The past year has been a full one. A vast amount of my time has been spent working on presentation bindings, a few of which as yet still backlogged on my bench. In addition, I spent a month in the fall in France where I made a connection with the Foundation Louis Jou in Les Baux de Provence. That connection led to an invitation to join the Foundation board and I am honored and pleased that I was elected by fellow members this spring to help guide the organization forward.
Louis Jou (1881-1968) was a prolific fine book printer, wood engraver, type designer and book binder. He was born in Catalonia but moved to Paris in 1906, attracted by the growing artistic scene and by 1921 he was designing his own proprietary typeface, having it cast in Spain and releasing his first imprint – Machiavelli’s The Prince. In 1939 with most of his staff leaving to join the war, Jou moved his studio to Les Baux where he began the restoration of the Hotel de Brion, though he could not move the presses to the location until after the war. Of the 167 books he created, 95 were printed on his iron hand presses. In 2017 the Foundation was created and work began to restore the workshop, museum and make Jou’s work more accessible to the public. I immediately felt a kindred relationship with Jou as I too do every step of the book creation process “in house” and am drawn to the classical ideal of a fine press book.
The studio is well equipped with three Stanhope iron hand presses, a wood framed intaglio press, book presses, Jou’s gravers and other tools. The composing room doubles as a workshop space and the walls are lined with type cabinets full of Jou’s proprietary types. Upstairs is an apartment for workshop students and staff with a small kitchen, dining space and 3 bedrooms. Across the street is Atelier du Livre where François and his daughter Marie Vinourd, book and paper conservators, ply their trade. As you can imagine, I immediately felt right at home despite the frequent language barrier.
My partner, Madeleine Vedel, lived in this region of France for 20 years before we met in Northern Michigan. She and her former husband had a noted cooking school and B&B in Arles and after their separation the opportunity to establish a goat farm creamery and make cheese brought her back across the ocean with her sons. Her goat adventure behind her, she has recently created a small but thriving chocolate business. Madeleine concurrently taps her connections with artisans and locations in France to offer specialized tours (often centered around food and wine) through her Cuisine Provencale. All this back story is a lead-up to the individual who in fact made the connection for me with the Foundation: Madeleine’s friend and goat mentor Claudine, now retired from cheese making, is a docent at the Jou Foundation and encouraged us to visit. Not expecting much from this visit I was blown away by the legacy of Jou and the possibilities the space had to offer. I immediately made contact with the Foundation offering to make some needed repairs which turned into a brilliant working holiday where I became good friends with another board member and was introduced to many other printmakers, bookbinders and printers during my stay.
From my position on the board I am tasked with developing international programming for a workshop series, helping restore the equipment and composing room and to be “ambassador for the book.” Other goals include creating a book with some of Jou’s unpublished wood engravings (in his type) and bringing graduate level book arts students to Les Baux for extended workshops and internships. More information to come on these latter goals in future blog posts.
I am pleased that for this inaugural year I have lined up two instructors so far. Richard Wagener (Mixolydian Editions) will be teaching wood engraving in September and Joanne Price (Starpointe Studio) will also teach a wood engraving class in October. I will teach a type composition class in October as well. When the schedule is set I will offer more information here but if you are interested in any of these workshops and want to travel to an amazing location this fall in the South of France mark your calendar now!
Before and following the release of my last project, The Wind in the Willows, I have been inundated with the creation of presentation bindings for that book as well as a back log of special bindings, slip cases and solander boxes for some of my earlier editions. I will confess, I’ve never had a best seller before where special bindings were sold out in advance, these usually trickle in at a manageable pace. This is solitary work, each binding is a work of art in itself and – they take time. I’m not complaining, I’m thrilled that my bindery work has achieved such recognition and desire but I am ready to get back on the press again and create new books! Below you can see some of the bindings I have completed in the recent months.
Work on The Machine Stops and my Mad Parrot imprint with James Dissette is progressing slowly and I have another commission for a book of poetry, The Liquor Store Pomes (not a typo) by James Bernard Gross who had an earlier book (Fingerings for Words: selected poems) produced by Chester Creek Press in 2016. Along with a couple other small projects that need to get on the press it will be another busy year in leather and ink.
I (and Madeleine too!) will be at the eighth annual Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair next month on Saturday, April 29th from 10 AM to 5 PM. Our event is at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, 869 Lexington Ave at 66th Street across the street from the NY Antiquarian Book Fair at the Park Avenue Armory.
I hope to see you there!
Before I left for Europe I had a visit from Dave Seat who helped me replace all the heaters on my Linotype machine with modern solid state controllers. A little more work and the machine will once again be producing beautiful type for future books.