Featured in the SF Chronicle: Codex Fair Celebrates Fine Art of Books

Nancy Davis Kho is a freelance writer in Oakland. She wrote the following article which appeared in the SF Chroncile and on SFGate.com on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 and features a quote from our studio manager Rhiannon Alpers. See the San Francisco Center for the Book at the Codex International Book Fair. Click here for more info.


Codex Fair Celebrates Fine Art of Books

As far as Berkeley fine-art printer Peter Koch is concerned, the rising popularity of e-readers has nothing to do with books.

“The future of the book is assured,” says Koch, who with his wife, Susan Filter, founded the Codex Foundation to preserve and promote the handmade book as a work of art.

The Codex Foundation's Susan Filter and Peter Koch work in their Berkeley studio. The foundation's book fair begins Sunday. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle

The Codex Foundation’s Susan Filter and Peter Koch work in their Berkeley studio. The foundation’s book fair begins Sunday. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle

The Codex 2013 International Book Fair takes place Sunday through Wednesday at Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, and of the contemporary artist books, typographic prints and fine printing that will be on display there, Koch says, “These are the books that will be saved.”

Admittedly, the books of the future to which Koch refers are not what he calls “robot-manufactured books” like mass-market hardcover and paperbacks, but rather handcrafted books incorporating legacy printing and binding techniques, and a fine-art sensibility, from top book artists like Veronika Schapers of Germany and Russell Maret of New York.

“If you want to preserve culture, you must preserve material culture,” he says. “And the book is one of the most magnificent inventions of all time.”

Tools of the trade

The couple work in an unassuming studio in an industrial area of Berkeley, but behind the unmarked metal door are pristine tools of the fine-art printing business: a 100-year-old Chandler and Price platen press, Vandercook & Hacker cylinder proof presses, and drawers and drawers full of typefaces, many picked up from old newspaper offices in the Western states.

As employees bustle around the bright space punctuated with letterpress art, a spent target from a shooting range, stacks of paper and of course fine-art books, Koch says, “This studio is like a wonder cabinet.”

With help from an army of volunteers and the enthusiasm of the vibrant Bay Area book art community, Codex 2013 will feature more than 180 practitioners of the book arts, from the United States and abroad.

The biennial show comprises a two-day symposium, already sold out, that draws exhibitors, curators and academics alike, along with the public book fair that is expected to draw nearly 3,000 people over the four-day period.

Additionally, the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley is offering a range of workshops in connection with Codex, taught by artists whose work will be on display at the show.

“The show is an extremely rare opportunity to see both traditional and nontraditional works executed at the highest caliber,” says Rhiannon Alpers, head of studio operations at the San Francisco Center for the Book, which will be exhibiting its Imprint Publications at the show. “Most exhibitors in attendance are masters of the craft,” she adds.

Because of the way the show is set up, the book artists are sitting behind the table, ready to talk to the visitors who stream by. “It would be like having the painters stand next to their art in a fine art gallery and talking about their process,” says Filter.

Carolee Campbell of Ninja Press is one of the book artists who will be exhibiting at Codex, and her excitement is palpable. “I get creatively challenged by looking at my colleagues’ work at Codex,” she says.

“It’s thrilling. Sometimes it’s hard to stay put at my table!” Campbell is also enthusiastic about the reaction of the public to the work on display.

“Maybe they’ve never seen a finely printed book before,” she says, “but the books have an ineluctable tactility that demands you pick them up and touch them. We make these books for their tactility.”

International outreach

Filter says the Codex Foundation began making a particular effort to reach out to the fine-art book community in Mexico in 2011.

It helped establish Codex Mexico, an initiative to promote the arts of the book in Mexico and Latin America, and to foster the development of international collaborations and cross-border outreach and the exchange of skills and ideas.

Along with exhibitors from Europe and Japan, where the art book tradition has traditionally had a higher profile, Koch says, “Nine presses and one hand paper maker from Mexico will be here.”

Koch and Filter feel that the time is right for the fine-art book as a growing area of interest for young collectors. “It used to be that having a ‘gentlemen’s library’ was a sign that you were intelligent,” Koch says, but over time the popularity of that pursuit waned.

Now, with interest in the book arts as a counterpoint to the increasingly digital world on the rise, “you can start anywhere – with a $25 handmade book or a $100,000 one – and you’d be ahead of the game in starting a hip, exciting collection,” Filter says.

Codex International Book Fair: 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday, 12:30-6 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. next Wednesday. Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way S., Richmond. $10; $25 multi-day ($10 for students). (510) 849-0673. www.codexfoundation.org.

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