2013 Codex Report #2: Hot Times

Following is a mere sample of what was to be found at the Codex book fair. It was impossible to get around to everyone, and so what's included here simply reflects our own interests and connections...

Walter Bachinski and Janis Butler (Shanty Bay Press) have been regulars at Codex since its start in 2007, and this year they brought along their newest publication, a massive edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses (selections from). Walter's previous books have been particularly noteworthy for his large and bold pochoir illustrations. For Ovid he elected to experiment with photogravures, reproducing the richly toned drawings he had been making while planning the book, rather that attempting to use them as a basis for translating into another medium. The book was a monumental undertaking of setting and printing for Jan, and her quarter calf binding with vellumed gampi sides is very well executed. Their edition of Ovid is a serious and truly significant piece of private press publishing in Canada (and beyond).

Met Tideline Press's Leonard Seastone. To our chagrin, we failed to immediately connect the name to one of our favorite books, Paste Papers of the Golden Hind Press, which he printed the year we finished high skool. Gorgeous book, as were the more recent publications he had on display, and Leonard was great fun. Looking forward to an ongoing discussion with him about various shared interests.

We met Ido Agassi of Even Hoshen, based in Isreal. Ido had the hands-down claim to coolest project at the fair: he had received a commission to print a facsimile of the first page of the first printing of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, so that a copy could be taken up to the International Space Station in April, where it will be signed by one of the astronauts, and then returned to earth. (Some of those details might be wrong - the story was conveyed late at night in the hotel bar - but the gist is all there & true.) Had some interesting discussions with Ido about the challenges of finding Hebrew type to work with (none is being cast anymore), and the finicky nature of setting the vowel accents (which are separate from the letters, and must be placed as a line immediately below their letters, something that can easily become misaligned if there's too much movement when locking up. Cool guy, cool books.

Longtime HM inspiration David Esselmont is another Codex regular, and he had a new book detailing, in multicolored wood cuts, his process and recipe for making chili. We at HM like our chili, and were highly dubious of a pom claiming to make good chili, but his recipe (which can be seen in a short film at his site, accompanied by his own soundtrack) looked sound. And another new HM friend, Craig Jenson, is not only a celebrated binder among private press publishers and collectors, but also a chili cook-off judge, and he vouched for David's chili.

David has been focusing his efforts in recent years more toward fine art (particularly painting) than printing books, and he is currently working on a series of watercolors inspired by Stockhausen's "In Freundschaft" for solo clarinet. We told him about our plans to do an Artists Pamphlet with loscil's phonautograms (a medium David wasn't familiar with) later this year. A shared interest in the connections between music and graphic arts.

Among the always intriguing things to be found at Peter & Donna Thomas' table was a previously unpublished poem by William Everson, "The Alder." They have worked with Everson texts in the past, and Peter was one of the fortunate students to learn printing at Everson's side, at UC Santa Cruz. The new book is printed on Peter's own paper, and initially conceived to be displayed/read in a hinged wooden structure that shows all four deckles (top left in image below), so each page is printed as a separate leaf. Thirty copies of the book were issued in this deluxe format, accompanied by a second volume with brief texts about the poem and the book. A single-volume edition was also issued (20 copies), for which Peter & Donna devised an effective and pleasing structure (bottom right below) to sew the leaves together and attach wood (alder) boards. The poem recounts Everson's cutting "the stately alder at the trail fork" and "turning the god into cord wood. Everson cut this tree near his home on Kingfisher Flat, near Davenport California. Everson's landlords owned a local lumber mill. In fact, they were the ones who milled the cypress, taken from Robinson Jeffer's Carmel property, used for the slipcase of Everson's Lime Kiln Press edition of Granite and Cypress. Peter and Donna were able to get them to mill an alder tree, cut from the same site Everson had cut the tree in the poem, and they used that wood for the binding of this book. They also were able to use Everson's own Goudy Newstyle type, which he had used to print Granite and Cypress, to print their edition of "The Alder."

One inexplicable absence among the exhibitors was Arion Press. Given that Codex is in Andrew Hoyem's own town (and that he visited on Sunday, gamely standing against the wall opposite HM's table to have his picture taken with various admirers), it seems surprising that the organizers would not have made whatever accommodations or inducements necessary to ensure the participation of the man who has undeniably been central to continuing San Francisco's tradition as a center for fine printing and book arts into the 21st century.

