Book Arts: Writing on Stone(ware)

Monument for the Neolithic Tartaria tables, Tartaria, Romania

Monument for the Neolithic Tărtăria tablets, dated to 5500-5300 BC and discovered in 1961 at Tărtăria, Alba County, Romania by the archaeologist Nicolae Vlassa. The clay tables are associated with the Turdaş-Vinča culture and the Vinča symbols on them predate the proto-Sumerian pictographic script. The monument has been created near the discovery location. By Țetcu Mircea Rareș via Wikimedia Commons

We know the act of writing on clay tablets is an ancient practice. To date, the oldest that have been found are the unearthed at neolithic sites in modern-day Romania and Hungary. The three Tărtăria Tablets have been radio-carbon dated to 5500 BC and are thought to be evidence of proto-writing. For me, today’s post, is exciting to work on…for several reasons. Having been involved with Book Arts since the mid-1980s, it is high time I combined this art form with my favorite medium, clay. (If writing on clay interests you, check out Tom Trusky’s Idaho iPods, about a project based upon Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets.) For today’s post, though, I’d like to first unveil Forrest Snyder’s Ceramic Books, a beautifully designed and enticing site. He creates loose-leaf books which are presented as stacks, hangings, and objects. Pages overlap or drape over shelving and chunky cubes are stacked. Snyder’s pages are adorned with letters, words and images, and the ‘ink’ is a warm brown, which works well with the cream-colored clay. The pages may be stamped or printed; I’m not quite sure how it is done. Print appears on different portions of the page. “My books contain poetry, prose, and related images spanning many pages,” he states on his website. “I try to enhance my thoughts by the choice of materials and methods, the firing resulting in permanent artifacts, and the conditions of their existence – pages change over time,” he continues. These images of his ceramic books are breathtaking and it is such a pleasure to view his slide show. Another approach is shown on Chris Skinner’s Lestaret’s Blog. Here, you’ll find slipcast and slab-built book covers with very fine finish work. Skinner makes rubber moulds of old, embossed books, then replicates them in clay, highlighting textures, print, and designs with stains. The work must be painstaking and the results are

Plantin letterpress

Plantin letterpress type. By France3470 via Wikimedia Commons

perfection. Actually, I have a project I hope to begin working on in the near future: a porcelain book. The idea has been in the back of my mind for about a year and I’ve thought of it while I’ve made other things. I want to roll out thin sheets of porcelain, cut to size (maybe), tear a ‘deckle edge’ (definitely), dry very, very slowly (weighted), write with an underglaze pen, fire, then bind. The idea of writing on clay tablets thrills. The Book Arts field covers much terrain and there are many ideas to explore and projects to create using different clays and techniques. When I gave a workshop on bookbinding several years ago, I made a tiny book and I think I will also want to experiment with tiny clay books. If you would like to begin such projects using clay, too, you have many means available for writing on your ceramic pages. Underglaze pencils, pens, crayons and trailers are among the tools you could use. If you subscribe to Ceramics Daily, read this article by Robin Hopper to learn how to make your own. If you want to write or do detail work with gold, Kemper Tools sells a Gold Pen. The possibilities are endless and timeless.

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