Tying the Future to a Thread

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J. Howard Atkins, Tying the Future to a Thread. Medford, Mass: Oversewing Machine Co. of America, Inc., 1968. Front Cover. Middleton Z 269.5 .A8 1968. http://library.rit.edu/cary/

What appears to be a 1970’s post-apocalyptic novel concerning the dangers nuclear stockpiling is actually about a far more dangerous situation. OVERSEWING!

A gem from the Cary Graphic Arts Collection, Bernard C. Middleton Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.

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Could pass for an artist book installation. J. Howard Atkins, Tying the Future to a Thread. Medford, Mass: Oversewing Machine Co. of America, Inc., 1968. p. 18. Middleton Z 269.5 .A8 1968. http://library.rit.edu/cary/

But seriously, friends don’t let friends oversew.

Miniature Books and Gargantuan Books

Miniature books are like cheap crack for many bookbinders and collectors. Once you get a taste, you want more. Miniature books are usually defined as being less than three inches in every dimension, though some accept them up to four. For me, the ultimate miniature book — which is quite likely unattainable — would be one that not only looks like its big brother, but also replicates its function.

There are 14 book dealers who specialize in them, there is a tiny book show tour, they are often displayed together, and they are collected by many major institutions. There is a a Miniature Book Society. There are special tools and equipment scaled for miniature books. There are a number of workshops on how to make miniature books. Miniature books easily cross the line into toys or jewelry. They are fun and social, and addicts seem to find catharsis in hanging with their own, admitting their guilty pleasure.

Gargantuan books often stand alone.  Most of us only make one. And swear not to do it again. If you make one, you are not only faced with the expense of materials, difficulty in finding equipment large enough to bind it, but then have to store and exhibit it somewhere. They are proud and boastful; I am the largest, the tallest, heaviest, etc… . Many rare book collections have one special display case for their Audubon, and keep it on more or less permanent exhibition. I’ve never heard of anyone who collects them, or a class devoted to making them.

There isn’t even a standard definition of what a size they should be. So I’ll propose a gargantuan book exceeds 33 inches in any dimension, just slightly larger than the longest side of normal handmade paper.

Many gargantuan books are made with non-traditional materials; some may not have pages, so it is not inappropiate to question if they should be considered books at all. They might be blooks or book shaped objects. Having a sequence of pages, or somehow referencing the idea of a sequence, is a critical difference in my opinion. Of course, it can be argue that any book contains the two basic seeds of a narrative, a before and an after. Eric Kwakkel considers a “real” big book one that is meant to be read, not created as a gimmick. Quality rarely enters the discourse: it’s all about quantity.

Wikipedia and the Guinness World Book of Records offer different accounts of what is the current largest book in the world is; significantly, both are religious texts. Symbolic monuments designed to impress us with their authority and power.

Below are a few gargantuan books I find noteable.

 

Appearing around 39:12, and again around 1:46:09 is a very well crafted book. It appears to be tooled in gold and blind, with deep type impressions and indentations around the bands on the (leather?) spine. Even the decorative paper sides realistically match the scale of the book. Sensitivity to the scale of details is where the wow factor comes in, both in mini and big books. Thanks to Tom Conroy for bringing this to my attention. The entire opera is spectacular, BTW.

 

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Photo: Benno Haglleitner. http://bregenzerfestspiele.com/en. Source: http://twistedsifter.com/2011/08/outdoor-opera-on-the-lake-stages-of-bregenz/

Exhibit two is the The Opera on the Lake of Bregenz. Yes, those are lilliputian actors standing on the open book. The 1999-2000 performance of Verdi’s Masked Ball had the entire stage made up of a book, held open by Death. Thanks to John Townsend for this reference.

 

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Source: http://www.lib.washington.edu/specialcollections/about/past-displays/bhutan-the-worlds-biggest-book

Slightly more prosaic is this edition titled Butan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Himalayan Kingdom, which weighs in at 133 lbs, and open is 7 feet by 5 feet.  There are a few copies for sale on ABE books in the $300- $500 range, which must make it one of the cheapest books per square inch available. I imagine the materials alone would have cost more. There is a very nice write-up about it on the University of Washington’s Special Collections site.

