The following blog comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana who interviewed Marvin Sackner on his exhibit “The Beauty in Breathing.”
An exhibition of works from the newly acquiredRuth and Marvin Sackner Collection of Visual and Concrete Poetryat the Main Library Gallery is one of the countless art events that have been postponed due to the current global health crisis. In some respects, however, the Sackner Collection is more relevant now than ever.
Dr. Marvin Sackner is not only one of the world’s foremost collectors of artwork that combines visual elements and text, but he is also an internationally respected pulmonologist. The inventor of several medical devices designed to aid oxygen flow in patients, the 88-year-old former Head of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach is keeping a close eye on the epidemic and is currently completing a paper on potential alternative treatment strategies to address the ravaging effects of COVID-19 on the human respiratory system.
Visual poetry is, at its most basic level, the depiction of the sounds made by the air moving from our lungs and across our vocal cords. It’s not surprising then that breath is one of the common themes found in the Sackner’s vast collection of artists’ books, framed images, and 3D objects. In 1992, Dr. Sackner created a unique exhibition of work by an international selection of artists entitled “The Beauty in Breathing” as a special event at the annual meeting of The American Lung Association & American Thoracic Society. Some of the works were already part of the Sackner’s collection, but many were commissioned especially for the 3-day event.
“It was a scientific meeting,” recalls Sackner. “And in the middle of it, here is this exhibition. A lot of people got exposed to “art and poetry” for the first time. It was really great fun to observe them. A lot of doctors aren’t necessarily art-inclined, but here, over a thousand people got to see this exhibit over a three-day period.”
As we come to grips with the devastating effects of COVID-19 on individual lives and on society, Dr. Sackner’s life’s work illustrates the importance of scientific progress and the discovery of new, life-saving treatments. His passion for art reminds us that despite hardship, we must continue to value creative expression, which is such a large part of how we process both the beautiful and terrible in the world around us.
The works included in “The Beauty in Breathing” show, along with copies of the exhibit catalog, original photographs from the event, and Dr. Sackner’s curatorial records are all part of his donation to the University of Iowa’s Special Collections. Until visitors are once again able to visit our reading room, we will do everything we can to share these materials with the public.
Selections from the Sackner Collection: The Association for Study of Arts Materials
Written by Diane Dias De Fazio, Curator of Rare Books & Book Arts
The University of Iowa Special Collections announced the arrival of The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Collection of Visual and Concrete Poetry last May, and as the news rippled out across the special collections universe, excitement—and chatter—about the vast collection grew. It’s my great pleasure to share this first post, as we begin a series that highlights interesting and rare material in the Sackner Collection.
First up: Association for Study of Arts, or ASA. Specifically, theASA (journal) and ASA Group exhibition catalogs (1969–1973).
As a scholar of art history (and as a point of personal pride), it gives me great joy to state that UI Special Collections is the only institution* to hold a full run of ASA; UI Special Collections is likewise the only institution that has a complete set of the group’s exhibition catalogs.
From a curatorial perspective, it is significant that these important Japanese-language items are available to University of Iowa students and faculty, something that bolsters curricula in creative writing, art, and undergraduate and graduate programs in Japanese. Special Collections already includes Japanese paper, artists’ books, and cookbooks; the ASA Group materials will add new dimension to extant Japanese collection materials, complement Library poetry holdings, and have the potential to draw international researchers to Iowa City.
Part of the Multifaceted Sackner Collection
The scope of Ruth and Marvin Sackner’s collecting was expansive—there is mail art, artist publishing, book works, periodicals on artists’ books, critical studies and exhibition checklists, audio and video, in more than a dozen languages—but the core is solidly focused on concrete and visual poetry. What’s concrete poetry? you ask. While I defer to my colleague, Tim Shipe, to answer that question, I offer this definition from Oxford Art Online (which you can access from home if you have a HawkID, or another institutional affiliation that provides access):
“[An] Art form developed in the 1950s and 1960s based on the visual aspects of words. In contrast to ‘shaped’ poetry, in which the meaning of a text is enhanced by the relationship between a sequence of lines and the overall pattern or silhouette that these lines create on a page … Concrete poetry largely dispenses with conventional line and syntax. It may bring into use not only a wide range of typefaces (seeTypography) but also other elements derived from calligraphy, collage, graphics and computer-generated shapes. It can appropriately be considered a visual art, though it is also a literary one.”
