history of art

The New Bibliographical Presses at Rare Book School

by editor Erin Schreiner, and guest contributor Roger Gaskell

IMG_6196

The Rare Book School Replica Copperplate Press, in the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of  Virginia

In the inaugural issue of the Journal of the Printing Historical Society (1965), Philip Gaskell defined the bibliographical press as “a workshop or laboratory which is carried on chiefly for the purpose of demonstrating and investigating the printing techniques of the past by means of setting type by hand, and of printing from it on a simple press.” Just a few weeks ago, we had the honor and pleasure of inaugurating the bibliographical pressroom and exhibition space at the University of Virginia, in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Thanks to a collaboration between the University Library, Rare Book School, and the bookseller Roger Gaskell, UVa is now home to two bibliographical presses for use in public demonstrations, bibliographical instruction, and scholarly research. One is a common letterpress, used for printing text and images from type and relief blocks; the other is a rolling press, used for printing from intaglio plates. This is the first and only bibliographical rolling press, and it is a significant step for scholars not only of the history of printing, but also of the history of art, science, cartography, and other disciplines which rely on historical texts printed from intaglio plates, either exclusively or in combination with letterpress text.

Roger Gaskell, a scholar and bookseller, designed the new bibliographical rolling press, a replica based on the designs published in Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie in 1769. As an antiquarian bookseller specializing in natural history and science books, Roger has always been interested in the production history and bothered by the lack of rigorous bibliographical language for the description of illustrated books. In 1999, a fellowship at the Clark Library in Los Angeles allowed him to study intaglio plates inserted into letterpress printed books, and he formed the idea then that building a replica wooden rolling press was essential for a better understanding of the mechanics and workshop practices of intaglio printing. Six years ago, Michael Suarez invited him to teach at Rare Book School and over dinner, Roger pitched to Michael the idea that Rare Book School should commission the building of a wooden rolling press based on a historical model. Some years later they discussed this again. But what to build? A press based on the design published by Bosse in 1645? That has been done: there is a fine replica in the Rembrandt House in Amsterdam that is frequently used for public demonstrations. A copy of an existing press? Gary Gregory was doing this for his Printing Office of Edes and Gill in Boston. It was the inspired suggestion of Barbara Heritage to build a press based on the Encyclopédie engravings. By good fortune Roger had seen a surviving press of very similar design on display in the print shop of the Louvre in Paris some years earlier. This made the Encyclopédie the perfect source as its accuracy, as well as a number of constructional details, which could be verified by examination of a contemporary press. The Chalcographie du Louvre press is now in storage at the Atelier des Arts, Chalcographie et Moulage at St Denis to the North of Paris where Roger spent a day photographing and measuring, in preparation for his new press.

Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 10.39.45 AM

Robert Bernard (b. 1734) after Jacques Goussier (1722–1799). Imprimerie en taille-douce, Développement de la Presse, in Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 7 (plates). Paris, 1769.

Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 10.42.18 AM

The Chalcographie du Louvre press at the Atelier des Arts, Chalcographie et Moulage at St Denis. Photograph by Roger Gaskell.

The use of working replicas gives students and researchers access to the technologies of book production that shaped the transmission of texts and images. Traditionally, the production of literary texts has driven the development of bibliography, bibliographical teaching, and the bibliographical press movement. But it has also long been understood that the ability to print images in multiples was as revolutionary for the development of other disciplines, including medicine, science, technology and travel literature, as the printing of texts has been to religious movements and imaginative literature. At UVa and Rare Book School, students and researchers can now work with the two – and only two – printing technologies responsible for all book production before the nineteenth century: relief and intaglio printing. There we can develop the habits of mind necessary to understand the implications of the extraordinary synergy of mind, body and machine which shaped the modern world in the west. Presses like these were used to print engravings and etchings for collectors, popular broadsides and ballads, indeed all kinds of ephemera as well as printed books.

 

2017-05-23 16.07.02

Erin Schreiner, the rolling press, and prints in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, UVa

As a discipline, bibliography has been shaped by its leading scholars’ interests in English drama, poetry, and fiction, and in incunabula. Scholars working in the history of art and science, and anyone working with books on travel and exploration, are at a bibliographical loss – it’s hard to understand why an illustrated book came to be the way it is because bibliographical literature (with a very few exceptions) does not address the problems raised by printing in non-letterpress media. What’s more, this problem extends beyond rolling press printed matter and the handpress period and into twentieth century non-letterpress materials made on mimeograph, ditto, and Xerox machines. Much of the work by media historians is rightly viewed with skepticism by the bibliographical community, yet this community has not yet figured out how to think about printed matter that isn’t made from folded sheets of letterpress.

Printing is the work of the body as much as it is the work of the mind; it’s time to roll up our sleeves. Particularly in the absence of substantial archival records of rolling press printers and intaglio plate artists, we must get our bodies behind the press to confront the constraints of printing for books from intaglio plates. We need to print images and put them in books, we need to confront the reality of doing this in multiples (and probably also in debt), and in coordination with the production of letterpress text. Doing this work will make way for the kind of grounded thinking about print that makes for good scholarship.

IMG_0187

Megan McNamee, RBS Mellon Fellow & A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery, pulls a print on the Rare Book School Copperplate Replica Press. 

