- Cultural Record Keepers:Legacy of a One-Man Book Maker
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Late in 1983, Gregory Thompson, newly appointed head of Special Collections at the University of Utah's Marriott Library, received a call from a local gentleman interested in selling some books. While the books in question were nice (copies of Limited Edition Club publications that paired prints by contemporary fine artists like Matisse and Picasso with important authors such as Joyce and Aristophanes), they were not very useful for building the Special Collections. However, after wandering into a back room and searching through the books, Margaret Landesman, head of collection development, came out holding three fine press books by Dard Hunter, causing quite a stir among the browsers. Thompson had not yet encountered Hunter's work, but it was plain from the quality of the handmade materials that these were works of distinction. [End Page 129]
The owner said he had inherited the Hunter books from Lionel Anderson, a close friend who had collected these fine volumes during the 1930s. These books on hand papermaking were printed on the most luxurious paper, and from the prospectuses it was clear these limited editions were created by hand, despite the original asking price of only $27.50 to $37.50. The binding for Old Papermaking (1923) had paste paper sides, the text was printed in a very elegant black ink, and, above all, the paper was reminiscent of the Renaissance. The books raised for Thompson a potent question: how did these publications correspond with his vision of collection development, and, more to the point, what criteria made a collection special?
Thompson asked for the Friends of the Library's support to acquire what turned out to be a total of four volumes for a price that seemed like a substantial sum but in retrospect represented one of the bargains of the decade. Members of the Friends of the Library were pleased with his analysis of the books' significance, of their execution and exquisite simplicity, which inspired even closer examination. In fact, their appreciation converged with an urge to replicate the craft experience.
As fate would have it, at this same time the library was engaged with Bay Area fine press printers Dorothy and Lewis Allen, who were contemplating retirement and looking for a home for the equipment and accompanying ephemera that represented their life's work—the Allen Press. Acquisition of the Allen Press's type and working 1846 Columbian hand press complemented Special Collections' growing aggregation of fine press books and the founding of its own Red Butte Press in 1984. Over the years, the Red Butte Press has brought forth eleven elegantly crafted limited edition books plus a number of unbound works. In turn, the library embraced a comprehensive book arts program that by 2010 reached hundreds of people each year.
Hunter's influence on the library through those four original volumes clearly has brought new breadth to the manifestation of the special collection in Utah. The subsequent outpouring of book arts creativity has resulted in thousands of students and community members embracing their personal impulse to make books in the manner of the masters, with Hunter's example of fine bookmaking reinvigorating the traditional art form.
From such a humble beginning these accomplishments beg the question, Who was Dard Hunter? Briefly, he was a seminal paper historian of particular significance to the field of hand papermaking who was both a practicing papermaker and a hand printer. Following a short but successful career as an Arts and Crafts graphic designer with the Roycrofters (1904-10), Hunter's lifelong interest in papermaking began [End Page 130] in 1912, when he established a hand papermaking mill in Marlborough-on-Hudson, New York, some five years after the last company in the United States closed its handmade paper department. Hunter's goal was to provide discriminating artists with domestic handmade paper, but unfortunately his enterprise failed, not for lack of customers but because, working alone, he could not fill the orders.
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