Physical/Digital: The (Changing) Art of the Book at Reed College

I tumbled straight out of my first year at Reed and into the San Francisco Center for the Book. At first glance, these two institutions may seem totally unrelated. as it turns out, though, they share more than I originally thought possible.

San Francisco center for the Book

Lloyd Reynolds

Practically every Reed student knows the name Lloyd Reynolds. During his tenure at Reed College (from 1929 through 1969), Reynolds taught calligraphy, letterpress printing, graphic design, and art history. As well as his formal classes, he instituted the extracurricular “scriptorium” that so entranced and inspired Steve Jobs (and that continues to this day, every Thursday evening). He also began Reed’s collection of artist books and fine print books, personally collecting some of the college’s most significant fine press books. His effort has been furthered by subsequent art department faculty, who now teach courses in illuminated manuscripts, iconoclasm, 20th century German art, and Chinese art history, and have purchased book works to support their courses.

The outcome? Reed College has quite an expansive library of artist’s books, spanning everything from the avant-garde pieces of the early 20th century to more contemporary works by artists like Johanna Drucker and Xu Bing.

San Francisco Center for the Book

Tobacco Project (Red Book) by Xu Bing

It seems like the big question facing the community of book artists and book lovers these days is: does the printed book have a future? In the emergence (and ensuing popularity) of e-readers like the Kindle, many people see the end of the book as a physical object. The Reed library is taking a relatively new (though certainly not unique) approach to this question by attempting to digitalize their artist book collection.

The library’s online collection began as a resource for the course “Image, Text, The Book as a Sculptural Object,” which covers the history and fabrication of the book as an alternative space for art documentation and exhibition. The collection is organized according to the the major historical categories taught in the course, which include the livre d’artiste, the avant-garde, the conceptualist and the contemporary.

So, to digitalize or not to digitalize? This discussion continues even in the Center itself, given our obvious ties to the Internet Archive, whose mission is “universal access to all knowledge.”

“Knowledge lives in lots of different forms over time”, says Brewster Kahle. “First it was in people’s memories, then it was in manuscripts, then printed books, then microfilm, CD-ROMS, now on the digital internet. Each one of these generations is very important.”

Mary Austin’s response to her husband’s digitalization fervor? “Brewster says ‘give your collection to us, we’ll scan it all!’ But how do you scan a pop-up book, or a 3D sculptural piece?”

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Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.

Interviews with Our Instructors!

We’ve been working with all of the wonderful videos our friends have made for and about us this year at the San Francisco Center for the Book, trying to get our YouTube Channel up and running. My favorite finds have been the interviews with the fantastically smart, interesting people who teach our workshops and really make the Center what it is. I’m sure you’ve seen these instructors at the center, but did you know what got them into printing, or their thoughts on the future of the printed word? Now is your chance to find out.

San Francisco Center for the Book

Rhiannon Alpers teaches Norm from tested.com how to make business cards

First on the bill is this is this interview that Rhiannon Alpers gave to the people from tested.com (also associated with Mythbusters). They stopped by the San Francisco Center for the Book to learn the art of letterpress printing, which Rhiannon was happy to teach them. She showed them how how modern letterpress practice uses a combination of century-old machines and new technology, and then helped them put those lessons to use – by making tested.com business cards! And hey, it doesn’t just have to be the Mythbusters who get to learn from Rhiannon; she’s teaching an introductory bookbinding class at the end of August.

William Davis, a talented filmaking graduate student at CCA interviewed Mary Laird, who speaks about the meditative process of choosing type, setting type, and (finally) printing. For her, the art of letterpress has so much to do with how wonderfully limited one is – the physicality of hand-setting a few lines of type at a time, the impossibility of downloading a new font and switching it out for the old one. Learn all this and more in her Letterpress Book in a Day workshop, August 12

Mary Risala Laird – Master Printer from William Davis on Vimeo.

