Wednesdays with Arthur: Reflections from the Jaffe Center for Book Arts

Why the name? I’m going to pretend here that I’m always writing on or about Wednesday, since that is the day I am usually at the collection.  And, ok, I have never read Tuesdays with Morrie, but the blurb says “Mitch shares Morrie’s lasting gift with the world.” so the borrowing seems like a fitting title for my JCBA blog.

I can’t remember what year my volunteer gig at the Center began – (oh gosh, it was 2002!) it was certainly before the current redesigned space which was developed in 2006.  But this picture is evidence of what my association has meant to me. In it I am about to write about a new book in the collection, a book of Emily Dickinson’s poems, and I’m saying to Arthur (I really remember this moment) how absolutely remarkable it is that I have this opportunity.  We both agree that it is a “nes,” the Hebrew word for miracle.

The poems this artist chose to illustrate are not the most well-known of Dickinson’s work; they are sly, abstruse, marvelous.  I am a New Englander by birth, education and inclination. As one of the two great origin-founts of America poetry (Walt Whitman is the other in case you were wondering), Emily Dickinson writes in a voice with particular resonance for me.  And here is ME in Florida, given the opportunity to spend as much time as I want poring over this unique book with a real objective, to write about my experience of both its content and its book artistry. I’m in the right place at the right time, and it is Arthur who made this happen.

Now it’s years later, and Eric Bush, the Collection’s office manager, brings me two books new to the collection and I get the same feeling: the miracle of being able to handle, to open, to look into these special creations.

Both by the photographer/book artist Bea Nettles, they are evidence of her own interest in ‘collecting.’ And that brings me back to thinking about Arthur.  He used to say that he had no particular objective or category to fill in buying books: he just bought what he liked. Nettles, on the other hand, has a goal in mind: one book uses images of lovers’ hearts carved in trees to show the passage of time (and of love?), and the other uses an alphabet created from the lettering of surnames on gravestones to tell the story of Persephone, the dying and rebirth in the natural cycle of the year.  What a remarkable feat!

Forty Forevers by: Bea Nettles
Springs Victory – Kore Comes Back by: Bea Nettles

There is enough time and space in these books to tell stories from beginning to end.  Somewhere in the future, I used to tell Arthur, some scholar will be able to look at the collection and be able to see what he and I, close up and engaged, were unable to tell: the map of the mind of a marvelous collector, what he put in, what he left out, what he gave us.


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