Greenboathouse Press was able to mark its recent publication of Michael Ondaatje's poem "Tin Roof" with a visit by the author himself on the second day of the fair. HM stopped by Jason Dewinetz's table but missed the author by just a few minutes. When we circled back to our own table, however, we found a distinguishedly-rumpled gent in deep discussion with Barbara and Claudia about their various books, and it slowly dawned on the admittedly-dim HM publisher that it was Ondaatje himself. He seemed particularly taken with The WunderCabinet. Speaking of which, here's a lovely photo of Claudia basking (baking) in the sun beside a copy:

Apparently Codex organizer Peter Koch intimated to the audience at the symposium that 2015 may be the event's last year. Maybe it will have run its course, or maybe someone else will pick up the reins. The foundation has never issued follow-up reports about attendance, sales etc, so it's hard to gauge its effectiveness against the cost & time involved. Nor have they ever done follow-up surveys with exhibitors, which would seem an obvious endeavor to gather data and aid future planning. But organizationally the people behind 2013 (many of them volunteers) did an excellent job, with no hitches. The fact that the Craneway Pavillion is a greenhouse, and Codex always enjoys a warm, sunny week, was beyond their control.

That's it for our Codex reports. Overall, more fun than we'd had at any previous Codex, and successful from the perspective of giving people the opportunity to see Claudia & Barbara's books all in one place. That was really the only reason we bothered. (Sorry to all who were P.O.'d we didn't actually have any copies left to sell.) Whether it's worth the cost (and tables are very expensive), time and effort will depend on who you ask. For us, we'll simply attend the next one; much more fun not to be tied to a table. Leaves more time to scour the Berkeley book shops, about which we'll post next week...

p.s. we have only a few copies of the HM Codex Miscellany left, now priced at $225.


Celebrating Will Rueter With Broadsides

We'll have some more information & background about this up over the next week, but for now, just to start getting the word out:

On Thursday 21 March, Will Rueter will be in Vancouver to receive the Robert R. Reid Award & Medal for contributions to the book arts in Canada. (He'll also be one of the judges for the Alcuins' annual design awards, the following weekend.)

The evening is being hosted by the Alcuin Society. It will take the form of a discussion with Will about his work and career, led by HM publisher Rollin Milroy. There will be lots of images of his books and broadsides, and questions from the audience will be encouraged.

To help mark the event, the organizers are inviting designers and printers from far & wide to create a broadside for display at the event. The advert below has details.

The concept is similar to the broadsides that were created to celebrate the work of Jim Rimmer in 2006 (see here; the first one shown is by Will), although they need not be specifically about Will or his work. The idea is simply to share in his love of the broadside as a forum for typographic play.

A few related links...

A recent exhibition of Will's books organized by Simon Fraser University's special collections..

An interview with Will by poet Bernadette Rule...

Some info on Will's latest book...


2013 Codex Report #1: Baskin Lives

Our plans to post updates during the recent Codex fair came to nought. No time during the fair - it was a madhouse - and too busy having fun in the evenings. Can't offer much in the way of quantifiable info on the fair, but we at HM had fun. Very busy on the opening day - Cutting Paper's debut - and word about the book seemed to spread, as we had a steady stream of people over the four days saying they'd been told to come see the cut paper book.

HM was table no. 1, so we were a first stop for many visitors. One problem with shows like Codex is there is so much to see in such a concentrated setting that it becomes overwhelming, and after a few hours one needs a pause to absorb what's been seen before continuing.

We were fortunate to have the team of Ken Shure & Liv Rockefeller watching our backs, with two tables displaying the small & prestigious stable of artists they represent. First among firsts is Leonard Baskin, whose work continues to cast a long shadow over contemporary book arts even a dozen years after his death. Ken & Liv have been showing at Codex since the first fair (2007), and during that time they have added a few new artists whose work has been influenced by Gehenna's interests, aesthetic and quality. One of the most recent additions is HM friend Sarah Horowitz (above right, with Ken & Liv), whose latest book (Effigies) sold out at this year's fair.