Last but not least, an interview with James Tucker by Skill Exchange – a workshop series which aims to inspire the community to use their hands and learn traditional, hand making and self-reliance skills. Letterpress, with its intricate machines and lead type, fits the bill perfectly. James discusses the classes he teaches at Skill Exchange, the work he does with the Aesthetic Union and the Advanced Letterpress classes that he teaches at the San Francisco Center for the Book. Like his Foil Stamped Titles workshop which is happening in mid-August.

James Tucker – Pressman, The Aesthetic Union on Vimeo.


Posted in Instructors, Interview, Letterpress, Uncategorized, Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.

Notes from a Library Volunteer: “Paul,” “Ted” and “Lisa”

Near the ground, on a shelf filled mostly with copies of Ampersand magazine and photos from past Roadworks events, stand eight unassuming hard-backed folders – the kind that hold loose-leaf papers if you want to actually make sure that they stay safe. They are titled ambiguously:

  • Paul
  • Ted
  • Our Family Travels (two volumes)
  • Lisa (two volumes)
  • Celia Said
  • Our Family Matters

These titles are handwritten & stuck on labels on the folders’ spines, but carefully gold-pressed on their covers.

I’m sure you’re wondering (as I did) what could possibly be enclosed within these folders? Get ready for this: literally thousands of painstakingly hand-set letters – it seems, in fact, to be every single letter that one Irving Weinberg ever received in his entire life. They range from advice on how to get married to descriptions of a family trip in Austria to letters his mother sent him whole he was at camp to letters his daughter sent him while she was at camp.

A short taste:

Jul. 16, 1960

Dear Mommy and Dad,

I am saying my prayers every night.

I miss you very much and hope you miss me too.

I like Mom’s pictures and wish to see more.

I hope you have a good time.

I have a rock collection and it is growing.

We played ball. I made a homer.

By                       Love, Lisa

I don’t pretend to understand what made Irving save all of these letters (to say nothing of typesetting and printing each one) but I absolutely love this strange, sincere collection.

Please visit the library at the San Francisco Center for the Book and discover them yourself.

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Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.

Industrial Mandalas

Mark Faigenbaum has twice been artist-in-residence at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, but when Mary Austin talks about him, she’s more excited about the time he spent as artist-in-residence at the city dump. His partnership with San Francisco Recycling and Disposal (as the dump is more accurately known) stemmed from his interest in found objects and the aesthetics of disintegration. As Mark himself said, “I’m fascinated with the way materials age and the beauty that can unfold in the process of decay.”

Mark works in mixed media and printmaking. He is drawn to objects that physically reflect the passage of time—decaying newspapers, old books, damaged photographs, outdated technical drawings and discarded machine parts. He combines these assorted materials using layering, repetition and assemblage to create shapes and patterns that move beyond purely physical representation to suggest invisible connections.

San Francisco Center for the Book

One of Mark Faigenbaum’s pieces

This king of repurposing joined us in the spring to teach a class on creative recycology called “Liberated Text: Type As Image” – and if you were bummed that you missed it, be bummed no longer! He’s returning August 5th to shed light, once more, on the alchemy of layering, the energy of recycling, the beautiful impermanence of the found type. Welcome back, Mark! We’re excited to see you again.

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Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.

Second Chance Books

San Francisco Center for the Book

An upcycled daybook by instructor Juliayn Coleman

Plan to take part in SFCB’s Upcycled Journal workshop! This one is a perennial favorite, and the perfect way to lighten up an old box of books. Join instructor Juliayn Coleman in disassembling one and turning that “I really shouldn’t throw it away” book into an “I never leave home without it” journal.

In this conservation-focused workshop, students will be using old children’s books as their starting points. They’ll disassemble the old hardcover book, leaving its signatures mostly intact, and interleave the signatures with blank journal paper.

Juliayn,who crafts and restores books at her studio in San Francisco,  is one of our long-time instructors.

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Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.

The ABC’s of Typesetting

I can’t say I’m a “regular” at SFCB – I’ve only been working here for a month. But still, not much gives me more glee than walking in on a Monday to find  a center full of new students. Let’s take a peek at the classes I’ve been peeking at:

For the last two weeks, Mary Laird has been busy teaching the very basics: typesetting and printing on the Vandercook cylinder press.

