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John M. Carrera is a printer, bookbinder, and artist who has taught and lectured extensively. He is the founder and proprietor of Quercus Press letterpress and bindery. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts.
My career as a book artist began with my student job as a custodian at Oberlin College. My freshman year I awoke at 5am every Saturday and Sundays to clean Mudd Library. (This was back in the days when they still had smoking lounges in the library.) Because a woman in cataloging noticed what a diligent worker I was, I was given a promotion to the book repair department. I loved my new job and soon discovered I knew how to make my own books.
My first artist's book was a watercolor book of trees literally sewn with dental floss onto an old set of shoelaces. I took a printmaking class taught by Sam Walker with whom I would later team up to make Putrefatti (which now resides in the Smithsonian Library). One of my classmates, Anna Hepler, printed a book as part of our class and I helped her to bind it. A fire started burning in me to print my own books. I had always planned to be a writer and to make artwork and becoming a book artist was a natural progression. After my graduation I co-taught the first Book Arts class at Oberlin with Sam Walker and Anna Hepler. I then did an internship at the Silver Buckle Press at the University of Wisconsin where I was able to letterpress print my first artist book under the press name "Quercus Press."
My first book on Amazon is Pictorial Webster's. It is a trade edition of a hand printed book printed from the original printing blocks used to make Merriam-Webster's Dictionaries of the 19th century. I spent three years in the basement of the Sterling Library at Yale University (just down the hall from the custodian break-room)organizing and staging the engravings for printing. On my quercuspress website I give a thorough history of the project and an 8 minute video of the making of the book.
I hope that Amazon readers will read the endmatter of the book that I title the "Pancreas." There is much discussion of the history of dictionary illustration, and an exploration of the source for creativity in our minds and how this book might be used to enhance one's creativity. There is also a glossary of terms pertaining to a yet-to-be-completed novel based upon the adventures of the little army man, Adam, who appears throughout Pictorial Webster's.
I purchased originally for my dad... but when it arrived my wife and I got it and realized THIS was a book we could gift to EVERYONE...the boss, the inlaws, grandma, families with kids who can't read... you can't go wrong. Pictorial Websters "tells the story" of times gone by via pictures--it's cool to flip the pages and explore! Then we searched and found the matching stamp set (for my wife's scrap-booking friends) and the Flash Cards (for our friends with kids) and now the holiday shopping is complete! Very cool idea that is timeless!
The book is called a Dictionary of Curiosities, but when I think of it, I call it a Dictionary of Visual Poetry; Every page represents an endless possibility for simultaneously forming visual, verbal, and sensory connections between the images themselves, the external and internal universe of the viewer, and the flow of time. The most prominent force behind the book is love. The evidence of the incredible love and respect towards each tiny image is fully evident in every gorgeously printed line, in the intricate labeling and positioning of the pictures and a prominent space each picture has on the page. These engravings could not have found a more skilled, masterful and knowledgeable person to work with them than the creator of the book. The second force is the combination of the intellectual integrity and universal accessibility which places this book in a unique realm where it can be read on every conceivable level of ability, academic erudition, historical knowledge, artistic prominence, and appreciation for the beautiful and the wonderful. The contents of the book infiltrate one's imagination, ask and answer questions, make connections, teach and inspire. When I hold this book in my hand, I feel like it's a miracle child of commitment, hard work, luck, providence and love. It is a special, special collection of pages.
In the Artist's introduction, a point is made that this book on the surface is an "unabridged visual reference book". Additionally, the reader is informed of an intent behind the images selected and arranged in order to spark a creative narrative in the mind of the reader. A dictionary that tells a story?
When I was 6, I received my first dictionary. I was disappointed because it was a child's dictionary. Over-sized, red covers, big printing and simple words however with nice illustrations. At 8 (after much begging), I received Webster's Concise Dictionary. A proper research tool filled with words I had never heard of in my short life! Finally, an adventure to discover new words!! And thus began my romance with Websters.
This new addition in Pictorial Form is really a gem! A fine emerald green and copper gilt cover entices me to open the book and seek out this new "narrative" that was sneaked in between the illustrations. I choose a page...... in G.
In the letter "G" I find a challenge. A Guard (En Guard!) swordsman is challenging a Grizzly Bear protected only by a Groined Arch. (Which is where I would want protection!). In "M" I find a family of Mammoths grazing on Mandrake being watched by Man (Java Man, Neanderthal, and Cro-Magnon). In "C" a rousing game of Chess is being played by a Cheetah and a Cheiroptera (Bat). My odds are on the bat....
Elsewhere in "S" a marsupial called a Sarigue is counting the Sails on a ship, and in "K" two Knights are outranked by a Kingfisher, a King Penguin, and a King Spider Crab. And in case you need to tie some knots, well just go to page 200 for a chart of 59 knots!!
In "&" (yes, that's ampersand...) I find plans for war!Read more ›
Dictionaries use a style of illustrations that all of us immediately recognize. These drawings were designed to illustrate words in the dictionary and were designed to convey information to the reader by assisting in the description of the word.
The illustrations in this book came from the original engravings that had been given to Yale University by the Merriam-Webster Company. Mr. Carrera has cleaned and restored the more than 1500 engravings and now presents them in the form of a bound book.
The result is a fascinating book that presents something that can be viewed as a historical link to our past, or simply as art in its own right. It's a book that you pick up and flip through the pages until you realize that you've spent an hour or two just looking, with perhaps just a bit of learning.
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This is an unimaginably rich treasure trove that you will treasure for its richness. I know I'll be spending alot of time poring over it, giggling, maybe even "tearing-up" a bit at the marvelously poetic visual juxtapositions. Get an extra one to give to a friend. I did.
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This is an amazing book! A stunning work of art? To me, it's a representation of creative genius. Five stars easily. I'd give it six if I could. This is better than a course in American and world history, and ten times as interesting! An exceptional gift for the person who thinks they have seen it all, thinks they know it all, or someone who wants to see it all. The design of the book also fuels the deeper content by forcing the images on the small pages to engage in dialogue. For that alone this would be an incredible achievement. The world class engravings from the original Webster plates are incredible. Thousands of the best engravings ever produced.
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