We are pleased to announce Rich Dana as Special Collections and Archives’ Sackner Archive Project coordinator librarian.
Rich Dana earned his MFA from the University of Iowa Center for the Book in 2021 and his MA from the School of Library and Information Science in 2020. He has worked as an art mover, art fabricator and art installer, and curator for a variety of New York City galleries and institutions, and has served as a freelance instructor and workshop leader for several years. He has also held various roles at Special Collections and Archives: as curatorial assistant for the Hevelin Collection, the Olson graduate research assistant, and temporary project registrar for the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry.
In addition to his past work with the Sackner Archive, Dana is himself a copier artist (one of his works is included in the Sackners’ collection) and independent publisher. His 2021 book Cheap Copies! describes some of the techniques used by artists in the collection, and he frequently leads workshops on copier art techniques.
When asked what he enjoys about the Sackner Archive, Dana stated, “Because the Sackners were enthusiastic autodidacts and made personal connections to many of the artists whose work they collected, the archive has a very lively and idiosyncratic quality. It’s not only an astounding collection of visual poetry, it’s also a remarkable historical record of the movement.”
Dana looks forward to raising awareness of this amazing resource and making the materials in the collection more accessible to patrons and researchers. We are so glad to have him on the team.
The following was written by Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana, and curator of the Spirit Duplicators exhibit in Special Collections & Archives reading room
During my three and a half years at Special Collections, I have worked with an amazing range of materials, but my major projects have focused on first, the James L. “Rusty” Hevelin Collection of Science Fiction, and more recently The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. As I became more familiar with these and other collections of documents from the realms of both science fiction fandom and the 20th Century Avant-Garde, I began to notice remarkable similarities in the publications of both cultural movements.
I began thinking about a potential exhibit of these zines and chapbooks, and when I sheepishly mentioned this notion to Marvin Sackner in a telephone conversation, he became very excited. “If you could prove a direct connection between fanzines and visual poetry, you would really have something!” He told me that he considered the final pages of Alfred Bester’s 1956 science fiction classic The Stars My Destination to be one of his first experiences with visual poetry.
Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl, published by City Lights Books in 1956, brought “Beat Poetry” to the attention of the world and helped to spark a new literary movement. But before Lawrence Ferlinghetti published the now-famous Pocket Poets book, there was another edition of Howl printed: a 25 copy run off on a “ditto” machine by Marthe Rexroth in an office at San Francisco State College.
Pre-digital office copiers like the ditto machine (spirit duplicator), mimeograph, hectograph, and tabletop offset press freed 1960’s radical artists and writers from the constraints of the publishing industry and brought the power of the printing press to The People. These writers/publishers of the period, like Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Diane DiPrima, d.a. levy, and Ed Sanders were not the first to use cheap copying technology to produce “democratic multiples,” however.
Blue-collar teenage fans of far-fetched adventure stories had been creating an international network of amateur “fanzines” since well before World War II. From where did the young fans of the fledgling genre of “scientifiction” draw their influences? Undoubtedly, they were imitating the cheaply printed monthly “pulp” magazines with titles like Amazing Stories and Weird Tales. Also, in the zeitgeist of the new industrial age were the seeds of political, cultural, and artistic revolt. Marcel Duchamp arrived in New York along with a wave of immigrants fleeing WWI and the Russian Revolution, which soon also carried the two-year-old Isaac Asimov to Ellis Island. Like a sine wave on a mad scientist’s oscilloscope, the aesthetics of “highbrow” artists and writers and “lowbrow” outsider zine publishers resonated and reflected each other through the 20th Century.
Self-published chapbooks, underground comics, flyers, and fanzines served as proving grounds for many of the 20th century’s most influential creators. However, the “Mimeograph Revolution” remains a little-examined artistic movement, considered by many to be the realm of “lowbrow” or “outsider” amateurs unworthy of serious research. Yet a closer look at the work of many copier artists reveals a high level of technical sophistication and profound social commentary. The works featured in this exhibit introduce viewers to the vibrant American amateur press scene of the early and mid-20th century, and the media that influenced it.
Much like the internet today, duplicators played an essential role in the development of pop culture genres like science fiction, comic books, and rock and roll, as well as avant-garde art movements like Fluxus, pop art, and concrete poetry.
French symbolist Alfred Jarry was the first to influence both the development of science fiction (SF) and the avant- garde. He wrote time-travel stories alongside his friend H.G. Wells and set the stage for Dada with the production of his revolutionary play, Ubu Roi. The turn of the century marked a new obsession with technological development. The newly-built Eifel Tower stood as a monument to the modernist ideal, while Thomas Edison introduced the first mimeograph at the World’s Fair. The Futurist art movement rejected the past in favor of techno-utopianism. Early SF fans like Myrtle Douglas (Morojo) embraced these radical ideas, as reflected in the design of her Esperanto fanzine Guteto (Droplet.) WWII and the rise of technocracy brought much of this idealism to an end.
The avant-garde primarily used duplicators like the hectograph and the mimeograph as a cheap alternative to “better” printing methods like lithography. The true innovators in the use of copiers were an unlikely cohort; science fiction(SF) fandom. Young fans were creating amateur magazines (“fanzines”) imitating the cheaply printed “pulp” magazines like “Amazing Stories” and “Weird Tales.” The fanzines also featured cover art influenced by the graphic style of the avant-garde. For most fans, litho and letterpress printing were out of reach. For them, copiers like home made hecto gelatin pads were the only option. Hectograph and later “ditto” machines produced the distinctive purple copies using aniline dye inks.
The cross-over between SF fandom, artist books and poetry took place after WWII. Many SF fans returned from the war and attended college, thanks to the G.I. Bill. The university culture of Wichita, Kansas made it a key stop on the cross-country drives of beats like Allen Ginsberg, who titled a poem after a legend he picked up from the Wichita beatniks. The legend of Vortex originated with local beatnik poet (and SF fan) Lee Streiff in the pages of his Mar- tian Newsletter. Unlike other Wichita beat poets and artists, Lee Streiff never escaped the Wichita Vortex, where he taught English and continued to participate in fandom.
Every social justice movement of the 20th century relied on cheap copying technology, coupled with bold (and often crude) graphics to spread their message. Spirit duplicators, often called ditto machines, used a paper master sheet similar to carbon paper to print up to 40 purple or green copies before the master was depleted. The mimeograph, or stencil duplicator, also used a paper master sheet, but allowed the user to make more copies in a wide range of colors. The offset press, used to produce larger runs, is an offshoot of lithography and uses a flexible printing plate. This process is still used on a large scale for newspaper.
The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant, Rich Dana
In the 1970s, a remarkable woman from Argentina was an underground art sensation.
While researching the forgotten art of hectographic printing, I discovered the work of Mae Strelkov, a little-known visionary artist from Argentina. This discovery was the sort of experience that illustrates precisely why those of us who frequent special collections libraries love them so much; when I followed the finding aid (M. Horvat Science Fiction Fanzines Collection, MsC0791) and opened the folder, the contents were not just a reproduction or a digital scan of some of her creations, but a nearly-complete collection of her hand-made zines, including post-marked, hand-made envelops and personal notes.
Some readers may have never heard of a hectograph. Hectography is a technique for duplicating documents using inks made from aniline dye rather than pigments. The ink is transferred to paper via a rubbery copy pad made of gelatin and glycerine, yielding up to 40 prints before becoming depleted. The hectograph was the precursor to the spirit duplicator, commonly known as a “ditto machine,” remembered for the bright purple text and sweet methyl-ester smell it produced. “Hecto” was used widely by school teachers and churches and in the production of early science fiction fanzines. It fell out of favor as newer copiers became available after WWII, making Mae Strelkov one of a handful of artists still using hectography in the 1970s.
I began to search for more information on Mae Strelkov, and found several articles written by SF fans in the early 1970s. I was also very fortunate to speak with her son, Tony Strelkov, from his home in Argentina via Zoom. Tony explained that his motherwas born and raised in China, the child of English missionaries. As a teenager she methis father, Vadim Strelkov, who had fled Russia after the revolution. They married when Mae was 18 and were immediately forced to flee China to escape the Japanese invasion in 1937.
The young refugee couple found a new home in Chile, and then Argentina. In Buenos Aires, Mae worked as a translator and secretary. In 1960, Vadim was hired to manage an estancia (estate and cattle ranch) in the Cordoba hill-country of Argentina. In these beautiful surroundings, Mae raised their children, wrote and created art. Mae was an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, and despite the isolation of ranch life, or perhaps in response to it, she became an amateur publisher, trading her zines by mail with other fans in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. She became close friends with Donald A. Wolheim, the legendary science fiction publisher and founder of DAW books. Tony described to me the boxes, packed full of science fiction novels and fanzines, that would regularly arrive from her American friend, Wolheim.
For Mae, printing options were limited for creating her publications. She settled on the hectograph, making her own printing pads (a fan legend that Tony confirmed) by boiling cow bones to extract the gelatin. Because of the limited ink colors available, her idyllic landscapes are rendered in pinks, purples, and blues, giving them a psychedelic quality. Her writings reflect on her missionary parents’ spiritual traditions, those of her childhood home in rural China, and the Andes’ indigenous people. Her landscapes are fantastical, and her accounts of everyday life on the ranch are infused with a mystical quality. Her missives are also full of observations on linguistics. She created symbols for what she considered universal human sounds– a far-out idea at the time, but one that is now widely studied among language scholars.