Got it? Concrete poetry straddles the realms of visual and literary arts. It’s a perfect fit for Special Collections!
Seiichi Niikuni & Concrete Poetry in Japan
Japanese poet Seiichi Niikuni (1925–1977), influenced by e. e. cummings, John Cage, Sakutarō Hagiwara, and Stéphane Mallarmé, studied literature in Sendai, and was first published in Japanese literary journal Hyōga in 1952. By the early 1960s, Niikuni moved to Tokyo, and was independently publishing his own journal that showcased concrete poetry, known in Japanese as: Konkurīto poetori. Niikuni named the journal after his group, the Association for Study of Arts (芸術研究協会 Geijutsu Kenkyū Kyōkai), or simply, ASA.
The journals contain essays, reviews, and work by luminaries Ilse and Pierre Garnier, Timm Ulrichs, Harry Guest, Bob Cobbing, Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Furnival, and Iowan Mary Ellen Solt (who edited Concrete Poetry: a World View). Two issues in the series are hand-inscribed by Niikuni to Emmett Williams, himself an icon in the Fluxus Movement, which makes our copies even more valuable, for their association with two important figures in the history of contemporary art.
Four exhibition catalogues hint at the breadth of the group’s influences and impact: the 1970 exhibition featured films by Norman McLaren alongside two-dimensional visual poetry.
Interested in seeing more? The Sackner Collection will be available in January, and you’ll be able to request this material with your Aeon account.
*Our friends at the Getty Institute have a set; a full collection is not known to exist, in private or public hands, though Japanese institutional records are vague.
—-Photos by Diane Dias De Fazio, unless otherwise noted
Every year, Special Collections hosts two Olson Graduate Assistants who have chosen to specialize in the field of Special Collections Librarianship or Archives for a two-year assistantship. These prestigious positions supplement knowledge gained in the classroom with experience gained from real-world application, balancing theory with practice.
The H. John and Florence Hawkinson Libraries Acquisition Endowment has introduced an exciting new element to this experience: in the second year of their assistantship, the Olson Graduate Assistant can now be given a budget for material acquisitions. The Graduate Assistant chooses a curatorial area of interest in alignment with collection strengths, and works with the Curator in that area to learn about the material selection process. They may attend meetings with book artists and book dealers, peruse catalogs, and search online for the right item(s). They then formally recommend items for purchase and, once the Curator approves of the recommendation, are looped in on the relevant communication. This is a spectacular learning opportunity for them, and a valuable way for Curators to remain in touch with how the next generation of librarians is approaching the work of acquisitions.
This year, Olson Graduate Assistant Micaela Terronez selected four items that will be purchased for the Special Collections department using the Hawkinson Endowment. Working with Head of Special Collections, Margaret Gamm, Micaela located materials that would either develop or fill in gaps within the collections. Below, Micaela has provided a brief description of the selected works and why she was interested in them.
Forming Common Threads
By Mari Eckstein Gower
Redmond, Washington: Mari Eckstein Gower, 2018.
My eyes were immediately drawn to the vibrant colors and structure of Mari Eckstein Gower’s Forming Common Threads. The artist’s book features beautiful watercolor paintings by the artist, as well as silk and paper threads attached to a series of words such as “inspire,” “support,” and “heal.” Gower’s work links the many stories of strong women from history in contrast to the toxic and misogynistic rhetoric she grew up with. From the Japanese Tarasen patterned papers to the modified stitched drumleaf format, I was also interested in this book because of the multitude of materials and techniques utilized in its creation.
Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm
By Gabrielle Cooksey
Tacoma, Washington: Gabrielle Cooksey, 2018.
Anyone that knows me well knows I absolutely hate bugs. Spiders, flies, beetles – I squirm at the sight of them all. Gabrielle Cooksey’s Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm has officially changed my mind about the beauty of these tiny creatures. Included in the artist’s book are twelve aluminum beetles with stories from the author, as well as Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Darwin, Hans Christian Anderson, and Aesop. The book, bound in Cave Paper, was meant to mirror a research field guide. Perhaps one day I’ll have the courage to do my own research on insects. Until then, I think I’ll stick to examining and admiring them from afar with the help of Cooksey’s work. The book will certainly be an enchanting addition to the artists’ books collections.
By Alex Appella San Antonio de Arredondo, Córdoba, Argentina: Alex Appella, 2018.
I am not a native Spanish speaker, but the language certainly carries an emotional connection to my roots and upbringing. Some of my earliest memories of Spanish, for example, originate from daily experiences with my grandparents. One Day · Un Día by Alex Appella utilizes bilingual text (Spanish, English) and a collage of family photographs to document the last day of her grandfather’s life and the last days of her mother’s life. By interweaving family and language, Alex Apella’s work recalled memories of my childhood with my grandparents – both living and passed. When I first arrived at Iowa, I had a difficult time locating bilingual, visual works in Spanish and English. Now, I hope that this work will supplement research, teachings, and emotional reunions.
As a humanities-focused graduate student, I rarely have the opportunity to truly explore the sciences. Mathematics, in particular, has never been my strongest point. Anyone else still count with their hands, or is it just me? Whether you are a science enthusiast or not, Enumerations by Stephanie Gibbs will allow you to consider the interesting intersections between the sciences and humanities. Designed within a clamshell box, the artist’s book includes different forms of memory and computing. A slide rule, memory diagram, diskettes, and Trigonometry screenprints are just a few of the interesting components. Enumerations also includes Ada Lovelace’s description of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. I’m incredibly excited to add another bookwork representing women in science to the collections.
University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections is pleased to announce the acquisition of the library and papers of noted Romanian-American writer Andrei Codrescu. Comprising approximately eighty linear feet of manuscripts, books, audiovisual material, digital media, art works, and ephemera, this acquisition is a major addition to the University Libraries’ literary collections, and will provide a treasure trove of material for researchers in a variety of fields.
Andrei Codrescu was born in Sibiu, Romania in 1946. His literary career began with a number of poems written in Romanian when he was in his teens; it was during this period that he changed his surname from “Perlmutter” to “Codrescu.” Emigrating to the United States in 1966, he soon started writing and publishing in English. Living first in Detroit, he moved to New York and then to California, coming into extensive contact with the New York School of poets as well as the Beats. He held teaching positions at Johns Hopkins University and, for many years, at Louisiana State University, commuting by Greyhound bus to Baton Rouge from his home in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Since his retirement from LSU, Codrescu has been living in New York City while maintaining a rural retreat in the Buffalo River Valley in northern Arkansas, where besides writing he has been experimenting with sculpture and collage-constructions.
Codrescu is perhaps best known for his regular commentaries on NPR’s All Things Considered beginning in 1983. His writing encompasses virtually every genre, including poetry, novels, short stories, plays, essays, book-length non-fiction, autobiography, and film scripts. In recent years he has resumed writing poetry in his “native” language, Romanian. (Romanian was actually his third language, since as a child growing up in Transylvania, he first spoke German and Hungarian.) Besides his numerous books of poetry and his novels, Codrescu’s most influential books include The Hole in the Flag (an account of his return to Romania as an NPR reporter just days after the 1989 revolution), The Disappearance of the Outside,The Posthuman Dada Guide,Bibliodeath, and a series of innovative autobiographical works. He is also well-known for editing the journal Exquisite Corpse, named after a surrealist game.
