In October 1995, the organization that would become VABC opened its doors to the community as the McGuffey Arts of the Book Center. VABC co-founder Josef Beery took the time recently to answer some questions about how it is all this got started.
Cal Otto and I each had a bug in our bonnets about letterpress printing. He had retired to Charlottesville after a professional career involving printing and had always been a collector of all types of printing equipment. He had a letterpress workshop in his basement. I had been involved in book and publication design since before the appearance of the desktop printer, and was very interested in learning more about the roots and traditions of this fascinating field, especially as found in the work of fine press book printers. Terry Belanger had recently moved Columbia University’s Rare Book School to UVa and between the three of us we had the right amount of energy to make something happen. When the University of Virginia’s Printing Services Office decided to scrap all of its letterpress equipment, including a Vandercook and four cabinets of type, we stepped in. The idea of creating a community workshop where artists and craftspeople could share access to printing equipment was our inspiration. We wanted to give anyone in the Charlottesville access to equipment that is just too expensive (and often too heavy or inconvenient) to own. We were happy to find that there was strong interest among artists and others to build the sort of book arts center that had been established in New York City and San Francisco.
What was the first really big feat for the organization? What made the early programming start to come together?
After succeeding in renting studio space at the newly-reopened McGuffey Art Center, our first big feat was an opening party held the spring of 1996! Lance Hidy, a very successful poster artist and postage stamp designer was then living in Lexington, Virginia. Terry Belanger connected us, and Lance agreed to let us stage a show of his work to attract visitors from all over central Virginia. Our tiny group had been holding meetings and growing interest through out the community. We came together over many weeks renovating our space at McGuffey and moving in. In addition to our show of Lance’s work, we were able to put on an impressive show of book arts work that local folks had been working on.
The VABC’s sponsorship of an annual collaborative project has turned out to be a great gift to our community. The fine editions produced by this group are making a lasting mark and putting the VABC on the map in the fast-growing world of book arts. Participation is an intense and exciting commitment. As the popularity of our work has grown and the scale of our projects has expanded, we have attracted an impressive group of artists who cooperate in this project. To me, as valuable as the work of our hands is each year; I think the most important achievement of this activity is its ability to create a venue and activity for the development of strong friendships. Coming together to work with other artists, to learn from them, and to put heads together and come up with ideas and work that could never have been produced individually is a unique opportunity.
[Webdenizen’s Note: Collaborative projects are among VABC’s most amazing creative triumphs. Some of these projects are at the “throwback prices” from the Raucous Auctions of years past. You may be able to snag one at values of yesteryear...Atlas of Vanishing Knowledge, Bookmaker’s Dozen (miniature books), Postmark, Infinite Stakes, or Notions! They’ve never sold for less than that first auction night–and never will again!]
What are your tips for enjoying the Raucous Auction, perhaps for someone who hasn’t been?
What excites you the most now about the VABC?
I am most impressed with the commitment shown be the dozens of volunteers who have been involved with the VABC over the last two decades. They have created a place of mutual support where they can share their own enthusiasm about a timeless creative activity—the making of books—with folks of every age and interest.
Thanks, Josef! VABC invites you to join in the celebration of 20 years of book arts presence at the annual Raucous Auction on November 13 at 5:30PM.
Josef Beery, co-founder of the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, is a professional-level member of the organization. He rejoices in book design work, acting as a facilitator to groups of creative individuals—writers, illustrators, photographers, editors, craftspersons—who share a common vision and desire to distill the most perfect physical form for a chosen message. Beery specializes in poetry broadsides and a subscription print series known as Flora Appalachee.