Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Arts, Buffalo and the Big Apple

If it seems as though things have been quieter around here than usual, it’s because January Magazine art director David Middleton and I shuffled off to Buffalo and points beyond for a couple of weeks. Many thanks to The Rap Sheet’s J. Kingston Pierce for keeping things together in our absence. Without his careful tending, everything would have ground to a halt. As it turned out, I was so entranced by Buffalo and so caught up in everything I was involved in while there, I didn’t have room in my head for much else.

Let me start by saying that, for someone who has never been there before, Buffalo, New York, is a complete surprise. I don’t recall anymore exactly what I expected before I got there, but everything I had anticipated was completely off-base.

Perched as it is on the edge of the Rust Belt, Buffalo has certainly been chilled by economic downturn. Despite this, it continues to seem like a brilliantly livable city. Some of the best examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s early Prairie Style designs grace various Buffalo enclaves, and renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (he designed Central Park and Prospect Park, among others) conceived a series of six interlinked parks for Buffalo in the late 19th century when the city was growing towards being one of the most important in the world.

Buffalo’s history is rich and resonant and, perhaps because of this, the city seems to take pride in its vibrant arts scene. We saw this most sharply drawn at the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative, a non-profit organization based in downtown Buffalo intent on preserving and promoting book and print arts. From the organization’s Web site:
In the wake of the rapid growth of digital texts and technologies, the printed word is all too often regarded as an archaic, if not superfluous archetype. It is apparent that the importance of traditional printed arts will only continue to increase as digital sources become more refined. The tactile qualities of a book and inherent permanence of good printing are timeless. For example, Johannes Gutenberg’s printed works are still in the same condition as when they were printed 500 years ago while digital data from 10 or 20 years ago is already irreparably damaged and lost forever.
The work WNYBAC is doing is incredible, as is the collection of historic type and printing presses they’re putting together. The WNY Book Arts Center is located at 468 Washington at East Mohawk. They have a very good small gift shop (I bought way too much stuff, myself!) and an interesting calendar of events. Visit their Web site for more information on the programs that are available and also to see what you can do to help their most excellent cause.

From Buffalo, David and I took the train to New York City, an almost nine-hour trip that passed surprisingly quickly: especially once the train started skirting the Hudson, offering glimpses of some of America’s Castles and passing through a surprisingly lush landscape.

In the city itself, we balanced work and fun, meeting with a small group of publishing types between trips to The Met and visits to Central Park, Bloomingdales and other Manhattan must-sees.

We enjoyed one very special evening with longtime January Magazine contributing editor Tony Buchsbaum. The three of us are shown here in Times Square, after dinner at Virgil’s, a popular barbecue place nearby. In the photo, David is on the left, Tony on the right, and I’m in the center. The photo was taken by an unsuspecting tourist who seemed neither distressed nor surprised to have David’s camera thrust at him.

All in all, a wonderful few weeks away, though we were never very far from books and the people who make them. Somehow that all seems just as it should be.


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