Wednesday, June 15, 2016

HBC 44: Hand Bookbinders of California’s Annual Members’ Exhibition

The Marjorie G. and Carl W. Stern Book Arts & Special Collections Center presents the Hand Bookbinders of California's Annual Members’ Exhibition, to celebrate the group’s forty-fourth year. The exhibition opens on Saturday, June 18th, at 2pm, at the San Francisco Public Library’s Skylight Gallery, Sixth Floor, Main Library. The exhibition continues through September 3rd. There will be two docent-led tours of the exhibition on Thursday, June 23rd and Thursday, July 7th at 10 a.m.

The Hand Bookbinders of California
On March 17, 1972 the Hand Bookbinders of California was established at an informal meeting in the Washington Street home of Mr. Gale Herrick. Officers named were Mr. Herrick, President; Miss Sheila Casey, Secretary-Treasurer; and Mrs. Peter Fahey, Membership Committee Chairman.

The Hand Bookbinders of California have organized exhibitions of members’ work ever since. The first, which opened in November 1973, featured 50 books, which were displayed in the front windows of John Howell Books at 434 Post Street, near Union Square. The annual exhibits continued to be hosted by Howell’s over the next ten years (except for a break in 1977) when this revered book shop closed its doors. HBC has organized other shows, most notably the major international exhibition Hand Bookbinding Today, An International Art, which opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in March 1978 and was documented in a catalog designed by Jack Stauffacher.

The annual members’ exhibitions have been hosted by various institutions since the mid-1980s and have been a regular feature at the San Francisco Public Library for many years. This year’s exhibition includes the work of over forty members and presents a wide variety of both traditional and innovative approaches to the concept, structure, and construction of the book. The objects range in size from miniscule to mammoth, from gold-tooled leather bindings to artist’s books which redefine the notion of a “book.”

The Hand Bookbinders of California (HBC) was founded by Bay Area bookbinders and collectors to provide a forum in which to share and promote their interest in books and bookbinding. For forty-four years, the group has created a venue for the exchange of ideas and techniques, fostered public appreciation of the art of design binding, exhibited the work of its members, and encouraged students in order to keep alive a Bay Area tradition of fine binding which dates to the nineteenth century. The group now includes nearly 200 book lovers and artists from all over the country and its scope has expanded to include professionals, amateurs, and students of conservation, box making, fine printing, artist’s books, papermaking and decoration, calligraphy, printmaking, and writing. Membership in the Hand Bookbinders of California is open to anyone. They meet monthly, sponsor bookbinding workshops and classes, and publish The Gold Leaf, a biannual journal.

Before the HBC: The Bookbinders Guild of California
Traditional book arts flourished in late nineteenth-century San Francisco, where the printing industry had long been especially vigorous. In early 1902, the Bookbinders Guild of California was established by booksellers Morgan Shepard and Paul Elder. Early members included Phoebe Hearst, Octavia Holden, Lucinda Butler, and Rosa Taussig. Seventy-two members of the Guild exhibited in the windows of the Elder and Shepard Bookshop in their first members’ exhibit later that year. That show featured work by Douglas Cockerell, Roger de Coverly, and T.J. Cobden Sanderson. The Bookbinders' Guild of California disappeared sometime before the 1906 earthquake and fire. When San Francisco bookbinders regrouped around 1908, it was as the California Members of the New York-based Guild of Book Workers. 

With the founding of the Book Club of California in 1912, the arts of fine printing and fine binding, already encouraged and supported by many, were now institutionally and formally recognized. Belle McMurty Young, one of the founding members of the Book Club, was an active teacher of hand bookbinding. She had learned the craft from Octavia Holden, a founding member of the Bookbinders' Guild of California. 

A second organization of San Francisco binders, now named the California Bookbinders' Guild, was established around 1927, again with Octavia Holden as the key figure. The group hosted its fifth annual members’ exhibition in 1933 but then disappeared from the record. The major international bookbinding exhibition, at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939, was entitled Fine Bookbindings Exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, was organized by Peter Fahey without a sponsoring bookbinders’ organization.

The Tradition
Today, several generations later, the Hand Bookbinders of California carry on this venerated tradition, passing on the craft, one teacher and one student at a time. The San Francisco Public Library is pleased to partner with the Hand Bookbinders of California. We honor the collecting of, caring for, and making of books. And together, we pay tribute to this extraordinary lineage of practitioners of the traditional book arts. 

Many thanks to Tom Conroy for his research assistance. 

Images from Marmerpapier by Geert Van Daal, (1980). Grabhorn Collection, San Francisco Public Library

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Driven By Fear - A Guest Blog Post by Dr. Guenter Risse

On Thursday, June 2, the San Francisco History Center is pleased to present Guenter Risse, author of Driven By Fear: Epidemics and Isolation in San Francisco's House of Pestilence. He will be talking about his book and his research in the Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room in the Lower Level of the Main Library at 6:00p.m.

As a preview to his talk, Dr. Guenter Risse has written a guest blog post for the SF History Center's blog:

Since its inception, America has exhibited an exaggerated sense of vulnerability and fear with respect to the introduction of foreign diseases through visitors and immigrants. Blaming such arriving others for the appearance and transmission of sickness remains a common national practice, particularly fueling the fires of xenophobia and racism. The danger of contagion lurks everywhere; endangering our anxious lives in spite of ubiquitous sanitary measures. Delving into the spectrum of emotions that drove Americans to harsh measures like segregation and isolation is illustrative. Fed by psychological, ideological, and pragmatic urges, these efforts succeeded in stereotyping and scapegoating victims of disease.

