The Arion Press has a remarkable and illustrious publishing history, as a quick read through their just released ‘Bibliography of the Arion Press’ clearly highlights. It is no surprise to long time Books and Vines readers that I am a huge fan of the Press, a subscriber, and an admirer of what founder Andrew Hoyem has accomplished. In today’s day and age a private press lasting 40+ years is an impressive feat in itself, let alone an accomplished production of over 100 outstanding works, representing an eclectic mix of classic and modern titles, often with original commissioned artwork and scholarly introductions.
The contributors to this volume provide excellent observations around these same themes. Kevin Starr, Professor of history at USC and California State Librarian Emeritus and National Medal of the Humanities winner, in the foreward, presents an overview of the history of San Francisco’s vibrant publishing scene and goes on to say concerning Andrew Hoyem and the Arion Press:
The multiplicity of genres represented in this bibliography reflect the highly developed and eclectic taste of Hoyem himself, his wife and partner, literary critic Diana Ketcham, the Press staff, and the circle of book, art, and fine printing lovers that has supported the Arion Press since its founding.
Glenn Todd, who worked for Mr. Hoyem for 30 years spanning from Grabhorn-Hoyem to Arion Press, elaborates further, in the introduction, on the mix of works within his overview on the history of the Press coming into being and its accomplishments since.
A glance at the list of books described in this volume shows the wide scope of Arion’s publishing program, which spans ancient Greece to modern-day Europe and the America’s….These hundred books may appear more random in their selection than they are. Several patterns emerge. There are the mystery/detective novel series (‘The Maltese Falcon’, ‘The Big Sleep’, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, ‘The Moonstone’, ‘Our Man in Havana’) and the drama series (‘American Buffalo’, ‘A Lie of the Mind’, ‘The Price’, ‘Arcadia’, ‘Tartuffe’, ‘A Delicate Balance’). There are modern American classic novels (‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘The Age of Innocence’, ‘Call it Sleep’, ‘The Day of the Locust’, ‘Williwaw’, ‘Mrs. Bridge’, ‘Pale File’) and both classic and modern English novels (‘Tristram Shandy’, ‘Tono-Bungay’, ‘Animal Farm’, ‘Orlando’). An interest in the Bible is quite apparent (‘Psalms’, ‘The Apocalypse’, ‘Genesis’, culminating in the Bible itself). Hoyem has not hesitated to tackle the giants of western literature (‘Don Quixote’, ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets’, ‘Paradise Lost’, ‘Moby-Dick’, ‘Ulysses’).
In any mix like this, any one reader will like some selections better than others as works of literature. What I have appreciated as a subscriber and collector of Arion publications is that their selections excite me when they happen to be in my preferred wheelhouse of western canon classics, and educate me when they are not. There are many works of literature that I would have never sampled if it were not for Arion publishing such. Almost all of which I have needed up liking, expanding my horizons well beyond what I now see was an all too narrow focus.
What is exceedingly helpful in any effort to expand one’s horizons is scholarly introductions to help one understand what they are about to embark on. Arion excels here, often providing lengthy, always deeply thoughtful and helpful, original introductions by people such as Helen Vender, M.F.K. Fisher, Ray Bradbury, Daniel Boorstin, Robertson Davies, Bill Berkson, Oscar Lewis, James D. Hart, Christopher Buckley and many many more.
Speaking of original introductions, such is just one aspect of overall original packages. Mr. Todd hits on the importance of Arion’s focus on original publications:
Andrew made sure that a certain percentage of the books were original publications — new writings, new translations, or imaginative scholarly pairings…
Mr. Starr expounds further on this:
The range and caliber of the writers, artists and critics represented in the record of Arion Press reflects its national and global standing….Moving past the examples of his mentors the Grabhorn brothers, Andrew Hoyem has applied their scholarly bent and practice of allusive typography to an ambitious program of publishing, subordinating commission jobs, that involves new translations, scholarly introductions, and thought-provoking combinations of images, texts, and commentary….Hoyem’s pairing of significant literary works with some of this era’s most recognized artists has made it the foremost practitioners in that international tradition.
