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The art of the book

The art of the book

          A few small presses keep alive the traditional craft of
(form: =A9 1997, Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness )
          Jonathan Kalstrom Contributing Writer

          The Twin Cities is rife with activity among people who
          possess a passion for traditional bookmaking. Some acquire
          letterpresses, adopt a press name, and produce
          limited-edition books, prints, or "art books," a genre of
          books that are also art objects. Some perform commercial
          work on their letterpresses in addition to their own
          printing projects. And many people take classes on the

          "We're constantly getting people coming in the door who want
          to learn," said Mary Jo Pauly, artistic director of the
          Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA), in Minneapolis. The
          mission of MCBA, which opened in 1985, is to foster
          enthusiasm for the book as a vital contemporary art form,
          preserving the traditional crafts of bookmaking and engaging
          people in learning, production, interpretative and
          collaborative experiences.

          For Pauly, traditional bookmaking is a passion, she
          acknowledges. "The people involved in this do it out of a
          ... it's a genuine sense of love for this," explained Pauly,
          who operates Lychnobite Press, publishing small editions
          largely using her own text. "And the big part of it is just
          the joy of working with your hands and making something."

          It is fairly common for people interested in literature,
          visual arts and making books to at some point decide they
          want to engage in this endeavor so much that they will
          purchase their own letterpress equipment, explained Pauly.
          Pauly owns her own letterpress. "And it spills over into
          every aspect of my existence -- it's everywhere," said
          Pauly. "I have type in storage, I have type in my car, I
          have type in my purse."

          Pauly creates a lot of books that stretch out like an
          accordion, and those with complex labor-intensive binding.
          Her 10-copy sold-out book, The Snowdragon, which appeared at
          the Frankfurt Book Fair, involved hand-binding, a lot of
          hand-cutting and hand-set type printed in letterpress. The
          book itself presents a fairy tale about a dragon, using
          sequential hand-cut paper illustrations with text to reveal
          a 3-D image of the dragon. In addition to other works, Pauly
          has created four one-of-a-kind books.

          "It's a particular love, and I also have a very strong
          affinity toward design history," said Pauly. Pauly's last
          book, for example, Miss Matchett's Journal: An Enquiry into
          Printing from the Distaff Side, is on the topic of
          Midwestern women in the printing industry in the 19th
          century. A copy of this limited-edition accordion book,
          housed in a brocade-covered box, is now traveling in a show
          in Canada with an attached price tag of $200. Shows are one
          way for bookmakers to sell their wares, Pauly explained.

          Michael Tarachow, who operates Pentagram Press, sells his
          letterpress books in part through a mailing list he has
          built up of individuals and libraries. Several bookstores
          consistently stock Pentagram Press books, which have been
          sold in every state in the nation and 22 foreign countries
          since 1974. That year Tarachow began publishing
          offset-printed books of poetry, the conventional printing
          method, in editions of 500 to 2,000 copies. In the mid-1970s
          in Wisconsin, Tarachow began using a letterpress at a
          friend's place, a printing method which uses hand-set metal
          type that bites into the paper fiber, and he then began to
          set up his own letterpress shop. Ten years ago he moved to
          Minneapolis, and the two 24-foot trucks carrying his
          letterpress equipment weighed between 13 tons and 14 tons.

          Tarachow has since switched from printing poetry to
          typographically-oriented books, which are books with
          typographic ornaments or decorations that combine well with
          metal type. The ornaments are cast from metal and are made
          to be combined in different patterns and then printed with
          the type. Since 1974 Tarachow has published from 70 to 75
          books under the Pentagram Press imprint. Tarachow estimates
          that he has published an additional dozen books for other
          people and publishers.

          At his shop, Tarachow does "job work," such as printing
          letterhead, advertising pieces, holiday cards and wedding
          invitations, and fits his passion for bookmaking into his
          schedule whenever possible. As an example of his work, one
          of his books is a selection of quotations about printing,
          paper and books which he interpreted typographically. "I
          designed each quotation to have the type and the design
          elements speak along the same lines as what the words were
          saying," he explained. That particular book used about 28
          colors and ran 48 pages in length, totaling about 28,000
          passes through the press, each sheet hand-fed once for each

          Limited-edition printing is also a passion for Paulette
          Myers-Rich, who operates Traffic Street Press, in
          Minneapolis. "It's a way of life, it's a commitment that
          I've made," said Myers-Rich, who is also artist-in-residence
          in printing at MCBA. Myers-Rich publishes an annual poetry
          "chap book," which means a small single volume, usually of a
          poem or an essay. She designs, binds, and prints the book in
          her studio using her own press. Myers-Rich has just
          completed her second annual chap book. Her chap books, which
          are usually prose line or multi-stanza poems authored by a
          local poet, sell for about $35, and the 75 copies of her
          first edition book, released last year, is nearly sold out.

          A performance poet penned Myers-Rich's first annual chap
          book, and the poet would take the book along to performances
          in other cities to sell. Myers-Rich also sells via mail
          order and at various local bookstores.

          In addition to her aforementioned work with writers,
          Myers-Rich does her own work in the area of artist books,
          which she said tend to be more like art pieces rather than
          poetry or literature. In the artist books, Myers-Rich works
          with photography and writing, combining them usually in a
          nontraditional book form. Her artist books have not been put
          on the market and are intended for exhibition in a gallery
          or a museum.

          Artist books veer toward the arena of printmaking and
          sculpture. This genre of books is fairly new in the
          fine-arts field and has only been in existence since the
          early 1960s as an art discipline, Myers-Rich estimates. An
          artist book could be a hand-painted sculptural piece in a
          non-narrative structure or, say, a piece that incorporates
          narrative and images.

          At the Nomadic Press in St. Paul, Kent Aldrich prints all of
          his work for clients on a letterpress, such as wedding
          invitations or wood-engraved illustrations for birth
          announcements. "I do all the things that a limited-edition
          printer would do except I do it as a commercial job shop,
          basically," said Aldrich, who started his business 12 years
          ago. Aldrich also works with advertising agencies and design
          firms on promotional pieces, and sometimes limited-edition
          booklets for clients who will use it to sell or promote

          Aldrich is currently working for a client on a hand-bound
          limited-edition book, which is covered with marbleized paper
          and contains three wood-engraved illustrations to be given
          out as a holiday card. In addition to letterpress printing,
          Aldrich does hand binding and wood-engraved and linoleum-cut

          Aldrich also works on many of his own projects, such as the
          hundreds of linoleum-cut and block prints that he has
          printed over the years, which are usually of people, places
          and things. These works, the ideas for which often come to
          him while working on commercial projects, are generally not
          for sale but for his own satisfaction.

          =A9 1997, Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness

Ton Cremers
(Book History Chronology)
(Cultural Property Protection)

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