Books On Books Collection – Taller Leñateros

Incantations (2005)

Incantations (2005)
Mayan Women
Fathermothers of the Book: Ámbar Past with Xun Okotz and Xpetra Ernándes
Casebound, glued. H250 x W250 x D50 mm, 194 pages. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, Chiapas, Mexico, 23 July 2020.

Acquisition of this anthology of magical songs and ritual paintings of Tsotsil women from the Highlands of Chiapas came primarily from an interest in its “paper”. The artists and craftworkers at Taller Leñateros keep alive the tradition of amate (or huun in Mayan) making. It is a substrate formed of macerated bark fiber pounded until the required thinness is reached. If the term “paper” applies only to material made from fiber macerated until each individual filament is a separate unit, then mixed with water, sieved with a screen and drained to generate a thin layer of intertwined fiber (Dard Hunter, p. 5), amate is not paper. Only the endpapers of the book appear to be made of amate. The text block is a combination of recycled office paper and off-white art paper.

Also of sculptural interest was the book cover, a paper mask in high and low relief cast from recycled cardboard, corn silk, and coffee. Arriving tightly enclosed in a brown cardboard clamshell box, painted and stenciled in black, lined with the same black endpapers used in the book, it made a startling entrance, enhanced by the firm prying to free it.

Even once free, Incantations resists the reader. So tightly glued and bound to its spine, the book block must be prised open. Small flakes of the paper mask cover fall. Repeated use would surely break it down. At first, disheartening, the resistance begins to play to the strength of the text and illustrations. Non-Mayan eyes and fingers seem to be intruding in an occult space.

La Jicara (1998)


La Jicara (1998)
Leñateros Workshop
Double-sided accordion journal made of sheets of brown kraft paper joined to create 56 double-sided pages, wrapped with a string threaded through a carved gourd. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, 23 July 2020.

In contrast to the Incantations‘ European codex, La Jicara presents the pre-Hispanic accordion-fold codex. Including envelopes with enclosures, tipped-in artwork, foldout pages, inserted books and cards, a full-size news sheet and inserted postcards — almost all socially and politically charged — the journal invokes the brutal internecine and Hispanic destruction of first the Mayan and then the Aztec print legacies. The original story has been recounted, forgotten and recounted for centuries — one recent recounting embedded in The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library (2019) and its forgetting reflected in the absence of any chapter recounting it in Lost Libraries: The Destruction of Great Book Collections since Antiquity (2004).

Dancers #51 and Aztec Warrior #53

Dancers #51 and Aztec Warrior #53 (N.D.)
Cristobal Vazquez
Woodcut serigraphy. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, 23 July 2020.

Further Reading

The First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial“, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019. See René Teygeler’s essay in the fifth book The Spirit of Paper (2004).

Hunter, Dard. Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (New York: Dover, 1978).

Matthew, Heather. “Hand Papermaking in Mexico: Amate Paper & Traditional Mayan Techniques“, Paperslurry, N.D.