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Cuban Book Artists



I've just returned from a research trip (legal, thanks) to Cuba, where
the state of book arts is much impacted by terrible shortages of paper
and other office supplies.  People write letters on the backs of student
exams (dittoed), and a spiral notebook ($1.29 at K-Mart) and 2 ballpoint
pens make a real fine personal gift.

But there are book arts and artists - I saw bookworks of two rather
different forms, which people might enjoy hearing about.

The seriously-literary consists of the hand-made editions of 200 copies
published by Ediciones Vigia (accent over second "i") in Matanzas, a city
about 2 hours from Havana.  They are a wonderful example of doing a lot
with miserable materials.  Newsprint-type paper (which even the big
publishers are using, or something terrifyingly close to it! for serious
books), covers made of brown paper, reproduction that I am almost certain
is mimeograph (often semilegible).  Then they paste on decorative cutout
elements by hand, hand-color the illustrations, add various sorts of
string and sometimes decorative paper cut-outs to the binding.  Some of
these little books are really quite handsome in their way, and the writers
are excellent, including editions of famous Latin American writers (Cuban
and other, some dead and some living) as well as younger and lesser-known
writers.  The press is well-respected among Cuban writers - I found copies
of their publications at the bookstore of Casa de Las Americas, the major
Cuban agency for international publishing relations. I bought several of
these, and one more was given to me by the poet, whose work I am planning
to include in an anthology.

The other consists of serious literary works, but I'd have to call the
format tourist-crafty, although handsome, too.  These are one-of-a-kind
books with the text *burned* into the type of thin cedar sheet used in
packaging cigars (the pages).  The technique is also used by art-fair
craftsmen to make little "Greetings from Cuba" postcards and personalized
wall plaques. The books were bound with 3 metal rings into a wooden cover
with a flexible leather spine.  The authors are famous and dead.  I saw 4
examples in used-book shops across from the Habana Libre hotel, a major
tourism venue. More "bookworks" and less "publications" than the Ediciones
Vigia - the shops didn't know who made them, and I didn't buy one
(operating in a solely cash mode is really hard for me, and I was getting
low on funds.)

People who might like to donate paper or other supplies to Ediciones
Vigia should let me know - it is possible to arrange it.  At least, I am
going to write them myself and let them know that people here now have
heard of them.

                     _________
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|  Kerman  |   (Mayapple Press(/(
| Saginaw, |   (______________(/
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   \ ?? /       http://www.cris.com/~Jkerman
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