The Story of Days of the Handmade Book
Chapter One - 1996
The Days of the Handmade Book was the inspiration of Dea Andrews, Gallery Coordinator for the Colfax Cultural Center in South Bend, Indiana USA. When a group of calligraphers planning an exhibit at the Colfax discovered there would not be a secured way to display the many handlettered and handmade books they had created, Dea suggested a one-day show. From that seedling of an idea, a major event sprouted.
On December 21, 1995, Anne Binder, co-chair of the Michiana Calligraphy Guild in South Bend, presented an idea to sponsor a one-day event that would include a display of handmade books and hands-on demonstrations of calligraphy, bookbinding, marbling, hand papermaking, and paste papers. She showed the group the invitations that would be hand created and assembled by guild members and outlined other publicity plans. The event was scheduled for February 24, 1996 - a mere 2 months away! The first question out of members' mouths when Anne opened the floor to questions was, "What if there's a blizzard?!" A legitimate question since South Bend has a history of winter blizzards. But blizzards were not a part of Anne's plans. She advised the membership the weather would be 60 degrees and sunny.
Bill Tourtillotte, Education Curator of the South Bend Regional Museum of Art, was excited to help the MCG with this event. He opened the large studio rooms at the Museum to the fifteen volunteers who came one Saturday in early January 1996 to paste up seventy sheets of Arches Text (front and back!) which would be covers for the invitations. The invitations were a work of art all by themselves. Anne handlettered the text. Joya Helmuth did the layout. Molly Moon printed the invitation on her circa 1800 letterpress and members of the MCG cut, folded, sewed, and assembled 500 invitations.
Since calligraphers aren't the only artists creating books, the MCG decided to contact other book artists. Thirty-three artists contributed seventy-two pieces for the first show. There was also a boutique area where artists could sell items such as handmade blank journals, bookmarks, handmade paper, and handmade greeting cards. Preparations were frenzied during January, but the show opened without a hitch. Viewers were able to don white cotton gloves which allowed them to handle the books. They came and they stayed. They read everything. Visitors were able to create their own little books, take home sheets of marbled and pasted papers, have their name calligraphed on a bookmark, and watch papermakers at work. Attendees gained a sense of the process many of the artists used in creating the books on exhibit. The day was proclaimed a success with approximately one hundred fifty people attending. South Bend weather also cooperated. It was 62 degrees and sunny! Two degrees higher than Anne's prediction.
The decision to hold a second Day of the Handmade Book was made with enthusiasm. It was decided from the comments by attendees of the first Days of the Handmade Book to make the event two days. Thus 'Day of Handmade Book' became plural. The event was scheduled for October 11 & 12, 1997. This allowed ample time for members to relax and regroup. It also allowed for a world-wide open call for entry among book artists. Anne felt it necessary to limit the amount of artists participating to forty submitting up to three books. She didn't want the viewers to become overwhelmed with an over abundance of books. The components of the second show were very much the same as the first. It was held at the Colfax Cultural Center.
The invitations were handlettered and letterpressed using paste papers for covers. Over the course of a year, guild members went to Anne's house on seven occasions to paste two hundred twenty-five sheets of Arches Text (front & back!) to be used for invitations and other related promotional pieces. The call for entries was handlettered by Angela Michilutti in her very best foundational and Joya Helmuth did the layout. The idea of collaboration and cooperation has always been the foundation to getting the work done and ensure a successful event. So many people contributing their time, skill, and talent! The second DOHB featured forty artists representing the USA, Canada, and Germany. An even one hundred books were on exhibit. Carol Pallesen, a calligrapher and book artist from Reno, Nevada, gave a wonderful lecture and slide show on the creative processes of several women book artists. An expanded boutique area did a brisk business. The hands-on demonstrations were popular with attendees. Approximately three hundred viewers came to our two-day event.
The third Days of the Handmade Book moved to the South Bend Regional Museum of Art to become part of the calligraphic extravaganza the museum hosted. 'AlphaMark', the traveling exhibit of the international Association of Calligraphic Arts, and 'Visual Voices', an invitational in which calligraphers were asked to author their own texts and create the art for their texts, were hanging in museum galleries. To hold another DOHB seemed the right time and place. The sincere desire to bring to the public an awareness of artist books and the craft of making handmade books was paramount in the planning of this event. Taking what was learned from the previous DOHB's, Anne Binder decided to keep the components of book exhibit, hands-on demos, and lecture/slide presentation. Preparations began in November 1999 for the third DOHB which was scheduled for March 31, April 1st and 2nd, 2000. The excitement level of this event began to build very quickly. Within weeks of issuing a call-for-entries, the forty slots filled. Artists were making plans to come to this event. Out-of-town artists were calling to volunteer for the demo area. Everything connected with this event developed and unfolded to make Anne's job very easy.
A total of sixty-nine book artists showing one hundred fifty-one books were featured in the Warner Gallery of the SBRMA. These sixty-nine artists included registered artists, guest artists who agreed to be Anne's slaves for the weekend, and students of Elkhart Memorial High School and Stanley Clark School. What a variety of books on exhibit! Traditional letterpressed hardbound books, handlettered bound books, sculptural, non-verbal, and the list continues. The viewers who came to the exhibit were overwhelmed with the creativity among book artists! On Saturday, visitors had a variety of things they could choose to do throughout the day. Viewing the book exhibit, AlphaMark and Visual Voices were only a part of the fun. Lecture/slide presentations by Robert Hohl and Pamela Paulsrud were scheduled. An impromtu slide/music presentation by Glen Epstein was an unscheduled delight. The demonstrations were attended by all ages. Viewers who said in the morning they couldn't stay long were found still wandering around in the afternoon. The museum's gallery monitors said the most asked question was, "Where's the nearest phone?" They were calling their friends to come or calling to cancel previous engagements so they could stay longer.
A very special performance was planned for Sunday afternoon in the gallery. RiverLetter Dance was an idea that began with Glen Epstein. His dream is much more of a Broadway performance. Anne streamlined it down to fit South Bend. It was a collaborative performance of eleven poets reading fourteen poems. Calligraphers, Glen Epstein and Diana Hutchison, responded to these poems by painting on panels measuring 16'. Add five drummers and one dancer conjuring up African rhythms. The performance was electrifying!
The event was completely funded through artist fees, donations, and a fundraiser that exceeded all expectations. A collaborative book of poetry, 'From the Wood Where Gypsies Danced' was raffled. This was truly a collaborative effort and is a story all by itself. In total, sixty-two artists comprising poets, calligraphers, bookbinder, box builder, and papermaker had their hands in the creation of this treasure.
According to the museum, over seven hundred people came through the galleries that weekend! The success of this year's event is attributed to the generous nature of the many artists who volunteered their services. No one received any payment. Everyone who participated to help, give demos, lectures, or perform did so for the sheer joy of being a part of something very exciting. Everyone is looking forward to a fourth Days of the Handmade Book!