A Brief Story of Noah’s Ark and the Renaissance of Handmade American Paper

Cotsen 96522

While rehousing a number of prints and original artworks I came across this curious piece. It’s a custom-made card (in the shape of Noah’s ark when folded along the seam) that tells a silly story full of animal puns in which Noah deprecates Japheth into working on the Ark; “in the year 1977.”  The illustrations consist of pairs of animals stamped in burgundy and blue ink, complete with the dove and olive branch in the top left. The card is signed “All the best, Kathryn and Howard Clark,” whom I first assumed were  friends of Mr. Cotsen’s.

Cotsen 96522 text

But upon closer inspection of the item and further research into its provenance, I discovered more fascinating facts about this really unique work! The paper is deckle- edged and clearly handmade (complete with the papermaker’s watermark to the left of the elephants). If this fact wasn’t already obvious from the paper’s appearance and texture, it was definitely brought home after I discovered just who Kathryn and Howard Clark are. When printmaker and fine artist Kathryn Clark discovered that all fine handmade paper was being imported from Europe, she and her industrial designer husband Howard Clark sought to build and establish the first fine papermaking mill in America since the nineteenth century. The Clarks are the founders of Twinrocker Handmade Paper (thus the logo resembling symmetrical rocking chairs). Established in 1971, and operating out of rural Brookston, Indiana since 1972, Twinrocker Handmade Paper is largely responsible for a renaissance of fine American handmade papermaking.

Cotsen 96522 watermark

Here at Cotsen, we’re just happy to have an excellent example and early artifact of this important legacy.

For more about Kathryn and Howard Clark, American papermaking, and Twinrocker Handmade Paper, visit this article by the American Printing History Association and Twinrocker’s own website.

Teaching Difference in a 19th-Century German Alphabet Book

This week I examined two copies of a Fibelbuch, or primer, published by Freidrich Geissler in Leipzig to make sure that they were correctly described.   The texts were identical, consisting of an alphabet, list of vowels, a syllabary, the Ten Commandments, Pater Noster, Creed, proverbs, and multiplication table all in a Gothic type.

They had different sets of illustrations, however. One has depictions of  skilled tradesmen and shopkeepers, with humorous details like a baby trying out its new wicker walker, a boy blowing up a bladder in the butcher’s shop, or  a boy trying pots on his head while his mother negotiated the price for a new piece of crockery.

The other copy features pictures of men and women in different national costumes–Tyrolers, Turks, Finns, Spaniards, and Cossacks.  For some reason, farmers are featured prominently, with couples from Saxony, Altenberger, Tartary, Russia, and Poland.  The pictures of Russian and Poland farmers are paired with pictures of a Russian merchant and his wife and a Polish Jew and his wife.

The one of the Polish Jews caught my eye.  The buildings in the background suggest that they are city dwellers like the Russian merchant and his wife.  The bearded Polish man wears a tall hat, boots, and ankle-length dark robe belted with a wide yellow sash.  His wife wears drop earrings, an orange dress with a form-fitting bodice and lace yoke, a tall yellow headdress, and dainty slippers.

A a b c d e f ff g (Leipzig: Greidrich Geissler, ca. 1830). Cotsen 46436.

I had no idea of the significance of the yellow headdress and sash until I showed the illustration to Ian, who explained that those garments must have been a sartorial marker similar to the yellow badge or patch Jews in Nazi Germany were required to sew to their clothing to distinguish them from Aryans.

Given the long history of laws in Europe and the Near East that required Jews to wear on their clothes markers that unequivocably announced their Jewishness to everyone else, it seems unlikely that it was coincidence or the whim of the colorist.   But there’s no text that explains the significance of the yellow garments to the child reader.

Is this something a child in Leipzig who was just learning to read would already know?  This is a troubling question that cannot be answered here, but it is a powerful reminder that the pleasing pictures in alphabets can communicate silently ideas of sameness and difference.  The illustration of the Polish Jew and his wife is an excellent example of a descriptive and value-free picture that looks innocent until we learn how to read it.