Picture a steamroller used by artists in making prints. Make that a three-ton construction steamroller and an unlikely letterpress bed: a city street!
photo credit: unknown: laughingsquid.com
Picture a team of artists and printers making large-scale prints from three-foot-squarehand-carved linoleum blocks. Add in festival crowds, local colour, food, crafts and book arts workshops, as well as book art enthusiasts, and you’ll have a sense of the Roadworks Steamroller Printing Festival held in San Francisco every September.
The RoadWorks Festival is organized by the San Francisco Center for the Book (SFCB). Founded in 1996, SFCB fosters the joys of books and bookbinding, the history, artistry, and continuing presence of books in our culture and the enduring importance of books as a medium of self-expression. SFCB is a full-service book arts centre, providing expertise, equipment and workshops to learn how to print and bind books.
When I visited SFCB a few months ago, not only was I dazzled by the concept and physical space, I was thrilled to discover they also have gallery space for book exhibitions.
“Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” was a thought-provoking exhibition of 55 artists’ books, created in response to the March 5, 2007 bombing of Baghdad’s “Street of Booksellers”. It was powerful, poignant and haunting.
An exhibition from 2012 featured works of art created using books as the artist’s medium. “Exploding the Codex” featured the works of over 40 book artists from the collection of Mary Austin. The show explored the theater of the book and storytelling through structure: going beyond the traditional book format, these art pieces unveiled new ways of presenting and telling stories. Theatrical, whimsical and clever.
Mary Austin, a collector of creatively recycled books, is the founder of SFCB, and her enthusiasm for the book arts is contagious. During my visit, she gave generously of her time to tell me more about the workshops and activities that take place at the SFCB. Mary and her husband Brewster Kahle run the Kahle/Austin Foundation, a non-profit which, among other activities, supports the SFCB. Their foundation also funds the Internet Archive.
Did you catch that? Brewster Kahle, visionary librarian and Internet pioneer, celebrates ancient book arts. It’s that combination of passions for the old and the new that strikes me as fascinating. Seeing the continuum of knowledge and valuing all of the parts. It’s a large-scale view of the role of one librarian.
“Knowledge lives in lots of different forms over time”, Kahle has said. “First it was in people’s memories, then it was in manuscripts, then printed books, then microfilm, CD-ROMS, now on the digital internet. Each one of these generations is very important.”
“Libraries exist to preserve society’s cultural artifacts and to provide access to them. Without cultural artifacts, civilization has no memory and no mechanism to learn from its successes and failures.” Brewster believes that if libraries are to continue to foster education and scholarship in this era of digital technology, it’s essential for them to extend those functions into the digital world.
So, Brewster Kahle — inventor, philanthropist, digital librarian, and founder of the Internet Archive — has been working to provide universal access to all knowledge for more than twenty-five years. The Internet Archive is a truly huge digital library, having grown to include texts, audio, moving images, software and archived web pages in its collections. As well, it provides specialized services for adaptive reading and information access for the blind and other persons with disabilities. And it’s all free to the public.
Roadworks — with a steamroller used to make prints — is a vital part of the story.
An inspiring vision and an admirable mission tie together these multiple threads: a celebration and sharing of the book arts, a commitment to preserving books in physical and digital format, and a dedication to providing universal access to all knowledge in all forms.