Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hornbooks and Battledores

Hornbooks and battledores were two early literacy teaching aids. A hornbook was a primer for children, use from the 15th to the 18th century, consisting of a sheet of paper (or parchment) mounted on a thin wooden paddle, usually with a handle that was perforated so that the hornbook could be hung at the child’s girdle, or belt. The sheet usually had the alphabet, some pairs of letters, and a religious verse, often the Lord's Prayer. Because paper was so expensive, parents and teachers wanted to protect it. So they covered the paper with a very thin piece of cow's horn which was so thin, you could see right through it. Thus, the name, hornbook came to be used to describe this type of “book.”

Not all hornbooks were the same. Many were made out of metal, sometimes even silver. Others had the alphabet carved into paddles made of ivory (photo above). One special kind of hornbook was made out of gingerbread. As children learned each letter of the alphabet, they were rewarded with letters to eat.

Once the price of paper became cheap, companies started to make battledores. Battledores was an early form of badminton played with a flat wooden paddle and a shuttlecock. The paddle was probably similar in shape/size to hornbooks, thus, the word probably seemed appropriate as the name for the new book form which derived from them. Popular in the 1800's, battledores were made of thin cardboard. Although some battledores were made in the shape of a hornbook, the card was usually cut into the shape of a rectangle and then folded in

The content of a battledore was similar to that of a hornbook, including the alphabet in both capital and small letters and pairs of letters as a phonics lesson. But, unlike the hornbook, battledores frequently had a mixed-up alphabet with the letters out of order as a way to help children distinguish individual letters. They also had lists of short words and sometimes included a prayer, but normally they had a short story or fable instead. With a greater surface area, battledores could contain illustrations. These were generally pictures of everyday life that would have been familiar to children of the time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Artist Book: Woof by Madalyn Eastus

In a previous post I wrote about paper cutting and suggested using it creatively in creating artist books. Madalyn Eastus’ book, Woof, is one that does. Don’t let the title fool you though. This book isn't about dogs. Instead, the title comes from the weaving term, woof which refers to the thread which is shuttled back and forth across the warp (the set of lengthwise threads attached to a loom before weaving begins) to create a woven fabric.

Its pages are composed of colored papers that are die-cut and assembled by hand. Each page is a layering of several different pieces of cut paper that are tucked into slits (much like tucking a snapshot into those corners old photo albums used). The patterns evoke a range of traditional textiles from around the world, such as Amish quilts, Navajo blankets, Fair Isle knitted sweaters, and Indian ikats.

One of the things I particularly like about this book is how each pattern is changed by the pages before and after that peek through openings in the patterns.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The 1000 Journals Project Film

One thousand blank journals are traveling from hand to hand throughout the world. People who find a journal read it, add to it, then pass it on...

Starting in December 2003, the production crew for the 1000 Journals Project documentary film contacted nearly 500 past, present and wait-listed journal contributors from around the world for pre-interviews via email, telephone, and in person, eventually selecting about 120 participants for filmed interviews. The filming took the crew to Europe (France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Finland and the United Kingdom), Australia, Singapore, China, Canada and the United States. At the conclusion of postproduction editing, expected by December 2006, the film will be submitted to film festivals around the world for viewing on a big screen in 2007. View the teaser clip.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Peter Callesen: Paper Cut Sculpture

Recently, a friend emailed me about this artist and he is so phenomenal that I want to share him. Peter Callesen is a sculptor who works in paper, transforming a flat sheet (mostly single sheets of 80g. A4 paper, the kind sitting next to your computer printer) into a 3D form, leaving behind the negative space from which the form is created. Some of the the paper cuts relate to fairy tales, while others, Callesen states, “are small dramas in which small figures are lost within and threaten by the huge powerful nature … the thin white paper gives the paper sculptures a fragility which underlines the tragic and romantic theme of the works.

While his work is not specifically book-related, what strikes me when I look at it, is the connection I feel it has to popup books, origami, and silhouette paper cutting, many traditions rolled into one, any of which could be used by creative book artists in their work.

Big Paper Castle, 2004, 7,20 x 7,15 x 3,75 m
Cut and folded from one sheet of 350 gsm paper

Peter Callesen (b. 1968) lives and works in Copenhagen.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Flexagons: Intro & Tetraflexagons, Part 1

My goal for this blog is to post at least one or two topics a week but sometimes life gets in the way. I spent a few weeks in August and September researching flexagons in order to put together the first of a two-part demonstration and workshop for my local bookarts study group. While flexagons are fun to play with as toys, they offer an unusual structure that can be used for text or images that mysteriously appear and disappear as their “pages” are turned.

To begin, flexagons are flat models made from folded strips of paper that can be flexed to reveal a number of hidden faces. There are two types of flexagons, flat and 3-dimensional. In this post I will be talking about the flat type.

In the flat group there are two types: four-sided (tetraflexagons) which are rectangular, usually square, in shape, and six-sided (hexaflexagons) which look like hexagons (these will be covered in another post). Depending on the template used and the folding pattern, flexagons can have three, four, five, six or more faces. Appropriate prefixes are added in front of the basic name to indicated how many faces. So, tetraflexagons become tri-tetraflexagons (3 faces), tetra-tetraflexagons (4 faces), penta-tetraflexagons (5 faces) and hexa-tetraflexagons (6 faces). Likewise, hexaflexagons become tri-hexaflexagons (3 faces), tetra-hexaflexagons (4-sided), etcetera.

As if the names weren’t confusing enough, a tetra-tetra-flexagon has several entirely different templates and folding patterns, so the name itself doesn’t tell us much about what type of flexagon it is, only that it has four sides and four faces. The most popular is based on the principle behind the 2000-year old Chinese toy called a Jacob’s Ladder and is sometimes called a magic book. Each face can have a different image or text that is revealed as one flexes the structure. Here is an article on how to make one.

This is a big topic, one which cannot be adequately covered in a few postings. If you get hooked, don’t be surprised if you find yourself spending hours of enjoyment (and sometimes frustration) as you try out the various structures and plot how to design on them.

Book credits (variations on Jacob's Ladder/Magic Book structure):
1st book, Jane Cheng, Baucis and Philemon (Ovid Met. 8.611-724) trans by artist
2nd book, c. j. grossman, Magic Book with Secret Panels