Throughout the centuries, most history has been recorded with the written word. But history about the written word and its various forms of accompanying art is the subject of a new museum exhibit created by a University of Houston-Victoria faculty member.
Kyle Schlesinger, an assistant professor in the Publishing Program specializing in Communication Design in the UHV School of Arts & Sciences, has put together a museum exhibit titled “Poems and Pictures: A Renaissance in the Art of the Book (1946-1981).” The show opens Friday at The Museum for Printing History in Houston with a reception and runs through Jan. 29, 2011.
The exhibition highlights the connection between visual and language arts and features over 60 books, paintings, collages, periodicals, pamphlets and more.
Schlesinger, who first brought the exhibit to The Center for Book Arts in New York City in July, said the era following World War II until the dawn of the Reagan era was a tremendously creative time in American arts.
“Part of the reason this was a good time for making art in multiples was that there was an explosion in the availability of National Endowment for the Arts grants under the Nixon administration,” Schlesinger said. “It allowed writers, artists, and publishers the time and capital they needed to make remarkable books.”
Schlesinger also noted the changes in the printing industry during those years.
“There was a technology shift from letterpress to offset that took place very rapidly,” he said. “This left a lot of cheap letterpress printing equipment on the market, allowing aspiring artists and writers to become publishers overnight.”
From Houston, he will move the exhibit to the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative, an organization that he helped found as a graduate student.
Schlesinger’s interest in books, collages, periodicals and other printed materials was an outgrowth of his early exposure to the printing industry. He worked as a campus printer while an undergraduate in Vermont. He said his appreciation grew for graphic design, as well as the quirky jobs that surfaced during his time at the print shop.
“One unusual thing I remember printing was an instructional poster demonstrating how to use a compost toilet,” he said.
Schlesinger said the qualities in printed material he looks for varies.
“A good book always starts with the writing,” he said. “Putting lipstick on a pig is no use—writing is paramount. No matter how perfect the typography, lush the binding, illustrious the illustrations, or radiant the paper, a book is never better than the words it contains. That said, if the text is interesting, there’s an opportunity to create a book that’s far greater than the sum of its parts. That’s a tradition that has been going for at least 500 years. Introducing our students to that noble tradition is part of what I enjoy most about teaching in the Publishing Program.”
For the past decade, Schlesinger has published and lectured on poetry and visual arts. He is also the proprietor of the nonprofit Cuneiform Press, which specializes in poetry, artists’ books and books about books.
With Steve Clay of Granary Books, Schlesinger also co-curates the Threads Talk Series, devoted to the art of the book. The talks are available for free as online audio recording hosted by the University of Pennsylvania (http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/)
Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV’s School of Arts & Sciences, said he hopes the exhibition increases exposure for the university, which is one of only a handful that offers a master of arts in publishing.
“Professor Schlesinger’s knowledge of the publishing industry and his initiative in sponsoring events like the ‘Poems and Pictures’ exhibition make him a valuable part of our faculty,” Di Leo said. “Events like this will help the public see that UHV has much expertise to offer in the writing and publishing field.”