workshop art
art of the book
currentex exschedule members cbabooks reference

Introduction to 

BOOK ARTS IN THE USA    (page 2)


This is the most established field in the book arts. Its traditions go back to Gutenberg, and its goal is the beautiful printed page. The choice of typeface and the spacing of each letter is important in this work, as are the design of the page, and the size of the margins. Much of this work is printed letterpress and is concerned with the quality of the impression of the type in the paper. The choice of text is of great importance. Published in small editions, the text may be the first printing of a book of poems, a classic novel, or an experimental form combining typographic eccentricity with text and illustrations. Harry Duncan's Cummington Press, and Andrew Hoyem's Arion Press, are among these independent publishers. Many colleges and universities now teach these arts and we find Kim Merker operating the Windhover Press at the University of Iowa, Bob Tauber with the Logan Elm Press at Ohio State University, and Walter Hamady, who runs his own Perishable Press and also teaches at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

What these people have in common is the importance of the feel of the book. The reader is always aware of the physical presence and aesthetic of the page. This aspect brings the work of literature into the world of visual art. Often the cooperation of many people makes the book possible. There may be a publisher, editor, writer, illustrator, papermaker, printmaker, typesetter, printer, paper marbler and bookbinder. Some individuals go so far as to do every one of these operations themselves. The control of every aspect of production creates a unique personal vision.


Until about 15 years ago bookbinding in America was based entirely on various European models. The traditions of the craft were preserved and disseminated by members of the Guild of Book Workers, which has been an active society for over 75 years. Recently, however, a new interest in the development of materials and structures has grown, from several distinct perspectives. Hedi Kyle develops structures based on her research in book conservation, and is a leader in folding paper structures and non-adhesive binding. Gary Frost and William Drendel are among those who develop structures based on historical models, such as ancient Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic bindings or those of the Medieval Celts. In Fusion, Timothy Ely makes the entire book, using paints, inks, gold leaf and other substances both on the pages and the covers. Jan Sobota makes the book into a sculpture, as we see in Ruce.

Bookbinding has transcended its origins as a craft involved exclusively in the preservation of text and the decoration of covers. The sculptural and architectural qualities can be the content of the book. For Susan Share this is not enough. She creates performances using the structural aspects of compound hinging book forms.


Are these in fact books? Stella Waitzkin uses cast acrylic resin to make solid booklike objects, like Mozambique. Karen Wirth, who is a bookbinder, also makes solid books, including the bronze Geomyth.

These sculptures use the book as a totemic or iconographic artifact. We include these in Book Arts because, although they may not have pages or work like books we usually see, they are about the very essence of what a book means to us, and communicate their message visually. Waitzkin has said, I love books, but words often get in the way of communication.

There are books which don't fit any of these categories, and that is part of the excitement of this developing field. Raymond Holbert's Daily Reminder is a diary filled with each day's thoughts and images. Edna Lazaron's Terrorism deals with a contemporary issue in a form which goes back thousands of years the scroll in a ceramic jar.

Please note that the catalog entries cover a wide variety of objects and formats. There may be several artists who worked on different aspects of a book, particularly in the area of fine printing. There I have chosen as the artist the proprietor or director of the press which produced the work, and the press name then appears in parentheses after the name of the individual. It is this person's statement which is reproduced. The other artists who contributed to the project are identified in the listing.

It was hard selecting only 51 artists to represent Book Arts in the USA, as there are hundreds more doing innovative work. The excellent exhibit Artist's Bookworks in Print, curated by Anne-Catherine Fallen and Kevin Osborn, circulated in Africa five years ago, showing an entirely different group of artists. In the present collection of work I have tried to present a broad view of the varieties of work that are currently being pursued, and to include representation of the geographic distribution of this large country.

Copyright 1990 Center for Book Arts