Ladislav Hanka, “Remembering Jan Sobota”
Artist: Ladislsav Hanka (Kalamazoo, MI)
Title: Remembering Jan Sobota (2012)
Medium/technique(s): intaglio printed book bound in goatskin
Edition size: approximately 70
Number of pages: 36
Dimensions, open: 12 x 17 x 0.5 in
Dimensions, closed:12 x 8.5 x 0.5 in
Jan Bohuslav Sobota died in this past year. He was a seminal figure in the design binding aspect of the book arts. His passage was marked by posthumous shows and accolades in the US and Europe, including a lifetime achievement award by the Guild of Books Workers. This book is my tribute, from a friend and thirty yearlong collaborator. It is a hand-made book, done so as to echo the work of his own mentors and inspirations — time-honored masters of the book arts such as Josef Váchal, Jiří Šilinger and William Blake.
Jan died, as half a world away; I was preparing these etchings of spawned salmon and dedicating them to him — to the lover of fish. I imagined him playing with them, as a binder’s bonbon, binding them in eel or carp skins, but that was not to be. Like the spawned and dying salmon I’ve depicted here, Jan returned to the stream of his birth and has now finished out the cycle. He spent years in exile, out in the open seas and competing with the big fish, but there came a day when some internal compass took him unerringly back to the place where a specific freshet of cool water enters the vast ocean — the one with its very own taste and mineral composition that arises from his own home watershed. Like the salmon nearing the end of its life cycle, Jan too responded by turning upstream. He swam and swam, until he arrived back home. For him it had never been Cleveland or Dallas, but Loket, a gem of Czech gothic architecture, situated in an Oxbow of the River Ohře. There the flowing waters were balsam to Jan’s soul and comforted him in the years he had left.
Jan was a magnificent repository of historical book learning and a product of the still unbroken traditions of Central Europe. Apprenticing in Prague and Plzeň, he handled many a rare and ancient tome. It came out in his fanciful borrowing from historic styles of binding. Jan had eviscerated medieval incunabula and repaired cracking, moldy parchments. He knew them as a surgeon knows the human body, as a butcher knows meat. He brought all that to bear on his contemporary bindings — personal quirky and humorous works done with pizazz, using luscious and unexpected materials, alongside every trick an old master has up his sleeve. He also brought that knowledge to his students in North America and later to those who continued to cross the Atlantic and attend his workshops in Europe. He left behind countless followers and was thus critical in bringing about the American renaissance of the books that we now take nearly for granted.
The paper is the last of my treasured stash made by a dead Czech colleague (Zdeněk Král) and the binding is by a young man in Grand Rapids (Vernon Wiering). I come in somewhere between and speak Czech, so I’ve taken it upon myself to remember Jan with this volume printed completely from intaglio plates. I hope it measures up to its lofty goals and meets the standards of my own mentors among both, the quick and the dead — the primary one being Jan Sobota himself.