Minnesota Center for Book Art’s winter book caps a year of work

Winter Ink, Minnesota Center for Book Arts’ 20th annual winter book. Photo courtesy MCBA

Photo by Courtesy of Minnesota Center for Book Arts

Open Book literary organizations host January events

On a bookshelf near the retail store at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA), there are, proudly displayed, 20 “winter books” — each one a symbol of annual achievement for the organization. With their many flaps, leather ties, button fasteners, sleeves and multiple layers, the books are much more than your regular old paperback, just as MCBA is more than your ordinary bookmaker.

Since 1988, the publication of MCBA’s annual winter book has united artists, designers, papermakers and bookbinders in the production of limited edition, handmade artists’ books, which serve to promote traditional bookmaking and explore the realm of books-as-art.

This year’s book, Winter Ink, the 20th of the series, features work by contemporary Laotian poet Brian Thao Worra complimented by abstract ink drawings in the style of Asian calligraphy and sumi ink painting and handmade Japanese silk paper in the colors of traditional Laotian textiles.

Artistic Director Jeff Rathermal said he chose to build the book around Thao Worra’s poetry because it’s easy to relate to yet flavored with elements of the poet’s Laotian-American identity. Rathermal said he also admires Thao Worra’s ability to be poignant and to interject humor and sincerity in close proximity to one another.

“The ability to create quality humor in writing is difficult,” Rathermal said, “especially in a poem, because you have that sparcity of word.”

Winter book: the closing chapter in a year of book art

The winter book is MCBA’s flagship publication because it serves as a culmination of all aspects of book arts, Rathermal said.

Rathermal has been artistic director through five winter books. The process is a long one and begins by finding a writer to provide the text. The majority of the writers are local or regional so that they can participate in the production process by providing input. Next, a design team is assembled that includes a master printer and two binders.

The design team must then study the text and decide how to put it together as a book, considering elements such as size, shape, color palate, type style, materials and whether or not to include illustrations. The book is published in three different editions: chapbook, standard and deluxe, all of which are available in limited quantities and can be purchased online or at the MCBA.

Despite its physical complexity, the chapbook edition is the least involved of the three editions. It includes the letter-pressed text and images printed on thin kozo paper with French folding and stab binding, all placed between linen cardstock covers. This edition was designed by Rathermal and this year’s master printer, Paulette Myers-Rich, and it was bound by volunteers. The 150 copies produced are being sold for $30 each.

The standard edition was designed and bound by Sue Bjerke. It includes all the elements of the chapbook but is bound between soft Chiyogami covers with original sumi paintings by Georgia Greeley. The standard edition is also lined with Indigo Moriki paper and presented in a trifold case. Each of the 50 copies printed are signed by Thao Worra and are being sold for $150.

Designed and bound by Jana Pullman, the deluxe edition incorporates several unique elements. Unlike the others, the deluxe is bound in green silk and presented in a threefold wraparound case draped in Asahi book cloth. Another case holds additional illustrations by Ryan and original sumi work by Michael Waltz. The deluxe edition also includes an extra Thao Worra poem, Wisdom, with accompanying illustrations. Only 26 copies were printed; they cost $475.

The book as art

Myers-Rich, who’s been involved with a couple winter books in the past, said she wouldn’t have gained the set of skills she has now without MCBA. She began as a paper intern and has moved through several disciplines, including training with an apprentice, working with a master artist and taking classes before finally becoming an artist-in-residence and teacher, among other things.

“I’m participating in a field that’s getting stronger and more widely practiced,” she said. “It’s an art form, not just making a book we think of in the traditional way.”

An important element of MCBA that both Myers-Rich and Rathermal mentioned is that it’s a nonacademic institution — anyone can take classes taught by people who also teach in the art departments of local colleges.

MCBA offers paper studios, binding and different types of letter-press facilities, Rathermal said, adding that they also run an artist’s co-op program that allows artists to treat MCBA’s studios as their own for a very reasonable price.

“There are a lot of people interested in the book arts,” he said. “You need to have access, and we try to provide that, to nurture that.”

Granting degrees is not something MCBA does. Rather, theirs is a community mission, to reach out and create a thriving community of artists.

“I think the more we get removed from actual books in our lives commercially, people are drawn more to them as experiences of art and literature,” Myers-Rich said. “It’s a great way to contemplate and honor the poetry — that’s the purpose of the winter book. It really causes the reader to slow down and experience the writing.”

Minnesota Center for Book Arts
1011 Washington Ave. S. #100
Minneapolis, MN 55415

The Minnesota Center for Book Arts is just one of the organizations comprising Open Book at 1011 Washington Ave. S. Milkweed Editions, the Loft, Rosalux Gallery and Coffee Gallery café also make their home there; meeting rooms, classrooms, a book club, an outdoor deck, studios for writers and artists, a resource library and an exhibition gallery make Open Book a lively hub of literary and arts activity. Visit www.openbookmn.org.

Publisher Milkweed Editions has its offices on the third floor; stop by to see a showcase of its books, including the recently published Fiction on a Stick, by Minnesota authors, or visit www.milkweed.org.

The Loft Literary Center hosts a number of events each month, including readings and classes. Learn more at www.loft.org.

Rosalux Gallery is an artists collective featuring the work of 25 artists. Exhibits change frequently; visit www.rosaluxgallery.com for more information and to see art by collective members.

January events at Open Book:

here is better than anywhere
Jan. 2–31
Rosalux Gallery
This exhibit features work by Rosalux Directors Cheryl Wilgren Clyne and Kimberly Tschida Petters. The exhibit “5×5” also runs this month in the Pocket Gallery. A reception for both will take place on Jan. 9, 7–10 p.m.

Dobby Gibson’s Skirmish
Fri., Jan. 9, 7.p.m.
The Rain Taxi Reading Series presents award-winning Minneapolis poet Dobby Gibson. Those who purchase his new book Skirmish at the event will receive a “fortune” created especially by Gibson.

Loft Education open house
Sat., Jan. 10, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
Guests can meet Loft teaching artists, attend presentations about upcoming classes, participate in creative writing exercises and learn about discounts. For more information, call 612-379-8999.

Julie Landsman’s Growing Up White
Fri., Jan. 16, 7 p.m.
Former Minneapolis Public Schools teacher Julie Landsman will read from her book Growing Up White: A Veteran Teacher Reflects on Racism, about life lessons concerning race in America and its effect on schools.

Young adult reading
Thurs., Jan. 29, 7 p.m.
Award-winning author John Coy will read from his book Box Out, and he will be joined by Seward resident Patricia Cumbie, author of Where People Like Us Live; Ed Bok Lee, author of Real Karaoke People; and Seward-based photographer Wing Young Huie.

Dan Beachy-Quick’s A Whaler’s Dictionary
Fri., Jan. 30, 7 p.m.
Poet Dan Beachy-Quick reads from his book A Whaler’s Dictionary. Published by Milkweed Editions, the book contains “meditations on myth, representation, language, nature, consciousness, and spiritual quest” inspired by Moby Dick narrator Ishmael’s Cetological Dictionary. Part of the Rain Taxi Reading Series. Dog house punch and hardtack biscuits will be served after the reception.

last revised: January 7, 2009