Not all books are created as works of art, but those that are have been collected by connoisseurs, bibliophiles, and special collections librarians for as long as there have been libraries. Book art is a collaborative art form created by artists in small but thriving studios and printing shops. UNLV Special Collections & Archives has a small collection of artists’ books, including those of Peter Koch.
Koch, a typographer, designer, printer, and author has an international reputation in fine press printing and a catalog that dates back to 1974. His longstanding interest in the changing face of his native Montana and the American West has resulted in, his words, “an ongoing series of literary explorations utilizing appropriated photographs as evidence and documenting man’s battle against nature in the American West.”
After Koch visited UNLV, the Special Collections & Archives unit started to acquire his Western-themed works. Curator Peter Michel has assembled a wide array of art books on display in the library. Here, he describes just a few of the volumes included in the collection. Or visit them in person: UNLV Special Collections hours.
Nature Morte was originally commissioned in exhibition print format by the Holter Museum in Helena, Montana on the occasion of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition 1804-1805.
The volume is a portfolio of digital pigment prints assembled from historic photographs and documents including text from the manuscript journals and papers of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Elers Koch and others; and short legends by the artist hand-set in lead type. (Nature Morte, Berkeley, California: Editions Koch, 2005)
The Lost Journals of Sacajewea began as a project during the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In the Spring of 2005, the Missoula Museum of Art had two exhibitions running simultaneously that were critical responses to celebrations that customarily surrounds such events. Koch saw a fragment of a poem that accompanied Native Perspectives on the Trail: A Contemporary American Indian Portfolio written by Debra Magpie Earling, a member of the Flathead Reservation, and an award-winning novelist and poet. Based on that fragment, Koch proposed a collaboration.
The smoked buffalo rawhide cover paper was designed and hand-made by Amanda Degener especially for this edition at Cave Papers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The spine is beaded with trade beads and small caliber cartridge cases, and the text is printed on hand-made paper at Peter Koch Printers. (The Lost Journals of Sacajewea, Debra Magpie Earling; illustrated by Peter Rutledge Koch. Berkeley, CA: Editions Koch, 2010)
Koch was inspired to create Liber Ignis by a visit to a small gallery in Germany, “saturated,” as he described it, “with the leaden-grey ashes of war and suffering.” Through his own work looking at archives of mining and banking, Koch created this stark vision of the industrial landscape which mining had wrought in Montana. Liber Ignis consists of six lead sheets printed on an acrylic flatbed press, interleaved with laminated felt and split microfiber sheets dyed black. The binding is constructed with soldered copper tubing and linen thread.
The book documents the ongoing war against nature in the American West, and consists of a poem set against images by Adam Cornford. (Liber Ignis, Peter Rutledge Koch, Adam Cornford, and Jonathan Gerken. Berkeley, California: Editions Koch, 2015.)
Michelle Burgess, the director of Brighton Press of San Diego visited UNLV Special Collections & Archives last May. Burgess works in printmaking, painting, sculpture, and book art. With Bill Kelly, the founder of the Brighton Press, she has produced 46 limited edition artist books and broadsides, often working with contemporary poets and artists. The artists make their own plates and cut their own blocks. Each work is printed by hand in their studio in small editions and is signed and numbered.
In 1978-79, poet Nancy Willard and artist Eric Lindbloom traveled together with their young son through the northeast while Willard was on various poetry reading tours. They then went to Italy and Holland. Lindbloom made these photographs in small, largely unnoticed places along the way. According to him: “These photographs were all about the joy of using the lighthearted Diana, a toy camera, after a long apprenticeship with a 4-foot-by-5-foot stand camera, with its physical and historical weight on my back. They were part of a series called ‘Private Lives of Public Places.’” Willard wrote the poems 20 years later in 1998. (Diana in Sight, Poems by Nancy Willard; archivally hand printed Diana photographs by Eric Lindbloom. printed on Twinrocker “Turner Blue” handmade paper. Case bound in Japanese cloth and hand marbled paper and housed in a clamshell box. Edition of 30. 2009.)
Ian Tyson’s Seven motes of zen dust, represents his dialogue, in words and images, with seven Zen Buddhist koans. A koan is a Japanese riddle or paradox in the Buddhist tradition that is meant to be contemplated until the end of time.
Tyson writes, “Using more or less consistent phrases, I have added personal commentary that may seem at variance with the koan. My intention is to intensify the original by opposing it with an alternative reference. The printing of the ‘core’ koan text and blocks in black on handmade paper with the ‘commentary’ text … emphasizes the two aspects of the extracts.” (SEVEN motes of zen dust. Japanese koans with text and woodcuts by Ian Tyson. Printed on Twinrocker and Cave papers. Housed in an embossed slipcase covered in cross-dyed linen. 2015.)