09 January 2023
The Americas and Oceania team is fortunate to work with some fascinating items that cross our desks for a variety of reasons from exhibition loans to Reader queries. Through the On my desk blog series, we ask the team three questions which will give you an insight into the work of curators and cataloguers at the Library and a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the items in the collections. Today’s post features Lucy Rowland, the curator for Oceania Published Collections Post-1850.
What is the item?
Night Fall in the Ti-Tree by Violet Teague and Geraldine Rede, an artists' book printed in Melbourne, Australia in 1906 (11649.h.6.).
Why is it on your desk?
This may come as a surprise to many people, but curators don't always know the full extent of the collections they look after! Yes, you can familiarise yourself with notable items by reading the lists, reports, and blog posts compiled by previous colleagues, or through the outputs of research into the collection. And you can learn plenty about the history of the collection through articles in the Electronic British Library Journal (eBLJ), but what you can’t do is to walk around a discrete section of the Library marked ‘The Oceania Collection’. The printed books and serials in this collection, as with many others, are not shelved together but are instead spread out over different levels of the basements at St Pancras and a range of storage buildings at the Boston Spa site in Yorkshire. Where they are stored is usually determined by a variety of factors including their arrival date, format, size, value, usage, and condition. Which means there are times when, just like Readers, we stumble on treasures completely by chance. Exactly like this one. Whilst reading a rare book vendor’s catalogue, I saw a listing for Night Fall in the Ti-Tree and wondered whether the Library had a copy. Excitingly we hold the 1906 printing (the original 1905 edition is extremely rare), so I called it up to my desk to have a look.
Why is it interesting?
Night Fall in the Ti-Tree (1905) is considered to be the first Australian artists' book and is the earliest known example of colour relief printing in the country. This hand-bound book of colour woodblock prints with letterpress text was produced by the artists, Violet Teague and Geraldine Rede, at Teague’s home in Melbourne. The story is a cautionary tale about a family of rabbits in the Australian bush, with the illustrations leading from one page to the next in imitation of the Japanese children's crepe books of the late 1800s. The book itself is a remarkable tribute to the Japanese printmaking techniques Teague was introduced to during her time as an art student in Europe and the UK, and is a very early example of Japanese-style coloured woodcut illustrations in Australia. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree was exhibited in both the Victorian Artists Society Exhibition and the Federal Art Exhibition in 1905 and went on to collect an award in the 1907 First Australian Exhibition of Women's Work. In 1906, it was picked up by English publisher Elkin Mathews for a second edition, that held by the British Library, which included a revised title page, a green ribbon binding, and a custom-made box. What makes this book even more interesting is that this charming item came to the Library via legal deposit and, due to the restrictive collecting practices at the time, if the publisher had not deposited the book back in 1906, it is very unlikely that Night Fall in the Ti-Tree would be on my desk right now. Remember you just need a free Reader Pass to gain access to this and many more beautiful items in the Library’s collections.
14 November 2022
My thanks go to Alan Stein for granting permission to use images of his artwork in this blog
The Americas team is fortunate to work with some fascinating items that cross our desks for a variety of reasons from exhibition loans to Reader queries. Through the On my desk blog series, we ask the team three questions which will give you an insight into the work of curators and cataloguers at the Library and a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the items in the collections. Today’s post features Rachael, one of the curators for the Library’s North American Published Collections Post-1850.
What is the item?
On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories with wood engravings by Alan Stein and introduction by Tom Smart (RF.2022.b.35) – a fine press book from 2018 printed by The Church Street Press, based in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada.
Why is it on your desk?
While standard Canadian monographs are processed by our teams in Boston Spa, the more delicate fine press items are invoiced, stamped, catalogued and stored at our London site in St Pancras.
On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories is on my desk because it's a new acquisition which needed to be stamped before passing onto the Americas Cataloguer who makes the item available and, very importantly, findable in the British Library catalogue.
I always love visiting the stamping room; seeing the team delicately place a handstamp on an item means it’s one step closer to being made available to Readers. The stamping team make sure all new acquisitions display a British Library stamp in a way that clearly shows a mark of ownership but which is discreet enough to not invade or obscure the content on the item’s pages. A steady hand is needed, particularly where artists’ books, fine press and other visually appealing items are concerned, materials you might see displayed in exhibitions for example.
