Education and the Book Arts in New Jersey, or, Preaching What We Practice


New Jersey Book Arts Symposium

What We Are

The New Jersey Book Arts Symposium is a day-long event that presents contemporary work by living New Jersey book artists and considers issues of current relevance to practitioners within the field of the book arts, and to the cultural perception and definition of the book arts. A non-profit event, the NJBAS is supported chiefly by the attendees, by the Dana Library of Rutgers University, The Friends of the Library, and by various sponsors and patrons we consider the friends of the NJBAS.

Symposium #1

For a recapitulation of The First Annual New Jersey Book Arts Symposium, see the Newsletter of the Guild of BookWorkers, Issue number 104, February 1996, or made available here by their kind permission.

How We Started

The Annual New Jersey Book Arts Symposium began life in 1994 as an idea for an exhibition. Susan G. Swartzburg and I had just left an opening of an exhibition of bookbindings at Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives, and we were fairly babbling about how marvelous some of the new bookbindings looked--including bindings by Ben and Debbie Altman, and Jan Sobota, pieces Susan loaned for use--and how lucky we were to be able to exhibit Richard Minsky's eloquent and lovely Reliquary For the Ashes of Salman Rushdie's SATANIC VERSES. Exhilarated by the show's pure physical beauty and the warm reception it had received, we talked about how wonderful it would be to fill the display cases at Special Collections entirely with contemporary bookwork. An exhibition of New Jersey book artists seemed a natural since Special Collections features a Conspectus level five collection of Jerseyana which includes book art from a variety of historical Jersey presses reaching back into the early nineteenth century. The idea of luring the many bright, talented New Jerseyans now producing handmade books or original papers into the Library reminded us of why we had become librarians. Susan suggested that perhaps we might even persuade one of the book artists, or book artisans, to deliver the Bishop Lecture--an annual lecture supported by a dedicated fund administered by Special Collections and by the generosity of the Friends of the Libraries. Certainly, it seemed possible, but which one? One?

How should we choose? Hold surreptitious tryouts to anoint a New Jersey Book-Arts Spokesperson? Boldly stage competitive talk-offs? Draw lots!?. Well, in our conversations (usually held in the hallway or standing over the xerox machine), we considered possibilities no less amusing or farfetched. (Hey, how about a full day of book arts presentations?) But, of course, (nahhh) our excitement didn't permit us to be daunted, and, besides, we still had to resolve the more immediate and necessary question of how to select exhibitors. Susan's impressive familiarity with contemporary book work throughout New Jersey married our considerations to a state of perpetual indecision. After we had dismissed the idea of jurying invited submissions--does this method ever work?--we had a list of potential contributors large enough to fill an armory. Or a dozen exhibitions . . . Hey . . ..

Possible Conversation

I: "Hey Susan! Why not an annual exhibition, where each year we can feature a different book art?"

She: "Well, yes. Of course.

I: "Of course?"

She (smiling): "I just sort of thought that's what we were doing."

YES!

I don't quite remember, but I think it might have been the energy and humour of the diversely talented artists themselves who peruaded us that we could also do the symposium every year. "YES!" they were delighted to show; "YES!" they were delighted to speak. "YES!" But, what would they speak about? Their work? "Of course." "And???"

We: "And New Jersey."

They: "Say what?"

We: "What it means, you know, to work in New Jersey. How your work relates to the world around you. Whether you perceive a regional style--East Coast, or New York (I may have gotten carried away once or twice and implied a New Jersey style)--or a diversity of regional styles."

Carol Joyce's laughter echoes at the end of this recollected conversation.

So, we strrretched the theme. Book Arts and New Jersey modulated into Book Arts In New Jersey And A Sense of Place. Maria Paisano, Iris Nevins, Barbara Henry, very graciously offered to do their best. So, of course a full day of book arts presentations. John De Pol, then a mere 80, agreed to speak for us, but, withal, expressing great relief that so many "wonderful women" would be on hand to do the lion share of the speaking. Alexandra Soteriou, the astoundingly gifted proprietor of World Paper, agreed to show slides of her explorations of paper making in India. Yes! With Alexandra aboard, we had secured a symbolic coverage of the full spectrum of the book arts: a paper-maker, a book binder, a typographer, an illustrator, and a book artist; this seemed one sensible and promising way to begin.

Perhaps, after all, though, it was Lynn Mullins, the Director of the Dana Library, who encouraged us to see our symposium as The First Annual Symposium. Lynn Mullins, whatever else she may be (and as as Director of one of Rutgers University's most beautiful and most dynamic libraries, that is indeed something special), is also one of Susan's best ideas. In one of our "oh-now-the-damn-printer-wont-print-my-disk-but-you-know-what-I-was-thinking" conversations, Susan suggested the Dana Library might be an appealing and appropriate location for the Symposium for several reasons: Newark has a long and magnificent tradition of nurturing the book arts; we both see much to admire in the beautiful new John Cotton Dana Library, and the Newark campus had shown an intriguing predilection for placing art in the library; furthermore, New York book artists and collectors could reach Newark more easily than they could New Brunswick, as could New Jerseyans who relied for transportation on train or bus--we knew our colleagues would support us regardless of where we convened. (And, candidly, in our manifest arrogance, we considered that the slightly beleaguered city of Newark needed us more than majestic New Brunswick.) So, Susan agreed to sound out Lynn Mullins, Director, on the idea of hosting our symposium ("Well, the worst she could do is say 'No'"), and reported back immediately , "Lynn said, unequivocally 'Yes!' She loves the idea!"

She really did and really does.

"I love the idea of having the book arts symposium at Newark," Lynn told me, as we found ourselves hurtling through the tunnel beneath the Hudson River, aboard the 8:10 AM train from Penn Station, N.Y. "I'm so happy Susan asked me."

And so are we. And so we are.