Handmade books and the Old Stile Press

Most of us have probably read – or at least heard of – the “Book of Revelation,” but how many have really experienced it? Working with the Old Stile Press, Natalie d’Arbeloff has created a version of the “Book of Revelation” like none other, a version that blends words and images with artisan printing to convey not only a story, but also the dark and chaotic undertone of an apocalypse.

Woman clothed in the sun

“Woman clothed in the sun,” The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Special Collections Research Center Rare Book – Vinyard (N6797.D37 A76 1999 folio)

The Revelation of St. John the Divine is a recent addition to our Vinyard Collection of artists’ books. It has more than fifteen double-page spreads printed from linocuts by d’Arbeloff, all housed like a triptych in a nod to the contents’ sacred origins.

"Armageddon,"

“Armageddon,” The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Special Collections Research Center Rare Book – Vinyard (N6797.D37 A76 1999 folio)

Created in the valley of the Wye River in Wales, Revelation was constructed by Frances and Nicolas McDowall, a husband-and-wife team who spend their days pushing the traditions of private presses. They seek artists and printmakers to feature in handmade books at their Old Stile Press, and work closely with those artists to create the final product. Each project is different; a book’s binding and printing is often reflective of its contents, which range from traditional stories to the printer’s own poetry.

Some books, such as The Third Thing (also found in the Vinyard Collection), use previously published selections of text reimagined with new designs.

River mates, The Third Thing

“River Mates,” The Third Thing  (Special Collections Research Center Rare Book – Vinyard (Z232.O43 T45 2013 folio)

"Old English Riddle," The Third Thing

“Old English Riddle,” The Third Thing

 

 

This one contains selections of both poetry and prose on the topic of water, with accompanying woodcut prints by Ralph Kiggell. The Third Thing is a fantastic example of how the McDowall’s harmonize a book’s contents, binding, and printing methods. The light blue case binding pictures swimming Japanese koi fish, and Nicolas McDowall used Japanese woodblock techniques on his western press to create prints with layers of translucent color that capture the fluidity of water.

Title page, The Third Thing

Title page, The Third Thing

 

Our collection of artists’ books is ever-growing and teeming with innovative ways to redefine the traditional codex; the Old Stile Press is only a small introduction to the craftsmanship found hidden among our Special Collections.

 

 

 

Written by Kathryn Downing, Cataloging Specialist

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