As you’ll notice, this book displays a small British Library (BL) stamp and crown (unlike the larger round stamps used on standard monographs) in red ink, indicating this has been a purchase – rather than a donation (green) or arrived via Legal Deposit (blue).
Why is it interesting?
For me this item is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, having lived in Canada for a short time in my youth, I always find it a bit of a treat to look through books which focus on the unique landscapes found there.
Painter and a printmaker Alan Stein established Church Street Press in 1998; through his private press, he hand prints limited edition books which feature his own illustrations in wood engravings, like the ones here, or stone lithography. Alan states that much of his work ‘has been influenced by summers spent on Georgian Bay’, and this book, as the title implies, epitomises that. Alan’s archives are held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.
Georgian Bay – a large bay of Lake Huron – is located entirely within the borders of Ontario. As Tom Smart (art historian and curator) explains in his introduction, the book comprises a number of authors whose ‘prose poems, fictional narratives, autobiographical episodes and…invented passages from historical records’ examine the influence the Bay has had on their lives and works. I find it fascinating how the same natural spectacle has had such deep connections with so many authors and artists, many more beyond the pages of this book I’m sure, and how that influence manifests itself so differently from person to person; inspiring them to write on topics from climate change to culinary encounters.
One contribution that stood out for me when reading this item is Manido-gaming by Waubgeshig Rice. An eight-year-old Anishinaabeg boy fishes on the side of his lake, his grandmother beside him, the boy asking the elder about the Anishinaabeg presence that has been at the lake before his lifetime, and before hers. Through their exchange, the lake becomes a kind of metaphor for the Anishinaabeg experience: ‘It gives us all life. It’s sacred. And it’s your home, my boy’ his grandmother tells him. But looking at the town of recreational homes across the bay, reminders of displacement are ever-present: the young boy observes that ‘[u]nder the wind-swept evergreens of its shoreline, Georgian Bay’s flowing contradictions whirled.’ The title of this story, Manido-gaming, refers to the name by which the innumerable Anishinaabeg generations who have lived on or near the Bay’s shores, know the body of water: “Manidoo gaming,” or “spirit lake”.
As well as being of potential research interest to those studying Canadian and Indigenous authors and Canadian landscapes in literature, I should also mention the beauty of this book physically. The mottled watery effect cover invites the reader to dive into the pages.
Stein’s prints not only interpret the words as image, but also ‘trace a personal iconography testifying to his own deep connection to the land and water and to the histories of the place’. These comprise 14 wood engravings including one stunning hand-coloured in blue, green, yellow and red showing a more tempestuous scene printed on Gampi Torinoko. Alan kindly gave me some insight into the inspiration for this frontispiece image: this being a tale Alan was told by his friend, Canadian poet and diplomat, Douglas Valentine LePan, about the dream of a local native Ojibway guide by the name Peter Pemajuan. The rough, rocky-coloured pages add a real tangible element to reading the book will no doubt appeal to researchers interested in paper- and book-making techniques, engraving, printing and binding.
Remember you just need a free Reader Pass to gain access to this and hundreds more fine press items in the Library’s collections. Find out more about the titles available using our collections guide and the bibliographic guide from the Eccles Centre for American Studies.
 Lithography being a ‘flat-surface printmaking process in which a design is drawn onto a flat stone, or prepared metal plate, usually zinc or aluminium, and affixed by means of a chemical reaction’. Definition provided by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for more details see https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/collection-areas/drawings-and-prints/materials-and-techniques/printmaking/lithograph
 From the book’s introduction by Tom Smart
 ‘Ancestral Waters’ by Waubgeshig Rice, an excerpt from Locations Of Grief: An Emotional Geography: http://hamiltonreviewofbooks.com/blog/2020/5/15/ancestral-waters
 From the book’s introduction by Tom Smart
 ‘Gampi Torinoko is a strong, crisp sheet that is translucent, with almost no visible fibres. Gampi is a bush found in the mountainous, warm areas of Japan’. Definition provided by Legion Paper, for more details see https://legionpaper.com/gampi-torinoko
05 October 2022
Dr. Tatiani Rapatzikou is Associate Professor in the Department of American Literature and Culture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, and was a 2020 Eccles Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
My visit to the British Library in April and August 2022 was fully dedicated to the exploration of diverse primary and secondary sources that fall under the theme of book design, materiality, and storytelling in the context of print and digital American literary practice.
With the Library having in its holdings an array of uniquely made books by contemporary US-based print makers, I felt that I had only scraped the tip of the iceberg.