San Francisco Center for the Book

Stella and Maura setting their first type

Last week, the High School Letterpress Class ruled the main classroom. Two teenaged girls (three, originally, but the third disappeared mysteriously after the first day of class) took their first steps towards printing up a limited-edition chapbook as they followed Mary frantically around the room, learning the basics of California Job Case – though Mary threatened to dump out a whole drawer of letters and re-sort them, she never went quite that far. Then the girls were off and typesetting! First their names, then quickly on to poetry: Maura’s piece was one of her favorite poems, called “Free Things that Make Me Happy,” and Stella’s was a piece she wrote herself. It was a whopping 28 lines… that’s a lot of digging through 12pt letters for a first-timer!

I came in this morning to find a lot more than two girls in the center: the high schoolers are out, and the Letterpress Printing on a Vandercook Cylinder Press workshop is in (the link is to the registration page for the next iteration of this core curriculum workshop)! It’s their first day today, so they’re only typesetting their own names. Just wait ’til the end of the week!

San Francisco Center for the Book

Some chapbooks by Mary’s previous classes

San Francisco Center for the Book

Mary and a student

Posted in Book Arts, Bookbinding, Instructors, Vandercook Press, Workshop | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.

The Sketchbook Project II

Summer in San Francisco is freezing, and Sunday was no exception. That didn’t stop a hardcore group of book-lovers, artists, imagination-lovers, readers, and what have you (including myself) from gathering in the SFCB parking lot to get a look at the Sketchbook Project’s mobile library. Well,

San Francisco Center for the Book

Library patrons waiting for their “orders.”

more specifically, at the 1,000 or so books that it carried into San Francisco!

True to form, the “taco truck full of books” worked a bit like a food cart at Off the Grid:

Step 1) Pick a library card (any library card) from a bowl, scan it, and enter your name. Voilà! You’re a member of the Sketchbook Project.

Step 2) Place an order. You can search the library by location, color, theme, materials, mood – say you picked the “comics & animation” subheading from “theme” (which I did. I have a huge soft spot for comics.) Your finished order would contain one book that has to do with comics, and another random book. Or heck, just click “RANDOM!” and receive two books of the librarian’s choosing.

Step 3) Here’s where the Off the Grid metaphor really kicks in. You stand in the parking lot, shivering, watching the librarians move back and forth inside the cart. Whose order are they filling? When will I get mine? And then, magic moment: they call your name. Order up! You’re handed two sketchbooks, and you make a beeline for the tables set up only a few steps away.

Step 4) Delicious, delicious delicious – you get to read your sketchbooks.

San Francisco Center for the Book

“Let’s get hats!” – This sketchbook was filled in during Hurricane Sandy

Step 4.5) You’re sharing your table with three, maybe four other people (all as freezing cold as you are) and while you were reading the sketchbook that came in your order, you’ve been peeping the ones they’re reading as well. That guy next to you has one that looks pretty cool… does it fold out? It does! Man, I want to see that one. So you offer to switch sketchbooks with him. After all, you only get two books in an order. Why not save the time that you would be spending in the line to order, and share and share alike? Instead of two sketchbooks, you have eight.

And while you’re talking to the people at your table, perhaps you overhear that the book in front of that guy is the one he made – “can I see it?” Yes, of course, but first: an explanation. Have you ever heard of geocacheing? Well, this book isn’t just a sketchbook: it’s the key to a series of linked geocaches all around San Jose. Yeah, it would be too easy if the sketchbook told you where to look; that’s why it’s a series of complex puzzles – everything from anagrams to crossword puzzles to long division. And also: the whole thing is Legend of Zelda themed.

You just don’t find out about things like this if you spend your Sunday at home.

San Francisco Center for the Book

Intrigued by the idea of the Zelda geocache? Here’s the cache’s registration number

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Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.

