Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 112
June 1997


Charles Alexander, ed. Talking the Boundless Book: Art, Language, & the Book Arts. Minnesota Center for Book Arts, 24 North Third Street, Minneapolis mn 55401. 144pp. $15.95. ISBN 1-879832-09-7. Reviewed by Brian Rogers, Connecticut College.

There are two kinds of book arts. The traditional ones concern the book as a well-designed vehicle for a text. Talking the Boundless Book deals with the other: the book as artistic creation which is itself the message and in which text may be fragmentary, random, or absent altogether. The traditional book arts are so familiar that they are (regrettably) invisible to most citizens, and are largely the province of typographers, designers, printers, binders, rare book librarians, collectors, and other subscribers to this newsletter. But as readers of this book will discover, the "other" book arts are hard to pin down.

Fourteen presentations from Art & Language: Re-Reading the Boundless Book, a 1994 symposium at the Minnesota Center, are here collected. The symposium and its exhibition sought to provide departure points for "a deeper criticism of the book arts." In Hermeneutics and the Book Arts, Dick Higgins searches for a methodology, a vocabulary, of book arts criticism, a quest also taken up by Johanna Drucker in A Critical Metalanguage for the Book as an Artform. Karen Wirth's concluding piece asserts that "the critical writer can place the book anywhere in an infinite number of possible discourses" and declares that for now "the questions raised do not need specific answers or solutions -circuitous discussion brings up new questions, and that is how the field grows."

Between these bookends are eleven other talks about the book arts from many points of view. Steven Clay of Granary Books discusses artists' books as "total experience" and acknowledges his debt to Barbara Farner's manifesto for the book as a "manifold, living being" embracing an entire world. Charles Bernstein, Susan Bee, Toshi Ishihara and Linda Reinfeld talk about publishing poetry, from basic economics to page design to the metamorphosis of a 13th century Japanese anthology into a 20th century set of manipulable cards.

Publishing as an agency for social change is provocatively addressed by Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., who includes a moving account of ten "at risk" children who spent a week with him "building" their own books. JoAnn Paschall of Atlanta's Nexus Press describes her lively collaborations with book artists and gives examples of the Press's innovative forays into the life of the city. Katherine Kuehn makes trenchant observations on social change after describing the powerful inXuence on children of images in certain early 20th century picture books. Colette Gaiter's description of navigating her electronic "isms" books is one of the most successful essays in the collection. Electronic books notwithstanding, the most avant-garde of the boundless books are those of Alison Knowles: complex, inhabitable installations, not unlike stage sets, in which Alison and her collaborators perform. Opening night of the symposium included a "book performance" by Ms. Knowles (who is a composer, performance artist, and writer as well as book artist) that offered, as the editor relates, "a sense of the limitless nature of the book arts."

In The Book and the Body: Generation and Re-Generation, Byron Clercx describes his projects "that metaphorically reference the corporeal aspects of reading," among them one that began with cutting all the books on his shelves into chunks with a bandsaw. Brad Freeman talks about the work of Janet Zweig, whose artists' books have evolved from static pieces to such computer driven kinetic sculptures as Mind Over Matter, a work that randomly re-combines Descartes' "I think, therefore I am," Popeye's "I am what I am," and The Little Engine That Could's "I think I can" into hundreds of permutations. Example: "I think I can think."

On a first reading, the calculated discontinuity among the talks seems to be a weakness, but finally it is the book's greatest strength, validating the editor's hope that in and around these various approaches the reader may find a point of entry into a sprawling field. One wishes for a richer sampling of the illustrative material so tantalizingly referred to: this would be a marvelousvideocassette, capturing not only the illustrations but audience participation and the prevailing spirit of the occasion. One also regrets typos and spelling inconsistencies in a book about books and language, but these are small darts to throw at a useful contribution to the evolving discipline of book arts theory and criticism.

Marie Angel. An Animated Alphabet. Lincoln, Mass.: David R. Godine, 1996. 64p. Wrappers. $12.95. ISBN 1-56792-023-3. A "Godine Pocket Paragon", a new series of beautiful books in small formats. Notice by Sid Huttner.

Now in her seventies, English calligrapher Marie Angel is perhaps best known for her botanical paintings. Thirty years ago, commissioned by the Houghton Library to create an "animated alphabet" of animals, insects and birds she knew and loved, Angel produced 28 colorful miniature drawings on vellum. This result was published as a booklet in black and white only, and is now published for the first time in full color "a jewel," says the publisher, "not only for collectors of alphabet books but for anyone who appreciates the genius of a consummate master doing what she does - and loves - best."

Parkinson, Richard, and Stephen Quirke. Papyrus. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995. 100 pp., 9 color and 65 black and white photographs. Index and bibliography. Wrappers. $19.95. ISBN 0-292-76563-0.

