Parting Gifts

Hey all,

I’m just gonna jump in, here. If you’re reading this post, it’s extremely likely that you know that Arthur passed away at the end of January. If you were fortunate enough to know him, then you know that writing a flowery little passage about his life would really not be sincere to his candidness and sincerity.

In the week preceding Arthur’s memorial service, I was asked if I’d like to join the lineup of speakers. It was decided that having a student speak would give voice to the effect that the Jaffe Center has had at FAU, and that there was probably no student more fit for the task. I’ve been giving tours, supporting the studios, coordinating events, and assisting Arthur at JCBA for almost three years now, so nerves aside, I agreed completely. One of Arthur’s greatest gifts to me was convincing me that I’m a very capable public speaker (he used to sit in on my early tours and shower me with compliments and advice once the patrons had gone), so I figured it would be a pretty appropriate move.

Allow me to address that, in case you haven’t seen the memorial: As a student, as an artist, as a lover of art, the Jaffe Center has changed my life. Having the opportunity to handle so many real art objects on a daily basis would change anyone’s life. Being asked to analyze and present them would make any person that much wiser. Being around to work out some of the kinks for our artists has helped me to work out my own. Every minute spent aiding Arthur taught me as much as it helped him. I can’t imagine that any other student job could have provided me with so much professional insight and confidence.

On some level, I regret not sharing a bunch of stories at the memorial service instead of all of that.

It might have been nice to talk about the time that nervous and newly-employed me attempted to relieve him of his coffee cup, and how in passing it from his hand to mine, the mug and contents leapt out at the wall over the sink, in which it landed upright and completely unharmed, leaving me to wonder if I might be a real-life Carrie White, and fearing the scene Stephen King might write for me if I got fired. Arthur patted my arm and asked me for another half-cup of black coffee, because evidently, he hadn’t even been done drinking it, and shortly thereafter, he began taking his coffee in paper cups.

Or maybe I’d have chosen the story of taking him and his dear friend Ezzat all the way to Miami to see the Perez Art Museum. He fell totally in love with Ai Wei Wei, something that many people my age are too closed-minded to do, and insisted we see the entire exhibition before breaking for lunch.

For the first time in my two or three years of knowing him, that day, I watched Arthur eat something which was not dessert. I had occasionally seen evidence of a cheese stick, or found one warm and forgotten in his office, but on this day, the man ordered a caesar salad, which we were all disappointed to find the museum’s chef treated as a vehicle for exactly one fat anchovy. I joined them for dinner as well, and you can bet your bottom dollar that after eating half of his fish/green beans/potatoes, he custom-ordered a simple, generously-portioned, off-the-menu, and completely perfect dessert for each of us. It absolutely involved ice cream.

I could have warmly recounted any incidents of Arthur teaching me all of the things about Jewish holidays and hebrew pronunciation that I couldn’t afford to have learned in Hebrew school like other nice Jewish girls had. He often told me that there are other ways to pursue a bat mitzvah, and that generally, with the support of one’s family and the right mentors, a person finds few limits. He wanted to know everything about my family and how well I got along with them. He wanted to be sure that I valued them, and habitually, Arthur would ask me about my grandfather. How was his health, how often did I see him, how had he influenced me, what did he do to stay sharp? I had all the right answers to all of these questions, but being asked them, I was certainly more motivated to keep it that way.

On the night of Arthur’s passing, I was at my mother’s house, hosting my grandfather’s eightieth birthday party, and entertaining all of his closest friends – all people who’d watched me grow up, and who occupied leading roles in his life’s stories. They gossiped and bickered and reflected long past my bedtime, sipping on scotch and merlot, nibbling on diabetic-friendly desserts (I will never know how Arthur managed to avoid that ailment.) I hugged my grandfather goodbye and told him I loved him, and saw him with as much light in his eyes as he might have had holding one of my childhood drawings or attending my high school graduation. My ride home that night was filled with warm and grateful thoughts, and I remember thinking that Arthur would be very pleased with me if I could remember to tell him about it when I saw him next. That’s where the closure is, for me. It’s only faintly an Arthur story, I suppose, but as stories go, I think it’s pretty good, and as you may have at this point surmised, the man wanted nothing more than to leave us with more than a few very good stories to move us.

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Intimacy and the Book

Poem by Corey Mesler, type set by Terrence Chouinard

Poem by Corey Mesler, type set by Terrence Chouinard

Hello folks. John Cutrone here, JCBA Director.

Our most recent book arts workshop, “A Very Clamshell Weekend,” was a November weekend boxmaking workshop taught by Terrence Chouinard. Aside from teaching his workshop, Terry spent a week here at JCBA, performing diagnostics on our presses and equipment, giving great suggestions on how to improve our studios, and telling countless tales about printers, typographers, and book artists he has known. He’s known a LOT of them.

It was the first time he got to meet Arthur Jaffe, though, and Arthur wasn’t quite sure who Terry was until I pulled one of his books from our shelves. The book is Piecework, a book of poetry by Corey Mesler, with calligraphic illustrations by Suzanne Moore. If you’re from Memphis, you’ll know Corey; he is the proprietor of Burke’s Books, one of the oldest independent bookstores in the country. And if you’ve ever been to JCBA, you’re familiar with the work of Suzanne Moore: she’s a brilliant calligrapher and she designed our feature stained glass window, the one that reads, “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.”

Back in 2000, around the same time that I was starting here at the Jaffe Collection, Terrence Chouinard was at work on Piecework. It’s pretty much the perfect example of what is at the heart of the Jaffe Collection: small, intimate works that are exquisitely designed, and printed and bound by hand. Most folks come here and are exposed to the “wowser” books: books that shift shapes or have pop up light up components or that smell like baking gingerbread. It’s easy to excite people with stuff like that in a presentation. But our favorite books are the ones that are too quiet to show to a group. Books like Piecework. Books you have to come and experience on a personal basis, just you and an exquisite book. And that’s just what Arthur Jaffe, our favorite book arts enthusiast, did once I got that book off the shelf for him.

Well, though I just met Terry Chouinard, and he seems like a great guy, I have to say it was Suzanne Moore’s illustrations that drew me to this book in the first place. I have always been a fan of Suzanne’s work, from the first time I was exposed to it. She is one of the world’s leading calligraphers and I have a soft spot in my heart for what, to me at least, is perhaps the most venerable of the book arts. Before there was printing, there were scribes, after all. So calligraphy is, I think, one of the purest expressions of the book arts.

Acquiring the book, though, is by no credit to me. I’m sure we bought it a few years after its publication, and these decisions were always made by John and me and others who have worked here over the years. The book is a discovery: It’s small, intimate. It’s the clean design that really draws you in, and Terry’s mastery of book design is evident on every page.

As for the content, these are exceptional poems, brief, yet worthy of discussion. I especially like “The Poem and What I Did With It,” which begins with the line “I wrote this poem first on a stone.” I really love that line. I also really love when someone hands me a book from our collection like this, out of the blue, one I haven’t seen in maybe ten or more years. If there was one book to pull out for me today, this was the one I needed.

You’ll notice that Arthur and I both use the same word for this book: Intimate. Books are like that, though. Very personal experiences that are close to our senses, held close to our faces, artwork we embrace, quite literally. Looking at this particular book, you’ll find that the calligraphic drawings, called paragrams, were inspired by the poetry. The book is an edition of 150 and the paragrams are printed but then colored by hand, individually, in each book. Printed by hand, bound by hand… even the process sounds intimate. I hadn’t thought much about this before taking a close look at Piecework, but perhaps it is this intimacy of process and product that makes JCBA such a special place.

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A Chair Fit For an Angel

Hello again, Arthur Jaffe here.
One of my favorite things about the Jaffe Center for Book Arts is its diversity of ideas. Our staff often comes up with program ideas that have nothing at all to do with the book arts, at least at the surface, and there are times when I think the place would be better named the Jaffe Center for Creativity. This is certainly the case with two programs coming up later this month with members of The Boston Camerata. I think a lot of you will think you’ve never heard of The Boston Camerata, but if you listen to Public Radio, you’ve heard their music. They are one of the leading ensembles researching, recording, and performing early music today, and I love the way The Boston Camerata makes early music come alive for contemporary audiences.

JCBA Director John Cutrone will tell you more about this program being held on Wednesday evening, January 21, 2015 at 7 PM at FAU’s University Theatre.

Arthur’s right: JCBA is about more than book arts.

My view? Our art is informed by our experiences, and the book arts are no different. I have always felt it was important to bring many varied experiences to JCBA to inspire creative ideas, and I am particularly excited about this next program.

It’s a tough one to explain. We’ve titled the program “A Chair Fit For an Angel,” which is the name of the film that will be screened as the central part of the program. The film itself is about creativity, but filtered through the experiences of the Shakers, America’s most successful utopian society. At its height in the mid 19th century, there were tens of thousands of Shakers living in communities throughout New England, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and even a short-lived community in Florida. Today there is just one active Shaker community: The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community at New Gloucester, Maine.

What Arthur says about The Boston Camerata, how you may not think you know them but you probably do, most likely rings true about the Shakers, too. You may not think you have much connection or debt to them, but the Shakers have had a big impact on American life. They invented things we use even today: the flat broom, for instance, and the washing machine. What they are best known for, however, is their impeccably made furniture and their clean, crisp sense of design. Shaker furniture made in the 18th and 19th centuries has an undeniably modern aesthetic. And so if you appreciate modern design, you owe a debt to the Shakers. They were some of the first people practicing this clean aesthetic.

