The advent of the computer age has prompted some pessimists and rabid futurists to predict the demise and even the death of the book as an enduring format. In this view, the book is seen as taking the same road to obsolescence as the illuminated manuscript did within the first fifty years of Gutenberg's printing innovation. It is significant that although many transformations and improvements have been made in the intervening 550 years, the underlying technology of the printed page remains basically the same. Now the computer, a radically new mode of communication, appears poised to bury the old. While such dire predictions may someday be realized (or not), as it stands today, quite the opposite is apparent: the publishing and bookselling industries seem healthier than ever; the computer has brought the power of publication design and paper publishing to the individual desktop; and, partly because of and in response to the computer, there has been an invigorating resurgence of interest in the book not simply as the messenger, but as the message. As the printer, book artist, and hand paper maker Peter Thomas observes:-
Whether because of the computer or in spite of it, Southeastern Wisconsin, like many other areas around the country, is experiencing a revitalization of interest in letterpress printing and the book arts, as manifested in recent years by the number and variety of book shows; the establishment of the Bad Water Book Club; the success of the Victory in Peace (VIP) Program in Racine to introduce inner-city children to literacy through the book arts; the influx of book artists and fine-press imprints to the region; and the introduction of new academic programs such as the Book Arts Workshop and FenWood Imprints at UWM. Indeed, members of the UWM community form a significant part of the region's book-arts renaissance, as demonstrated by the wide range of works on display here by UWM faculty and staff. Materials on exhibit represent the gamut of letterpress and book-arts expression, from the traditional, such as the conservation bindings of James Twomey, to the experimental, such as the multi-layered works of Lane Hall, Lisa Moline, and Dan Wang. The book has indeed been set free; the ancient codex form and Gutenberg's revolutionary techniques are being put to the service of expressive impulses that have traditionally been the province of sculpture, music, dance, and poetry. Each item on display is not merely a container for an idea, but the very idea itself as filtered through the experience of the individual artist.
This online exhibit is a slightly modified version of an exhibit originally created for display in the Special Collections Reading Room in Fall 1997.