 

The making of this book was well documented a few years ago.  It took a crane to install it into the exhibition space. A heroic production.

I wrote about a 16 foot high book from 1918 bound in cowhide a couple of years ago, which was used to advertise War Bonds.

Other favorites?

 

Books and Representations of Books on Display at The Cloisters Museum

The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in upper Manhattan, quite near my studio. In fact, I think I might be able to see it, if I climbed up on my bench and peeked out the upper left corner of my window. Northern Manhattan is quite different from the rest of the city. It is where the Dutch purchased the island from the Native Americans and there is still even a farmhouse located on Broadway dating to 1784, which is now a museum.

The Cloisters was built (assembled?) in 1938, and consists of four medieval buildings imported from Europe. It is located inside the 66 acres of Fort Tryon park. There are also beautiful gardens, including a nice garden featuring plants used for making dyes and paints. Looking across the Hudson River, there is a stunning view of the Palisades of New Jersey which John D. Rockefeller so admired he purchased 12 miles of shoreline to preserve the naturalistic view from the park.

The Cloisters is not only my favorite museum, but it has my favorite painting,  The Merode Alterpiece. Note to the impecunious: although the Met recommends a $25 entrance fee, you can pay whatever you wish.

In April of 2015, I decided to photograph 34 actual books and works of art which contain representations of books which were on display. This was also a great chance to try a lot of handheld, low light photography with my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7, which is proving to be the second best camera I’ve ever owned. There are higher resolution images for most of these on the Met site, searchable by accession number.

If anyone would like to visit my studio, we could take a short detour to the Cloisters and look at the works, discussing what we can — and can’t — learn from looking at representations of books in art. Or you can can use this as a virtual or self guided tour.

BOOKS AND REPRESENTATIONS OF BOOKS ON DISPLAY IN APRIL, 2015,

AT THE CLOISTERS MUSEUM, NYC

This virtual tour starts on the main level in the Late Gothic Hall, and follows a counterclockwise path around the Cuxa Cloister, then jumps to the Gothic chapel, Glass Gallery and the Treasury on the lower level.

LATE GOTHIC HALL

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Antiphonal, Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, Italian, 1467-70 (60.165)
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Detail, Altarpiece with Christ…, Carrara marble, Andrea de Giona, Italian, 1434 (62.128a-i)
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Detail, Alterpiece with Scenes of the Life of Saint Andrew, Attributed to the Master of Roussillon, Tempera and gold on wood, Catalan, ca. 1420-30 (06.1211.1-.9)
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Detail, Alterpiece with Scenes of the Life of Saint Andrew, Attributed to the Master of Roussillon, Tempera and gold on wood, Catalan, ca. 1420-30 (06.1211.1-.9)
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Detail, Alterpiece with Scenes of the Life of Saint Andrew, Attributed to the Master of Roussillon, Tempera and gold on wood, Catalan, ca. 1420-30 (06.1211.1-.9)

MERODE ROOM

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Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish,  ca. 1377-1444 (56.70a-c) http://images.metmuseum.org/CRDImages/cl/web-large/DP273206.jpg. This painting is a hyper real jewel.
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Detail, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish, ca. 1377-1444 (56.70a-c)
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Detail, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish, ca. 1377-1444  (56.70a-c) Ok, these are not books, but the next best thing: TOOLS! He is building two mousetraps.

BOPPARD ROOM

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Detail, Paschal Candlestick, Paint on wood, Spanish, Castile-Leon, ca. 1450-1500 (44.63.1a,b)
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The Dormition of the Virgin, Oak, German, Cologne, late 15th C., (1973.348)
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Detail, The Dormition of the Virgin, Oak, German, Cologne, late 15th C., (1973.348) Quite likely the most accurately depicted book in the entire collection. It is hard to believe this was once painted, and even harder to believe how someone could scrape the paint off! The detail in the position of the hand, the throw-up and drape of the book, and the anguish in the face is unforgettable.