Intended as an introductory text, this book "examines the methods of papyrus-making and its different uses, not only under the Pharaohs, but also in other Egyptian civilizations such as the Hellenistic kingdom of the Ptolemies and the colonial rule of the Roman Empire." Good beginning book. SFH.

Neeta Premchand. Off the Deckle Edge, A Paper-making Journey Through India. Bombay: Ankur Project. 1995 edition, ed. by Carmen Kagal. 128pp. ISBN 0 9525831-1-9. Distributed by Oak Knoll Books, 414 Delaware Street, New Castle de 19720. Reviewed by Sandra Sider, Gordon N. Ray Rare Books Cataloguer, Pierpont Morgan Library.

Inspired by pioneers such as Dard Hunter, Neeta Premchand in Off the Deckle Edge balances history and technique in her papermaking tour of India. Like Hunter, the author praises the local crafts industry while voicing concern for its future existence.

Although some of the 107 color photographs are amateurish (taken by the author and a family member), they adequately document papermaking traditions passed from generation to generation for more than four centuries. Written from the point of view of a craftsperson "in love with a newly acquired skill," Premchand's book, with its enthusiasm and respect for the papermakers of India, more than compensates for the occasional murky photograph and a tendency to romanticize a grueling and often thankless occupation. The reader will especially enjoy the handmade paper interspersed throughout the book, which should be read "not merely with the eyes but also with the hands." Premchand respects not only the craft of Indian papermaking, but also its artistry.

Eight oblong leaves of paper handmade from cotton waste and straw, jute, banana fiber, or Xower petals, are bound around gatherings. Bookbinders would not normally wish to use these papers: they are unsized and fairly acidic (a sample tested by Deborah Evetts, Drew Heinz Book Conservator at the Morgan Library, registered a pH of 5). Marketed as gift wrapping paper, note cards, and stationery, this beautiful paper is destined to become ephemera.

Nevertheless, anyone involved with handmade paper would appreciate Off the Deckle Edge as Premchand explores towns whose papermaking traditions have never been fully described in print. Written almost like a diary, the personal tone of the author's prose takes the reader into the homes and history of people virtually forgotten by time. Papermakers would perhaps see themselves participating in the arduous routine of remote areas such as Sanganer ("repository of the past") and Junnar, where the old ways are remembered even though modern machinery has eased the tasks of these workers.

Paper in India was politicized by Mahatma Gandhi, whose idealism helped found what the author reports to be the most successful of the papermaking locations she visited, the Hand- Made Paper Institute in Pune. Premchand also praises the industry in Ahmedabad, where women, conforming to Gandhi's ideal of productivity, seem to be on equal footing with men.

The book includes a helpful glossary of more than sixty words, but unfortunately lacks an index. Typeset via computerized word processing, surely Off the Deckle Edge could have given the reader better access to this appealing subject.

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord. Multicultural Books to Make and Share. Scholastic Professional Books, 555 Broadway, New York ny 10012- 3999, 1994. 136pp. ISBN 0-590-49821-6, $14.95. Gloria Zmolek Smith. Teaching Hand Papermaking: A Classroom Guide. Zpaperpress, P.O. Box 1294, Cedar Rapids ia 52406-1294, 1995. 180pp. ISBN 0964458209, $24.95. Reviewed by Elizabeth Stege Huttner.

Art instruction in elementary schools has come a long way since the days when baby boomers were encouraged to reproduce in identical color and form the line drawings and paper weaving demonstrated by their teachers. Today's art teachers regularly introduce children to a much broader range of media including papier machÈ, ceramics, collage, and resist-painting as well as such craft skills as carving, quilling, and macrame. For such adventurous instructors the two books considered here will provide avenues of exploring two omnipresent items in every schoolroom: paper and books.

The emphasis in Multicultural Books to Make and Share is on the "multicultural" and "sharing". This is not a book from which to learn the basics of traditional bookbinding. Although detailed directions are given for sixteen "book" projects from Egyptian name scrolls and Zulu beadwork through the European codex, "book- making" is simply the medium used to study books as an expression of culture and to explore the creative possibilities of the book form.

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord has divided her book into sections on Africa, The Americas, Asia, and Europe. Each opens with a short historical essay on the development of books on that continent followed by four projects presented in order of difficulty. Gaylord uses the term "book" to encompass almost any means of preserving communication, so projects include Dakota Indian winter counts and Viking rune stones as well as papyrus scrolls and Japanese stabbed bindings. The projects emphasize the "communicating" nature of books, and the finished projects would certainly enhance understanding of cultural and historical differences. Having said this, I would make a gift of this book to my daughter's social studies teacher - not her art instructor.