While searching for my own project, I came across and I was tempted to explore a number of paper-made gems that fueled my curiosity and whetted my appetite for this area of American literary, as well as publishing, experience. The first example I’d like to share is the Loujon Press 1966 volume titled Order and Chaos Chez Reichel by Henry Miller (see Fig. 1) that I had been reading about but had never seen.
Made out of a range of materials such as coloured paper, cork and tissue-lace paper, and coming in a decorated cardboard slipcase, this is a unique codex creation. This special volume contains, in addition to Miller’s own text, an introduction contributed by Lawrence Durrell, one of his close friends, written in red ink on light blue and beige-coloured paper. In the opening paragraph of the introduction, Durrell writes: “This little book is, if my memory serves me right, only one of several which Miller completed around this time (1937-38) and gave to his friends as personal gifts” (7). This particular book creation was dedicated to Miller’s painter friend, Hans Reichel, whom he met during his Paris days in the late 1930s. Building on Miller’s initially handwritten book-letter to Reichel on printer’s dummies, Jon and Louise "Gypsy Lou" Webb, the founders of the New Orleans-based Loujon Press, published Miller’s Order and Chaos in six limited editions, each one resorting to different materials and bindings.
The specific book mentioned here serves as a memento of a special friendship. Ιt is the tactile and visual as well as colour quality of the materials used (paper, cork, tissue, ink) that transfer to the readers Miller’s diverse thoughts and feelings for his painter friend.
The second example, I’d like to point at is the limited edition of a broadside poem project (see Fig. 2), which started in 1982 with Alastair Reed and continued in 1984 with Dana Gioia, aiming to bring together a diverse range of poems by American poets residing in fourteen different US states. Amidst the poets who participated in this special endeavor were: May Swenson, W.S. Merwin, Jay Parini, Judith Hemschemeyer, Amy Clampitt and others. This project was completed in collaboration with James Trissel, who was the designer and printer of the letterpress and book arts studio known as The Press at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In the booklet accompanying the broadside poem creations, Gioia writes in her “Introduction”: “Printed on one side of a single sheet of paper, a poetry broadside is the most intense and unified genre of printing. […] While a book may have hundreds of pages to create its effect, a broadside has only one forceful gesture to satisfy simultaneously the requirements of both literature and design.” While in “The Printer’s Comment,” contained in the same booklet, Trissel notes: “These twenty four broadsides […] represent the opportunity to deal with poetry in an expansive range of typographic situations” by resorting to special paper materials and an array of printing techniques. He also points out that, “Unlike the book, the broadside tries within a single plane to strike a resonance between the poetic text and its visual circumstance.” These two comments offer an insight into the crucial role materials, typographic design and printing can play in the delivery not only of an aesthetic effect but also of a multilayered and synthesizing experience.
It was thanks to the Eccles Centre's US Fine Presses Established after 1945: A Guide to the British Library's Holdings, which is available both on the Centre's website and in the British Library's Shared Research Repository, that I was able to systematize and expand my research as well as broaden my knowledge about American specialist presses and their print-based projects.
What is certain is that materials enhance the experience of writing, since they strive not merely for a conceptual, but also a bodily and even gestural engagement with the texts composed and the narratives brought forward. Each one of the examples presented here sheds light on a different way of printing and manifestation of creativity. These kinds of material creations both bring to our attention an alternative artistic and literary activity that values craftsmanship and collaboration between the print-maker and the writer or the poet, while also personalizing the overall experience and establishing a meaningful connection with the readers on the basis of the materials and printing method chosen.
In a reality governed by mass production and commercialization, material design and book-making invite us to reevaluate literary practice. This has become even more pertinent since the turn of the 21st century due to the ubiquity of digital technologies. It is not accidental that in the context of current scholarship on American literary production there is a resurgence of interest in digitally-assisted book design and materials, with “bookishness” being the term that is now used in order to mark this kind of turn. Jessica Pressman interprets bookishness as a “creative movement invested in exploring and demonstrating love for the book as symbol, art form, and artifact” (1), which increases in intensity as our every day actions also demand an increased engagement with digital technologies.
Considering this observation in tandem with the examples shared in this short blog, one can realise that materials, even though overlooked at times, play a decisive role in enhancing the literary experience by multiplying the opportunities readers have for imaginative exploration and immersion into the story told.
