June 2016 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Color in American Fine & Private Press Books

Online TOC-COLOR.jpgEarlier this year, the Kislak Center for Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania hosted an exhibit and a symposium related to fine and private press books. The exhibit, Across the Spectrum: Color in American Fine & Private Press Books, 1890-2015, and the symposium, The Art of the Book: Fine Printing in North America in the 21st Century, were prompted by the university's acquisition of the Jean-François Vilain and Roger S. Wieck Collection of Private Presses, Ephemera, & Related References.

An accompanying catalogue, designed by Jerry Kelly and including essays by curator Lynne Farrington, book artist Russell Maret, and collector Jean-François Vilain, was published and is now available. Considering the context here, it's no wonder that the catalogue was beautifully produced--full-color illustrations on fine paper wrapped in a letterpress-printed textured paper cover. But the essays are wonderful too. Vilain discusses the three types of illumination in Arts & Crafts-style books and looks at how they compare to medieval examples. He also surveys the private press movement in America at the turn of the twentieth century, highlighting the Roycroft Printing Shop and many others that made gorgeous books full of color. Maret's essay touches upon the distinction between fine press and artists' books and examines the use of color (hand-applied or printed) in contemporary works. His conviction that books made by artists can transcend the notion of a book as merely a "textual delivery device" certainly resonates.
                                                                                                                                                               The illustrated exhibition checklist begins with English influences (Kelmscott Press, Doves Press) but moves quickly into American publishers, including Mosher Press, Grabhorn Press, Bird & Bull Press, Arion Press, and even some commercial publishers like E.P. Dutton and Putnam's that reached for higher standards of production.
                                                                                                                                                           William Morris would have agreed: this catalogue is useful and beautiful, and thus, a keeper.

Image via Penn Libraries.