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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