From the Wood
Where Gypsies Danced
(The following was written by Anne Binder for the ACA Newsletter, and is reproduced here with her permission)
The word ‘collaboration’ was the running theme of The Days of the Handmade Book 2000 .
So many artists from many disciplines were a part of this show. In the Summer 2000 issue of THE NEWSLETTER I explained and described the collaborative performance of poets, calligraphers, dancer and drummers for RiverLetterDance. Equally impressive and judged a resounding success was the collaborative book of poetry titled, From the Wood Where Gypsies Danced. Who knows where the seeds for ideas come from. Sometimes we’re just handed an open packet of mixed seeds which we can decide to plant.
My open pack of seeds came in the form of poems submitted by area poets for the RiverLetterDance project. At the time we solicited poems we thought we would be fortunate to get thirty and delighted if we could get four worthy poems to bring to life on canvas. We certainly didn’t expect over 100 poems of which approximately sixty were outstanding and worthy of painting! I’m certainly glad I decided to plant the seeds rather than throw them away. We chose fifteen poems for RiverLetterDance, which meant we had about forty-five poems left over. The idea of using the extra poems in the demo book literally popped into my head.
I had already asked Sylvia Godsey, a book artist from Ft. Collins, Colorado, to demonstrate the binding of a book. Cheryl Slyter from Franklin, Michigan graciously volunteered to build a box for the book Sylvia would create. Why demo the binding of a blank book! I phoned Sylvia and Cheryl one morning to discuss the possibilities of making this work.
To avoid any custody battles over the completed treasure, we decided we would sell raffle tickets for the finished book and box. The proceeds would be divided among the various groups that were involved in the DOHB and RiverLetterDance. By 11pm that night I had the details in place. Time was short. The DOHB was a mere forty-seven days away. E-mail proved to be most efficient means of getting the word out. I decided to post a message to Cyberscribes worldwide asking for volunteers willing to pen a poem.
The message went out at 11:42pm according to my e-mail records. When I checked my mail at 9:30 the next morning I already had twenty-two scribes volunteering. Within three days, I had thirty-one scribes agreeing to pen a poem according to my very rigid instructions. Some of the poems were quite short and some were quite long. Some scribes volunteered to do two poems.
Calligraphers have to be the most generous of artists in the world! I was able to send many of the poems via e-mail to scribes world-wide. Some I sent via the postal service. I tried to keep the instructions as simple yet as complete as possible. I standardized the size of the pages and asked scribes to keep the layouts straightforward. They could use a text weight paper and writing fluid of their choice. Skill level was not to be an issue. I asked scribes to merely do their best. My mighty band of calligraphers did not let me down. They followed directions and met the deadline of sending their completed page(s) to Sylvia which was one week before she was to board a plane to South Bend.
Once Sylvia had the bulk of the pages, she could do the measuring and cutting of the book boards and send measurements to Cheryl who would measure and cut the boards for the box. Sylvia arrived hand carrying these precious pages. Several pages were sent directly to my house and I was responsible for the title page, two poems, and the colophon so Sylvia and Cheryl had to adjust measurements a bit. Sylvia and Cheryl spent some time in my flat files looking for the right papers for the book and box covers.
The weekend activities opened with a reception on Friday night. We laid the pages out in alphabetical order on tables. This was the first ‘unveiling’ of what was to come. Many of the poets came to the reception and were able to see their poems written so artfully. Several poets were able to meet their calligrapher. I believe it was a moving experience for both parties. Color copies of each page were made so the poets would be able to have a copy of their poems. I don’t believe any poet was disappointed with their ‘page’!
Sales for raffle tickets were brisk. Some people bought $20 (and more) worth of tickets. And this was before the book and box were assembled! On Saturday, our demo area opened at 1pm. I looked in on Sylvia and Cheryl several times while they were busy working. There always seemed to be people four deep hovering over them. I began to realize the absolute pressure they were under! Just imagine trying to concentrate on the very precise art of binding a book and building a box. I need absolute quiet to keep my attention focused on measuring twice to cut once. These two women were not only trying to concentrate on measuring, but they were fielding questions from on-lookers. The fact that this book was to be raffled certainly added stress to their tasks! Many photographs were taken and sales for raffle tickets was brisk! In total, sixty-two artists comprising poets, calligraphers, bookbinder, box builder, and papermaker had a hand in the creation of this treasure.
To complete the collaboration effort, the cover papers for the book were Pamela Paulsrud’s handmade papers. The paste papers for the cover of the box were done by me. The title block on the box cover was lettered by Steven Skaggs. The book contains thirty-eight poems written by twenty-eight poets. We chose to title the book, From the Wood Where Gypsies Danced which is a line from sixteen year old Rachel Hunt’s poem, Gypsy Dance. Such a colorful book deserves a colorful title! Murphy was not invited to our event, but he did make an attempt to crash our party.
Karen Ter Haar from Australia, sent her pages directly to me because she knew the mails were operating extra slow. As of Friday, the envelope carrying her pages still had not arrived. We had no choice but to bind without it. Those of us privy to the events on Saturday while Sylvia was binding believe greater powers were at work. Sylvia, who has made MANY books, made a bit of a boo boo while putting the book together. It was a silly little mistake, but enough of one to keep her from having the time to put the book together and sew it. As you may have already guessed, Karen’s parcel was waiting in my mailbox when we got home that evening. Sylvia and Cheryl spent another hour (or so) finishing the book and box so it could spend the night under weights.
Following the performance of RiverLetterDance, we presented the finished book to an audience of two hundred people on Sunday afternoon. It turned out to be an awesome treasure and everyone delighted in browsing through the beautiful pages. More raffle tickets were sold before we drew the winning ticket. Maureen Trubac lives here and was a student of mine. She’s presently taking Reggie Ezell’s yearlong class. Maureen will make a very good steward of this treasure. In total, we were able to sell $611 worth of tickets. Considering we were hoping to sell $200 we were quite pleased! The proceeds were split among the sponsoring organizations of the DOHB with seed money set aside for future projects.
I will share a bit of exciting news with you. Cecilia Sharpley of Melbourne, Australia, has offered to set up a little corner of her web site devoted to calligraphica and the book arts for the DOHB. You may access Cecilia’s site at www.cecilia-letteringart.com. Cecilia has spent countless hours taking photos and text I sent to her to construct this site. You will find a history of how the DOHB came to be, photos of the books on exhibit, photos of RiverLetterDance, photos of the crowds who came to be a part of the events, and photos of the pages of the collaborative book.
There does not seem to be any end to generous spirit that shines within the calligraphic community. As a token of my appreciation and gratitude to the many who volunteered their services, I made a small book. The text symbolizes how I sum up the spirit I feel envelopes this event: "We are one. We are many. Each breath is shared." I would like to encourage you to seek poets and writers in your little corner of the world. Collaborating can be an enriching experience. Words are food for our pens and from my experience with this year’s DOHB, there really are people who hunger to see our work!
email: Anne Binder South Bend, Indiana USA