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Jan Bohuslav Sobota died on May 2nd of 2012 and this is my remembrance of this fine man who was a friend and mentor to me. Each autumn, salmon return to the rivers of their birth a€“ there to spawn and once again trigger a renewal of the eternal passion play. Salmon that do eventually arrive at their destinations must once again compete a€“ this time for mates and to fight for access to the precious and very limited gravels. The profligate expenditure of life and extravagant wealth of biology is there everywhere to behold, as Death dances lightly among the gathering throngs of fish, picking and choosing from among them; who from their number shall successfully spawn and who shall just be food for the gathering predators and scavengers. Spend a day in silence, walking among the spawning salmon, as they dig spawning redds, jockey for position and slash at competitors with those gaping, snaggletoothed, hooked jaws. Jan Bohuslav Sobota has died, while half a world away; I was preparing these etchings of Spawned Salmon and dedicating them to Jan, the lover of fish. The book you hold in your hands has evolved from my simply giving these etchings a second life in book form, to my using them as a vehicle for honoring a friendship of three decades. In 1985, Jan and I had been corresponding for some months without ever meeting a€“ all quite distant and correct. A short bit of background on Jan Sobota to begin, but fear not; Ia€™ll soon be spinning anecdotes and thoughts on books as art a€“ celebrating Jana€™s life of course, telling a few stories out of school, but also straying into the personal and speculative in search of the meaning to be derived from the life and death of a friend. Jana€™s father was a serious bibliophile and collector of fine books, who nurtured that same love of books in his son a€“ an appreciation that steadily grew, until he was apprenticed to master bookbinder Karel A ilinger in PlzeA?. The pivotal event in Jana€™s early life as a book artist was the posthumous retrospective exhibition of fellow Pilsener, Josef VA?chal in 1969. Jan supported a family, sponsored workshops, exhibited widely, did conservation work on rare historic books, ran a gallery a€“ and on it went.
What Jan did for contemporary bookbinding, was to act as a bridge between the traditionally trained masters of the past and innovators of the present. America was a great place to be a book artist in the early 1980a€™s precisely because it was an active zone of hybridization and hotbed of creativity.
An instructive contrast to the anything-goes US scene was the icy reception I got when I showed a wooden box containing loose sheets of poetry and etchings to a Prague publisher. Neither Jan nor I had much interest in the book-like objects that often sneak into the museums as book arts a€“ the carved and glued together things that sorta, kinda have a bookish aspect to them a€“ rough-looking a€“ perhaps chain-sawed Oaken boards or granite slabs, slathered in tar and lashed together with jute; but lacking text. When Jana€™s books went beyond function, conservation or decoration, they were subtle statements about binding and the place of books, knowledge and art, as well as statements about the dignity inhering in the handcrafted - with a good dose humor. There are others who know their conservation and those, whose scientific contributions are far greater, but few of them are also artists at heart. It can sound so pedestrian, these eternal compromises between art and craft, yet what Jan represented was not at all common. There is an inflection point at which exceptional craft begins to make the transition to art and it is closely associated with surmounting the limitations inhering to the discipline. Visiting with Jan in his workshop you quickly realized, that he did what a professional must, but ultimately, he just loved messing about with books. A curiously protean hybrid of artist and craftsman, ancient and modern, one cannot think of Jan without seeing an unabashed Czech patriot in a foreign land. Early on in their stay in Cleveland, the Sobotas experienced the quintessential American disaster. Even after their medical debts were retired, money was still an issue for a family of immigrants with three kids a€“ two with special needs. Later on, when they were living in Texas, the massacre at Waco opened Jana€™s eyes to yet another difficult side of his adopted home. In 1979, I apprenticed with Jindra Schmidt, an engraver of stamps and currency, living in Prague. Schmidt had engraved stamps for Bulgaria, Iraq, Ethiopia, Albania, Guinea, Vietnam and Libya.
In 1992, Jindra Schmidt was honored for his contributions and depicted on the last stamp of a united Czechoslovakia, before it split into Czech and Slovak republics a€“ a fitting tribute. Unlike most children of immigrants, my destiny remained connected to that of my parentsa€™ homeland.
My vocation as artist clarified itself in Prague while learning the increasingly obsolete skills of steel engraving. My first book was indeed, modeled after VA?chal, even to the extent of its diabolical subject matter.
Jan showed me a great deal in the following years about the tradition of books as the meeting place of art, craft and ideas a€“ where printmaking intergrades seamlessly with the worlds of language, typography and illustration. One can like these things just fine and admire them from an uncomprehending distance, or you can become engaged.
