As a book artist, each book presents its own challenges — and rewards. Part of the adventure is not knowing how to get there; no one has ever been there before. There’s no path in the woods to follow. Oh, you can take a path for a while but then you need to branch off in your own direction in order to realize your vision for the book. It’s equally true if you’re trying to create a poem, compose a symphony or do a painting.
To be an artist, it’s essential to fail. One needs to be prepared to try again to get where you want to go, to realize your inner vision. You may not even know where you want to go until you see it, until you arrive after a long, winding road. Paths are helpful; they enable us to go farther into the woods. But to realize one’s own vision — well, ultimately, that’s only something that each of us can do. With help, certainly. But artists are trailblazers. And often I find that even though I might get lost or fail in one way, it often yields results in another, unexpected way.
From the beginning, I had a certain vision for The Amichai Windows design. I wanted to do a separate folio for each poem — a folio that would open as a window, a triptych, with the Hebrew version of the poem to the right, the English translation on the left — and graphics filling the entire page, especially the central window panel. I wanted the reader to have an intimate experience, to be immersed in the poem; the purpose of the structure and images was to enhance and deepen the effect of the poems. I wanted to create connections to other events, people and places.
Nonetheless, a lot of people suggested that an accordion book would be a perfect format. With its various see-through panels and openings, I could play with the idea of windows, of what we see and don’t see. So, I tried it. I created all kinds of accordion structures with cut-outs and pop-ups. And it kept getting bigger and bigger. Eighteen is a lot of poems. I suppose that I could have made eighteen different, separate accordion books. Or grouped them together. But I felt as if the poems themselves were getting slighted. Suddenly, it was the structure of the book — not the words, the ideas, the emotions that were being evoked — which took precedence.
I wanted to make the reading of Amichai’s poems as intimate as possible. To enable a reader to sit by the glow of a lamp and read each poem, pausing, perusing, looking out the window, rereading and letting the words penetrate. So, ultimately, returned to my idea of separate triptychs for each poem.
As part of my effort, I thought it might be a good idea to use a watermark of a window in the paper itself. So, I signed up for a watermark making class at Pyramid Atlantic in Silver Spring, Md., where I’ve taken a number of classes. To make the watermark, I selected a few images and settled on one in particular — a photo that I had taken in Jerusalem of the window of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. I passed it by chance one day when I was out for a stroll in Jerusalem.
Ben-Yehuda, who helped revivify the Hebrew language in the early 2oth century, lived in a beautiful stone house in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Since Hana Amichai didn’t want me to use photos of her and Yehuda’s house, I thought that it would be interesting to do something with Ben-Yehuda’s window. Symbolically, Amichai — and everyone who speaks Hebrew today — is looking through Ben Yehuda’s window. But especially Amichai, an exemplary poet who uses words in a way that reveal one window within another.
Little did I think when I took the picture that I would use it as the “logo” of my Amichai book. But the watermark class led me to it. I especially loved the window’s graceful symmetry. And so it happened that a few years after taking the photo in Jerusalem, I sat in a sunlit studio in Silver Spring, MD, and traced the outline of the photo of the window from a xerox onto a magnetic-backed sheet. The sheet was kind of rubbery; when I was done, I carefully cut away parts of the “window” so that I could get its overall shape. Subsequently, I affixed the magnetic sheet to the screen of the mould.
Once each of the four students were ready, we dipped our mould and deckles into a mixture of abaca and cotton pulp. You had to get just enough pulp to make a sheet of paper and then adjust it in the center so that the pulp was spread evenly around the impression of the “watermark.” Once I lifted the pulp out of the slurry — or “pulled” a sheet of paper — I couched the wet sheet of paper onto a large piece of black felt. “Couched” is a fancy way of saying flipped it over so that it could dry.
A few days later I went back to check out my “watermark.” Well, needless to say, it wasn’t great. There were large, blotchy areas; it hardly looked like a “window.” A few sheets looked like a “window” but even those didn’t seem particularly effective. A reader would have to tilt the paper at a certain angle in the light to even know that the watermark was there. That was the main reason that I decided to forego a watermark — because it didn’t seem like it would add enough to the book itself. But . . . and that’s the important part.
But I loved the design that I had made out of the magnetic cutout. . . and I loved the texture of the paper that we had made. It felt like parchment to me; it was a blend of abaca and cotton linters. Right then and there, I decided that it was the kind of paper that I wanted to use to “frame” each of the poems. How I would eventually get it made is another story. Even more, though, I was trying to figure out a way to use the cutout of Ben Yehuda’s window. For months, I had it stuck to our refrigerator at home just as a convenient way to store it.
When I started thinking about printing the poems, I recalled the magnetic cutout. I wanted to use it on the cover of the box enclosure in some way but I also decided to scan the cutout, scale it down and eventually decided to use it as a kind of “logo” for the book, both on the cover of the book’s enclosure as well as the cover of each individual poem.
So, that’s what I mean about being open to failure . . . even if one doesn’t get anything at all out of it, one has ruled out a possibility and learned more about your own project and yourself. And sometimes one is able to put one’s newfound knowledge to use in completely unexpected ways. As, for example, with discovering the type of materials that I wanted to use and a “logo” for the book.