In 1973, Susan Wood (Glicksohn), a Canadian literary scholar/feminist/environmentalist (and SF fan) wrote in her fanzine Aspidistra:
“SF conventions, for me, exist mainly as places to meet other fannish people whom I only know on paper, people whom I have never met, who are my friends. One of those friends is Mae Strelkov…Mae has lived most of her life in Argentina, where she and her husband Vadim share a ranch with children, cattle, crazy goats, pumas—a whole world she’ll create for you with skill and zest. A talented author and an artist too, Mae is equally at home, and equally fascinating, writing about her lively family—or the world’s problems; about linguistics, and the strange pattern of words and symbols she finds repeating themselves through the oriental, western and Amerindian cultures she knows so well—or the antics of her pet skunk; about the Catholic Church, and its effects on the world as she sees it—or your latest fanzine.”
Susan Wood and Ohio fan Joan Bower mounted a successful “fan fund” (commonly used in fandom to subsidize travel for fans who cannot otherwise afford it) to fly Mae from Argentina to the US, where she would attend the 1974 World Science Fiction Convention in Washington DC (DISCON II) and DeepSouth Con in Atlanta. According to Con reports, the grandmotherly 57-year-old Strelkov made a splash with the young Americancon-goers. She also purchased a Greyhound Bus Ameripass and zig-zagged from coast to coast and back, visiting fans, pen-pals, and distant relatives on an epic solo adventure, all of which she recounted in The Mae Strelkov Trip Report. The 35-page report was mimeograph-printed and distributed by one of her biggest fans, NASA engineer and fanzine publisherNed Brooks.
No description of Mae Strelkov’s writing and artwork can fully impart the actual documents’ utter uniqueness and magical quality. Unlike the vast majority of fanzines, Mae’s were produced almost entirely outside of the direct influence of American pop culture and fannish activities. For American SF fans in 1974, she must have appeared much like the character Valentine Michael Smith, a fascinatingstranger in a strange land.
The following blog comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana, who interviewed Marvin Sackner on his collection of concrete and visual poetry.
Among the over 75,000 items in the newly-acquired Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, there are many unique and one-of-a-kind art objects and artists’ books. Along with original artwork, there is an impressive collection of reference material, monographs, and other rare books. Among Dr. Sackner’s favorites is a little-known work written by the 19th-century American painter George Catlin with the alarming title, Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life. Catlin’s book, first published in 1870, was one of the inspirations for the Sackner’s 1992 “Beauty in Breathing” exhibit.
Dr. Sackner recalls: “Catlin did all of the illustrations, and there is some very interesting typography in the book… on the last page, “Shut Your Mouth” is printed in very large type. When I was giving tours of the collection, sometimes I would show this book at the end of the tour, and say, “Now I’m going to shut MY mouth!”
Catlin, who is most famous for his many paintings of the indigenous people of the North American plains, penned Shut Your Mouth in response to what he observed as the superior health of the tribes among which he traveled. He came to the conclusion that the key to their vigor was their practice of breathing through the nose, and “…that breathing should be done as Nature designed it, through the nostrils, instead of through the mouth.” Although the book was criticized in medical journals at the time for its lack of scientific rigor and the popular press derided the author as “Indian-loving Catlin,” the little book sparked interest among health-conscious readers, and the volume was widely reprinted.
Despite some common terminology of the era that we may find cringe-worthy today, the book reflects Catlin’s deep passion for improving the health of people of all backgrounds, his profound respect for Native Americans, and in some cases, his sense of humor. The illustrations are sometimes comical and often satiric. To some degree, history has proven Catlin’s theory correct: mouth-breathing has been shown to cause health problems ranging from tooth decay to sleep problems – even abnormal jaw growth in children.
What can we learn today from Catlin’s passion for proper breathing and public health? As many of us are now spending our days working from home, the tendency may be to also be less physically active. Dr. Sackner, a retired pulmonologist, reminds us that during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vitally important to protect our lungs. We need to maintain our immune systems by staying physically active, practicing good sleep hygiene, and avoiding smoking, vaping, and other harmful habits.
All images in this blog post come from a 4th edition of George Catlin’sShut Your Mouth and Save Your Life found on Internet Archive. See the full digital copy here.
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.
The following is written by Rich Dana, Olson Graduate Research Assistant for Special Collections.
As librarians, we are engaged in service to our communities, and that service doesn’t end when the library has to lock its doors to protect its patrons and workers. All of us are faced now with leveraging any tools at our disposal to serve those who need to continue teaching, learning, researching, creating and maintaining some continuity in their lives during the “social distancing” of the current moment.
