In an effort to mix it up a bit here, I’m going to suggest two of Minnesota’s best 150 books that I am betting you have never seen. The books also address one of my very, very few pet peeves. The Twin Cities support a vibrant and creative book arts community. Thanks are due, in large part, to the efforts of Jim Sitter and civic visionaries such as Governor Elmer Andersen and Jay Cowles, who helped create the Minnesota Center for Book Arts twenty-five years ago. My peeve is that too many people believe that the birth of MCBA was the beginning of this important aspect of local culture. In fact, Minnesota has a long and rich history of fine presses making beautiful books. As is often the case in history, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. We will write, discuss, and list more fine press books in upcoming posts but for now…
Arthur Upson. Octaves in an Oxford Garden. Minneapolis: E. D. Brooks, 1902.
Richard Realf. A Fragment of the Poem Symbolism. Minneapolis: Chemith Press, 1906.
The early Twentieth Century was a time of literary foment in Minnesota. Edmund Brooks and his rare bookstore were at the center of this scene, along with William C. Edgar and his literary magazine “The Bellman.” Brooks served as patron for Arthur Upson, who wrote poetry in the morning and cataloged rare books for Brooks in the afternoon. Tragically, Upson died very young [probably a suicide], drowning in Lake Bemidji. Mary Moulton Cheney was also part of this cultural growth spurt. She worked with Upson and decorated his 1904 book, The City. Her Chemith Press book, listed above, is a good example of her exquisite work. Cheney was a designer, a member of the Handicraft Guild, and head of what became the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. For more on this era I suggest reading the 1945 U of M Press book Of Brooks and Books by Lee Grove. As a reminder, all of these books and “The Bellman” are available for your perusal in the MHS library. Shown below are both colophons, which should be one of the first things you look at in a fine press book, as they frequently give details about how and who put the book together.
Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian