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El Catrín: Minnesotan Broadsides

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Last year the Minnesota Center for Book Arts celebrated its 25th anniversary by commissioning 25 book artists to create a broadside each, packaged together in a limited edition of 25 sets and presented alongside a chapbook with brief essays by Director Jeff Rathermel and Dr. Betty Bright in a seaweed gray-green clamshell with an elegant metal 25 mounted in its bottom edge corner.

From Start to Here: 25 Years of Minnesota Center for Book Arts ($750; 7 copies available) is easily the most diverse and exciting multi-artist book arts portfolio from 2010, showcasing a wide range of book arts techniques including typeset and letterpress printing, hand papermaking, calligraphy, wood engraving, reductive linocut, and many others. Rathermel’s essay celebrates the state of contemporary book arts, sometimes derided for its lack of a definitive identity, by relishing the freedom that that very murkiness allows:

Over 1,900 years after the invention of paper in China, about 570 years since the advent of movable type in the West, 253 years after the birth of William Blake, 114 years following the publication of the Kelmscott Chaucer, 47 years after the initial printing of Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations and 12 years subsequent to the death of Dieter Roth, the book arts and artists’ books remain at an ambiguous junction. And this is good.[/wpcol_1half]

[wpcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=””]Bright sketches a thumbnail history of the center, housed since 2000 in Open Book, the 12,000 sq. ft. facility it shares with The Loft Literary Center and Milkweed Editions. Bright’s outlook on the future of book arts in the face of electronic books and online publishing is refreshingly optimistic, eager to explore the possibilities new mediums allow and the increasing demand for a more fully realized physicality of the printed book.

The broadsides within range from the elegantly simple, like newly retired Coffee House Press Publisher Alan Kornblum’s nine line poem about the small publishers’ possession of “The hands/of a juggler//And the guts/of a burglar,” and Paulette Myers-Rich’s black-and-white photograph, which achieves a stunning quality of detail with its depth of blacks and grays, to the more unconventional, like Anna Tsantir’s minimalist overlapping splotches of black, Julie Baugnet’s Rothko-reminiscent poetry broadside, Amanda Degner’s stonewashed denim paper, and my personal favorite, Wendy Fernstrum’s manic multi-colored tribute to MCBA and letterpress. Other standouts include Sara Langworthy’s leaves of grass, which explore the natural world alongside an almost Bahaus play with geometric figures over a deeply textured beige paper, Monica Edwards Larson’s teasing alphabet, Jody Williams’ comics-recalling seascape and creatures, Cathy Ryan’s Pop-Art-meets-Georgia-O’Keeffe flowers, Regula Russelle’s Escherian Fugue 7, Bridget O’Malley’s circular labyrinth, overgrown with its paper’s fibers, and Mary Jo Pauly’s meta broadside within a broadside, featuring the press on which it was printed. That I’m compelled to list so many is proof of their accomplishment. Only Diane von Arx’s annoys, with its polar bear and cursive Anne Frank quote ringing an oddly maudlin note.

These simple descriptions do little justice to the project—and even the photographs below only capture the folio’s physicality in the shallowest sense. Like all book arts objects, these deserve to be seen in person, touched. They boldly embody the diversity of contemporary book arts, appropriately celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

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Click first image to scroll through selected broadside images.

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