My connection with the Sabbathday Lake Shakers runs long and deep. I had the privilege of working with Brother Arnold Hadd at the Community when I was in grad school. I spent two summers there working at the press in their old dairy cellar, printing alongside Brother Arnold and making books. It was one of the most important learning experiences of my life. The Shakers welcomed me into their home and into their lives and I will never forget their kindness. But they have a long history of welcoming people from “the world,” as they call it, and I got to meet many wonderful people while I was there. Two of those people were Anne Azéma and Joel Cohen of The Boston Camerata. The Camerata had recently released an album of Shaker spirituals that they had researched and recorded at the Community’s 1784 Meeting House. It happened to be their biggest-selling album, and it topped the Billboard Classical Charts soon after its release in 1994.

Most recently, Anne and Joel have been working with Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen on a series of performances throughout Europe featuring Saarinen’s company dancing to Shaker spirituals sung live by The Boston Camerata in a production called “Borrowed Light.” It is a production informed by Shaker aesthetics––the attempt of a group of people to carry the Shaker aesthetic legacy forward. As I do, and as many of us do. Whether we realize it or not.

In the film, you’ll meet Anne and Joel and Brother Arnold, as well as others who discuss the Shaker influence on art and design. You’ll see the Tero Saarinen company in action. We chose to hold this event at FAU’s University Theatre because it’s a beautiful theater and it has a full size screen so you’ll experience the full beauty of this film, which has been called “a feast for the eyes.” Anne and Joel will also perform Shaker spirituals live on stage, and lead a discussion about the Shakers and their music.

This JCBA event at the 500-seat University Theatre is free for FAU students, faculty, and staff with current Owl Card. General public admission is $20 at the door, but you can purchase advance tickets for $18 by contacting Eric Bush at ebush3@fau.edu or phoning him at (561) 297-4189.

The next evening, Thursday January 22, will find Anne Azéma and Joel Cohen performing and lecturing in the more intimate space of JCBA’s Book Arts Gallery. The program is called “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and it is about the courtly love poetry and song of medieval France. Full details on that program are at our website.

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The Memory of an Elephant… House.

Elephant House 2014

Hello everyone,

For our introductory blog post, I wish to introduce one of our very own here at the JCBA, William Landis, as he offers his thoughts on one of our proudest collections. The works of Edward Gorey are exemplary of the eloquence and subtlety with which a true illustrator might communicate an idea, as William here describes…….

I am writing this morning from the Jaffe Center of Book Arts to relate to you my experience with the artwork of a remarkably talented fellow by the name of Edward Gorey. If I were to tell you that my life would most likely be drastically different if I hadn’t happened across a few of his thoroughly unique drawings, I would be telling you the truth.

Five years ago, I was brought to the Jaffe Center for Book Arts by my girlfriend of six months (now fiancée), to see a collection of photographs called Elephant House. I was certain that if she was showing this to me it would be interesting, but I didn’t know anything about Elephant House, or its notable inhabitant, one Edward Gorey.

Mister Gorey, I learned, was an author, poet, and most importantly to me, an illustrator. I fell immediately and madly in love with his drawings: dark, often macabre, but never without a brilliant sense of humor. Whether it was the Gashlycrumb Tinies, lightheartedly documenting a great number of ways to leave off at your current age (arranged in alphabetical order, naturally), or The Doubtful Guest, a story of a creature that would “carry off objects of which it grew fond, and protect them by dropping them into the pond,” Gorey’s short stories and illustrations quickly found their way into my heart.

It was these stories and drawings that, in fact, inspired me to pick up a pen and begin drawing. I had not done so in years, but I was moved to create. It was refreshing. It was cleansing. It had been missing from my life, and I took to it well. So well, in fact, that after a few years, I found myself back in college at twenty seven, pursuing my bachelors degree in painting.

Now, in my junior year, I work at the Jaffe Center, and when I find myself wading through life and the weight of my classes, I still return to Mister Gorey as a welcomed escape from normalcy. These books, drawings and photographs, which through January will be once again on display in the Jaffe Center as the first of the retrospective exhibitions celebrating the center’s fifteenth anniversary, are simultaneously both bizarre and lovely, and certainly worth seeing. You may fall in love with them yourself, but please be careful not to become so fond that you let yourself drop them into the pond.

Wm. J. Landis

What a heartening and thoughtful story I found this to be. Will has a unique gift in his depth of perception, and we’re very grateful that he’s had the kindness to share it with us. By reviving the Elephant House exhibition, JCBA hopes others might proceed to delve deeper and not just skim the surface of what is possible in the artistic endeavor!

Sincerely,

AJ Signature

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