as the ”String Book”, Book 91 boasts images at the Boston Athenaeum] and the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, which has an excellent descriptive essay by Judith Klau.
Spector, Buzz.Altered Lewitt (1985). Multiple: One of five. Found printed book [Sol Lewitt. (untitled. n.p.:) Sperone/Fisher, 1974. Edition: one of fifteen hundred.] altered by tearing and mounting text block in open position. Signed. 17 11/16” x 8 7/8” x 7/8”.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist. Taken during preparation for June 2020 exhibition at Saint Louis Art Museum.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
At the 1’55” mark, this video provides a view of Spector’s handling a similar work (a Jasper Johns catalogue). The technique of altering another book artist’s work or another artist’s catalogue of works is a recurrent practice among artists. Bruce Nauman’s 1968 Burning Small Fires plays with Ed Ruscha’s 1964 Various Small Fires and Milk, and Dennis Oppenheim’s 1970 Flower Arrangement for Bruce Nauman returns the favour. Noriko Ambe has come closest to Spector’s variation; she has altered catalogues of Koons, Lichtenstein, Richter, Warhol and several others.
Terauchi, Yoko.Terra (1984). Multiple: One of ten. Powdered pigment and paper; in codex binding with cloth ribbon fore-edge ties. Unsigned [correction per artist’s correspondence: “the title Terra on the first page is handwritten by myself and it is my ‘signature’ for all my art works”]. 14 5/8” x 10 15/16” x 5/8”.
Terra was the first of several works that Terauchi published with Coracle.
Toparovsky, Simon. Companions in Spirit (1985). Sequins, wire, thread, and cloth over synthetic mesh in silk-wrapped mats; in accordion-fold binding with silk over shallow bas-relief covers; with drop-spine book box in silk-wrapped, embossed, and shallow bas-relief outer covers; 6 panels. Unsigned. 19 1/8” x 15 3/4” x 2 3/8”. [No image of the work found]
Bruce Schnabel taught bookbinding at the Otis College of Design. Around 1990, he abandoned book art and began sculptural work under the name Simon Toparovsky. Toparovsky writes, “I believe ‘Companions in Spirit’ is in Special Collections at the University of Southern California… The most similar book about which I have a record is in the Getty Research Institute– ‘Chaos Should be Regarded as Extremely Good News’.” (correspondence with Books On Books, 24 April 2020). Although a full description of the latter can be found under its link, there is no image there. The artist has been kind enough to provide images of other bookworks from the same period.
Healing Hand (1983) Simon Toparovsky Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Tikal Codex (1982) Simon Toparovsky Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
The Mind Sees What the Eye Misses (1986) Simon Toparovsky From the artist’s collection: A screen book made of hand-dyed silk, heat tooled with gold and color foils over boards with onlays of hand-dyed silk. Bound with silk insertion stitches and glass seed beads. Edition of 9. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Permission of the artist. Additional images can be found in Yale University’s Beinecke Digital Collections.
The work is one sheet constructed of six sheets sewn together and folded accordion style. Displayed unfolded, the work exceeds seventeen feet. Nancy Kuhl’s The Book Remembers Everything (2010) shows images of La Ville aux Dames and places the work in context of Van Horn’s other works of that period.
Vogel, Cornelia.6 Livres (1982). Each book containing a number of collage elements including ink, graphite pencil, paint, and watercolor over paper with string, intaglio prints, color photographic transparencies, and cloth mesh; in accordion-fold bindings with similarly prepared paper covers; 6 leaves each. All signed. With painted compartment box. Unsigned. 3 1/2” x 3 11/16” x 4 15/16”. [No image of the work found]
Wygonik, Melanie (d.2005). Lost Playground (1985). Colored pencil, graphite pencil, ink, and paint over layered and sewn papers in combination with collage elements including fabrics, fabric edgings; embroideries, embroidery threads, buttons, sequins, and charms; in codex binding; 7 leaves. Signed. 22 1/4” x 15 3/16” x 1 3/8”. [No image of the work found]
Images of some of the artist’s two-dimensional works can be easily found, not so for the three-dimensional. From the same decade, Just Desserts (1980) and Shimmering (1983) are representative; unfortunately the images are black and white. The detail from this untitled watercolour can be found here (accessed 25 February 2020).
Detail of untitled watercolor (1977) Melanie Wygonik From eBay, accessed 25 February 2020.
Zelevansky, Paul.The Case for the Burial of Ancestors, Book I (1979-81). Ink, watercolor, graphite and blue graphic layout pencils, rubber stamping, dry-transfer lettering, and typewriter printing over paper in combination with photographs and photolitho-offset reproductions; unbound in solander case with carrying handle; 101 leaves. Signed. [Partial manuscript for: Paul Zelevansky. The Case for the Burial of Ancestors, Book I. New York: Zartscorp, Inc. Books and Visual Studies Workshop, 1981.] 2 15/16” x 15 3/8” x 13 1/2”.
