The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 14, Number 3
Jun 1990

The Book Arts Conference

A Report from Gary Frost

The "First National Conference on Book Arts in the USA!' was held in New York City March 30th to April 1st, 1990. There were almost 350 participants, half of whom were artists and teachers, while 5% of the participants described themselves as bookbinders. The conference was organized by Richard Minsky and was administered by the Center for Book Arts.

Though this was certainly not the first gathering on a book arts theme, it was the first nationwide assembly of representatives of the book arts centers and much of the program described activities of these centers. Presentations covered book arts education, collecting, exhibitions and criticism as well as presentations in the printing and binding arts. There was also an emphasis on marketing with over 20 exhibitors providing a good forum for the free interaction of participants at their booths.

In spite of the aura of communication that such a meeting inspires, there was evidence of divergence, not convergence, of themes. If artists and book workers are supposed to be drawing nearer to a unified use of a single media, it was not apparent. Artists play with the book and book workers toy with the artistic consequence of their productions, but no one is about to change their goals, their temperaments or their markets. Further divergence arises as book work built on traditional forms is fragmented by drastic technological and social changes. As Sandra Kirshenbaum remarked, "fine press printing is no longer synonymous with letterpress work." Desktop production as well as drastic changes in the conventional appearance and structure of books will diversify the future of the book arts.

It is evident that bookbinders have generated major new trends involving creative use of historical book structures, bookworks produced entirely by a single artist, book performance, book action and structurally innovative fine press editions. These developments were presented in slide lectures with Frank Mowery speaking an book conservation and fine binding, Gary Frost speaking on limited edition binding and Hedi Kyle speaking on artists' book work. The artistic potential of the physical forms of books was beautifully presented in the performance, "Unfolded World" by Susan Share and her colleagues.

A postprint providing abstracts of presentations as well as a participant list will be produced in about three months and will be available from the Center for Book Arts in New York City. Another conference is planned for the San Francisco area next year.

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