Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Black Cat Press : Chicago—A. Raymond Katz

Love Poems of an Artists Model by Irene Browne, 1935, The Black Cat Press, Chicago. Letterpress. 4.75 inches x 6.75 inches. Introduction by C. J. Bulliet with illustrations by A. Raymond Katz. Pictured above is the cover and title pages.

This lovely little letterpress book was in the collection of the late artist Norman Matheis (1926-2009) and was given to me recently by Norm’s wife Shirley. Norm was a good friend and my painting professor in college. The book, which is hand-printed and hand-bound, comprises 52 pages. The typography is beautifully crafted and two wonderful surprises within the book are the one-color wood engravings by the artist A. Raymond Katz (Sándor). The publication’s colophon page provides this information:

The Love Poems of an Artists Model in this first edition is limited to 150 copies of which 75 have been signed for subscribers. Printed on L’Aiglon by George C. Domke from Linotype Granjon set by Rutherford B. Udell. The script typeface is Ludlow Mayfair Cursive. Design and Typography by Norman W. Forgue
Letterpress printing and metal type in recent years has developed a relatively small but ardent following and this book of poetry should cultivate interest for letterpress enthusiasts. Chicago designer and typographer Norman Forgue (1904-1985) founded Black Cat Press in 1932 and it disbanded in 1974.

Forgue was a printer who produced many important publications. This is what Rhodes Patterson writes in his essay about Chicago and Ludlow Typograph Company type designer Robert Hunter Middleton, “In a neat little book, Chicago Letter Founding, published by Black Cat Press in 1937, Middleton led off with a typical matter-of-fact disclaimer regarding such ambitions: ‘The art of letter founding has never excited the interest of Chicago historians, but enthusiasts of the Typographic Arts who delight in the boast that Chicago is the printing center of the nation might be willing to consider the manufacturing of typefaces as a worthy contribution to the city’s reputation.’”[1]

A nice correlation is that Ludlow’s Mayfair Cursive typeface was designed by Middleton in 1932 and was used by Forgue to produce the titles in this piece.

Not much is known about the poet Irene Browne. Clarence Joseph (“C.J.”) Bulliet, art critic for The Chicago Daily News wrote in the book’s introduction that Irene Browne came from a small Iowa town and ran away at age 15 to join the circus as an unsuccessful trapeze performer. However she eventually became the favorite artist’s model at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and for many Chicago artists and photographers. She started modeling perhaps sometime during the late 1920s and worked through the 30s, and presumably the 40s. Reviewing Browne’s poetry Bulliet explains, “Irene’s poetical musings were sometimes bitter and cynical—with a very young Puritan’s cynicism. …. But remember that when she wrote it, Irene was only recently a small town girl out in Iowa, and she was shuddering at her own sin in posing nude for artists and for art.”

In her first poem titled “Artist Model” Browne suggests that society scorns the nude model for indecency yet admires the artist’s work created from the pose.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Browne’s poem—
I am a model.
I flaunt my sins
In the faces of you
Who would turn your heads
At such so-called shame.
  1. Patterson, Rhodes. “A Summing Up.” RHM, Robert Hunter Middleton, The Man and His Letters. Ed. Bruce Beck and Bruce Young. Chicago: The Caxton Club, 1984. 75-76. Print.

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