When Historic Becomes Modern: The 2021 Coffey Residency in Book Arts

Exterior covers of Hough's encyclopaedia of American woods Part XIII. The portion on the left has gold letters and a clasp, while the portion on the right has a brown, embossed cover.
Ellen Knudson, Curator of the Book Arts Collection (SASC) and Instructor of Book Arts and Letterpress Printing (SAAH)

Coffey Residency for Book Arts

The Coffey Residency for Book Arts is an annual program that provides an opportunity for a selected artist to access materials from the Special and Area Studies Collections (SASC) at University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries as the impetus for the creation of an editioned artists’ book. During the residency, the artist has the chance to interact with the collections, librarians, curators, faculty, and students across the university. Production of the project involves periodic consultation with the facilitator of the program, Ellen Knudson, Associate in Book Arts.

This year, there are two Coffey Residency artists: Denise Bookwalter and Paul Shortt. Both of these artists have recently visited the Special and Area Studies Collections (SASC) to initiate their research for the artist’s book edition they will each create.

One of the most interesting aspects of this residency is that the artist(s) may arrive with an initial idea for the book they want to make, but the physical visit to special collections can kick start a brand new idea and/or guide the first thoughts in exciting new directions. After a year of few visitors in the library, we are very happy to have these two researchers come into the SASC reading room this fall! (Note: All visitors to SASC follow the mask-wearing expectation, including these two artists!)

(Read more about the history of the Coffey Residency for Book Arts, here.)

Denise Bookwalter

Denise Bookwalter is a printmaker, book artist, and educator living in Tallahassee, Florida. She is a Professor of Art at Florida State University and Founding Director of Small Craft Advisory Press, a collaborative book arts press at FSU. She has exhibited solo and collaborative work nationally and internationally and her books can be found in numerous collections. “I have a collaborative and a solo practice. Both inform each other. My solo work explores textiles and language. My collaborative work is with Small Craft Advisory Press, Shiftlab collective, and Lee Running. My work includes artists books, prints, and textile work.”

Red page artist book with cut-out lines in a circle inside a box lined with white fur
Image of the artist’s book Lining: Skin to Cloth by Denise Bookwalter and Lee Running. This item is in the University of Florida Special and Area Studies Collections; N7433.4.B666 L56 2013 OVERSIZE
Close up of six folded pages. They are white with brown, and some look like they are lined with different red, textured materials.
Image of the artist’s book Lining: Skin to Cloth by Denise Bookwalter and Lee Running. This item is in the University of Florida Special and Area Studies Collections; N7433.4.B666 L56 2013 OVERSIZE

Ms. Bookwalter visited SASC in September of this year and explored materials related to the Jack and Anne Rudloe Papers and the Royal Palm Nurseries Papers. However, with assistance from the Rare Books and Florida History curators, her research led to an item in SASC and a new direction for the book she will create! The item, “Hough’s Encyclopaedia of American Woods” was recently moved into the Rare Books collection from another library on campus. The 14 volume set of books is a collection of finely sheared sheets of wood veneer from many different species of tree.

The artist writes, “Arriving at the Smathers Library and Special Collection in September, I had a few directions I was intending to explore but when but when one of the librarians suggested I look at a book that contained actual pieces of wood, the project took an exciting turn. The book is “Hough’s Encyclopaedia of American Woods” 1910-1928 in 14 volumes, the last volume was published by his daughter after his death. Each volume contains 25 individual sheets that contain 3 wood veneers each page depicting a different species of tree from North American. The veneers were taken from three different planes of the trunk, transverse, radial, and tangential (see Figure 3), and are mounted between two pieces of thick paper so that the reader can view both sides of the veneer. The veneers are so thin that when held up to the light the individual pieces are illuminated, highlighting the various grains and patterns in the wood. Volume five of the collection attracted my attention as it represents the trees of North Florida where I live. I was most interested in the veneers from the Torreya Tree specimen, a nearly extinct species that grows only along bluff and in ravines in Gadsden and Liberty Counties, Florida.

Exterior covers of Hough's encyclopaedia of American woods Part XIII. The portion on the left has gold letters and a clasp, while the portion on the right has a brown, embossed cover.
Exterior covers of Hough’s encyclopaedia of American woods Part XIII. Rare Books (Non-Circulating) QK480.N7 H681 1910.
Transverse, radial, and tangential sections of the Torreya Tree framed by a black background with information surrounding in a very faint gold
Transverse, radial, and tangential sections of the Torreya Tree. Rare Books (Non-Circulating) QK480.N7 H681 1910

“I am interested in this translation but also in the fact that the wood specimens create a physical snapshot of the forests of north America that you can hold in your hand bringing to mind the cabinets of curiosity and the way that possessing an object in the collection brought a sense of owning or knowing of a subject. Which leads to the taxonomy, naming, knowing, and claiming. I also began to think about how trees were named and classified. I read “Why Fish Don’t Exist” and “Naming is Nature, The Clash Between Instinct and Science”. My book will explore both the physical elements of the wood and language and processes of the classification of the trees within.”

Paul Shortt

Paul Shortt has been making zines and artist books and presenting these works through exhibitions and fairs nationally and internationally for the last 10 years. He finds the democratic form of the book the perfect medium to both explore ideas and to connect to a larger audience. The books he has created over the last few years address themes such as adulthood, loitering, and the day-to-day realities of the art world. Paul’s books have been published using Risograph printing, letterpress, laser cutters and commercial printers usually in runs of 50-500. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, and Yale University.

The word "NOISE" in dark pink on white paper. A dark pink square surrounds the word. Behind and well outside the square are green, orange, light blue, and yellow lines going in various directions.
“Noise” from Paul Shortt’s series: Common Words, 2021. All works in this series are 11×14”.
The word "INFORMATION" in dark pink on white paper. A dark pink square surrounds the word. Behind and well outside the square are light pink, dark pink, and light blue circles of various sizes.
“Information” from Paul Shortt’s series: Common Words, 2021. This series of ongoing works explores common language found on street signs.

Mr. Shortt started his research using the online resource, University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC), and visited SASC in November to look at moveable books from the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature Collection.

Close up of a black cat on the endpapers of a book. Under it are the words "Some of the words in this book are printed backwards. Look through the peepholes into a mirror and you will be able to read them easily!"
Book from the Baldwin Collection of Historical Children’s Literature. It features directional instructions for the use of the book, which is of particular interest to Mr. Shortt.
Page from a children's book that has bright-colored houses, bushes, and buildings. On the bottom are the words "Toy Town Street" and "Cut out all pieces carefully and fit to Corresponding outline pictures"
Book from the Baldwin Collection of Historical Children’s Literature that allows the user to create a scene by cutting out and combining the provided elements.

The artist writes, “What interested me about this residency is the opportunity to dig into the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature and focus on the history of how language has been used over time in children’s books. My approach to exploring language is often looking for common words that I can combine and use in new ways, and through new mediums.  Over the last five years I’ve been exploring the language of street signs focusing on texts that I create and appropriate and then turn into print and sign based public artworks that explore time, authority and adulthood. Color and form play a key aspect of this exploration, where instead of using the typical colors found on street signs such as black or red text on a white background, I use fluorescent or pastel colors to mimic the reflectiveness of street signs through lines, dots and geometric patterns. I’ve been doing research over the last few years into the history of children’s books and publishing and this residency provides the time and resources to investigate and reinterpret that history.”

Anticipation is high for the artist book editions that will be the result of this fascinating research! We at Special and Area Studies Collections very much look forward to what Denise and Paul produce. The artists’ book editions will be completed and presented, along with a student workshop, at the end of the spring semester in 2022.

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