I was sitting in a comfortable weekend rental apartment above Rago’s Funeral home in Chicago (famous as the location of Al Capones wake) with my family when the reality of the situation really set in. The Art Institute was closing. Concerts were canceled. Visiting a nearly empty Quimby’s bookstore, manager Liz Mason and I discussed the cancellations of all upcoming zine fests, art book and small press events. It occurred to me that zine-makers would be dealing with the quarantine as they do many of life’s struggles; by making zines about it. Liz threw out a title for such efforts, calling them “quaranzines.”
That afternoon I set up a Facebook group as a hub place for collaboration and as a collection point for these quaranzines. By the time I got back to Iowa the next day, cities across the nation were implementing “shelter in place” orders, and well over 200 people had joined the Covid-19 zine group.
Members hail from all over the world, reporting on what they are seeing and making, sharing their work. Marc Fischer from Chicago prints a 2-page issue of Quaranzine every day, posting them on light poles and bus stops around the neighborhood. Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam in Siem Reap, Cambodia is asking for people to send artwork and writing for her first issue of QuaranZINE. She is working on it despite the high temperatures and the lack of air conditioning caused by power outages in the village. As I prepare the first issue of my own quaranzine, Dri-Koff Weekly, another zine arrives in my mailbox. 5 Ways to Keep Busy (when you can’t leave the house) by Kelly Wooten in Chapel Hill.
We all hope that quaranzines are a thing of the past soon. Until then- I’ve got another issue to put out.
The Social Distancing Festival
Submissions are open to all, though the organizer is currently prioritizing work that was cancelled/disrupted/delayed due to the need for social distancing and COVID-19.
Flatland Press invites you to submit pieces for Flat Space, a publication that will be created around this period of social distancing.Present themes orbiting around forms of communication, shorten the distance between us, and antiquated tech/dead tech.
Please submit ideas, images, writings at Flatlandspress@gmail.com
Please add: Flat Space to subject headings.
THE SPACE BETWEEN: a free PDF coloring/activity book by PS1 & friends
Local Iowa City group, Public Space One brings you Space Between: The PS1 & Friends (never ending) activity book (vol. 2 could be with you!)
A viral safe-space for your zines!
Quaranzine Fest is simple. Post your work on the platform of your choice April 4th and 5th tagged #quaranzinefest. There’s more info on their website including a funny / awkward tutorial on how to digitize your analog zine with an iPhone!
On April 4th and 5th like, comment, and share the work of others! Be a good samaritan – do more than just browse and passively like. If you can afford it, mail order some zines – after all it’s a zinefest!
A Daily Riso zine by Marc Fischer is open to publishing work by others:
Copies are posted in public places in his neighborhood in Chicago, left in some Little Free Libraries in the area, shared online on social media, and distributed more formally eventually when it’s safe for people to get together in groups. Get in touch if you are interested.
From Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam:
If you are fortunate enough to be in (self) quarantine, I would like to create a zine, aptly titled, “QuaranZINE”. In this work, I aim to collectively publish short writing pieces, poems, art, rants, and almost anything that is produced during quarantine.
For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading: QuaranZINE.
A one page mimeograph zine available by mail, or as a print-and-fold pdf. Coming out weekly until this is over. Art, writing, comics, helpful hints and observations about living and staying sane during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Send submissions or requests for copies to email@example.com.
Downloads available soon.
Social Distance Quara-zine! Collective zine-making in the age of Covid-19 Facebook Group
Social Distance Quara-zine is an online zinefest. The world was a lonely enough place before, and now this. While we are all in lock-down mode, maybe we can find a way to get together via pictures and words, to share ideas, make communal art and survive the madness together (while staying at least 3 meters apart.)
Want to learn more about zines, zine-making or the zine collections at the University of Iowa? Check out:
The following comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana
John Giorno, poet, artist, and activist, passed away Friday, October 12th at the age of 82. Although readers may not be familiar with his name, Giorno was one of the most influential American artists of the post-war 20th century. He blurred the boundaries between written, visual and performance art, fine art, and pop culture.
A native New Yorker, Giorno grew up among the literary and artistic giants of the early 1960s. He appeared in early Andy Warhol films, and he became a junior member of the beat movement, befriending the likes of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Brion Gysin.
His fiery and transgressive spoken-word style laid the groundwork for the performance art and slam poetry movements, and his open and unapologetic descriptions of his life as a gay man was thematically revolutionary at the time. His Giorno Poetry Systems “Dial-a-Poem” service in the late 1960s allowed users to call a series on answering machines and hear writers discussing the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, and other politically-charged topics.
Sources close to Giorno say that the 82-year-old artist was in good health and was working in his studio at the time of his death. Readers can find out more about Giorno in the New York Times obituary.