Henry Miller, Order and Chaos Chez Reichel. Tucson, Ariz.: Loujon Press, c1966. British Library shelfmark: YA.1992.b.1551.
Jessica Pressman, Bookishness: Loving Books in a Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. British Library pressmark: YC.2022.a.2100.
Alastair Reed and Dana Gioia, editors. The Printed Poem/The Poem as Print: Twenty-four Broadsides of American Poetry. Colorado Springs, Col.: The Press at Colorado College, 1985-1986. British Library shelfmark: HS.74/2350.
26 October 2021
We are delighted to let you know that the Eccles Centre has just published a new Americas-focused bibliographic guide: US Fine Presses Established after 1945: A Guide to the British Library's Holdings (just scroll down a little to find it!)
This guide grew out of a conversation in late 2019 with then-Head of the Centre, Phil Hatfield, who had recently pledged financial support towards the cataloguing of a backlog of US fine press publications. A large number of these works – produced on old-fashioned hand-presses by contemporary printers – had been acquired by our curatorial colleagues in the previous 15 years. Phil rightly noted that without some kind of check-list or guide, it would be almost impossible for Library Readers, now or in the future, to appreciate the depth and richness of these holdings.
Initially, the guide was just going to list the works that were then being catalogued. This suited me perfectly since at that point I honestly didn’t understand the time, money and effort that my colleagues had devoted to obtaining these items! Thankfully, as I immersed myself in this world, my appreciation grew – both for the beauty, originality and boundary-pushing nature of the items themselves, and for the imagination and skill of their printers. And as my appreciation increased, so too did the scope of this project. After discovering P.A.H. Brown’s Modern British and American Private Presses (1850-1965): [catalogue of the] holdings of the British Library (London, 1976) it seemed sensible to push our own guide’s start date back to 1965.1 And as it became apparent that several post-war presses had been omitted from Brown, so we pushed that date back even further, to 1945.
The first step in tracking down these presses was to search the Library’s catalogue. Covid-19 related Library closures, combined with often-minimal cataloguing data, made it difficult to verify many of the items’ fine press credentials in person. Thankfully, however, online access to rare bookseller and auction websites made it possible, slowly but surely, to determine whether an item was hand-printed and whether a press had been founded after World War II.
In total, items by more than 180 such presses were found in the Library’s collection. More than 160 of these presses started after 1965 and – incredibly – more than 90 were established between 1965-1980. This fifteen-year period truly was a golden era for hand-press printing in the United States – a cultural phenomenon which seems entirely in-tune with that counter-cultural moment. Crucially, too, this was the point at which graduates from the recently established university book arts programmes began founding fine presses of their own.
Researching the emergence and development of these presses was absolutely fascinating. Time and again it showed me the profound impact that great teachers can have not only on individuals, but on an entire creative landscape. For this reason, in addition to listing the names of these presses and some of their works, the guide offers a short ‘biography’ of each of press, including, where possible: the name of the press’s founder(s); the founder’s training and/or education and mentor; how long the press was in operation; how it developed over time; any speciality in subject matter or genre; any change in location; the type of equipment used; and whether it made its own paper. After this ‘biography’, the full details of up to ten works are listed for every press. And at the end of the guide there is a geographic index to the presses, arranged by US state.
I hope this guide will prove useful to all those working in this field. And for those who are not, I hope it will offer an insight into a lesser-known aspect of the Library’s Americas holdings.
- Philip A.H. Brown, Modern British and American Private Presses (1850-1965): [catalogue of the] holdings of the British Library. London: British Museum Publications Ltd for the Library, 1976. Shelfmark: Open Access Rare Books and Music 094.4016 ENG; General Reference Collection 2708.aa.36; Document Supply 78/9820.
12 February 2020
Have you ever wondered what Adam and Eve were really thinking in the Garden of Eden?
In 1893, Mark Twain contributed a short story to the Niagara Falls souvenir collection, The Niagara Book. His clever tale being something of an oddity among stolid pieces on the geology, flora and fauna, and famous visitors of the falls. His contribution, a satirical take on a biblical love story, was entitled, The Earliest Authentic Mention of Niagara Falls: Extracts from Adam's Diary. Translated from the Original Ms. Here, Twain took inspiration from the Book of Genesis to re-imagine the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. By setting his version in the more relatable 'paradise' of Niagara Falls (where Adam enjoys going over the falls in a barrel), he was able to take full advantage of wordplay opportunities on the Fall of Man doctrine from the Bible.