So the selections are eclectically classic, be it modern or more traditional; combined with significant and meaty original scholarly introductions, and of course, original illustrations by some of the most important modern artists in the world today. Prominent rare book dealer Peter Kraus, in the prologue, mentions:
More importantly, the press has been able to publish books with illustrations by some of the most important artists of the time, beginning with Jim Dine and including Jasper Johns, Richard Diebenkorn, R.B. Kitty, Kara Walker, Sol DeWitt, Mel Bouchner, Kiki Smith, William Wiley, Alex Katz, Wayne Thiebaud, Martin Purer, and Robert Motherwell…The Press has also published numerous books with photographs by such photographers as Michael Kenna, Lucy Gray, Laurie Simmons, and Diana Michener.
I will admit that for most of my life, what is generally bucketed under the term ‘Modern Art’, has not been a favorite of mine. Both aesthetically and intellectually, especially if disjointed from classic underpinnings in what I call ‘art for arts sake’, I typically find modern art lacking in depth, beauty and truth. Similar to Arion challenging me to expand the range and type of literature I read (pulling me kicking and screaming into modern times!), so they do with art. Many of the artistic illustrations are historically of a type I would not have given two seconds of thought to. Yet, reflection from contemplating these illustrations within the context of the holistic work presented by Arion has frequently changed my mind (for instance, initially I was not a fan of Julie Mehretu‘s work in Sappho, but after a deep reading of the work, and contemplation of her work within that proper context, I came to regard her work here as excellent). There is no question I remain a classicist or traditionalist when it comes to art and illustration; such is where my preference lay. But Arion’s mission was to pair modern art with their works, and with that expectation in mind, they have succeeded brilliantly. I am thankful that Arion pushed me from my comfort zone artistically. If one, unlike myself, is already a modern art fan, than you would/should be silly crazily happy with each and every one of their publications!
Hopefully what has become clear in reading this article, each Arion book sets its own course.
Reading Arion’s catalog reveals that it does not repeat itself, and a look at the books themselves shows how inventive and individual are the designs.
Mr. Kraus mentions:
From the beginning he broke with one of the key elements of the private press, and that is their tendency to all have a strong identifying style. Right from the first book, every Arion book has its own specific identity….the Press’s singular ability to refuse to stick to a standard format. When one encounters an Arion Press book for the first time, one never knows what format one will be confronted with, It could be the ‘Massive Birds of the Pacific Slope’, the metal-bound ‘Invisible Cities’, or the film-canister-like container for ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’.
Their Moby Dick, The Apocalypse, The Temple of Flora and The Holy Bible are amongst the greatest private press books of the last 100 years. Even within that small set, each is as different as can be. I personally own 50 or so Arion titles, and hope to collect another 50 over the coming years! I can attest to what Mr. Kraus says. You never know what will come next. There is not a set design pattern other than a striving for excellence. Those who have one or two Arion titles, do not make the mistake that what you have is representative of the Press’s output. What you have is an independent unique sample!
I should mention that in the preface, Andrew Hoyem provides a brief overview of his background and how the press came to be, their moves across various locations, and acknowledgements to the many people who have contributed to the success of the Press. He also makes the following statement, which I truly appreciate:
…we can state with pride that that Arion Press has been self-sufficient. It is remarkable that thus arts and crafts company has survived without subsidy for forty years (fifty-four if the press before Arion is counted).
In any Bibliography like this what I find most interesting is ‘behind the scenes’ stories, which give us a flavor of what it is like operating in the private press world. Here are some samples of such insight from this work:
- For Venus and Adonis, the illustrations were made as “photo-engravings from assembled reproduction proofs of top ornaments with swelled curves and strategically placed Piranesi script capitals.” Looking at the very sensual illustrations, I would have never guessed.
- A Travel Book, Arion’s first artist book, is groundbreaking in that the design “combines writing and art inseparably” — a departure from the French tradition that typically had prints separated from text pages.
- The direction to Barry Moser for Moby Dick was to illustrate only things the reader might not know of. “Characters or creatures and dramatic situations in the story should not be shown but left to Melville’s descriptions and the reader’s imagination.” That sure turned out to be a stroke of genius!