With the Gold Rush, people migrating from many parts of the country and the world flocked to San Francisco, freely sharing their ambitions and health burdens in a rapidly expanding urban environment. Outbreaks of infectious disease, notably smallpox, syphilis, leprosy and plague, threatened the burgeoning population and jeopardized trade, prompting local authorities to seek social distancing through traditional protective measures including quarantines and isolation facilities. To this day, an aggressive public health policy has arbitrarily dictated the spatial boundaries of diseased and stigmatized bodies considered threats to society. According to Charles V. Chapin, a prominent 19tth century American public health authority, pest houses were deemed “essential” not only for the control of infectious diseases but also for “the welfare of both community and the patients who were institutionalized.”

San Francisco Pesthouse Annex, San Francisco Call, January 3, 1896.
Anticipating a cholera epidemic in 1850, San Francisco quickly built its first pest house, a temporary shack situated north of the area that would become Chinatown. Transferred to a distant location on a Potrero Nuevo hillside in the 1860s, the San Francisco Pesthouse became a temporary destination for local smallpox sufferers, forcefully removed from their homes to prevent further spread of the disease. A decade later, this establishment added a cottage, otherwise known as a “lock hospital,” for housing Chinese suffering from advanced stages of venereal disease. With the appearance of leprosy in the early 1870s, the San Francisco Pesthouse also started to receive a veritable “colony” of sufferers of this disease in spite of repeated efforts to return them to Hawaii and China. During a brief outbreak of bubonic plague after the 1906 earthquake, another tent in the compound collected individuals suspected of harboring this frequently fatal disease. By the late 1910s all infectious cases started to be rerouted and hospitalized at a new isolation pavilion of the San Francisco General Hospital. Finally, in March 1923, remaining inmates suffering from leprosy were finally transferred to the federal public health service facility in Carville, Louisiana, prompting the final closure and destruction of San Francisco’s most dreaded institution.

Practically erased from the historical record, this important establishment arose within a political climate strongly dominated by xenophobia and racism. Since the local authorities chose to protect the city's reputation as a haven for health restoration, the almost invisible institutional trajectory of its isolation facllity occurred outside the metropolis in an environment of want and despair. Since the Black Death, so-called lazarettos or pest houses have historically exposed some of the most coercive qualities of state power. Ultimately, the San Francisco Pesthouse story aims to reclaim people and events hitherto ignored while offering valuable comparisons with American reactions to AIDS, SARS, and more recently Ebola fever. Historical case studies can serve as cautionary tales, particularly in an era in which our government attempts to nationalize and militarize sanitary measures to achieve “bio preparedness” in the event of natural or terrorist-inspired contagion.

Unlike my previous work (Plague, Fear, and Politics in San Francisco's Chinatown) about the plague in Chinatown between 1900 and 1904, researching this topic at San Francisco Public Library posed special challenges because of a lack of institutional records, including administrative and medical information. Those who wish to peruse my earlier research materials employed in the study of plague will find several binders with background documentation collected with the support of a National Library of Medicine grant. The Guenter B. Risse Plague, Fear, and Politics in San Francisco's Chinatown Research Files, donated to the San Francisco History Center, include chronologies, English translations from Chinatown’s contemporary newspaper, the Chung Sai Yat Po or Chinese Western Daily, as well as correspondence between members of the US Marine Hospital Service stationed in Washington DC and San Francisco.

Friday, May 13, 2016

May 17, 1900: Happy Birthday Robert Grabhorn!

Robert Grabhorn Birthday Broadside, 1962, Grabhorn Ephemera collection 
 Book Arts & Special Collections

May 17th was Robert Grabhorn's birthday. To commemorate the day, here's a peek at what might be my favorite piece of ephemera from the Grabhorn Collection. It's a birthday broadside, printed by the Grace Hoper Press, for his 62nd birthday, complete with three dimensional elements. If you look closely, you'll see the bills in his right hand and the "catalogue of rare & expensive type books" in his left. Was the one going to finance the other? And isn't the cat an especially nice touch? But the birthday-boy doesn't look very happy, does he? Neither does the cat for that matter.

Robert Grabhorn Birthday Broadside detail, 1962, Grabhorn Ephemera collection
Book Arts & Special Collections

Above is a detail of the tiny 3-D Catalogue of Rare & Expensive Type Books which Robert is holding in his left hand. Inside, perhaps there is a list of all of their fine publications...

Robert Grabhorn Birthday Broadside detail, 1962, Grabhorn Ephemera collection
Book Arts & Special Collections

Above, is a detail of some of his bills from I. Magnin, The White House, and a drugstore, which he is holding in his right hand.

Robert Grabhorn Birthday Broadside detail, 1962, Grabhorn Ephemera collection
Book Arts & Special Collections

At the bottom, a detail of the Grace Hoper Press's printer's mark. The design was inspired by the James Joyce story The Ondt & the GraceHoper and a Native American design found in a New Mexican wood block cutter's book. Apparently Robert and Jane enjoyed reading Joyce aloud. What a terrific birthday card.

If you want to read more about Robert Grabhorn, you might be interested in the oral history which Ruth Teiser did with him. Here is the link to Teiser's interview with Sherwood and Katharine Grover about the Grabhorn and Grace Hoper presses. And here is a link to Alastair Johnston's article on Robert's personal library, which forms the core of our Grabhorn Collection: reading it would be a great way to acknowledge the day and to learn more about this library collection.

Jane and Robert Grabhorn, Vertical Files, Book Arts & Special Collections

Above, is a photo of Robert and Jane looking quite happy and surrounded by work in the shop. 
Happy Birthday Bob!