The Hand and the Book

The Hand and the Book

The Hand and the Book

December/January 2009 issue of American Craft magazine
Mediums Paper

Dan Carr
Casting Chinese Type in Matrix 23, 2003, published by the Whittington Press. Photo/Courtesy of Barbara Henry.

The Center for Book Arts
Illustrated Fine Printing: Whittington & Matrix in America
New York, New York
September 26 - December 6, 2008

The beauty, intricacy and devoted craftsmanship involved in the practice of contemporary fine press printing is on display in this exhibition at the Center for Book Arts. Organized by guest curator Barbara Henry, a book artist and fine press proprietor, the show features leading American and European artists in wood engraving, pa-per marbling, pochoir, type
design and related arts-a community of makers linked by their connection to the Whittington Press in the UK and its extraordinary letterpress journal.

Now internationally acclaimed, the Whittington Press was founded in 1972 by John Randle and his wife, Rosalind, in the Cotswold village of Whittington, in the former gardener's shed of a 16th-century manor house. The success of Whittington's first book enabled the press
to become a full-time endeavor, and the Randles acquired Monotype equipment being discarded by commercial printing firms. When in 1981, Randle found himself with several projects too small to turn into books, he collected them into a journal he called Matrix, a term referring to the molds for typefaces.

Beyond the pleasures of the text and type, most Whittington Press books are illustrated, many of them with wood engravings, and the exhibition offers a variety of these among its 61 objects. Sandy Connors, one of the 10 Americans in the show, collaborated with the press on Busy as a Bee, a cookbook with charming hand-colored wood engravings, such as Quince, shown with the intricately carved boxwood block from which the engraving was made. The artist Abigail Rorer's book Mimpish Squinnies, based on a historical garden text, features quirky anthropomorphic plants. For an artist's loving glimpse of the hamlet that is home to the press, one need look no further than the dynamic woodcuts in the book Whittington: Aspects of a Cotswold Village by Miriam Macgregor, who has been the wood engraver for the press since 1978.

Contributing to Henry's characterization of the show as "an encyclopedia of the book arts," was a segment devoted to materials and tools that includes a brass hand-held type mold with matrix made by Stan Nelson, the former museum special-ist in printing materials at Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, and Lowell Bodger's type form for a broadside, 19th Century Advertisement from Chamber's Journal. Surrounding the exhibit is all the book-making paraphernalia-presses, type trays, etc.-of the Center for Book Arts, a 34-year-old organization whose mission it is to cultivate contemporary aesthetic interpretations of the book while invigorating traditional artistic practices in the field. It would not be at all surprising if visitors signed up on the spot for one of the numerous classes and workshops the center offers in hopes of one day entering the rarefied yet down-to-earth, individual yet collaborative, world of fine press printing.

The exhibit travels to the Museum of Printing History, Houston, January 8-April 25, 2009. The catalog, with a letterpress dust jacket, is $15.