- In The Apocalypse, Artist Jim Dine ran out of the supplied wood for illustrations. So, “he used any wood that came to hand, including his wife’s cutting board and a piece from a lumber pile that was badly cracked and warped, neither of these pieces being type high. The printer managed with careful make-ready and by modifying the ink role height.“
- At the publication party for The Maltese Falcon, which was attended by detectives, a replica of the statuette used in the movie, brought to the party by Mr. Hoyem, was stolen! “About ten days later, after ominous telephone calls and a paid notice in the newspaper seemed to suggest ransom would be required, the dingus was returned during luncheon at Jack’s Restaurant, where an elaborate practical joke played on Hoyem was revealed by a band lf literary friends, including two U.S. Poets laureate…“
- The Great Gatsby illustrations resulted from Hoyem and Diana Ketcham mistaken belief that it was architect Michael Graves‘ favorite book. When they went to Princeton to meet him, they realized they had Graves mixed up with his architectural rival Robert A. M. Sterns (whose favorite book it really was). They went with Graves anyway, who was thrilled to do the illustrations.
There are many, many more such interesting tidbits! Of course, there is also their fair share of issues with artists and with estates. For example:
- For Eureka, the project was conceived for artist Terry Winters. “After considerable investment by Arion Press in type composition for the English text and paper for the entire edition, Winters withdrew and published his prints through Universal Limited Art Editions.“
- Sonnets of Guido Cavalcanti started out as a project with Italian artist Francisco Clemente, who “insisted he had to have proofs of the text pages in order to prepare images for prints. So we set the type for all the sonnets, sent proofs to him, and ordered Italian handmade paper for the book. However, the artist never made drawings or prints and after a long period of time withdrew from the project.“
- Mr. Hoyem was planning on commissioning illustrations for Pale Fire, but the author’s son Dimitri forbade doing so. So instead he reproduced Nabokov’s own notecards for the work in a second separate volume as the artistic element.
- The play Godot resulted from the Samuel Beckett estate imposed “impossible conditions” to attain permission to publish a limited edition of Waiting for Godot.
Lastly, about the edition itself, as Mr. Hoyem himself says in the preface, the intent here was not to match or equal the great private press Bibliographies, such as those done by Grabhorn, Ashendene or Allen Press (hand made paper, hand set type, in and of themselves work of publishing art). The prospectus states:
The work of Arion’s predecessor the Grabhorn Press was recorded in three volumes in folio-format bibliographies, printed from handset type on handmade paper with leaves from their books bound in. Arion Press has chosen a smaller format with photographic illustrations of the books, the locations, the staff, artists, authors, and supporters. The printing is from digital type by offset lithography. There are full bibliographical entries for all one hundred books, each with a commentary on its design, production, and publication…There are checklists for out-of-series publications and commissioned projects, with a note on ephemeral and job printing. Leaves from all one hundred books are being offered separately in boxed sets that can be purchases with copies of the bibliography.
The book is nicely sized at 11-1/2 by 8 inches, 308 pages. The types are Cycles and Arepo, printed via offset lithography, on Mohawk Superfine paper. The binding is full cloth over boards with endpapers printed by letterpress from ornaments cast by Mackenzie & Harris, presented in a full cloth slipcase. The book is limited to 500 copies. 100 of the 500 limitation are set aside to be sold with the aforementioned boxed set of leaves from the one hundred books. Since I have many of the books already, and will be acquiring many others over the years, I choose not to get the boxed set. But for those just starting in Arion collecting, or those who collect Bibliographies, getting that set of leaves is an absolute no-brainer!
Congratulations to Andrew Hoyem, Diana Ketcham, and all other current and former Arion Press staff and contributors. As reflected in this Bibliography, the private press world owes you gratitude for your accomplishments, and we are all looking forward to more to come!
About the Edition
- Foreword by Kevin Starr
- Introduction by Glenn Todd
- Prologue by Peter Kraus
- Preface by Andrew Hoyem
- 11-1/2 by 8 inches, 308 pages
- The types are Cycles and Arepo, designed by Sumner Stone
- The paper is Mohawk Superfine
- The offset lithography was done under the supervision of Susan Schaefer
- The binding is full cloth over boards with endpapers printed by letterpress from ornaments cast by Mackenzie & Harris, presented in a full cloth slipcase
- The set of leaves from the one hundred books, each imprinted with its publication number in brackets, with a title and documentation sheet, are housed in an acid-free box with title label on the top lid
- The book edition is limited to 500 copies for sale and 50 copies for complimentary distribution to contributors, staff, former associates, and supporters
- The boxed set of leaves is limited to one hundred.
- The price of the book is $1,000 (minus 30% for subscribers); The price of the set of leaves is also $1,000 (minus 30% for subscribers), and it must be purchased with a copy of the book
Pictures of the Edition
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