Remembering Susan Landauer

(left to right: Susan Landauer, Steve Woodall, Mary Austin, and Kathleen Burch)

Remembering Susan Landauer

It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to SFCB Co-Founder Susan Landauer who played a significant and important role in the early years of the San Francisco Center for the Book.

We met Susan in 1994 while working on an effort to resuscitate Pro Arte Libri (Fine Print Quarterly) in the back office of the Craftsman Gallery which was owned by Susan’s mother, Barbara Klein. Susan was already making herself known in California art circles. She had worked for the LA County Museum as assistant curator and had just completed the impressive The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism. It was quite a big deal for the young SFCB to have someone of Susan’s stature interested in shaping and laying the groundwork of the exhibition programs, particularly the complicated shows of 1950s “Pages of Sin” and “Flashback” celebrating psychedelic book arts in the 1960s.

Pages of Sin (1996)

One of our earliest exhibitions, “Pages of Sin” was an ode to the Beat poets of the greater Bay Area, and included the painted books of Kenneth Patchen, which we are convinced we would not have been able to borrow from UCSC if it had not been for Susan making the case that these books exemplified the intersection of fine art and fine books in that decade. Impressed by Susan’s appeal, the special collections librarian lent us several books from her personal collection. We even built three special vitrines to house these masterworks.

The exhibition displayed the accomplishments of Beat artists working in the book form, and their reactions or affinities to the seven deadly sins. Instead of presenting the usual suspects, SFCB highlighted the poets and artists of the lesser-known Venice Beach scene and also revealed that the movement did not spring full-blown from the brows of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Early innovative book artists such as Bern Porter, William Everson, and Bob Alexander were featured.

Installing the show was quite a feat. We were already familiar with pinning things up on the walls which we had done in A Guy a Girl a Landscape: Novel on the Wall, but we brought out the spray paint and stenciled Beat quotations about the seven deadly sins all over the walls and floors of SFCB. We had a team of about a dozen volunteers including Mark McGibben and Sophie Gendre who worked day and night to reimagine the center as a den of iniquity. Abstract Expressionist Saul White (1932-2003) helped art direct and oversee the installation. An entire wall was devoted to Harry Redl’s photographs - some printed for the first time - of the printers, poets, and artists in their studios whose work we were showing, such as William Everson (Brother Antoninus) and a bawdy sequence of gradually-disrobing Lew Welch, Allen Ginsberg, and a not-to-be-identified Sausalito housewife.

The exhibition was crowned by a celebration that recreated the Venice Beach Beat jazz scene at Susan and Carl’s home in Montclair. The audience swayed to Saul White’s free improvisatory jazz-inspired poetry first seen and heard in the cafes and galleries of Venice California. The evening vibrated with bebop from the King Perkoff Band led by Stuart Perkoff’s son.

Poets Pulling Prints

Also in conjunction with Pages of Sin, Susan and SFCB employee Steve Woodall created a poetry reading series with broadsides, called “Poets Pulling Prints” (PPP). The idea was to match master printers with poets and create a printed broadside of the poet’s work at the poetry reading event. The first of these included a reading with Diane di Prima, and Felicia Rice printed the broadside. Diane objected to being in the room with solvents in the air, and took the reading outside. Other poets that participated in Pages of Sin PPP were Neeli Cherkovski and James Scheville reading, where the audience was wowed by Adelle and Jack Foley’s ukelele-enhanced tap-dancing poetry performance.

Flashback (1997)

Later in 1997 and in celebration of the 30th anniversary of San Francisco's Summer of Love, the Center presented another of Susan’s exhibitions, Flashback. Flashback surveyed the book arts of the psychedelic era. Inspired by the electric rhythms of rock and roll and the mind-bending effects of hallucinatory drugs, Bay Area-based designers such as Victor Moscoso, Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, and the team of Mouse and Kelly broke all the rules of "good design" with a rebellious visual language combining nearly illegible typefaces, vibrating colors, and emotionally charged imagery. Flashback explored the full range of late sixties printed matter, including ephemera, posters, and comic book art, and a classically designed, letterpress printed LSD blotter from someone’s secret stash.

Breaking Type: The Art of Karl Kasten (1999)

Susan returned to mount an exhibition she was passionate about, again about the intersection of fine arts with book arts - the two-venue exhibition with UCB Professor Emeritus Karl Kasten: his printmaking and book arts at SFCB with his paintings at the Craftsman Gallery next door. This was SFCB’s third exhibition honoring the master educators of the Bay Area. The first two master educator exhibitions were for Arne and Anna Wolf and Wolfgang Lederer. The Breaking Type: The Art of Karl Kasten catalog that Susan wrote and edited was our first cloth covered, four-color catalog.

The legacy of Susan’s involvement at SFCB continues in our focus on the importance of supporting living artists. Susan was a generous and energetic force, and she was tough as nails, so intelligent and inspiring and a voice for the importance of California and the Bay Area as a creative and artistic leader.

Mary Austin and Kathleen Burch
SFCB Founders