Last Thursday, BookWorks, our excellent resource center for book arts, hosted a fascinating lecture by Steve Miller, head of the MFA program in Book Arts at the University of Alabama. Steve is on a semester's sabbatical and is teaching a letterpress class at the nearby Penland School of Crafts this fall. The class is being held in the school's new letterpress and print studio, in whose development Steve had considerable input. His presentation was on the trips he and his students from UA have been making to Cuba since 2004 to collaborate with Cuban artists -- printmakers, poets, papermakers and bookbinders -- on handmade book projects.
The first project (2004) was Diseno/Design (see top right and first image below), a bilingual limited edition book of poems by poet and former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins. After their return to Alabama, Steve and his students finished an expanded edition of the same book. (Note: there's a tilde over the "n" in the word "diseno," which Blogger doesn't have the capacity to insert, but which creates a separate additional consonant in Spanish and alters the sound of the word). In 2005 they followed a similar process with the bilingual Illegal Use of the Soul, with poems by Cuban poet Luis Francisco Diaz Sanchez and linocuts by Julio Cesar Pena Peralta (there's that missing tilde over the "n" again, in "Pena").
Steve shared an interesting difference in the Cubans' approach to printmaking. In marked contrast to the method with which we're familiar, in which the printmaker is in control of the entire process, in Cuba there are separate roles for "printmaker" and "printer": the "printmaker" prepares the plate, then hands it over to the "printer," who works the press.
In all, there have been eight working trips to Cuba under the auspices of UA to work on various collaborative books. From the start, Steve has approached the project as a genuine collaboration, in spite of the fact that the equipment and resources available to his Cuban counterparts are severely limited. To date, at least half (and often more) of the editions have been distributed in Cuba.
Steve brought copies of the editions for us to see. Laurie Corral, BookWorks' director, supplemented these with several books by Cuban artists from the studio's collection. The latter (the last two book images below) were created using paper bags.
On a related note, you'll want to check out the podcasts of interviews that Steve has done, and continues to conduct, with book artists, papermakers, poets, and other "book people. Check out the Podcast link on the UA Book Arts page here.
Uso Ilegal del Alma/Illegal Use of the Soul, Luis Francisco Diaz Sanchez (poetry), Julio Cesar Pena Peralta (illustrations), translated by Maria Vargas