San Francisco Center for the Book

Oola walks to the San Francisco Center for the Book
Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Here we are in San Francisco, looking north to the financial district.  Oola is crossing Rhode Island St. at 17th, and the San Francisco Center for the Book is on the right.

The SF Center for the Book is an extraordinary resource for artists and book lovers, a mecca for LetterPress aficionados.

Oola and I enter the large, airy main room with the high ceiling, clean tables, and 6 Vandercook presses.  Memories of art school flood into my brain, but not into Oola’s because all that was before her time.  But I digress.

In this tale it is early in the day.  The place is so quiet, so pristine, so serene that the posted rules — even the signs that in an art school would usually say “Your mother doesn’t work here. Clean up your own mess” — These signs look like broadsheets.

clean up
Clean up Manifesto

Only one artist is printing,

Terry Horrigan has been a printer for 30 years.  She said she once had her own press, but sold it and now she works at SFCB.  You can see broadsides and books from her Protean Press publications at  

Oola discovers that there are more treasures: a bindery and platen presses and more drawers of metal type.  She wants to start taking classes here.

On the north wall of the main room is an exhibition space and a show that is the reason I made this trip to SF. “Uncommon Threads” contains work by two artist whose work redefines “book”. Brought together by Curator Donna Seager — a champion of the artist book and partner in the Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley — these two artists’ work are connected on many levels.  The most noticeable is the involvement with re-purposed books and the use of thread.  In their work I find that I am drawn by those threads backwards through years and space to a place with a palpable sense of personal history, the mystery of an individual’s existence on this planet, the ancestor roots, the riddle of existence in a given place – then and now, specific and universal.

Jody Alexander‘s pieces have a meditative lyricism.  Look long enough and you will find yourself totally absorbed.

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Lisa Kokin’s work parallels that plus a sense of environmental/social urgency and a wicked sense of humor.

repurposed books
“Fauxliage, No Birds Sing”
repurposed book
“Fauxliage, No Birds Sing” detail

In the detail shot of “Fauxliage” you can see that the leaves have pieces of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring stitched into them.

altered books
“Panacea Pizpireta”

Lisa has this thing about self-help books.  This don’t-worry-be-happy piece, stitched together from the spines of self-help books, is “bound” to assist with personal difficulties!

Both Jody and Lisa have huge bodies of work.  Both are fascinating and challenging.  Check them out.

But Wait, There’s More.  In a gallery behind this exhibit Oola found the work of Barbara Alexandra Szerlip in “A Visit to Mad Geppetto’s Workshop”.  Barbara is a writer who also makes book sculptures.  Intriguing, Informed, Acerbic.  Don’t miss her.

repurposed book

On the Knowledge side is a torn up book; on the Power side, shredded U.S. currency.

artist book/sculpture

Those “teeth” are 1950’s vintage hamburger sleeves.

A book is a way to transfer knowledge and experience and story.  What is the shape of a book?  In the hands of an artist, who can tell?

These are compelling artists in an amazing setting.  If you are in the SF Bay Area, don’t miss any of it.  The shows are up until February 1, 2014.

San Francisco Center for the Book
375 Rhode Island Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 565-0545

Be well.

By jandove


1 comment

  1. Hi Jan,

    Thanks for the trip to the San Francisco Center for the Book. Went directly to my heart as I have in my short lifetime helped establish two book art centers. The one in Chicago is now part of Columbia College and offers a BFA & MFA. The one in Houston is in storage as we lost our free space about five years ago…and have never been able to find a space which could be afforded. Houston, sadly has a thin level of culture, about the thickness of a pizza crust. Hopefully we will arise, but in the meantime there is the Houston Printers Museum, which has some excellent shows, teaches classes in printmaking and book arts, has a great collection of metal type, not available for use, but does not have a bunch of Vandercooks available to artists. I got started teaching printmaking at the Univ of Houston by fixing up three Vandercooks that had been sitting around for years with water dripping on them. Believe it of not they had been used to print publicity for the University for about thirty years; fore runner to InPrint and computers. Blocks of type had the signatures of two Presidents of the university and other officials. I bought one for our print organization, and after many years convinced the graphic design folk that their students needed to experience the kiss of the type in paper, taught a couple of workshops and there is now a class that all third years students have to take on hand printing. Alright enough ego crap.

    Enjoyed seeing the work from the SFCB, and went to a couple of the artists sites. Oola wold make a good printer; able to get up real close to the type and pull out the bad pieces before they were set, proofed, and then removed.

    Waiting for the next Road Trip, as usual.



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