The Sketchbook Project at the San Francisco Center for the Book

Come by The San Francisco Center for the Book this weekend to admire, contribute to and experience a traveling sketchbook show! The Sketchbook Project is an interactive exhibition that features dozens of handmade books that artists from all over the world fill with their work.

The Sketchbook Project explained in 96 seconds from Art House Co-op on Vimeo.

The Sketchbook Project will be stopping on their cross-country journey to exhibit at SFCB on July 26th from 4:00-8:00 PM, July 27th from 2:00-7:00 PM and July 28th from 12:00-6:00 PM.

Come find out more about the Sketchbook Project, and meet other people from around the Bay Area who are interested in contributing to it.

The Sketchbook Project Mobile Library from Art House Co-op on Vimeo.

Check out the website here, at http://www.sketchbookproject.com/projects/sketchbookproject.

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SFCB
SFCB
The San Francisco Center for the Book sfcb.org

Notes from a Library Volunteer: Our House

Whilst organizing, reshuffling, and generally digging around in the library at the San Francisco Center for the Book, I found something. Well, actually, two somethings. Two somethings that struck me because of their odd shape, and more pressingly, because their odd shape was shared:

San Francisco Center for the Book

I’m starting a little city

Who knew we had not one but two books in our library shaped like little houses?

The larger yellow one, 11, was the one I found first. It’s a pop-up book, and if a yellow house-shaped pop-up book doesn’t already seem a bit out of the blue to you, here’s the kicker: it’s author isn’t a person but a band. Už Jsme Doma, a progressive rock group from Prague, authored the book as a companion to their album “11, Spring, Hell, Fall, Winter.” The text is in Czech, so I have no idea if the book follows a plot, if it’s a biography of the band, a rant, an ideology, or what. But the illustrations are phenomenal. Every page is a whirling painted hellscape – the RED page of a family huddling around their stove, the YELLOW page of a massive, angry soldier-figure (who may or may not be made up of a thousand smaller men and women). This is not a pop-up book for children.

The other is called I Live Here – a beautiful little hand-pressed book that I came across only this morning while riffling through my “Artist’s Books That Need A Home” section. It’s a brief, sun-dappled description of life on Dolores street:

A house, a garden, a dog lying in the sun

the cars on 101 hiss like the ocean

a tiny tranquil, zen binding space

inside the city within the rat race

followed by a little dingbat of a 1920’s convertible.

What’s so appealing about a house-shaped book? I guess that it’s immediately familiar – though you don’t know what’s going to be inside the book when you pick it up, you know that it has (or rejects, as it seems 11 is doing) a sense of hominess, familiarity, of some sort of shared experience.

 

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Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.

Notes from a Library Volunteer: the Cabinet of Curiosities

What place could a Bed Bath & Beyond medicine cabinet, purchased for $15.00 from Craigslist, possibly have in a library? Well, say that this library has quite a few artist’s books, left over from classes or purchased at art shows or donated by enthusiastic creators. And say that many of these books are

San Francisco Center for the Book

The cabinet of Curiosities, interior

smaller than

San Francisco Center for the Book

The Cabinet of Curiosities, exterior.

normal-book-sized: I’m talking anywhere from the size of my palm to an inch

across. Some of them are the more conventional rectangle, some are tall and skinny and delicate. Some fit nicely into jewel cases that may have once housed CDs. One is triangular, and folds out to become a series of pyramids. One is made out of (and enclosed within) a miniature box of Special K cereal.

These books don’t fit nicely on the big shelves, the ones that are built to accommodate oversized issues of art magazines and typography bibles. For a while they were kept in a shoebox (one that, upon arriving, I tagged with yet another Post-It: “Mostly Tiny Artist’s Books”). But books, I think, deserve better than a shoebox.

Hence the Cabinet of Curiosities: smaller shelves for smaller books! Though it still smells vaguely of toothpaste, the little case will make sure that these marvelous little creations get their due. And if other library-users are anything like me, the exciting prospect of opening a wee door and discovering the treasures within will make sure that the smaller books will be looked at as much as – if not more than! – their larger companions.

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Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.