01 Feb 2024 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

In Fall of 2023, I started as Assistant Professor of Book Arts and Papermaking at University of Nebraska Omaha. As newly appointed director, I was eager to make the book arts and papermaking studios my own. Taking over an institution like the UNO Fine Arts Press and Book Arts Program, with its long and robust history of fine press printing, and its excellent undergraduate book arts curriculum, was exciting, intimidating, complex, and also involved reassessment of the program’s aesthetic, vision, priorities, and budget.

The University of Nebraska Omaha Fine Arts Press and Book Arts Curriculum began with Harry Duncan in 1972. Duncan developed the curricular program and published as the fine press Abattoir Editions, producing fine press books in editions of 200-300. Naming the press after Omaha’s stockyards tied the publishing work to Omaha’s mid-western landscape and sensibility, and planted the roots of fine press publications until 1985 when Duncan retired. After his retirement, Bonnie O’Connell directed the UNO Book Arts Program until 2019.

Before I joined UNO, previous instructors, adjuncts, and gallery directors approached the task of clearing out and organizing the potential archival materials, even transporting those materials to the Special Collections Library on campus to be catalogued in the Fine Arts Press Collection. In fact, the recent exhibition at UNO Gallery, Pressing Matters, explored the history of UNO’s Fine Arts Press and the book arts curriculum. The exhibition occasioned an intensive inventory of the books and other archival materials, including its student work archive, as a way to organize materials for the display at the exhibition. This exhibition also used many items from the informal archive, including carved blocks by Karen Kunc (collaborator), newspaper articles about Harry Duncan and Bonnie O’Connell, and letters between Duncan and authors.

I have worked in extremely well-organized studios, such as the studios at Florida State University and Small Craft Advisory Press, and at University of Nevada, Reno, and Black Rock Press. Those studios have developed systems to determine what elements of an edition’s production to keep, and what elements can be recycled or upcycled into student work. These systems prioritize both “perfect” proofs as well as “interesting” proofs that contain the kind of misprints that look like a whole new piece of art. As a working artist, I’m inclined to keep every small scrap of paper (and all of the proofs) because paper is expensive and I need paper to make mockups for the next project. But I know for the most part what the imperfections of each print look like and can assign them value according to how close to the final edition they are. Understanding the value of materials I’m less familiar with is proving to be more difficult.

In the UNO book arts studio, I have encountered stacks of unbound sheets, original drawings and early mockups by Bonnie O’Connell, Harry Duncan, former students, and even surplus Abbattoir and Fine Arts Press title labels for books. Absolute treasures! The history of fine press printing is told by these stacks of sometimes-unfinished editions. Luckily, I can call on Bonnie to clarify whether some of the parts of books are TBB (To Be Bound) or simple overage that can be whittled down to a few copies for the Harry Duncan archive in the Special Collections Library on UNO’s campus. However, and for example, Abattoir Editions has not produced much new fine letterpress printed work since 2001, but much of the completed books and material components of print and binding production remain in the Fine Arts Press studio storage area, leaving me with decisions to be made regarding where or if to archive these materials.

Surrounded by the materials, separated into stacks for the UNO archivists to peruse, I’m asking myself the following questions:

What are the benefits for keeping some of the archive in-studio?

  • These materials can be used for examples for class
  • They allow me to make repairs to books, including those that are in the Fine Arts Press archive in the UNO library and beyond
  • For studios that house Presses, the students are exposed to the overage, and can integrate them into their projects
  • Students can see the process of a piece, including sketches, inspiring new ideas and approaches, encouraging them to keep going during the slog of makeready.

What are the downfalls for keeping so much archival material in the studio? Mostly, it is an issue of space. And, somewhat, a preservation issue. I don’t yet have archival boxes for keeping documents in an acid-free environment, but I plan to build up this system of safe-keeping in the next year or so.


AB Gorham is a book artist and writer from Montana and holds MFAs in Book Arts and Poetry from The University of Alabama. She is Assistant Professor of Book Arts and Papermaking at University of Nebraska Omaha. Her poems have been published in Puerto Del Sol, The Call Center, American Letters and Commentary, DIAGRAM, and Gulf Coast, among others. Her artist books are collected nationally and Unidentified Found Object Song was a semi-finalist for the 2022 MCBA Book Prize.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software