A Visit to The Pyracantha Press

Last week I was able to visit the Pyracantha Press in Tempe, Arizona. As described on their website, the Pyracantha Press was established at Arizona State University in 1982 as the production and research imprint of the ASU Herberger Institute School of Art’s book arts program. The press undertakes book arts projects that have particular merit in literary content, result in visual or technical research or provide for significant collaboration between writers and artists or between artists. Publications of the press are not done as class projects, but are produced with professional care and quality by the director, the staff printer and graduate research assistants. Professor John Risseeuw, who came to ASU in 1980 to establish a book arts program within the printmaking area of the School of Art, directs the press. In addition to being a printer/typographer, Risseeuw is a printmaker and papermaker. Dan Mayer, the book arts printer, manages the shop.

I received my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State, though unfortunately, not in the Book Arts program! I was very impressed with the shop. They have an amazing amount of type (my understanding is perhaps the third largest university collection in the U.S.). The books I was able to see, some of which are shown below, are fantastic in quality and originality. In talking with Professor Risseeuw and Mr. Mayer, their enthusiasm for the book arts and knowledge of all aspects of book design and creation is obvious. Arizona State, and the Phoenix area itself, is lucky to have such an excellent resource at their disposal.

There are a handful of pictures below of various books the press has published. Couple caveats…time was running tight on my side, so some of the pictures and lighting are not perfect! Pyracantha’s Venus and Adonis, shown below, is particularly fantastic for a classicist like myself! Also, Puello, by the eighteenth Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress James Dickey (1923-1997), best known for his 1970 novel Deliverance, is very nicely done, as is The Warrington Poems by well regarded poet Alberto Rios. Eco Songs, from Macedonian composer Dimitrije Buzarovski, is beautiful to hold and flip through. The Other Side of the House, written by United States Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove, is very nice, especially the beautiful and insightful photographs by Tamarra Kaida. In particular, I just loved the paper selection and paper quality in all these books. Like I feel about most fine presses, I would love to see more selection of traditionally classic works, freshly done.

A full list of books, colophon type information and prices is here. You can contact John Risseeuw or Dan Mayer at the press if you are interested in a purchase or more information.

Pictures of the Press

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

At the Pyracantha Press with Adriene Jenik (Director of the School of Art), Mr. Dan Mayer (Book Arts Printer and Studio Manager) and Professor John Risseeuw (founder of the Book Arts program, printer, typographer, printmaker and papermaker)
Pyracantha Press, Professor Risseeuw at the Vandercook
Pyracantha Press, One of their Vandercook
Pyracantha Press, Another of their Vandercook
Pyracantha Press, Another Press
Pyracantha Press, Row of Type
Pyracantha Press, More Fonts
Pyracantha Press, More Fonts
Pyracantha Press, Chris Adamson trying his hand at Typesetting

Pictures of ‘Venus and Adonis’, by William Shakespeare

  • Printed in quarto
  • Typeface is Montotype Bembo
  • 100% rag handmade paper from HMP Mill in Woodstock Valley, Connecticut
  • Text was machine set at Harold Berliner’s Typefoundry in Nevada City, California and reset in the shop
  • Illustrations by Leonard Lehrer
  • The stone lithographs were printed by Joseph Segura and his graduate assistants in Pyracantha’s Print Research Facility
  • Bindings executed by Earle Gray Bindery of Los Angeles
  • The typographical ornaments were drawn by John Risseeuw, director of the Press, who also designed and printed the book with assistance from graduate research assistant Colleen Oakes
  • Limited to 120 copies plus 30 proof copies
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Spine and Cover
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Frontispiece and Title Page
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Frontispiece
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Title Page
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Sample Text – Preface
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Sample Text – Introduction
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Sample Text #1 and Decoration
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Detail of Sample Text #1
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Text with Illustration
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Illustration
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, A Note about the Book
Pyracantha Press, Venus and Adonis, Colophon

Pictures of ‘Puella’, by James Dickey

  • Stempel Palatino type from Almond Tree Press
  • Designed, handset, and printed on Arches Text Laid paper by John Risseeuw with assistance from Colleen Oakes
  • Illustrations drawn by Brenda Bodney
  • Signed by James Dickey
  • Limited to 150 copies
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Cover
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Detail of Cover
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Frontispiece
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Title Page
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Contents
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Sample Text #1
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Illustration with Text
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Illustration
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Illustration 2
Puella, Pyracantha Press, Colophon