Zush. Portrait of New York City (1976-82). Found blank codex, with fore-edge leather ties, altered with ink, graphite pencil, and watercolor with the addition of found objects including photographs, string, metal scraps, fabric, vegetable matter, map fragment, and postcard. 23 leaves. Signed. 12 15/16” x 10 3/16” x 1 5/16”. [No image of the work found]
The Catalan artist Alberto Porta y Muñoz assumed the name Zush in 1968 and gradually switched to Evru starting in 2001. Portrait of New York City may have looked like the work Untitled (1979-1984) in Colleció “La Caixa”. Another work Uroxos (2000) is one of the last bookworks by Porta under the name Zush. Although Uroxos is an accordion-fold, its appearance alongside those of the accompanying prints and Untitled may stand in here for that of Portrait of New York City.
Credit for the exhibit’s inception goes to Tony Zwicker (1925-2000) a passionate, knowledgeable, courageous, and caring dealer of modern and contemporary artists books. I first met her on a visit to her home/gallery located in a former artist’s studio in the National Arts Club building overlooking Gramercy Park (on 20th Street in New York) around 1983 or 1984. With its nearly two-story tall glass wall facing north over the park, it was a memorable setting. I was visiting her in the company of Robert Rosenthal, Curator (head) of the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library, where I worked as exhibition coordinator. In addition to that job, I also advised Bob on the acquisition of artists books for the rare book collections; and we were there to learn and perhaps make some purchases. Tony not only knew the history of artists books and kept up to date on the latest developments, she was also discerning, insightful, and generous with her learning. When the idea for doing this show came about in thefollowing year, we did not–originally–intend to rely so heavily on her holdings, but it became inevitable because she was so widely connected and the artists she represented trusted her (nearly all the works in the exhibit were very fragile and had to be prepared for shipment by fine arts packers). Bob, who was nothing if not adventuresome in his approach to book culture, enthusiastically backed my proposal for the exhibition despite its cost and encouraged the University’s Library Society to fund it and publication of the exhibit catalogue.
Tony’s importance at this particular point in the development of contemporary artists books warrants further exploration. Her papers are preserved at the Art Institute of Chicago: Tony Zwicker Archive. — Jeffrey Abt, Professor Emeritus, James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History, Wayne State University, 12 May 2020.
The British Library and Maggs Bros Ltd (with Designer Bookbinders) have separately delivered a profusion of book arts and book art events for the month of May: from the BL, talks associated with the exhibition “Writing: Making Your Mark” and the series “Artists’ Books Now”; from Maggs Bros and DB, workshops and displays associated with London Craft Week (8-12 May).
At the British Library, I peered through the glass at the Diamond Sutra (868 AD). The distinctiveness of the portraits and the density of the carving rival that of 15th century Renaissance frescoes and Durer’s prints. Even if photography had been allowed, the vitrine and lighting would not permit my camera to capture the details, and reduced in size from the original, the postcard below barely does. Alternatively, a visit to the BL’s website yields a zoomable image by which you can judge the distinctiveness and density yourself.
If, counting from the time of Lucy in the Olduvai Gorge, the 5000 years of writing and reading makes for only a tiny sliver of the anthropocene, the era of reading books represents so far a sliver of that sliver. Belinda Jack, a Fellow and Tutor at Christ Church, Oxford, talked for a brief hour about the history of the reading “half” of the equation. Jack’s Reading: A Very Short Introduction is built on the premise that, unlike the writing half with its artefacts of bone, rope, clay, bamboo, stone, paper and screens, this other half’s history proceeds only through indirect evidence of what we do with the written, by speculation about our reaction to it.
Although she did not mention making art in, with or from books, it was impossible not to think of the “glass free and photos allowed” exhibit of bookbinding and book art at Maggs Bros Ltd, Bedford Square, only 20 minutes’ walk from the BL.
Two works by Midori Kunikata-Cockram were on display: Hawthorn (2019) and African Grey Parrots (2010). You can find other examples of her bindings in the British Library’s Database of Bookbindings. The two examples shown here, however, could be pulled from the shelf, opened, closed and examined. If you zoom in on the left-hand panel above, you might see that one of the stamens of the hawthorn blossom floats above the petal. That kind of attention to detail makes this work of otherwise muted colours a vibrant thing you can feel with your eyes.
Meeting Mark Cockram at the exhibit was welcome serendipity. Not only did he tell me about African Grey Parrots’ being Kunikata-Cockram’s response to their keeping a parrot during a friend’s vacation, he pointed out the meticulous registration within pages and across the recto to verso pages. The feel and appearance of the cover’s vellum is just as breathcatching.
The pages of Cockram’s oversized contribution to “psycho-geography” feels like they had been pulled off hoardings to be bound in the sidewalk-grey leather. At a more textual end of the spectrum is his on-spec binding of this edition of A Clockwork Orange, signed by Anthony Burgess. The way the title spreads across the back cover, spine and front cover almost forces a handling of the book — turning it over from front to back then back to front — and, in the process, feeling the collaged textures of the boards bound to the spine.