Also on display at Ken & Liv's table were the stunning books of Bob Wakefield's Chevington Press. He may have the strongest claim of anyone to be carrying on Baskin's tradition while also exploring his own interests and style. A young Wakefield met Baskin during the artist's sojourn to England in the late 1970s, and worked on a number of the books Baskin produced while there. This was his  training for launching the Chevington Press, with Bob doing all the letterpress (a fellow handpress printer, his an Albion) and intaglio (rich multi-color etchings printed on a 19th century press) printing himself. On display this year was his latest publication, Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads accompanied by portrait etchings inspired from current political events in Afghanistan and Africa. In its weight and depth, the content is in keeping with his previous books exploring issues of extinction and slavery.

Turning his considerable talent for printmaking and portraiture to a slightly more playful topic, Wakefield was recruited to illustrate the next project from Ken & Liv's imprint, Two Ponds Press. Longtime readers of this blog may remember that one of the pieces of news we brought back from the 2011 Codex fair was the birth of TPP. Since then they have issued their first book (Anthony Hecht's Interior Skies), and are on the cusp on their second (The Little River by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated for the first time by another of Baskin's proteges, Michael Kuch). Wakefield's project is one that originated long ago with his mentor, Baskin: a portfolio of portraits and brief biographies of Jewish gangsters from the early 20th century. The Brownsville Boys: Jewish Gangsters of Murder, Inc. features texts by Larry Sullivan, Chief Librarian at the John Jay Criminal Justice Library, CUNY. A collection of plates rather than a book, each gangster's image and story is presented on a single sheet (the texts variously arranged by Russell Marret and printed by Art Larson), all to be contained in a clamshell box (to be made by Claudia Cohen). Publication is expected for later this year. Similar in spirit to HM's favorite Chevington book, Pugilistica Judaica (first encountered at Ken & Liv's table at the inaugural Codex fair, eights years ago now...).

A few more updates from our adventures at Codex to follow this week...


Cutting Paper is a Wrap

Long & detailed account of our adventures at Codex to be posted this weekend. Meanwhiles, check out this very cool short movie made by the very cool Kate Farnady of Barbara Hodgson taking you on a quick tour through Cutting Paper. The book was a big hit at the fair, except that a number of people were P.O.'d it was already sold out.


Just Wait, We'll Be There! (Codex)

The Codex conflagration begins at 11 a.m. this Sunday. Who goes to a book fair at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning? Apparently not the HM team, as we will all still be in transit. So, thanks to friends who will be there, visitors to the fair will see the poster above on HM's table for the first two hours of the fair. Those who circle back after 1 p.m. will get to see the very first copy of Cutting Paper! Also the HM Codex Miscellany, and based on early expressions of interest, it looks like we'll be able to order some meat with our noodles most nights while away.


Books in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

While folding & sewing copies of our Codex Miscellany last weekend, we listened (as we often do) to one of Marc Maron's WTF podcasts. This one featured John Hodgman, the celebrated author of fake trivia.

Starting at the 64:30 mark, they embark on a 10-minute tangential discussion encompassing Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, and the nature of authenticity in art. Seems HM is Barthian by nature: those 10 minutes do a pretty good job of summarizing our attitude toward art (or publishing), creation (of books), and particularly discussion thereof.

Thinking ahead to Codex, and the wide spectrum of book forms and production methods that will be on display, the podcast discussion summarizes what, for many of the exhibitors and visitors at Codex, are core issues for contemporary "book arts." The quotes here are intended to cover the full spectrum participating at Codex, from self-proclaimed book artists - people experimenting with form, concepts & preconceptions - to traditional fine press publishers, for whom anything other than letterpress is not interesting. HM lands closer to the latter of those extremes, but hopefully not all the way over. Our methods are our methods, but they are not intended to be value judgments on others' methods.

And at the end of the day, really what we're talking about is digital output. While not prejudiced against it, we admit to a lack of interest in digital production. At least for type/text. (Maybe if people put greater effort into using interesting papers, but that's one of digital's limitations.) Art that is created in a digital matrix has an easy and obvious argument for digital output; but digital reproductions, no. We'll leave photography for that crowd to argue, while simply noting that much art and craft lived in the dark room. To paraphrase deadmau5, with digital files all you do is press Print.

Have a listen to those 10 minutes of Maron's interview with Hodgman. The link here takes you to a site with the whole podcast; you can jump ahead to the 64:30 mark. WTF episodes are also available for free through the iTunes store.