David P. Bourbeau
OUT OF THE CELLAR –
A GARLAND FOR CANTINA
Smith College Libraries, 2005
Designed by Michael Russem at Kat Ran Press and printed by Wild Carrot Letterpress (letterpress), Oxbow Press (offset lithography) and Jon Goodman (photogravure frontispiece), all in Massachusetts, USA.
Published by Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College Libraries, Northampton, Massachusetts, USA, in an edition of 225 standard copies and 75 deluxe.
I purchased this during a burst of obtaining work printed or designed by Michael Russem – a typographer of considerable talent. As it turned out, his typographic setting is just a small part of the editions merits, for its production involved a list of people that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the finest among the Massachusetts area book making community. In addition to Russem’s typography, we have composition by the Bixlers, letterpress by Wild Carrot, offset litho by Oxbow and binding by Barbara Blumenthal, David P. Bourbeau and Stephanie Gibbs. Additionally, the deluxe copies feature a photogravure print by Jon Goodman. In bringing such talent together, Smith College produced a stunning edition that’s extremely difficult to fault.
To go into the finer points, Russem’s typography – in Centaur and Arrighi – is spot on, and Dan Keleher’s presswork is immaculate, with the offset litho elements also finely printed. The Swiss binding (a model of its kind), of blue paper over boards, elephant hide spine and fore-edge, and gold lettering to spine and front, is absolutely perfect and could not be improved on as far as I’m concerned. The absolute standout physical aspect of this book, though, is Jon Goodman’s exquisite photogravure print of Ansel Adams’ hauntingly beautiful frontispiece portrait of Clarence and Ruth Kennedy, proprietors of the Cantina Press (of which this book is an account). Goodman’s skill in creating extraordinarily rich and detailed intaglio prints from plates is second to none, and the example presented here is breathtaking beautiful. The depth of tone he achieves is stunning.
As for literary content, the book is a well written and enjoyable account of the Cantina Press, the private press started in the late 1930s by the Kennedy’s in the cellar of their home near Smith College, Northampton, Massachussetts, where they both taught. Written by master book binder, David P. Bourbeau, the book tells us what little is known about the press and its activities. Much of their work was of an ephemeral nature for Smith College so little seems to still exist, or if it does it is not known to be from their press as it isn't stated as such. The few items that are known (some pictured in the book) show a very high level of typographic ability, and the Kennedy’s certainly knew several important names in the fine printing and typographic circles of their day. There is a letter to Clarence from Bruce Rogers reproduced in this volume that shows how well regarded their work was. A small example of their actual setting is contained in the book in the form of a tipped in proof of a title page text setting, printed from the original standing type left by the Kennedy’s. How extraordinary that, despite the scarcity of Cantina Press work, such an item managed to survive!
Although not a huge amount of work is shown, or information given (it is only a small book, after all), this publication well manages to show why the Kennedy’s were the blueprint for the succession of fine printers to work with Smith College in the many decades since.
Standard copies of the edition may still be available from the Smith College publications page here. It may not be so finely bound, and only have the frontispiece printed offset litho, but it is still very much worth having. And it’s ridiculously cheap!
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