June 7th, 2012
A couple of years ago, we ordered an interesting artists’ book by a cooperative of Mayan men and women in Chiapas, Mexico, called The Portable Mayan Altar. In a box shaped like a Mayan thatched roof hut with its blend of art, poetry, magic, and culture, it was an instant hit. The vendor’s information mentioned that the cooperative was called Taller Leñateros, and it was founded by Ambar Past. A little research on the internet helped us to find that Ambar Past was an American who went to Mexico as a teacher of natural dye techniques for the National Indian Institute. She traveled to remote areas, eventually making her home in San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the highlands of Chiapas. There she founded a graphic arts collective, Taller Leñateros, which makes paper and books.
Part of her work for the past 30 years has been collecting, recording, and translating Tzotsil poetry and music, and collaborating on bilingual anthologies published by Taller Leñateros. The collective recycles a variety of materials to make handmade paper, some of which is sculpted into various sculptural shapes as book covers. They also silk-screen the illustrations for the books, then print and bind the books.
We decided to further explore the publications of this seemingly unlikely publisher of artists books and recently purchased two more. Here is a little about each of them:
Incantations by Mayan Women, Fathermothers of the Book: Ámbar Past with Xun Okotz and Xpetra Ernándes.
OVER A HUNDRED AND FIFTY PEOPLE COLLABORATED to write, illustrate, and create this book, among them singers, seers, witchwives, washer women, sugar beer brewers, conjurers, native bearers, prayer makers, soothsayers, sorceresses, dyers, diviners, hired mourners, spinners, shepherdesses, babysitters, millers, maids, bookbinders, spellbinders, cornharvesters, great-grandmothers, sharecroppers, necromancers, exorcists, coffee pickers, potters, crazy women, midwives, planters, woodlanders, bonesetters, troublemakers, spiritualists, mothers-in-law, peddlers, gravediggers, fireworks makers, drinkers, hags, beggars, bakers, basket weavers, shamanesses, liars, computers, comagres, sculptresses, muses, and even men. We have made this book “as we make our children,” in the words of Petú Xantis, “with the strength of our flesh and the birds of our heart.
From “Notes on the Creators” essay in the book. The three-dimensional cover is modeled after the face of Kaxail, Mayan goddess of the wilderness, and made of recycled cardboard mixed with corn silk and coffee. The book itself is in several parts. The incantations are in English and in Tzotzil. There are over 70 pages of original silkscreen illustrations by Mayan painters and it is estimated that the book took 30 years to create.
Portable Mayan altar: pocket books of Mayan spells, translation from Tzotzil to English by Ámbar Past.
A box shaped like a traditional Mayan house, holds the altar and its accessories: candles, candleholders, incense and burner, and three books. The books, Hex to Kill the Unfaithful Man, Mayan Love Charms, and Magic for a Long Life, are excerpted from Incantations by Mayan Women.
The books, small and bound in paper covered boards, have beautifully marbled end leaves and silk screened illustrations. The spells and charms are in both English and Tzotzil. Each book has a ribbon bookmark attached to aid in finding your favorite spell, like the spell to keep the dog from barking at your boyfriend.
Bolom Chon, [translation and texts in English, Ámbar Past with Sara Miranda and Tom Slingsby ; texts in Tzotzil Maya [by] Maria Tzu, Rominka Vet and Maruch Méndes Péres].
This vibrant book about the jaguar is marketed as a children’s book, but it is really for anyone. The text in both English and Tzotzil, is inspired by the song, Bolom Chon, about a magical creature. It has original silkscreened illustrations by Mayan artists and a jaguar with maguey fiber whiskers pop-up centerfold. Included is a CD recording of Tzotzil children singing with their grandmother. The cover, printed on an 1895 era letterpress, is made from recycled cardboard mixed with coffee. According to the Taller Leñateros: “The cover was stepped on by the Bolom Chon so its footprints remained as a testimony of its passing through the world.” It comes housed in a colorful jaguar case.
May 23rd, 2012
We received a number of new books artists’ books in Special Collections this spring. Several of these deal with events in the Middle East. Among them are 5 books by 4 artists whose books were made in response to a project by the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition. The project asked artists create books that would commemorate the loss of life and culture on March 5, 2007 on Al-Mutanabbi Street. On that day in Baghdad, a car bomb exploded on the street heavily populated by booksellers, killing 30 people, injuring 100, and propelling the contents of the book stalls, stationers, cafes, and tobacco shops into a chaotic whirl. The winding street, named after the famed 10th Century classical Arab poet, Al- Mutanabbi, has been heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition issued a call to book artists to work on a project to “re-assemble” some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was lost. Each Book Artist entering the project was asked to complete and donate three books (or other paper material) in the course of a year, ending in 2012. The books were to contain of both memory and future of what was lost. They were to reflect the strength and fragility of books, and also speak to the endurance of the ideas within them.
This call to book artists commenced on September 1st, 2010 and ran until September 1st, 2011. Book artists have one year from the date they respond to the call to complete their work of three books. Some of the books will not be finished until September of 2012. One complete set of the books will be donated to the Iraq National Library. The other two sets will be used in conjunction with shows of the broadsides as well as in shows of their own to raise funds for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
The books at the Jen Library’s Special Collections include:
Not a Straight Line By Emily Martin, Iowa City, Iowa: Naughty Dog Press, 2011. Edition of 20.
“To read Not a Straight Line viewers must find their way along the linked books that turn this way and that, much as a meandering street would.”
Al Mutanabbi Street, March 5, 2007 By Art Hazelwood, San Francisco: Eastside Editions, 2011. Edition of 16.
“My book, starts with an image of the booksellers street. The next page begins a foldout which begins with the explosion in a death head cloud. Books flying are labeled with different bookseller areas of the world.”
Project Al-Mutanabbi Street, By Christine Kermaire, Charleroi, Belgium, 2011-2012
Series of three books:
Phase 1, Resilience of Al-Mutanabbi Street , edition of 300.
Artists statement “ …Any sound philosophy is mortally-stricken…” ( Immanuel Kant, Philosopher 1724-1804) With this sentence, Kant attempts to demonstrate that a sound philosophy must evolve, and not to persist into assertions. My goal was to (make) translate a philosopher “ banned “ in certain countries.
Phase 2, Memory of Al-Mutanabbi Street , edition of 300.
Names of people who were killed in the car bombing, inscribed around a endless screw and pulled by a red thread, vital lead. The graphics were inspired by the lintels of wood carving (“ham yo“) placed at the front of the houses to protect against “the wrong spirits” (Asia).
Phase 3, Future of Al-Mutanabbi Street, not yet published
Fractured Landscapes By Karen Kunc, Avoca, Nebraska: Blue Heron Press , 2011. Edition of 25.
Artists statement: “Various worn handset types are paired with excerpts from admired authors….The seeds of this book began four years ago in residency in NYC and continued slowly in Avoca, Nebraska.”
From the colophon: “In Memoriam, to those lost in disasters and tragedies everyday, everywhere. And to those left behind. Ever changed.”
April 27th, 2012
You may have seen some of Brian Dettmer’s work on the internet. He does amazing things with books. He cuts, carves, bends, folds, rolls, and glues books into new sculptural, unimagined shapes. He alters books such as dated reference books to intricately carved statements, providing a look into the book beyond what we normally see.
Recently, the Jen Library purchased one of Dettmer’s altered books, titled Geomorphology. According to Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged (found online), Geomorphology is the branch of geology that is concerned with the structure, origin, and development of the topographical features of the earth’s surface.
Brian Dettmer was born in 1974 and raised in Naperville, Illinois. He earned a BA in fine arts from Columbia College Chicago in 1997. Following graduation, he worked as and artist and and graphic designer in the Chicago area. In 2006, Dettmer moved with his wife to establish a studio in Atlanta. Design Boom took a look at his studio in 2009.
Explanation of Process
In this work I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential. I cut into the surface of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each layer while cutting around ideas and images of interest. Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed. Images and ideas are revealed to expose alternate histories and memories. My work is a collaboration with the existing material and its past creators and the completed pieces expose new relationships of the book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception. (Source)
For a look at more of Dettmer’s work, please visit his website.
April 19th, 2012
Recently, the Jen Library made a big decision to purchase a beautiful facsimile copy of The Book of Kells. A copy had become available in Ireland at a very good price and we thought it would be an excellent addition to our collection.
The edition we purchased was published by Faksimile Verlag Luzern, 1990 and came with a commentary, which, unfortunately for us, is in German. It took 10 years to make this facsimile to the exacting specifications. There is a great article about making the facsimile in the New York Times. It was created in a limited edition of 1,480 copies.