The tale, later published in book form in 1904 as Extracts from Adam's Diary / Translated from the original MS, is told from Adam's perspective and follows his grouchy musings on the sudden, and unwelcome, appearance of a troublemaker in his world: "Monday: This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way". Used to a solitary and lazy existence, Adam is initially bewildered and frustrated with the stranger's excessive industry and habit of naming everything she sees before he has the opportunity to do so himself. He is contemptuous of her existence and bemoans her notions of beauty and wonder: "Saturday: She fell in the pond yesterday when she was looking at herself, which she is always doing". However, he is begrudgingly won over by his new companion: "...for I am coming to realize that she is quite a remarkably comely creature". Twain's wit is at his best in this acerbic take on what is a widely accepted creation story, with Adam’s accounts gleefully dry at times: "I advised her to keep away from the tree. She said she wouldn't. I forsee trouble. Will emigrate". Adam’s story poignantly ends with him speaking at Eve's grave, "Wherever she was, there was Eden."
Though the tale follows the original story in the Book of Genesis, with Eve eating the forbidden fruit and the inevitable expulsion from paradise, it also offers a poignant reflection from Adam a decade later: would he rather have never met Eve?: "After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning, it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her". In Twain's story, we see a commentary on his own life: he famously remarked that he would never meet his match in a woman and, like Adam, seemed destined for a solitary life. But he was proved wrong in New York on New Year’s Eve in 1867 when he met Olivia Langdon (Livy): the shy and intelligent daughter of a wealthy coal merchant. They began a long courtship conducted mainly through letters, with 184 handwritten notes passing between them. This letter writing was to continue throughout their life together.
Livy died following a long illness in 1904, and, after locking himself away, Twain composed what many have dubbed his eulogy to her. Eve’s Diary was published in the 1905 Christmas issue of the magazine Harper's Bazaar, and then in book format in June 1906. This companion piece to Adam’s Diary follows Eve from her creation to her grave and was the only time Twain wrote from the perspective of a woman. He made great use of the opportunity to do so, and delivered a sharp-witted account of Eve’s thoughts on Adam, who she dubs “the other experiment”. She is impatient of his monosyllabic responses and laziness: “I wonder what it is for. I never see it do anything”. The story is notable in exemplifying his changed views on women’s suffrage. Twain was a staunch opponent of women’s right to vote, but after meeting Livy and having daughters, he changed his mind.
In Eve’s Diary, in contrast to Adam’s account, Eve is shown to be extremely bright and warm: expressing wonder and innate curiosity about the world around her. She is even taken with the grumpy Adam and is accepting of his faults and perceived lesser intelligence. His companionship offers a chance for conversation, something she loves (and an opportunity for a dig from Twain) : “I talk all day and in my sleep, too, and I am very interesting”. Unlike Adam’s, Eve’s account glosses over the Fall: “The garden is lost, but I have found him and am content”, and she is quicker to come to this realisation than Adam. Her final entry is delivered forty years later, and expresses a wish that, if they are not able to pass from the world together, it is her who goes first: “…life without him would not be life; how could I endure it?”. When reading this alongside Adam’s Diary we know that she gets her wish: Adam’s story ends with him speaking at Eve's grave: "Wherever she was, there was Eden." Although Twain proposed to have the two stories joined together in one volume, unfortunately this never happened in his lifetime.
The four love stories: the original tale from the Book of Genesis, Adam’s Diary, Eve’s Diary, and the story of Twain and Livy, have been themselves retold in a 2003 artists’ book from San Francisco artist, Charles Hobson. Entitled Extracts from Eve's Diary ; Extracts from Adam's Diary, this creative interpretation interweaves excerpts from Genesis, the two diaries, and handwritten letters between Twain and Livy, with illustrations of two figures moving towards embrace. The motion of the two figures is inspired by the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge from his Human Figure in Motion study from 1901, and is enabled by the intricate design of the book. The artist has used a French door structure with cut-out pages and collaged folded sheets to involve the reader in revealing the journey of Adam and Eve toward each other, and away from ignorance.
The book is presented in a slipcase and opens in two concertinaed halves to display Eve's story on the left and Adam's on the right, allowing passages from each to be easily compared and contrasted. The copy at the British Library (shelfmark RF.2017.b.43) is the final edition in a limited run of 38 copies and includes a separate print of Adam and Eve embracing. The parallels between Twain’s Adam and Eve, and himself and Livy have been beautifully encapsulated in this artistic volume, with the design of the book is extremely effective in portraying what Twain surely felt to be a too brief but passionate time in Eden.