Along with the publisher, Scholastic Professional Books, Gaylord has made this book very teacher-friendly. Each chapter includes suggested readings of juvenile literature, variations on the demonstrated format are suggested, instructions are simple and straight-forward, and the line-drawn illustrations are easy to follow. Classroom teachers will especially appreciate the economical, practical, and often imaginative materials used for the books: glue sticks are the adhesive of choice, papyrus scrolls are created from toilet paper rolls and adding machine tape, and the traditional buffalo skins used by the Dakotas are replicated by crumpled paper sacks.

Practical and innovative solutions are also the hallmark of Gloria Zmolek Smith's Teaching Hand Papermaking: A Classroom Guide. This truly wonderful book offers a thoughtful and thorough explanation of how to teach papermaking in a classroom with 24 students, and how to incorporate papermaking in all aspects of the school curriculum. Although she states that her book is not a text on how to make paper and she encourages teachers to take a workshop to learn the basics, Smith's clear and precise instructions are more than adequate to guide a novice in the production of his first sheet of paper.

An art teacher turned paper artist, Smith offered papermaking workshops in schools and community centers for five years before assembling her book. As a result, her practical experience guides and informs what she writes and how she organizes it. Her descriptions and explanations are thorough without being encyclopedic. (She is quick to refer the reader to the bibliography for further enlightenment.) At the same time, her apparent - though low-key - enthusiasm for the medium is conveyed by the wide range of curriculum ideas offered in the book's second part.

To engage in a popular clichÈ, Teaching Hand Papermaking empowers the reader as a teacher. The early chapters on tools, materials and technique convincingly demonstrate that the messy business of papermaking is both possible and affordable in the classroom. Smith provides imaginative alternatives to traditional tools, using items found around the home or at garage sales. Her alternative to a stack dryer, for example, consists of a box fan, blotting paper and corrugated cardboard. In discussing technique, she anticipates problems students might encounter, then offers solutions and/or alternatives. She diagrams how best to configure classroom tables into papermaking stations. I especially appreciated the section on pulp as an art medium, since I imagine that many students could quickly become frustrated in attempting to produce a "standard" sheet. To cap off the how-to section, Smith offers a chapter of "Special Tips for Teachers".

Having taken the reader through the basic procedures, Smith offers wide-ranging suggestions on how papermaking can be integrated into both the arts and basic curricula. Especially strong here are applications in math and science: paper is used to demonstrate mathematical progression, hydraulics, and aerodynamics. This section also includes "Questions and answers on the Science of Papermaking" by Timothy Barrett along with his diagrams on paper chemistry. Concluding this comprehensive guide is an annotated bibliography, a section of reproducible handouts, a supply resource directory, and a well-defined index.

The text is well-illustrated - especially the techniques section - with numerous black-and-white photographs. Some of the photographs would benefit from better contrast (an improvement, perhaps, for the second edition), but each amplifies the text. Teaching Hand Papermaking is an excellent handbook and resource book: it deserves a place of honor on the bookshelf of every imaginative teacher.

Rob Sheppard. Hand-Made Books. Kent: Search Press Limited, Wellwood, North Farm Road, 1994. 80pp. $16.95. ISBN 0-85532-754-5. Distributed in the U.S. by Bookbinder's Warehouse. Reviewed by Amy Morris, Smith College Libraries.

Rob Shepherd, chairman of Shepherds Bookbinders, has written this book as an introduction to basic techniques, tools and materials of hand bookbinding, and to a variety of simple yet satisfying projects that can be done with only a "kitchen table" setup. While its scope is therefore strictly limited, Shepherd succeeds in creating an attractive, clear, interesting, and inviting manual for beginners.

The projects featured in the book include a quarter cloth notebook, a photo-album/scrapbook, a lined-paper notebook using a storebought text-block, a three Xap folder and a Japanese-style side-sewn limp binding. Specific techniques covered in the projects range from case making, casing-in and sewing through the fold to backing cloths with Japanese tissue, anticipating and compensating for "pull," and determining grain direction in paper and board. All projects and techniques are well illustrated with diagrams and photos of Shepherd in action. There is an additional chapter focusing on tools and materials (brushes, knives, folders, dividers, sewing supplies, adhesives, paper, cloth, board, etc.) and simple "finishing" techniques useful for labels. A brief but thorough glossary of bookbinding terms may prove the most useful part of the book for the amateur.

Shepherd's focus in Hand-Made Books is on making the craft of bookbinding approachable and exciting to the beginning book or paper enthusiast, and he uses the mystique of beautifully bound books and decorative paper to draw the reader in. While experienced binders will find little that is new in this work, it is a lucid and entertaining guide for people new to binding who are interested in simple projects which can be undertaken with little space and few specialized tools.