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Re: MFA vs ...

I agree with most of Peter's rant about this, and also recommend NBSS. I'm
not as down on MFA (or MLS) programs, though-- it depends on which and
where and what you do there. There are good binders out there. Paula
Gourley is good (Tuscaloosa). Pam Spitzmueller is good (Iowa). Now how much
time you can spend with them in that context is something else. You really
have to look at what they do and see if it's for you, and see if you're
interested in the rest of the program.

I'm a believer that a book artist, conservator, papermaker, printer or
binder should have basic training in all of the above. Even if you're not
going to make your books by casting your own fonts and shredding your
clothing, it's likely you will work with people in the other book trades,
and should have a solid foundation so you don't get screwed up in
misunderstandings. If you get nothing from a two or four year program but a
desire to continue and a broad competent vocabulary, you are on the right
path. And if in addition you know how to make something, all the better.

That's the concept behind Center for Book Arts. Many students there have
their graduate degrees, and many teachers don't (or have them in scholarly
or artistic disciplines other than what they teach). It's a place for
practical training, where the faculty is drawn from the local and
international creative and productive professional book art community. Hedi
Kyle was the first outside teacher I hired in 1975. Many people on this
list have taught and studied at the Center. For several years we did offer
an MFA (and BFA) with Pratt Institute (which also had the country's oldest
Library School after Columbia closed theirs). But it didn't mean that
people who were in a degree program knew more than the others. In the end,
how well you do depends on the quality of your work.

Over the last twenty one years the Center's Board has considered several
other relationships with academic institutions, but has always opted for
independent not-for-profit status. Something happens when you get tied to
the requirements of academic bureaucracy. The edge that the Center has
always maintained doesn't quite fit with that. Bringing together the active
artists and the crafts traditionalists, the students and the professionals,
the conservators and the creators,  in New York City, produces an
environment like the cauldron in Macbeth.

There are books by artists and books that are art, books that are
stationery products, and art that is about books. It all influences (the
current vogue word is *informs*) each other. That's what's so exciting! I
just came from the Center's annual Holiday Open House and Fair (on until 6
pm), where this is more apparent than ever. Even the line between
stationery and art is becoming blurred at some of the exhibitors' tables.

And the people who were trained at the Center have gone into all of the
book trades and art at all levels. People who came as artists have become
conservators, and vice-versa. Have you read my article "Innovation From
Tradition in the Book Arts" in *American Craft* magazine (Oct/Nov 1993)?
It's very much about this thread.

So while I have some time, I'll digress autobiographically ( la Desert
Fox). The Center for Book Arts actually came from my Bar Mitzvah. It was in
January, 1960. Those days it was about a religious event, in the Temple,
with a small reception at home. Not the kind of Junior Wedding event that
people do today. At 13 a Jewish boy becomes a man in the congregation. The
traditional gift in my neighborhood was $25 savings bonds. I collected
about $350 of them.

That August my mother died of cancer. My father had died of a heart attack
in 1957. I was left with very little to pay the bills--  Social Security
and a small amount of insurance (administered by my grandmother as guardian
jointly with the guardianship clerk of the Surrogate's Court). The
necessity of earning a living was in my face. At 13 I had become a man in
responsibility as well.

In those days we were taught that you work until you're 65, then you retire
and do whatever you enjoy. Both my parents had died at age 47, so Ididn't
think I would make it to 65. I decided to do what I liked starting then,
and what I liked best was Graphic Arts Shop at Russell Sage Junior High
School, taught by Mr. Joseph Caputo. So I cashed in my savings bonds (you
got about half the face value), went to Zimmer Printing Equipment on
Beekman Street and bought a 5 x 8 Kelsey hand press, and went across the
street to Damon & Peets and bought six California job cases of used foundry
type. Mr. Damon was missing a finger on his left hand that had gotten cut
off in a paper cutter.

I set up the press in my apartment and gave my homeroom class a 15% sales
commission to get me work. Soon I was printing social and business
stationery, announcements, tickets, programs-- all the usual job work. I
was in competition with commercial printers, so the work had to look good
and be done on time. This supported me through high school and into
college. That 5 x 8 Kelsey press which got me started is at the Center for
Book Arts, and is still a good press.


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