Vol. 13. No. 2
Fall 2003

The world is a marketplace - thus goes the song.
At close of market, in a sombre light,
Our feet will lead the way
Homewards, when eyes have closed for ever
On the next market day, and the indigo throng
Of all orisa wait to lead
Each seeker by the hand, into that last sanctuary
Across the arch of shadows.

Wole Soyinka

Red Butte Press interprets a Nobel laureate's words of art.

Forget about hastily composed e-mails printed on multi-use office paper. Put away the dog-eared paperbacks, the hardcovers with bindings that crack on a first reading, and the audio "books" shrink-wrapped in plastic.

Instead, hold a letterpress-printed, limited edition of Red Butte Press's exquisite Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known, and you'll remember what a gift the written word can be.

While the Marriott Library becomes increasingly wired (and wireless), one corner of the building remains dedicated to a decidedly less modern form of information sharing. Tucked away on the fifth floor, the Red Butte Press prints rare books by letterpress, making available writing inspired by history, as well as works from powerful writers, past and present. Housed within the Rare Books Division, the Press is dedicated to keeping alive the age-old craft of bookmaking. While high technology is used in various phases of production, the philosophy that guides Red Butte publications is the production of low-tech works of art.

In July 2002, the Press undertook the Samarkand project, which, says Madelyn Garrett BA'82 MA'90, curator of the Rare Books Division and its Book Arts Program, is one of its most beautiful and elegant creations to date. "All fine press works are beautiful," she says, "and this book is one of the finest we have ever done."

Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known is a poem by Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, a man of multiple talents. Poet, playwright, dramatist, professor of comparative literature, actor, and novelist, Soyinka was also held as a political prisoner   at various times during the Nigerian Civil War and eventually exiled for his political views. He currently holds an endowed chair at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).

Soyinka uses the marketplace of Samarkand, located in central Asia on the ancient Silk Road, as a metaphor to explore the differences and interactions of people in the great marketplaces of the world. He speaks both to the future and to the past, writing frankly of contrasting ideas and moods, and the quality of human exchange. He touches on controversial issues, such as religion, politics, and social interactions, while continuing to "celebrate the potential of the human spirit."

The International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML), seeking a publication partner for Samarkand , chose Red Butte Press because of the high quality and precision of its letterpress printing. IIML's Rainmaker Editions published it, and Victoria Hindley BA'90, creative director of Red Butte Press and the Book Arts Program, was responsible for the concept, design, typesetting, and direction in every step of its creation. She studied Samarkand intently, reading it "about 60 times," she says, until she had an understanding of the mood and movement of the poem. She developed an overall concept, noting that every aspect of the project, from the text font to the illustrations, is tied to the poet's words. "Being allowed to work with a craft that has such a rich tradition and to combine it with the stature of a Nobel laureate truly is amazing," says Hindley.

Hindley and Garrett credit Greg Thompson, director of Special Collections at the Marriott Library, with having the vision to bring the project to Red Butte Press. "He gave me total freedom to create," says Hindley.

For Samarkand, Hindley researched hundreds of typefaces, ultimately selecting two for their sharpness, angularity, and tension, and subtle allusions to Cyrillics and Arabic script.

For the illustrations and cover, she chose colors that captured the ambiance of the Central Asian marketplace and the semblance of early art. In ancient times, the first paragraph of each transition in a poem was printed in red. To recreate that look, Hindley chose a muted shade of red for the transitioning paragraph, which adds an artistic element to the pages of solid text.

The text is printed flush to the inside margin on each page, right and left, which gives the pages a ragged outer edge, thus causing an illusion of movement--perhaps the journey of a caravan weaving its way toward the market. "Finding a way to express the words through this artistic device is exciting," says Hindley.

There are 26 lettered and 399 numbered copies of the book. The covers of the numbered books are of handmade Japanese paper, a reddish cinnamon in color. The lettered editions are covered in rich avocado green suede and housed in clamshell boxes of dark purple fabric. All the books are printed on heavy French paper, bound in a modern rendition of a Coptic-style binding that dates back to the earliest days of bookbinding, using silk thread sewn onto brass rods.

An international search produced the artists engaged in the making of Samarkand , selected for their expertise and craftsmanship in the respective areas of production. Robert Kleinschmidt, U of U emeritus professor of art and noted printmaker, did the illustrations. "His work is truly inspiring. It underscores the contrasts in the poem as it moves from 'past to present, trade and holy places, saints and salesmen,'" says Hindley.


It’s time to raise the rafters, time
To chant the primal sanctity of man
Beyond coarse politics, beyond meagerness
Of race and faith, time to disinherit
Nationhood, episcopacies - we declare
This questing biped heir to cosmic legacies
Who kills for love of god kills love, kills god,
Who kills in name of god leaves god
Without a name.

Wole Soyinka

Kleinschmidt produced four woodcut illustrations: two four-color, one three-color, and one two-color, for a total of 13 separate woodcuts. The frontispiece, a four-color illustration, necessitated five runs--one for each color and one for black. Given the labor-intensive nature of production, it's no wonder that it took five weeks to print the book.  

Samarkand was letterpress printed using photopolymer plates on a Vandercook 15-21 press located in the Book Arts Studio. The printer was John Balkwill, a printmaker and artist who operates The Lumino Press in Santa Barbara, Calif. "He practically lived here for those five weeks," comments Hindley.

Daniel Kelm, a bookbinder and founder of The Wide Awake Garage and the Garage Annex School in Easthampton, Mass., was selected as the binder.

Studio manager Marnie Powers-Torrey MFA'01 and artist Antonia Nelson BA'98, who assisted Balkwill with the printing, were also involved with the project from beginning to end.

Samarkand in its finished form was unveiled in April 2003 at a celebration held in Las Vegas, Nev. When Soyinka was asked to read a selection from his poem, his admiration for the Red Butte edition was such that he insisted on reading from it.

And how does Thompson view the results? "From my perspective, it gave our Book Arts Program, and particularly our Red Butte Press, the opportunity to gain international attention for what I think are our world-class abilities," he says. "We have achieved a nice level of recognition for the work Victoria and Madelyn have done on this book."

--Nettie Bagley-Pendley is Continuum editorial assistant .