A review of Oak Knoll Fest XVII
I thought I had seen enough good examples of the finely printed book and knew something about the world of the private press, but nothing prepared me for the sublime beauty, integrity and artistry of the books by the printers and bookmakers exhibiting at this year’s Oak Knoll Fine Books Festival at New Castle, Delaware: this is book art at the cutting edge.
Fine press work
Not only tiny print runs of five to 25 copies letterpress-printed on handmade paper, and designed, illustrated and printed by just one printer-artist. In many cases, the paper itself was made from conception by the printer. These master book artists are papermakers, typesetters, engravers, printers and publishers all at once. I was too awestruck at first by such fine press work to pick up and examine them until I heard an exhibitor say, “They won’t bite.” “This is the best fine press book fair in the country,” one of the exhibitors said to me, “which is why I have been coming here since it started.”
The Oak Knoll festival and symposia is usually an October affair, and this year’s theme was “The Fine Book in the 21st Century”. Many distinguished names in book art were present here — designers, printers and scholars whose work I had followed and admired — the festival was giving me and other fine press pilgrims a chance to meet them at last. I have come to love the look and feel of mould-made paper (for their “superior, beautiful surface texture, clear watermarks and stunning deckle edges”), so I set off now around the exhibition looking for bookwork that had used this surface.
The Bicycle Diaries, “one New Yorker’s Journey Through September 11th”, contains seven multi-coloured wood engravings by Gaylord Schanilec and is “printed on Zerkal mould-made paper.”
Schanilec, whom the Grolier Club describes as “the foremost contemporary artist in coloured wood engraving”, spoke to me of The River, a work in progress that he had brought to the exhibition. Each morning he gets on his little boat and sails on the river he lives close to. When he returns, some of what he felt and saw that morning is sketched and noted. One time he became interested in how pelicans on the bank prepare to fly; the take-off motions are recorded in a wood engraving which was on a large proof page before me — one of the most stunningly beautiful colour illustrations on paper I have ever seen — and the paper texture further pronounced its brilliance.