The weight of the garish boards holds the book open for a comfortable reading of the 1960s text block — as if they were saying, “Viddy well, little brother. Viddy well”.
The BL’s exhibition continues through 28 August. Exhibitions at Maggs Bros Ltd are shorter lived but can be spotted by following them on Instagram.
Staff in Special Collections at the University of San Antonio libraries caught this sudden slant of sunlight on insect-damaged pages. It makes a good start for a serendipitous trek across conservation, book history and book art.
Those dry tunneled pages tear easily with turning, compounding the loss with further damage. To forestall such damage, the areas of loss could be filled page by page with Japanese paper (kozo or gampi) or with paper pulp. The Smithsonian’s book conservation lab illustrates the former method here:
The mending with Japanese paper reminds me of passages in A Degree of Mastery, where the author describes mending rare books with kozo paper under the eagle eye of the late Bill Anthony. The mending with paper pulp though recalls the painstaking art of Pat Gentenaar-Torley.
Three centuries before the paper in the San Antonio book was printed, bound and readied for damage in the centuries to follow, parchment — sturdier as it was — had its inherent flaws and elicited peculiar remedies for tears and loss. Erik Kwakkel’s site and books illustrate and celebrate several examples of what he calls “the beauty of the injured book”:
Dreamcatchers spring to mind. What were the thoughts caught in words now missing on these pages, words slipped from the dreamcatching pages? Our medieval “dreamcatcher” conservator seems to have in mind more than the principles of modern conservation — perhaps something more akin to kintsugi.
Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) is a Japanese method for repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to incorporate the repair visibly into the new piece instead of disguising it.
Several centuries later, confronted with an 18th century volume of Horace, UK bookbinder Kathy Abbott was similarly inspired. Her story is recounted in Flash of the Hand (13 December 2015) and Skin Deep (Spring 2017).
Whether this is “conservation binding” is a debated point. According to Jeff Peachey, it is “very creative repurposing of existing binding elements that add a new layer of meaning to old books, which is, I submit, more properly considered book arts” [Correspondence with Books On Books, 13 August 2018].
The extensive and well-documented work of Mark Cockram, book artist, master bookbinder and founder of Studio 5 Book Arts in London, bridges the debate. Cockram’s first venture with kintsugi occurred by accident, falling out of a separate, deliberate experiment to collaborate with nature — by burying books with the help of friends around the world and by submitting them to tanks of insects with the help of forensic entomologist Amoret Whitaker. Marc Webb (Park Light Pictures) captures Cockram’s original intent and results in this video created to accompany Cockram’s and nature’s works of art displayed at Pestival (2010). Cockram’s first kintsugi work, entitled Kintsugi (2013), came as a response to cracks appearing after freeze-drying the cover of one of sketchbooks buried in a garden in Bangkok.
So pleased with the outcome of the accident, Cockram produced Kintsugi 2 (2018).
Another work of kintsugi-by-accident is Michele Emerick Brown‘s Miscellany, which began as an entry to the 2016 Guild of Book Workers’ binding exhibition. Sewn with a link stitch and of German paper case construction, it consists of printing examples from the bookbinding and restoration program at the Camberwell School of Art and Crafts, as it was known back in the 70s. Of more interest, its boards are made of Rockite (a concrete mix) and marble dust.
After its not being accepted to the GBW exhibition, Brown writes,
I decided to enter it in the Artistree exhibit. I have a cottage in NH and thought I’d drop it off the same week-end I was meeting some friends. I took it out of the bag to show them, turned, tripped and dropped the book. Each board broke in several pieces. Very traumatic. It seemed like this book wasn’t meant to be exhibited.
After a couple of weeks I decided to glue it back together using construction adhesive and thought I would use gold leaf to highlight the cracks. While I was thinking about how to do it (what kind of glaire to use etc), someone told me about kintsugi. I ended up using gold acrylic (Golden). I went ahead and submitted it and it was accepted.[Correspondence with Books On Books, ]
Another “kintsugi book artist” is Lorenzo Perrone. Much like Werner Pfeiffer, Perrone has focused on the book as unreadable object and, as his site called “Libribianchi” implies, almost completely white.
Evident from this video about Perrone and this one about Pfeiffer, Perrone’s work is more romantic in a literary sense. His recent adoption of bronze and installations adds an elemental, alchemical, even phenomenological feel to his oeuvre. As he puts it, “Before, water was enough to make paper malleable, now I need fire to make bronze compliant.” Despite the disappearance of text in Perrone’s works, they still perform that ekphrastic act of book art and send me back to re-read — this time Bachelard’s Water and Dreams and Fragments of a Poetics of Fire.
Like the pleasure of kintsugi, an increase of enjoyment in something elemental, something fusing the past with the present, the broken with the re-created and the head with the heart.