This past weekend saw the launch of the inaugural Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair. It was a wonderful event, very well attended, with significant crowds enjoying the works of many fine press publishers. I made the trip from Phoenix, and was thrilled to meet many people in person whom I had gotten to know over the past couple years solely through emails and phone calls, including Books and Vines contributor Dlphcorcl. Spending time at the fair reiterated to me how lucky modern lovers of fine press books are, as many people are dedicated to providing a bevy of finely done books for us to choose from. Across the board, people in this field are talented, knowledgable and simply nice. It is simply a pleasure to interact with the publishers and artists that do so much to keep finely created books alive.
The fair started off nicely early Friday evening with a social hosted by Russell Maret at the Grolier Club. Mr. Maret deserves much of the credit for the fair, and hopefully he takes well deserved pride in how well it went! It was nice seeing the Grolier Club for the first time. Of course, the real excitement was meeting so many people and having the opportunity to spend some good quality time with them. John Randle of Whittington Press, Graham Moss of Incline Press, David Pascoe of Nawakum Press, Chad Pastotnik of Deep Wood Press, Walter Bachinski and Janis Butler of Shanty Bay Press, Peter Koch, and many others. In addition, I met some others I had never had the opportunity to have any communication with before: including Gaylord Schanilec (artist and proprietor of Midnight Paper Sales), Richard Wagener (artist and proprietor of Mixolydian Editions) and Bob McCamant (of Sherwin Beach Press — just look at his version of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad!).
Later Friday evening, many of us had the opportunity for a further social get together, this hosted by Mrs. Jeanne Shiff (of Limited Editions Club.). This was very kind of Mrs. Shiff, and the wine, conversation and Limited Editions Club books and art (including wonderful works by Balthus, Matisse, Picasso, Setsuko, Willem de Kooning and others) that abounded kept all very happy! It always amazes to see how much George Macy and Sid Shiff were able to accomplish, year after year, as long as they did.
Saturday finally brought the start of the fair. While the main New York Antiquarian Book Fair was an all day event, the Fine Press Book Fair started at 5pm and lasted to 9pm (followed by all day Sunday). The Antiquarian Book Fair was huge, with scores (perhaps hundreds?) of vendors. One could have spent a month looking at all there was to offer. Of course, it was the Fine Press Fair that was my focus, and I was thrilled when 5pm rolled around, except when I realized the line to get in stretched half a block! It took about 20+ minutes to finally get in! In any case, seeing the works on display from the people mentioned above, as well as many others, was a real treat. While I am lucky enough to own some of these, others have not yet made it into my grasp! Seeing in person is such an advantage to looking at pictures and reading descriptions. The overall tactile perception with book in hand is invaluable.
At the risk of leaving out people, which is always the danger when one starts to mention specific people by name…some comments from the fair:
- Is anyone on such a winning streak as David Pascoe’s Nawakum Press? Everything they have produced the last couple years is simply top-notch. Most are highlighted on Books and Vines, just do a search and you will see what I mean! And from what I understand of his next couple productions, it only continues to get better.
- Is there anyone producing a marriage of art and classical works at the consistent level of Walter Bachinski and Janis Butler of Shanty Bay Press? With Birth of Venus upcoming, the streak will continue.
- Is there any current book as impressive in scope, and as wonderful of a way to highlight a partial history of a press, as John Randle’s Posters from Whittington? What a beautiful book end to end! Not too mention my excitement at his upcoming Venice, and Pages from Presses II.
- Is there a greater mix of works than that which Graham Moss puts out? He must be the hardest worker in the world as his output and passion for what he does overflow! His E. R. Weiss: the Typography of an Artist by Gerald Cinamon is most impressive, truly an amazing work.
- Speaking of busy, with a growing impressive set of work, and exciting plans to come, Chad Pastitnik’s Deep Wood Press remains one to watch. I am very excited for his upcoming Oscar Wilde publication as well as a short story from Kafka that is also in the works.
- Are there three nicer artists in the world, who are also amazingly accomplished, than Walter Bachinski, Richard Wagener and Gaylord Schanilec? All are so talented, yet very humble and pleasant to talk with. These are just nice, wonderful people, whose success could not be more well deserved.
- Speaking of Gaylord Schanilec, I have to say his Lac Des Pleurs is one of the most anticipated works I can remember. I know I often use exclamatory language, but this time there is no understating how impressive of a work this is turning out to be. Every element seems perfect; the type, the art, the paper, the content, etc., etc. There is a blog tracking this work here. Anyone who loves nature, nature writing, wonderful art, and a Thoreau like project should follow this and express interest to Mr. Schanilec.
- Also in the category of wonderful people — I finally met Sophie Schneideman (of Sophie Schneideman Rare Books and Prints). Sophie always has an impressive collection of works, fairly priced and very accurately described. Most importantly, she is nice as nice can be, with a wonderful sense of humor and a joy to talk with.
- Catherine Docter runs Ediciones Catherine Docter in La Antigua Guatemala and does amazing work. You can see some pictures here. Mrs. Docter is wonderfully charming, holds a wealth of knowledge, and is doing wonderful work that Books and Vines will someday soon take a look at.
- Maria Veronica San Martin created a press in Chile, called Craft Press Chile, that should also be high on your watch list. Her work Memory and Landscape: Unveiling the Historic Truths of Chile 1973-1990 makes use of etching, aquatint, wood block, and silkscreens in approaching the very serious topic of the book. It is an emotional marvel to hold and look at, especially for someone so early in their career.
- David Esselmont is a hoot (is that a word I can use?) to talk with! A lively personality, who produces very nice and exciting works. His Chile: A Recipe is wonderfully executed and a joy to flip through. The 39 woodcuts are full of color and tell a story in themselves. Here is hoping a book on wine comes next!
While almost all works shown at the fair are very fairly priced, and there are fine press offerings at all spectrums of price levels, it is apparent that — at least for now — that George Macy type production quantity (while keeping his generally very high level of quality) at a George Macy type price is simply not economically viable; so collecting modern, new works in this environment is not an inexpensive past-time. There is nobody getting rich off of producing fine press books, this is a craft and art of passion, not of money. There is simply not enough equipment, trained artisans across the vertical supply chain or economic scale to allow larger scale production of letterpress created (on fine paper, with fine art and fine bindings) classic works of the size (often 300-400+ pages and print runs of 1500) and breadth (12x a year for decades) done by Macy. A collector like me who loves classics therefore collects literature classics of LEC and other fine presses from times past, and adds to it wonderful and varied works created by today’s fine press publishers.
I am sure I am unfortunately offending by not calling out others. I am especially bereft in not spending more time at Russell Maret’s table, so to get more time with his works. I had planned to, but looked at my watch and had to run to the airport! I will make up for that at the next fair where Mr. Maret has his works. As for others, time and space unfortunately limits further comments. I could say heartfelt and positive things about everyone who was presenting. The variety of topics available in nicely done volumes is wider than I could have imagined. I wish all the best of luck and hope to highlight more and more such presses in Books and Vines in the coming years.