The Niagara Book: A Complete Souvenir of Niagara Falls by W.D Howells, Mark Twain, Prof. Nathanial S. Shaler, and others. Buffalo, New York: Underhilll and Nichols, 1893. (10413.b.37.)
The Human Figure in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge. London : Chapman & Hall, 1901. (Tab.443.b.1.)
Extracts from Adam's Diary / Translated from the original MS. by Mark Twain. New York ; London : Harper & Bros, 1904. (012330.h.50.)
Eve's Diary. Translated from the original MS. by Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Bros, 1906. (012330.h.54.)
Extracts from Eve's Diary ; Extracts from Adam's Diary by Charles Hobson. San Francisco: Pacific Editions, 2003. (RF.2017.b.43)
Lucy Rowland, Curator of Oceania Published Collections post-1850
06 August 2019
In the midst of the very sad news that author Toni Morrison passed away on 5 August 2019, aged 88 years old, we shine a light on one of Morrison’s many items held in the Library’s collection: the beautiful, ‘Five Poems’ – a fine press book with illustrations by Kara Walker.
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on 18 February 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. Her portrayal of the black female experience through her writing has moved readers around the world for more than 50 years, and will continue to do so. The Bluest Eye was published in 1970 and would become a Nobel Prize winner, and further bestselling novels would follow, namely Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987) and Jazz (1992). It was not long before Morrison and her work were established firmly as ‘part of the fabric of American life … woven into high school syllabuses up and down the country’ (Richard Lea, The Guardian). Alongside her Nobel Prize, Morrison would be honoured with the Pulitzer Prize and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in celebration of her literary achievements during her lifetime.
Upon joining the Americas Team just one month ago, one of the first treasures a colleague introduced me to was Five Poems (RF.2019.b.96) – a breath-taking fine press book compiled of Toni Morrison’s words and illustrations by Kara Walker. As I began to turn the pages, I was intrigued (and blown away) to say the least. ‘I never knew Toni Morrison wrote poetry’ I thought, careful not to share out loud for fear of making a fool of myself in front of my new team of experts. But upon closer investigation of the book, I realised there was perhaps a reason for this oversight of mine…
Published in a limited run by Rainmaker Editions of Las Vegas, between the large books’ pages readers will be entranced by ‘Eve Remembering’, ‘The Perfect Ease of Grain’, ‘Someone Leans Near’, ‘It Comes Unadorned’ and ‘I Am Not Seaworthy’. Five short poems which compile Morrison’s only poetry book, alongside them are silhouette illustrations from the New York-based artist, Kara Walker.
Reading an article by Stephanie Li (‘Five Poems: The Gospel According to Toni Morrison’) in a bid to find out more, it transpires that, at the time of Li's research, ‘in the numerous interviews Morrison has given since the publication of Five Poems she [Morrison] has never mentioned the book or discussed her approach to writing poetry’ (p 899).
The book is said to have come about thanks to Wole Soyinka (the playwright, poet and essayist) who invited ‘Morrison … on behalf of Rainmaker Editions to submit an original unpublished manuscript. Morrison sent five short poems, the full text of the collection’ (p 899). Upon receiving the manuscript, the book’s designer, Peter Rutledge Koch, suggested that illustrations be included as well. Si explains that Kara Walker, whose work explores themes of gender, race and ethnicity, has often praised Morrison and the influence the author had on Walker’s own creativity; Koch saw the potential for the two artists’ work to complement each other in this endeavour. Walker was contacted and the book was made with Morrison’s words and Walker’s five relief prints side by side.
This edition is one of the 425 issues printed and has been signed by the author, illustrator and binder. It really is a fusion of skill, care and total masterfulness from across the United States. Alongside the contributions from Morrison and Walker, Peter Koch Printers printed letterpress from digital imaging and photo-polymer plates in Berkley, California, while the binding and housing was done by Jace Graf at Cloverleaf Studio, Austen, Texas. It’s a work of art in every sense.
It is with great sadness that we have lost one of the world’s, not just America’s, most prolific writers. As chance would have it I’m currently reading Jazz and I’ll be sure to savour Morrison’s storytelling even more than normal during the commute home this evening, on a train journey that will be tinged with more than a little melancholy.
