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2001 Lieberman Lecture: Johanna Drucker


Drucker Delivers Lieberman Lecture

APHA Newsletter, Number 146Winter 2002

Drucker Delivers
ON SEPTEMBER 25, Johanna Drucker, Robertson Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, art historian and book artist, delivered the 2002 Lieberman Lecture in the Carmichael Auditorium of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.


Welcoming the approximately eighty attendees, thanking the organizers, and introducing the speaker were Mark Samuels Lasner, APHA Vice-President for Programs, and Nancy Gwinn, Director of the Smithsonian Libraries. Drucker’s lecture, entitled ‘Iliazd: The Poet-Publisher and the Art of the Book,’ was an overview of the artistic career of Ilia Zdanevich (1894–1975), and touched upon the subjects of the visual representations of language and the history of experimental poetry from the Russian Futurist movement at the beginning of the past century.


Drucker explored the work of the Georgian-born poet, printer and publisher, beginning and ending the talk with images from Iliazd’s Pirosmanachvili of 1972, to illustrate her vision of the artist: how each of his roughly three dozen works displayed the artist’s own personality and his technical virtuosity, despite the collaborative nature of bookmaking. A poet and artist with a printer’s training, Zdanevich found that the book format was the only means to convey his intellectual and aesthetic interests. e name of his imprint, 41 degrees, derived from the latitude containing what the artist considered to be the major cities of creativity in Europe and also the temperature at which delirium occurs in a body. The frontispiece of Pirosmanachvili, a portrait of Iliazd’s fellow Georgian artist Pirosmani, is by Picasso, who was a life-long friend and contributor to his productions. Other collaborators included such contemporary art figures as Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miro and Max Ernst.


Drucker first encountered Zdanevich’s work in 1972 while doing research in the Bibliothèque Jacques Doucet in Paris. ere she viewed Iliazd’s (a contracted form he began using in the late 1940s) seminal work Poesie de Mots Inconnus (1949), a volume Drucker came to realize was an inauguration of what she called his ‘mature phase.’ At that time in Paris, Drucker established a working relationship with Iliazd’s widow, Helene Zdanevich, maintainer of the artist’s memory, reputation and archives.


While Iliazd’s work does not rest in total obscurity, Drucker believes that it should be better known. She concluded that the artist occupied a position in the visual arts between the publisher and the book artist. His knowledge and deep immersion in typography, material, writing and illustration processes of his livres d’artistes come together in a single, consistent vision. Drucker intends one day to write a full-fledged biography of Iliazd.


The Lieberman Memorial Lecture is named for J. Ben Lieberman (1914–1984), who was APHA’s founder and first President. is event was co-sponsored by APHA; the Smithsonian Institution Libraries; the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress; and the Graphics Arts Collection of the Division of Information, Technology and Society, National Museum of American History, Behring Center.


Preceding the lecture, Stan Nelson of the Smithsonian Institution provided demonstrations and freewheeling discussions in the recreated mid-nineteenth-century type-founding shop in the Museum’s Hall of Printing and Graphic Arts. For more than two hours, he filed and polished letter punches and matrices and cast type while conversing with shifting groups of APHA members. Nelson showed his latest homemade type mold, which he based on English examples (particularly one he studied in Oxford) and has devoted hours of milling and filing to fine-tune. Other topics covered were ladles for pouring the molten metal and the various eighteenth- and nineteenth-century presses surrounding the workshop.


Concurrently, volunteers Franziska and Jim Walczak, proprietors of the Sycamore  Press, demonstrated letterpress printing on a Washington Press of about . e Walczaks had set wood type of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural exhortation with a wood block containing an image of a fireman’s hat, which was created especially for this occasion by Chris Manson of Rockville, Maryland. e posters they printed were handed out to those watching. Our thanks go to Nelson, who organized the hand press demonstration as well as the printing of the formal invitations to the lecture. 

Julia Blakely

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