You know when you don’t realize you’ve got a fetish for something until you see it for the first time? Well, that was me a couple years ago when I attended my first ever CODEX, the bi-annual hand-made book fair, which is taking over Craneway Pavillion this February in Richmond, California. To be honest, till I visited the astoundingly fun fair, housing some of the worlds most beautiful handmade books from printers all over the world, I hadn’t really thought much about the art of the handmade book.
But then I got my hands on these awesome book earrings – made, I was told, from actual recycled 16th century monkish paper, and this giggle-tastic swoon-worthy teeny-tiny abridged, illustrated, POP UP Pride and Prejudice, which, naturally I keep under lock and key. And I became instantly and forever hooked on handmade book art.
The fair first is the brain/lovechild of Peter Koch, veteran typographer, printer and publisher, who, with his partner and paper conservator Susan Filter, traveled the world in search of other artisanal bookmakers, with a particular eye towards those from underrepresented countries in Latin America, North Africa, Asia and Australia. In 2005 they founded the CODEX Foundation in Berkeley, CA to “preserve and promote the hand-made book as a work of art” and the corresponding Fair and Symposium as a place to promote and bring together book artists and fine press printers from around the world. The first CODEX Book Fair and Symposium took place in 2007: held every two years and open to the public, the Fair is now held over four days, and boasts “180 exhibitors and almost 3,000 visitors,” and, according to the press release, is “THE LARGEST BOOK FAIR OF ITS KIND IN THE WORLD TODAY!” This year’s Fair hosts book artist exhibitors from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the United States. The corresponding Symposium, at $250 per head, hosts speakers and artists and attracts everyone from printers to librarians and collectors, and usually sells right out.
CODEX books are breathtaking works of art.
As they should be – a codex, the ‘modern’ bound, paginated book form that replaced the scroll and became popular with that titular title, the Bible, is made from paper, vellum, papyrus or parchment, handwritten or hand made, one at a time, exquisitely. And you can purchase collectible books and prints, priced anywhere from $20 to $3,500+. Funds from the fair produce a spectacular volume of commissioned essays regarding the state of book arts from a global perspective, high-quality images of books that have graced previous exhibits (the Book Art Object series), and this year, in honor of the 5th CODEX Symposium, the 10th anniversary of the CODEX Foundation, and the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius, Alchimie du Verbe, “the first ever CODEX Assembly-Exchange, a carefully curated collection of printed works from some of the finest book artists and printers in the world.”
Don’t let the ethereal beauty of these bookish arts fool you: CODEX invites you to talk to the authors and representatives from fine presses around the world (they’re very nice!) and even touch the pretty books. They’re collectibles, and art, but they’re accessible, and, most of all, they’re books. Check them out.
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