Andrei Codrescu has longstanding connections with Iowa City’s literary scene, having been friends with a number of local authors. His library is filled with dedication copies of books by Iowa writers, former participants in the International Writing Program, Beat poets, Romanian authors, and major figures representing every strand of contemporary American literature.
In February of this year Codrescu presented a lecture-performance in connection with the Libraries’ exhibition Documenting Dada, Disseminating Dada; the video is available online. During his visit, he met with a variety of groups on campus, including the School of Library and Information Science, the MFA Program in Translation, the International Writing Program, and library staff. Discussions began with Special Collections staff concerning the possible acquisition of his papers, and in August librarians Tim Shipe and Amy Chen visited Codrescu’s Arkansas studio to inspect the collection and discuss terms. Following the successful conclusion of these discussions, the collection arrived at the University Libraries in mid-October, and is now in the preliminary stages of processing.
Among the highlights of the collection are three unpublished novels, manuscripts, correspondence, and ephemera related to the author’s published books (including the Romanian flag with the Communist symbol cut out that inspired the title of The Hole in the Flag), communications concerning assassination threats from the Romanian secret police, documentation of exhibitions, and a number of two- and three-dimensional collages and art installations. Also included are back-up copies of pre-1990 manuscript materials now housed at Louisiana State University. Codrescu’s library includes annotated books that Codrescu used during his research for his novels and non-fiction prose works. Also included is a comprehensive collection of Codrescu’s books, including some proof copies with manuscript revisions.
Andrei Codrescu’s collection promises to be a fruitful resource for researchers for many years to come, and a new draw for visitors to America’s first UNESCO City of Literature.
The Battle Creek Sanitarium was opened in 1866 by John Harvey Kellogg and his brother W. K. Kellogg, promoting health through a regimen of dietetics, exercise, hydrotherapy, phototherapy, thermotherapy, electotherapy, mechanotherapy, and enemas. They were joined in this enterprise by C.W. Post. In some areas they were ahead of their time, such as their emphasis on a low fat diet including whole grains, fiber-rich foods, and nuts, as well as getting lots of fresh air and exercise. But other areas were on the fringe and were open to ridicule, such as the treatment the Sanitarium received in the book and movie The Road to Wellville, the title of which is a spoof of John Harvey Kellogg’s book The Road to Wellness. The Sanitarium suffered during the depression and was scaled back in 1933 and permanently closed in 1952. What lives on are the cereals created by the Kelloggs and C.W. Post Companies, derivatives of the healthy foods promoted by the Sanitarium.
In the Brinton collection we recently found these books, entitled The Battle Creek System of Health Training. While not emanating from the Sanitarium, the books are from Battle Creek’s Health Extension Bureau and carry a publication dates of 1922 and 1924, during the height of the Sanitarium’s popularity. There were seven volumes in the series: 1) Making Life Worth While; 2) Taking a Health Inventory; 3) The Digestibility of Different Foods; 4) Foods and Feeding; 5) Diet in Disease; 6) Weight Regulation; and 7) Simple Remedies for Common Maladies.
The books in this collection are in near perfect condition. Unfortunately volumes 3 and 4 are missing so this is not a complete set. On a search in OCLC First Search, only four other libraries were named as having these volumes.
Three major new acquisitions from Dada’s transitional period of 1919-1920 document that movement’s spread beyond its World War I origins in neutral Switzerland to the key cultural centers of Europe during the early postwar era.
Francis Picabia was one of the chief agents for the propagation of the Dada movement, and his periodical 391 was a key vehicle for spreading Dada beyond its origins in Zurich. Picabia published the first four numbers in Barcelona, then took 391 with him to New York, Zurich, and finally Paris. Special Collections owns ten of the nineteen issues, representing all four cities. Our latest acquisition is Number 9 (November 1919), the first issue to be published in Paris (following the single Zurich number), just as Tristan Tzara, Dada’s self-proclaimed leader, was preparing to move to the French capital. With a cover featuring one of Picabia’s famous machine drawings, and with texts by Tzara, Picabia, and future Parisian Dadaist Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, this issue anticipates the founding of the Paris Dada movement.