Roger Gaskell is a scholar and bookseller, now living and working in Wales. He teaches The Illustrated Scientific Book to 1800 course bi-annually at Rare Book School, and teaches a regular seminar, Science in Print in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Cambridge.

Lincoln Kirstein, Dance, and Intellectual History

by guest contributor Laura Quinton

Last week, New York University’s Center for Ballet and the Arts hosted a panel, “Dance and the Intellectual: Lincoln Kirstein’s Legacy.” The event featured moderator Leon Wieseltier, former literary editor of the New Republic, along with art critic Jed Perl, former New York City Ballet dancer Toni Bentley, and literary scholar and executor of Kirstein’s literary estate, Nicholas Jenkins.

Lincoln Kerstein in 1932. (NY Times)

Lincoln Kirstein in 1932. (NY Times)

Together, the panelists described a twentieth-century American renaissance man. In addition to co-founding New York City Ballet with the eminent choreographer George Balanchine in 1948, Kirstein (1907-1996) was an early champion of and contributor to the Museum of Modern Art. As an undergraduate at Harvard in 1927, he founded The Hound & Horn, a literary publication that included Gertrude Stein and Walker Evans among its contributors. He was a prolific writer, publishing scrupulous scholarship on dance history and art history, as well as a poet. Wieseltier called Kirstein both “otherworldly” and “this-worldly,” pointing out that concepts Kirstein used to elucidate the differences between ballet and modern dance, “aerial” and “terrestrial,” were equally applicable to this enigmatic and towering figure. Moreover, he emphasized that, while Kirstein strove to encapsulate the metaphysical potential of the arts in his heady writings, this intellectual never ceased being a “man of action.”

Discussing Kirstein’s diverse tastes in the visual arts, Perl similarly noted the difficulties of pinning the impresario down. In addition to supporting mainstream modernists, Kirstein enjoyed “nitpicky realism” and defended artists like Paul Cadmus when the art establishment disavowed them. Although Kirstein often “offended canonical taste,” Perl contended that the breadth of his predilections, which ranged from innovative to reactionary, ultimately reveal “what significant taste is.” Jenkins emphasized Kirstein’s paradoxical character by comparing him to literary figures. He argued that Kirstein simultaneously embodied the “adventurous” characters of Balzac, the “oblique” ones of James, and Fitzgerald’s Gatsby: like Gatsby, Kirstein was “self-creating and self-destroying.”

With the exception of Perl, all of the participants had known Kirstein personally. Bentley shared particularly rich memories of the impresario: she recalled Kirstein’s mighty presence at the School of American Ballet and recounted dinners where he would surprise her with his latest book. Jenkins suggested that – given Kirstein’s relatively recent passing – scholars and friends of this intellectual can only now begin to fully comprehend his outstanding historical significance.

While the speakers did an excellent job explaining the breadth of Kirstein’s expertise and the quirky nuances and ambiguities of his personality, I would have liked to hear more specifically about his involvement with the dance world. More could have been said about Kirstein’s relationship with Balanchine, as well as their diverging artistic visions for City Ballet.

For intellectual historians, Kirstein’s example reveals the stimulating role dance can play in intellectual life. Ballet prompted an outpouring of rigorous historical, critical, and even philosophical writing from Kirstein. The vast historiography of dance that he produced in turn legitimized the project to establish ballet as a national high-art form in twentieth-century America. Kirstein’s efforts to institutionalize ballet in the States also helped to ensure its permanence, offering rare financial security to dancers and choreographers. Moreover, as dance historian Jennifer Homans pointed out during the Q&A, Kirstein’s artistic suggestions were crucial to landmark modernist ballets like Agon (1957).

Kirstein was not the only elite twentieth-century intellectual to engage with ballet. Across the pond, the economist John Maynard Keynes championed the form above all of the other arts. In 1946, as chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, he personally engineered the re-opening of the Royal Opera House, which featured the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (later the Royal Ballet) in a new production of The Sleeping Beauty (1890). For Keynes, ballet was “above and beyond language” (Hession, 228), and the Royal Opera House gala was “a landmark in the restoration of English cultural life” that represented “the return of England’s capital to its rightful place in a world of peace” (Moggridge, 705).

Ballet also influenced the work of Keynes’s Bloomsbury friends. According to dance scholar Susan Jones, the early-mid twentieth century witnessed a “reciprocal relationship between modernist aesthetics” in dance and British literature (10). Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes inspired new literary content and formal experimentation by Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, and Virginia Woolf. Beyond Gordon Square, dance motivated Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot to produce works like “Dance Figure” (1913) and Four Quartets (1943).

Frequently sidelined by intellectual historians, dance was evidently a vital part of elite intellectual life in the twentieth century. Rather than eschewing dance, historians would benefit from considering intellectuals’ complex relationships with this art form: along with expanding the scope of intellectual history, such consideration might yield some surprising discoveries.

Indeed, it was fascinating to see how Wieseltier, Perl, and Jenkins, none of whom are known for their work on dance, were so inspired by and engaged with Kirstein and his dance writings. For the audience, the back-and-forth between Bentley and these thinkers presented a compelling example of how dance and intellectual inquiry continue to intersect today.

Laura Quinton is a PhD candidate in Modern European History at New York University. She researches the history of British ballet.