Books as Art

Richard Wagenerwood engraver extraordinaire, stood at a table displaying his wares during Roadworks, an event sponsored by the San Francisco Center for the Book.

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images from Richard Wagener/Nawakum Press websites (click to enlarge)

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His books begged me to touch them. I obeyed.

Loom, Wagener’s collaboration with the New Zealand poet, Alan Loney, pairs Wagener’s wood engraved loom prints with lines from the poem throughout 40 exquisite pages. The images and text explore the question of connection and “the thread of life itself.”

Published by Nawakum Press , only 46 deluxe editions (those bright red covers) and 30 slipcased copies of Loom were made. The bindings of each are hand sewn on linen tape and laced into a limp paper case made of Handmade PC4 Blue from Timothy Barrett at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. 

The handcut woodblock prints on each spread are unbelievably fine. The lines, the shading, the way the eyes convey a sense of how the fabric of the loom feels. My photo of a photo of the print doesn’t do it justice. Take a look at the website. There’s also a film, showing Wagener carving one of the loom patterns.


Woodcut print from “Loom” by Richard Wagener (click to enlarge)

His images offer up a zen-like sense of eternity, the orderliness of the woven sections all unraveling. I am reminded of the way I attempt to create order when entropy would have it otherwise. The act of creation, whether of a life or of art, is an act of weaving, sitting at the loom, thread over, thread under, knowing that sometime down the road, the ends will release the pattern.

These images are perfectly paired with Loney’s poem:

                                   they say at the gates of Hades
              two rivers flow           drink from one for
oblivion     drink from the other for memory
              beyond that the white cypress may be
        the last thing you see               whether hero
                             villain or nobody is out of your
              hands                    this is where you let go
                 (excerpt from “Loom” by Alan Loney)

The engraver and poet are collaborating on a new book, “Vestiges,” coming out this February. Wagener’s other books can be found on his website.

Even more intriguing? The CODEX Book Fair, held Feb. 8-11, 2015 in Richmond, California. 

Digital is dead, at least for one week this coming February. Over 200 of the world’s most distinguished book artists and artisans, private presses, and fine art publishers will be exhibiting their work…THIS IS THE LARGEST BOOK FAIR OF ITS KIND IN THE WORLD TODAY!”

 How can I NOT go to this event? I wonder if that infamous book thief will be browsing the exhibits?

Nawakum Press also offers limited edition art books of select authors, including Jorge Luis Borges, Rachel Carson, and Herman Melville.

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28 thoughts on “Books as Art

  1. Lady Fancifull says:

    Ah Jilanne, my biggest drool this fine autumnal morning is your sentence beginning ‘the act of creation, whether of a life or art….that stopped me in my tracks and led me scurrying for the tissues to mop up my complex tears….the ones that spring from a deep place where truth, joy, sorrow, hopes and fears, grieving and acceptance all twine together

    It means so much more to me to be surprised and shocked into the gift of these sorts of moments, which someone. ( you, this time) drops unannounced, then any number of ‘ inspirational reflections’ in ‘little books of wisdom’ and the like. So thank you. I’ll have a proper look at the drooly pictures later.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I, too, have never been a very “Chicken Soup for the Soul” kind of person. There always seems to be the sense that those little nuggets of wisdom were prefabricated or welded together on some type of assembly line. The whole idea just puts me off.

      I’m thrilled that you found something of value within the lines of this post. Thank you! I am, however, distressed that you might leave traces of tears on those paper objects that we so dearly love. 😀

      • Lady Fancifull says:

        Ah but thanks to my propensity for the ‘surprised by’ moments of weepiness I’m working with a designer to produce a stylish little 3 cup drip tray, to be worn like a set of droopy spectacles, hooked over the ears, when reading. tow cups hang just below eye level, and the central one, for those of us whose noses run unbecomingly when we tear up, under the nostrils.

        There will of course be the 4 cup option with the fourth cup attached below the mouth, for those of us who are simultaneously eating chocolate whilst surprised by a moving moment, and the subsequent tendency to drool as well as weep and drip.

        Probably if poetry books are being read, which are remarkably prone to induce watery responses, prior to reading, the intended chocolates should have been either broken up into smaller pieces, if a bar, or anyway, assembled into accessible small pieces, and put in a bowl with a little pair of sugar tongs, which should be used to convey the pieces fo the mouth, without the use of fingers.

        Ah yes, the unbecoming Chicken Soup stock cube set!!

        • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

          Hilarious! I think you’ve got your prototype well thought out. Now you just need to patent them and put them into production and you’ll be wealthy enough to buy as many art books as you’d like.

  2. FictionFan says:

    One of the offshoots of the digital book age is that the quality of paper books is improving dramatically. I’m glad publishers, authors and artists are aware that, although many of us like our pulp fiction fix on e-readers, there is still a huge market for beautifully crafted ‘real’ books. Even I, the Queen of the Kindle, sometimes want to hold a book in my hands, feel and smell the paper, and admire the craftmanship. In fact, because I don’t read on paper so often now, I appreciate it more when I do. I reckon the future of the printed page is secure…

  3. Lady Fancifull says:

    As a (slightly) more serious comment from me than my last one, Persephone Press, though producing mass print books, are particularly good at making these lovely objects, with beautiful dust jackets

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      And that is only a short excerpt. I read through the entire poem while standing in front of Wagener’s table, and I wanted to read through it again and again. But it was a warm, sunny day, so I was afraid of leaving sweaty fingerprints on the book. Now, if libraries could only afford these things, we could all read them at our leisure!

  4. Letizia says:

    His books seem so tactile. I can understand that you had to stop and touch them. I watched the making of Loom video on one of the links you provided. It was fascinating to watch (I love watching the creative process unfold).

  5. Call of the Siren says:

    Lovely’s a word that feels like cliche for comments, but I’ll use it anyway. Everything is lovely on your site, Jil, this post especially. This post reminds us what special qualities an e-book will now and always fail to capture.

    I enjoyed finding this post this morning — a still point in my turning day.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Nick, you have touched on something I didn’t mention. The stillness I felt when holding his book, Loom. It’s as if the simultaneous concentration and daydream that puts artists into “the zone” is contained in these pages, essentially stopping time for the reader. Unfathomable how an object can hold and evoke such a feeling.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes! Although my son is now asking for a Kindle paperwhite for his birthday. His argument? “Mom, I’ll be able to read in the back seat in the dark while we’re driving places.” My interpretation? “I’ll be able to read in my bedroom in the dark without a flashlight even after you’ve told me to get to sleep.” 😀

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