Published shortly after the author had established himself in Paris, Cinéma calendrier du coeur abstrait; Maisons (1920) completes our collection of Tzara’s three books of poetry in the series “Collection Dada.” The first two were published in Zurich, and this third collection marks the full fruition of Dada in Paris. Illustrated with nineteen original woodcuts by Jean Arp, this masterpiece of Dada book art is signed by the author and the artist.
Die Schammade (also known as Dadameter) is the seminal publication of the short-lived branch of the Dada movement in Cologne, Germany. Edited in early 1920 by Max Ernst and Johannes Baargeld and printed on multicolored paper with magnificent woodcuts and drawings by Ernst, Arp, and others, Die Schammade typifies the international nature Dada, and includes texts in German and French, including some of the most important Dada writings of Arp, Ernst, and Baargeld.
In addition, we recently acquired the one issue of the Dada publication 291 not previously in the collection, making a complete set.
This past spring was a good season for acquisitions in Special Collections, Leigh Hunt material not least among them. Not only did we pick up Percy Shelley’s personal copy of Hunt’s Feast of the Poets—a spectacular association copy, as Hunt and Shelley were remarkably close friends—but we acquired four Leigh Hunt manuscripts.
Two of these are copies of his most famous poems: “Abou Ben Adhem” and “Rondeau.” Perhaps the poem most beloved by posterity, “Rondeau” (more commonly known as “Jenny Kissed Me”) shares the poet’s excitement after having kissed Jane Carlyle, wife of the archetypal Victorian Thomas and neighbor of the Hunts.
The third manuscript is a draft fragment of The Palfrey. Only a few of the lines from this draft found their way into the published version, betraying the significant revisions the poem underwent at the author’s hand.
A transcript of “Velluti to his Revilers” is perhaps the most interesting manuscript in the lot. It’s not one of Hunt’s best known poems, but the transcript is thought to be in the hand of Julia, the author’s eighth child. While “Velluti” may not make the cut for the latest Norton anthology, Leigh Hunt writes at the end of these lines, “I think them the best (in rhyme) that I ever wrote—if I am old enough to be allowed to talk of my ‘best.’”
Patrick Olson joined us at the beginning of last semester as a new Special Collections Librarian in charge of collections analysis and acquisitions. Patrick was most recently a rare book cataloger at M.I.T and came to Special Collections librarianship via the rare book trade. Stop by and ask him about rare books or climbing mountains!
With Patrick in place, Special Collections has seen a flurry of activity this semester with boxes arriving almost daily with new donations and purchases. The items are in various stages of being catalogued and processed so what follows here is an overview of new arrivals, with more announcements to follow soon.
Most recently we announced an extremely important purchase of twelve incunables (books from ~1450-1501). Read our blog post and stay tuned, we’ll have updates as they are cataloged and ready for research.
Arthur Asa Berger Papers [University of Iowa alum and professor emeritus of Broadcast and Electronic
Communication Arts at San Francisco State University, where he taught between 1965 and 2003 and author of more than 60 books.]. More than 90 journals with a mix of drawings, photographs, personal life, and plans for books.
Joshua Glenn Collection, 1980s-1990s music fanzines, letters from zine publishers, and zine ephemera. (Joshua Glenn’s Blog). (Tumblr).
Peter Thomas collection of papermaking and paper sample books.
Continuing fanzine acquisitions from the Organization for Transformative Works from many donors including a large donation of early Star Trek fanzines.
Morgan Dawn Collection addendum. [Zines for many TV shows and movies – Dr. Who, Harry Patter, Lord of the Rings, The Professionals, Quantum Leap, Star Trek & more].
George Ludwig papers. [Graduate Student under James Van Allen] (Two blog posts here and here)
Dave Morice Collection [1970s Actualist movement. Poet, illustrator, and performance artist.] Large addendum including personal papers and lesser known comic books such as Cosmic Boy
and Power of the Atom. Spanish language comic books, including Condorito.