Pictures of Other Books and Broadsides

For My People, Pyracantha Press, Broadside signed by Elizabeth Catlett
Bill of Rights (one of a series), Pyracantha Press, Broadside
Time Square, Pyracantha Press, Book by Buzz Spector (as sculpture)
Time Square, Pyracantha Press, Text by Buzz Spector
Time Square, Pyracantha Press, Broadside
The Warrington Poems by Alberto Rios, Pyracantha Press, Cover and Spine
The Warrington Poems by Alberto Rios, Pyracantha Press, Title Page
The Warrington Poems by Alberto Rios, Pyracantha Press, Sample Text
The Warrington Poems by Alberto Rios, Pyracantha Press, Colophon
Eco Songs, composed by Dimitrije Buzarovski, Pyracantha Press, Cover
Eco Songs, composed by Dimitrije Buzarovski, Pyracantha Press, Title Page
Eco Songs, composed by Dimitrije Buzarovski, Pyracantha Press, Sample Text #1
Eco Songs, composed by Dimitrije Buzarovski, Pyracantha Press, Sample Text #2 with Fold-Out pages
Eco Songs, composed by Dimitrije Buzarovski, Pyracantha Press, Sample Paper with flip side design
Eco Songs, composed by Dimitrije Buzarovski, Pyracantha Press, Colophon
The Other Side of the House by Rita Dove and Tamarra Kaida, Pyracantha Press, Cover (note darkness on right is a shadow)
The Other Side of the House by Rita Dove and Tamarra Kaida, Pyracantha Press, Title Page
The Other Side of the House by Rita Dove and Tamarra Kaida, Pyracantha Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Other Side of the House by Rita Dove and Tamarra Kaida, Pyracantha Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Other Side of the House by Rita Dove and Tamarra Kaida, Pyracantha Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Other Side of the House by Rita Dove and Tamarra Kaida, Pyracantha Press, Colophon
Moon Journey, Pyracantha Press, Cover
Moon Journey, Pyracantha Press, Colophon

5 thoughts on “A Visit to The Pyracantha Press

  1. I recently acquired a copy of Pyracantha’s “Venus and Adonis,” and it’s simply wonderful. The printing is beautiful and crisp, and the paper is a luxurious, soft rag that feels like something antique.

    I have a number of books with rich, wonderfully tactile paper — the Grabhorn “Othello,” the LEC’s “The Prince” and 1931 editions of Homer, and the Allen Press’ “Four Stories” by Pushkin come to mind — but none with the same soft, flexible, fabric-like hand.

      1. The note at the back of the book (before the colophon) indicates that the paper is a special blend of rag content, handmade at the HMP Paper Mill in Woodstock, Connecticut, intended to approximate (albeit in a wove, rather than laid surface) the look and feel of a late 16th century paper.

        A quick internet search turns up the interesting information that other specialty paper formulas from HMP were used by the LEC for their 1984 edition of Maya Angelou’s “Our Grandmothers,” and by Ellsworth Kelly for his Colored Paper Images series in 1977. HMP must have an interesting resume, judging from those two items!

  2. I didn’t know this wondeful press existed – thank you for showing it to us.

    Having bought a beautifully printed book called ‘Robert the Devil’ (great title!) that was printed and published at The Windhover Press at The University of Iowa, I became aware of a number of presses that function under accomplished printers/artists/producers in American and Canadian Universities.

    The continuance of this craft to such high standards and with such dedication and commitment in educational establishments appears to be an American/Canadian phenomenon – long may it continue!

  3. What an amazing printery!!! I had no idea they were publishing books like these–incredible! When I worked in a university print shop, the letterpress machines–a Heidelberg “Windmill” and a Chandler & Price “New Style”–were used to print Commencement programs, and fundraising letters–and outside jobs such as wedding and funeral announcements, etc. The only “books” printed there were the texts for some of the courses such as “Foundations of Physical Science” and this were printed offset.

    The Pyracantha Press is a treasure and I hope they flourish, even as colleges around the country are converting to “bookless libraries.” Thanks for introducing their work to us!

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