01 August 2019
Today – 1 August 2019 – marks 200 years since the birth of Herman Melville.
To celebrate we are sharing a few images from Lakeside Press’s beautiful 1930 edition of Moby Dick (British Library shelfmark: L.R.50.b.1) illustrated by artist, printmaker, writer and voyager, Rockwell Kent.
While now regarded as a masterpiece and one of the greatest American novels of all time, such acclaim could never have been predicted for Moby Dick when it was first published in 1851. Unlike Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847) in which Melville exploited his own sailing and whaling adventures to critical acclaim and commercial success, his sixth novel - published as The Whale in London and as Moby Dick; or, The Whale in New York shortly thereafter - garnered mixed reviews and poor sales. Indeed, Melville published his final work of prose just six years later and by his death in 1891 his reputation was in the doldrums.
Thankfully, his centenary in 1919 prompted a reappraisal of his work, so much so that in 1926 R. R. Donnelley and Lakeside Press chose Moby Dick as part of its 'Four American Books' campaign - the other three being Poe's Tales, Thoreau's Walden, and Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s 1840 memoir Two Years Before the Mast, which whilst little known today was one of America's first literary classics and a work Melville himself declared to be 'unmatchable'.
For Donnelley and Lakeside Press, 'Four American Books' represented an opportunity to demonstrate the capacity of its modern machinery to produce fine press editions that would capture the imagination of the mass market. William A. Kittridge, the company's Head of Design and Typography who commissioned Rockwell Kent, believed their three volume version of Moby Dick to be 'the greatest illustrated book ever done in America' and nearly a century later it is still regarded as one of the finest books printed in the United States. Only one thousand copies of the three volume edition were published. However, a few months later Random House issued a one volume trade version that included all of Kent's illustrations, thereby bringing this incredible work to a wider and hugely appreciative readership.
Finally, and somewhat as an aside, readers might like to know that while Lakeside Press is included in Modern British and American Private Presses (1850-1965): Holdings of the British Library (London: British Museum Publications, 1976; shelfmark 2708.aa.36), the Eccles Centre is currently compiling a list of American fine presses established since 1965 that have works held by the British Library. Updates to follow in due course.
03 April 2019
In early February the British Library held its third hugely successful Artists’ Books Now event: América Latina. The evening brought together artists, collectors, academics and curators to consider the multiple dynamics at work in the creation of Latin American artists’ books. It also enabled the audience to handle and explore the works on display and to discuss them with the contributors and each other.
Amongst the items considered were cordel literature and cartonera, both of which are richly represented in the Library’s collections. Cordel literature are popular and inexpensively printed booklets or pamphlets containing folk novels, poems and songs which often have decorative covers printed from woodcuts.
Cartonera is a publishing movement which originated in Latin America in the early 2000s and which employs recycled material to make literary works. Historically these works have social, political and artistic significance. The British Library holds cartonera from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Mexico. Beth Cooper, Curator for Latin America and Caribbean collections, has been working with Lucy Bell and Alex Flynn on an AHRC funded cartonera research project ‘Precarious Publishing in Latin America: relations, meanings and community in movement'.
The Library also holds works from Ediciones Vigía, an independent publishing house located in Matanzas, Cuba. Vigía originally opened as a space for writers and artists to gather and discuss their work. Participants began creating single-sheet flyers that advertised meeting times for interested artists, and eventually they evolved into a book publishing house. Many of their works are produced in coarse paper from substances including sugar cane, offcuts of cardboard and other leftovers. They are decorated with drawings, cut by hand and enhanced with material objects: scraps of tissue paper, cloth, cord, as well as less likely ornaments including sand, twigs, leaves and nails. The maximum number of any work produced by the house is two hundred. Clearly there is an intersection with the cartonera, although the roots of each movement are differentiated by time, with Vigías being a backlash to the uniformity of Cuban printing and publishing of the 1980s.
América Latina offered a wonderful opportunity to explore and unpick the ways in which artists’ books can be seen as a transnational and international medium which does not respect boundaries or borders.
Huge thanks are due to all of the contributors: Michael Wellen, Curator, International Art, Tate Modern; researchers and collectors Lucy Bell and Connie Bloomfield; artist book and zine maker Rafael Morales Cendejas; visual artist Francisca Prieto; and Beth Cooper, Curator, Latin America and the Caribbean, The British Library.
Jerry Jenkins, Curator Contemporary British Publications, Emerging Media
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