If you have been following any of our social media feeds over the past few days, you may have noticed photos popping up of newly-acquired incunables. So, what’s going on here? First, some background:
Incunables are books printed in Europe during the fifteenth century, between 1450 and 1501, examples of the earliest printed books. The incunabula period is the focus of a great deal of study—the development of printing, and how it affected the design, distribution, and reception of books, remains central to our understanding of book history.
Here at Iowa, we have long held a respectable collection of incunabula, and these books are frequently called for in classes and exhibitions. In recent years, these books have been examined extensively by Tim Barrett for his study of early papermaking, and Iowa is also home to the Atlas of Early Printing, an interactive overview of the spread and development of printing in Europe. The UI Center for the Book continues to pass along the art and craft of letterpress printmaking that first flourished in the incunabula period.
Our recent acquisitions are an attempt to add examples of books and subjects in the incunabula period that we have not had previously. This collection development has been made possible due to the support of the University Libraries acquisitions fund and the Libraries’ Collection Management Committee.
Special Collections Librarian Pat Olson took charge of this opportunity and identified an outstanding mix of possibilities that enhance our collection in many ways. Among these dozen new titles is the first illustrated edition of Dante printed in Venice. Until now, our incunables largely represented just a single language: Latin. The occasional ancient Greek was the only exception. Our new Dante, however, is in Italian, and so it’s one of our first incunables printed in a vernacular language. The other, also just acquired, is Monte dell’orazione, a private devotional text intended specifically for women. The copy we just acquired is particularly notable for retaining the very rare illustrated wrapper—or to risk oversimplification, the original illustrated paperback binding.
We filled one of our more significant gaps with the acquisition of our first 15th-century Bible, and in an early pigskin binding to boot. Another first for us is our first Spanish incunable, a book of music printed in red and black at Seville in 1494. We purchased our first 15th-century edition of Ovid, too, here in its original leather-covered wooden boards and retaining its original brass furniture. Early science has been another sparsely covered subject for us, so we acquired a lavishly illustrated astrological text. (NB: What passed for science in the 1400s may not pass for science today.) We also acquired a rather crude dialogue intended for children and the less sophisticated—a rare survival, insofar as such texts were less commonly printed and more commonly read to pieces.
In all cases, we sought books in early (if not original) bindings. Given the serious interest in early papermaking here at Iowa, we made it a point to pursue books with untrimmed leaves, which serve as uncommon witnesses to original paper sizes. We searched for books with valuable marginalia, interesting provenance, and varying degrees of decoration by hand. Most of these books do have early marginalia, an invaluable resource to support the growing scholarship on the history of reading. Perhaps the most remarkable in terms of provenance is a sammelband (multiple books bound together) printed by the famous scholar-printer Johann Amerbach. Our copy is not just a well preserved example of a 15th-century sammelband, but it contains an inscription noting its donation to a local monastery by the printer himself. As far as textual decoration is concerned, these new acquisitions run the gamut from crude DIY initials to professionally executed penwork and illumination.
There really is something for everyone, and we can’t wait to share them. Once they have been catalogued and properly housed, these books may be viewed by request in our reading room during regular hours. And keep an eye out for an announcement coming at a later date of an opportunity to view these new acquisitions in person, while learning about how incunables are being studied today.
New at the UI Archives: 1970s-era posters for events at Hancher Auditorium, the Iowa Memorial Union and the UI Fieldhouse. For a brief but intense time in 1973 and ’74 there was a move afoot to rename the Field House for the Allman Brothers Band, which had a memorable gig there on Nov. 9, 1973. The posters are evidence of this unofficial, ill-fated, but totally sincere effort. CUE, the Commission for University Entertainment, was a student organization that encouraged the campaign. Many thanks to Tim Meier of the Hancher Auditorium office for arranging for transfer of these materials to the Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.