UNICORN TAPESTRIES ROOM

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Book of Hours, Published by Thielman Kerver, Paris,1504 (20.53.3)

EARLY GOTHIC HALL

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Detail, Enthroned Virgin and Child, Paint on maple, Spanish, ca. 1280-1300 (53.67)
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Saint Martin with the Virgin, Pot metal and colorless glass with vitreous paint, French, 1245-48 (37.173.2,.5)
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Detail, Legend of Saint Germain of Paris, Pot metal and colorless glass with vitreous paint, Franch, ca. 1245-47 (1973.262.1)
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Detail, Enthroned Virgin and Child, Paint on birch with glass, French, ca. 1130-40 (47.101.15)

SAINT GUILHEM CLOISTER

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Detail, The Annunciation, Carrara marble, Italian, ca. 1180-1200 (60.140)

FUENTIDUENA CHAPEL

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Detail, The Adoration of the Magi, Limestone, Spanish, ca. 1175-1200 (3077.8)

LOWER LEVEL, GOTHIC CHAPEL

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Detail, Saint Margaret of Antioch, Limestone with paint, Catalan, ca. 1330-40 (47.101.13a)

GLASS GALLERY

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Detail, Three Scenes from the Infancy of Christ, Pot metal and colorless glass with vitreous paint, Austrian, ca. 1390 (36.39.1a)
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Detail, Tomb of Ermengol VII, Count of Urgell, Limestone with traces of paint, Catalan, ca. 1300-1350 (28.95.a-i)
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Annunciation, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South German, ca. 1480-1500 (1985.244)
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Detail, St. Lambrecht of Maastricht, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1510-20 (32.24.48)
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Souls Tormented in Hell, Adapted from Dieric Bouts, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1500-1510 (1990.119.2) BOOK BURNING!

 

 

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Saint Peter with a Heraldic Shield, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1520 (12.137.6)
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Annunciation, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1500-1510 (1972.245.1)
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Detail, Saint John on Patmos with Apocalyptic Visions, Manner of Dierick Vellert, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, Antwerp? ca. 1520-30 (32.24.65)

 

 

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Saint Jerome in his Study, Style of the Pseudo-Ortkens, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, Brussels, ca. 1520 (1998.304.3)

TREASURY

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Detail, Bishiop of Assisi Giving a Palm to Saint Clare, Oil, gold and silver on wood, German, ca. 1360 (1984.343) It appears to be a sewn, but unbound book? A wrapper?
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Detail, Reliquary Plaque with Christ Blessing, Walrus ivory, German, ca. 1200 (65.65.174)
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Detail, Diptych with the Coronation of the Virgin and the Last Judgment, Elephand Ivory, French, ca. 1260-70 (1970.324.7a)
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Detail, Plaque with Saint John the Evangelist, Elephant ivory, Carolingian, early 9th C. (1977.421) The inscription reads “The word of John soars to heaven like an eagle.” It looks like the eagle is carrying a small book. The plaque may have once been from a book cover.
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Plaque with the Crucifixion and the Holy Women at the Sepulchre, Elephant ivory, Carolingian, ca. 870 (1974.266) Likely a central decoration for the front board of a Gospel book.
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Detail, Evangelists Mark and Luke, Gilded copper and glass, French, ca. 1220-30 (2012.70.1,2)
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The Cloisters Apocalypse, Tempera and ink on parchment, French, ca. 1330 (68.174) It is telling that the binding materials are not listed at all. For the Met, a book is the text and images..
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The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreus, Tempera and ink on parchment, French, ca. 1324-28 (54.1.2) This book was recently beautifully rebound by Maria Fredericks in shaped mat board and alum tawed skin. Note the similarities in the opening and the end band between the book in the Merode Alterpiece and Three Scenes from the Infancy of Christ stained glass (36.39.1a)
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The Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, French, before 1349 (69.86)
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The Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, French, 1405-1408/9 (54.1.1a or b) Again, recently rebound by Maria Fredericks into two volumes.
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Detail, Thirty Five Panels with Scenes from the life of Christ, Oak, French, early 16th C. (50.147.1) It appears the book is partially damaged.
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Detail, Thirty Five Panels with Scenes from the life of Christ, Oak, French, early 16th C. (50.147.7)