The Book of Kells was compiled on the Scottish island of Iona around the end of the 8th century. The Irish monks were dedicated to spreading Christianity throughout Europe. Monasteries became important spiritual centers of Europe. Iona was attacked in 806 by Vikings and it is thought that the monks fled with the manuscript to Ireland.
The manuscript was written on vellum, which is made of calfskin. Vellum is expensive and time-consuming to prepare, but provides a durable and smooth writing surface. The book consists of the Four Gospels, with additions of canonical tables and some property deeds for the Kells monastery. The book is thought to have originally had a jeweled cover, but the book was stolen in the 11th century. The cover was ripped from the book and has never been found, but 680 individual pages survived. The book is lavishly illustrated only two pages that lack any artistic ornamentation. There are a number of pages that are entirely decorated with very little text, including the portrait pages and the “carpet” pages.
The book was buried for almost 3 months to protect it from thieves and invaders, but was dug up and resided at Kells monastery until it was taken to Dublin during the reign of Cromwell when monasteries were closed. In 1661, it was donated by the Bishop of Meath to Trinity College, where it still resides today.
If you want to see a beautifully animated film on the making of the Book of Kells after it arrived from Iona, see the Secret of Kells. It is in our library collection, but also available online for free. The 12th century priest, Gerald of Wales, called the Book of Kells “the work of an angel, and not of a man”. It is onsidered one of the most important medieval illuminated manuscripts; few other books express such symbolic and magical power.
January 6th, 2012
We love Alphabet books! They come in such a vast array of subject matters and formats. The Alphabet book got its start teaching children their ABCs while providing cute and memorable examples of words beginning with each letter. Often, there are engaging pictures or cute rhymes. We have a small display of some of our favorites Alphabet books out in Special Collections. Our small exhibit contains mostly artists’ books, with a few pop-up books and one or two others. Most of our books are not really written for children, but are just taking advantage of the genre to make a beautiful or interesting book. Come in and take a look. Here is a preview of a few titles:
The White Alphabet, by Ronald King at the Circle Press, is one of the most intricately crafted of our books. It is a double-sided concertina alphabet book, without text. Each fold opens up to reveal a pop-up letter, exquisitely crafted of RWS hand-made paper and sandwiched between inlaid wooden boards.
The Gorey Alphabet by Edward Gorey is an entire alphabet of terrible occupations and pastimes, such as Fetishist or Xenophobe. There is nothing like Gorey’s macabre sense of humor. No cute and cuddly animal friends or bright colorful illustrations grace these pages. This is an alphabet book for only the most fearless of children, and of course, all who appreciate such things.
Michael Roberts is an artist for The New Yorker magazine, a photographer, filmmaker, and fashion writer. His Jungle ABC is a colorful, beautifully conceived, collaged alphabet book using imagery from Africa. Perhaps the average child might not appreciate the beauty of this world as much as the adults, but we love the vibrant energy of this alphabet. With its exotic words to learn and fascinating images to decipher, it is definitely an entertaining book. The book is forwarded by model, Iman, who talks about inspiration found in the mystery and power of the jungle.
ABC–3D, by Marion Bataille, is another pop-up book that won awards for being the best children’s book of the year. It has a lenticular cover that changes letters as you shift the book. The color scheme is graphically interesting in red, white, and black. The book does more than just pop-up. Some of the pages have movement, such as the pinwheel S. Robert Sabuda called it “One of the most delightful and innovative pop-up books I have ever seen.”
A Tool Alphabet, by Laura Davidson is an artists’ book we like a lot. Beautiful printed tools and letters are on each page. The book is offset printed, with an embossed cover and held together with copper grommets. Some of the tools are not ones I recognize, but then, my experience with hardware may be somewhat limited.
December 27th, 2011
Last year, Special Collections was contacted by Fraser Maclean, an animator and teacher from Scotland. He was finishing up a book on the art of animation layout and wondered if he could use some materials from the Don Bluth Collection of Animation in his book. We already had some layouts from the Secret of NIMH scanned, so sent him some samples. He loved them and selected a few to use. That was the easy part. The hard part was all of the legal stuff to allow permissions to publish, etc. Somehow we got through that and sent the images on to Fraser.
