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Art can be judged by its cover at Columbia's book festival

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Art can be judged by its cover at Columbia's book festival

By Jon Anderson

   To make their own paper, students used kapok, hemp, sisal and stalks
of rhubarb. One woman got the Chicago Botanic Garden to save rare
cuttings, such as banana leaves.

For printing, there were 500 drawers of typefaces, many of them
collected and sorted by a retired surgeon in Evanston who used to have
a press in his basement.

     Plus, several rather nice, old presses.

For collectors, there were displays of cutting-edge books. Some were
sculptures, cut to look like polished stones. Others resembled
concertinas, their pages flapping out and back.

Glass cylinders had fragments of poems written on the glass, to be
seen from varying angles.

One 40-foot scroll, like an ancient holy text, unrolled from a
spindle, providing a modern linking of the Book of Esther with "the
Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas situation," its creator noted.

Many were the splendors of last weekend's Festival of the Book,
sponsored by Columbia College's Center for Book and Paper Arts.
Filling the first two floors of a college building at 1104 S. Wabash
Ave., it was a bookish heaven.

"It's staggering," noted William Drendel, the center's director, when
asked to describe the current level of interest in book arts.

The center at Columbia involves two galleries, a papermaking studio, a
bindery, a letterpress workshop, a computer lab, and hundreds of brass
decorating tools as well as beaters, board shears, hot stampers and a

"I think people want to touch things," Drendel went on, showing a
visitor through the facilities. "They like to get their hands cold and
wet making paper. They like to set type. They like to break the
boundaries of what is a book."

No, he said, there is no danger that e-books, e-mail or anything
electronic will wipe out print and paper.

Indeed, well-made books may well outlast computer-generated
competitors. The hope, as the center notes in its 2001 brochure to
potential students, is that its output may serve as "love letters to
the future."

This year's festival attracted 33 publishers, rare book dealers and
book arts institutions, from as far away as Massachusetts, Florida and

Some displayed artifacts of literary interest, including a
hard-to-read handwritten letter from Marcel Proust in which the French
writer seemed to be unhappy.

The University of Iowa's Center for the Book showed off an edition of
a work by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham. But the most
startling areas were displays that combined novel designs, materials
and graphics.

"I call it a story of transgression, retribution, redemption and
dominoes," noted artist Craig Jobson, describing his work, which
looked like a boxed set of large dominoes, with his own instructions.

Nearby, a glass cylinder had fragments of poems printed outside and
inside, allowing for varying points of view. Similarly, a book made of
sheets of flat glass, looked at from different angles, gave off
several overlaid images.

Chicago artists Michael Thompson and Michael Hernandez de Luna, who
design and print false stamps featuring mock portraits of celebrities,
manned a booth offering a catalog of their work, "Stamp Art & Postal

Bob McCamant, a founder of the Chicago Reader, sent several staffers
from his Sherwin Beach Press, which, mirroring his longtime interest
in the more esoteric forms of typography, does limited edition books
featuring local writers and artists such as Steve Bogira, Michael
Lenehan and Heather McAdams.

"What I have goes between fine printing and artist's books, which
often have no text at all," said Bill Stewart, a staffer from Vamp &
Tramp Booksellers of Birmingham, Ala., as he pulled out one of his
treasures, an illustrated version of the Anansi stories of Africa, in
which a spider regularly changes form to escape tight spots. "The
book, by Ronald King, has 13 puppets to pull out and play with as you
read the story."

Another work in the show, designed by Columbia students, had no formal
text at all.

Each student created a card based on a spirit, a relationship, dreams
or an experience. Then they fitted them together, making a house of

"Chicago's a great book town," observed Brad Jonas of Powell's Books,
as the weekend fest heated up. "A lot of it has to do with the energy
coming from an event like this."

Philobiblon: Book Arts, Different By Design
Hand Binding, Conservation, and Project Websites
Peter D. Verheyen

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