“On Paper” Gets a Makeover

After the 2013 publication of Nick Basbanes’s On Paper, book artist Tim Elycalled the author and requested the unbound sheets of the book, just as they appeared off the press. Basbanes’s editor kindly obliged, and off On Paperwent to Washington State to Ely’s art studio where he forges one-of-a-kind, handmade books that have been compared to illuminated manuscripts for their impeccable detail and expression. Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

Basbanes didn’t hear from Ely for five and a half years, but, considering that Ely’s work is found in private collections as well as the Library of Congress, Yale University, Smith College, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Lilly Library, and the Boston Athenaeum, there was hardly any rush. Then, earlier this spring, the artist sent Basbanes a note saying the book was ready, and had it shipped to Massachusetts under the most careful of conditions.

Unwrapped, Basbanes came face-to-face with his book, now clad in a creamy off-white clamshell box with marbled borders. The book itself is now bound with strips of handmade Japanese paper, papyrus strips, and leather. Peppering the front and back boards are Ely’s own glyphs–symbols the artist calls “cribform” that take on different meanings depending on their placement and the tool used to create them. It is, said Basbanes, “a most exquisite piece of art.”

 

Ely, who had been doing what he called “a slow deep read of On Paper,” set himself a goal to “require every self-proclaimed book artist to read it and know it,” likening the use of paper to the “idea of drawing as a major expression,” finding inspiration in using paper as “a medium for telepathy.”

Spine of "On Paper." Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

“Beyond deep reading, I have found that the best way to become informed about an event or gather a bit of enlightenment is to make an expressive book,” Ely said a few years back. Indeed, his work is a kind of bookmaking alchemy, fusing the ancient art of monastic manuscript binding with contemporary expression.

PHOTO CREDITS: NICK BASBANES

“Home” for the Holidays

For many of us, the next few weeks will be a flurry of holiday parties, last-minute gift runs, and the chance to see family and friends. In a bid to remember why we go through so much trouble to be with loved ones this time of year, consider picking up the third literary anthology in the Freeman’s collection entitled Home (Grove, $16). Thirty-seven writers from around the world focused on the idea of home, each bringing a new perspective and interpretation.

In the narrative nonfiction piece “Vacationland,” author Kerri Arsenault returns to her hometown of Mexico, Maine, which sits on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Now a derelict relic of a bygone era, the townspeople’s former prosperity came from toiling in the paper mill in nearby Rumford. “That’s money coming out of those smokestacks,” Arsenault’s father used to say, but there was plenty else coming out of those stacks, too–dioxin, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and other by-products of contemporary mass-produced papermaking, slowly poisoning the surrounding environment and its inhabitants. (Read “At the Crossroads” in On Paper for a look inside the modern commercial papermaking experience.)

Read more about the idea of home over at the Fine Books Blog.