We saw that the book came out just a few weeks ago and ordered copies for the library. Setting the Scene: The Art & Evolution of the Animation Layout came in to the library the other day and it is beautiful! And so full of information! The book contains interviews, examples, gossip, history, and process on the art of the layout for animation. Full of lavish color illustrations, it gives the reader a peek into the history of how animators plot the scenes and pull all of the elements together into one cohesive work. There is a copy in Special Collections, and also a few in the circulating collection. Come in to the library and take a look at this beautiful book (if you can find a copy on the shelf.) Here is one of the images SCAD supplied for the book. It appears on pages 159.
November 30th, 2011
Recently, Professor Patricia Butz brought students in to Special Collections to see some books we recently purchased at her request. The books were by Father Edward Catich on calligraphy and handwriting. We are always happy to assist faculty in finding resources for their classes! And, this is an area that we may have been lacking in materials, so it helped our collection, also.
Father Edward Catich was a well known author and artist working in many fields. He was interested in history, liturgical art, photography, music, sculpture and stone cutting, but he is best known as a calligrapher. He was born in Stevensville, Montana. After he and his 3 brothers were orphaned, they were relocated to Illinois. While in an orphanage in Illinois, he undertook a sign-writing apprenticeship with Walter Heberling. He went on to work as a union sign-writer in Chicago and attended the Art Institute of Chicago for three-and-a-half years and then went to St. Ambrose in Iowa. He went on to receive a graduate degree from the University of Iowa, and then went to Rome in 1935 to study at Pontifical Gregorian University and also pursue an interest in paleography and epigraphy. It was there that he observed a relationship between the inscription letter-making of Imperial Rome and the Chicago sign writing he learned in his internship. After ordination, he returned to St. Ambrose College to teach art, music, and math. He founded the Art Department at St. Ambrose and taught there until his death in 1979.
He also founded his own press, the Catfish Press, which operated out of his studio at the University. He published several of his own books at the press. He was a prolific artist in many different formats from stone cutting to painting to calligraphy. St Ambrose University owns 5,000 pieces of the artist’s work and they are available in an online digital archive. Many of his paintings have calligraphic elements. He is also responsible for the designing of two typefaces: Petrarch and Catfish.
He created a number of alphabet stones, some in permanent collections of seven museums. St. Ambrose University house the largest collection of Father Catich’s work, some 5,000 pieces from sketchbooks and drawings to finished works in watercolor, ink, and slates. He also left his manuscripts and correspondence. St. Ambrose has digitized much of the artwork and is available at The Catich Collection: A Digital Archive of the Works of Fr. Edward Catich.
October 17th, 2011
The Codex Seriphinianus has been called the strangest book in the world. It is by Luigi Serafini, and was originally published in 1981 by Franco Maria Ricci, who has dedicated himself to publishing unique, limited edition books by independent artists. Luigi Serafini is an Italian architect and graphic designer. Born in Rome in 1949, he has created scenery, lighting, and set designs, illustrated books, sculptures, and taught graphic design.
The book itself is an encyclopedia of an unknown world. It is written, presumably, in the language of that world, which looks completely alien, yet somewhat familiar. You get the feeling it that if you just looked a little differently, you might decipher some meaning. The illustrations are even more perplexing, filled with familiar elements, but arranged in unfamiliar ways.
The book is arranged into chapters, each dealing with a different element of this very strange world. Some of these include flora and fauna, which have characteristics we know, but they behave in ways we have never seen. The science is explained by truly alien math. The machines seem to have functions outside our ability to guess. Apparently, your sink can fill up quickly with fish. The clothes are very interesting, some more like armor. There is a very interesting deck of cards. My favorite section is the architecture. Parts of this world appear very watery.
If you Google the Codex Seraphinianus, you will find that it is a highly discussed publication. There is a lot of speculation on what it means. Several sites talk about translating the book, referring to subtle and not so subtle keys to the meaning in the book. Serafini, speaking bfore the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles on May 12, 2009, stated that there is no meaning behind the script he used, that his writing was asemic, which means the writing has no specific semantic content. The interpretation is entirely up to the reader. You can come in to the library to see the book or view it completely on line. There are several sites that host it, here is one: CodexSeraphinianus
If you want to read a little more about the book or perhaps, purchase your own copy, there is a great article with images and a short video at the Abe Books site.