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Modern American Book Arts at the Ransom Center

Modern American Book Arts at the Ransom Center

A perfect counterpoint to the APHA Conference held at the University of
Texas at Austin on October 18 was the splendid exhibit, Modern American
Book Arts at the Ransom Center.  The exhibit provided rich supporting
material for the talks, and stretched beyond to place the key designers
discussed, Bruce Rogers, W.A.Dwiggins, Merle Armitage, and Carl Hertzog,
and the two publishers Alfred A. Knopf and George Macy of the Limited
Editions Club, in the context of twentieth century book design.

Many of the most important works of the designers and publishers were
included. Highlights included Bruce Rogers' Oxford Lectern Bible, the
Geofroy Tory Champ Fleury, and the Lawrence Odyssey.  Dwiggins was
represented by Knopf's first edition of Willa Cather's My Mortal Enemy,
Toward a Reform of the Paper Currency, and Droll Stories. Among the
Hertzog items was his masterpiece The King Ranch. Merle Armitage's
virtuosity was displayed with his Edward Weston, a dummy for a proposed
LEC edition of Death Comes to the Archbishop with photographs by Edward
Weston, the LEC Looking Backward, and Stravinsky, and numerous items
from the Armitage archive at the HRC. Many other of the Macy LEC's were
also displayed, including the Lysistrata and the Ulysses.

Interwoven throughout the exhibit were letters, photographs, ephemeral
printed pieces, proofs, sketches, and other memorabilia. Much of this
material came from the rich collections at the HRC of Limited Editions
Club and Alfred A. Knopf material, which served to illustrate the
relationships of these publishers with the designers and the
significance of these two publishers to twentieth century book design.

A rich dessert was provided by the exhibit's display of artists' books
and American livre d'artists. The majority of these books date from the
1960's-1990's. These included a number of Sidney Shiff's productions for
the Limited Editions Club--Balthus' Sight and Touch by Octavio Paz, his
Wuthering Heights, Maya Angelou's Our Grandmothers with lithographs by
John Biggers, and Borges Ficciones. Also included was Arion Press's
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by John Ashbery.  Other fine presses
represented included
Walter Hamady's Perishable Press with For the Hundredth Time Gabber Jabb
Number Five, Peter Blum's Homely Girl, A Life by Arthur Miller with
illustrations by Louise Bourgeois, and Leonard Baskin's Gehenna Press
(with the Metropolitan Museum of Art) with the exquisite Voyages: Six
Poems from White Buildings by Hart Crane. Works from the early twentieth
century included Alexander Calder's Fables of Aesop by Harrison of Paris
and the Black Sun edition of George Grosz's Interregnum.

This is a exceptional exhibit, and a must-see for any book-lover
traveling in the vicinity of Austin. The exhibit is on display at the
Flawn Academic Center, the Leeds Gallery, 4th Floor. Hours are Monday to
Friday, 9 am to 4:30 pm. The exhibit will close on January 30, 1998.

(original to appear in the APHA Newsletter)

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