The book you hold was to have been a simple reprint of the Spawned Salmon a€“ something fun for Jan to work his magic upon.
Nice sentimental reminiscences, but there is still the matter of getting the work accomplished and out before the public, organizing exhibitions, printing catalogs and paying for transatlantic flights. The Prague show was reconfigured and curated by Jana€?s longtime friend, Ilja A edo, for exhibition at the West Bohemian Museum in PlzeA?. Quite predictably, I like seeing the kind of work I do honored a€“ the wood engravings and etchings made to shine in the context of crisply printed type and an excellent binding. Ia€™ve heard printmakers lament that the surest way to devalue prints is to add excellent poetry, sensitive typography and a bang-up binding a€“ and then live to see the whole thing sell for half the price of just the unbound prints.
Therea€™s nothing quite like seventeenth century Bohemia, the dead center of Europe, for particularly thorough violence a€“ with the Bubonic Plague stepping in afterwards as mop-up crew. The chapel at Sedlec was rebuilt after the major blood-letting of the thirty-years war as a memento mori a€“ reminder of death.
What can you say about the mounds of dead, the ruined lives, destroyed nations and misery multiplied by millions that isna€™t trite or self-evident? But then I pan over to other fields a€“ not the kind where the grass is composting my fellow man, but to fields of endeavor where the ferment is of ideas recombining into ever more refined ways of thinking.
I once lived at the Golem house in Prague a€“ at Meislova ulice, number 8, in the old Jewish ghetto. Horoscopes might seem a curious basis on which to select ministers and diplomats, but it is also more common than youa€™d think.
Picture the scene before you: Ita€™s a late night in Prague, before the Marlboro man dominated every street corner, even before the neon of casinos and the vulgarity of Golden Arches assaulted the nightwalkersa€™ eyes at all hours a€“ back when darkness, oh yes, that beautiful comforting velvety, all-enveloping and blessed dark, broken only by the moon, stars and late night taxis, still ruled the streets after the sun went down. The Golem was a mythic being of Jewish folklore, created from clay and quickened by the Shem, a magical stone engraved with an ancient Hebraic inscription, inserted into Golema€™s forehead. The maternal tongues of these small nations have miraculously survived all the invasions, floods, plagues and foreign occupiers to this day a€“ a gift preserved and delivered to them across the generations. Minority languages, on the other hand, carry an emotional load that can scarcely be exaggerated.
Ishi and his sister were the last of the Yahi tribe to survive the genocidal colonization of California.
Those whose language and culture are not threatened can never know the burden under which the carriers of small minority languages labor a€“ nor how those in exile bring up their children to preserve that which is beyond their capacities to save. Jan was all about preserving traditions and the kind of ancestral knowledge that today is mostly enshrined in books. Today, the stories of our tribes are less and less passed on as oral tradition and most often read to us from the childrena€™s books wea€™ve learned to treasure a€“ illustrated by fine artists and produced with care for the highly discriminating purchasers of childrena€™s books a€“ for grandparents. A?epelA?k employed binders and typesetters to present complete suites of his work and in this too, he introduced me to a new world. Later in Prague I missed my flight back, due to the World Trade Center bombing and was delayed by a week.
The difficult thing to bear in acknowledging my teachers, models, heroes, suppliers and inspirations, is that these masters of the crafts and industries surrounding and supporting the book arts are mostly deceased. The fruit we seek is not fast food, but laden with full-bodied flavors, attained by slow natural processes. All of us come from grandfathers who once were wheelwrights, cobblers or instrument makers; men with a profound love of wood and leather, who knew the working qualities of every kind of obscure tree growing in their countryside a€“ men who knew when to reach for elm or hickory a€“ as well as for goat, dog or even fish-skins. Jan spoke fondly of his grandmother, who baked bread every week of the year to feed an entire estate a€“ farm hands, livery people, gentry, trainers and hod-carriers alike. Working consciously is the ultimate goal a€“ and that is the legacy youa€™ll find evidently contained within and upon the boards of every book bound by Jan Bohuslav Sobota. The etchings you see here first came to life as illustrations for the wedding anniversary announcements of MA­la and Jaroslav KynA?l. Jan Bohuslav Sobota died on May 2nd of 2012 and this is my remembrance of this fine man who was a friend and mentor to me.A  He was an exceptional bookbinder, teacher and promoter of the book arts, but also an exile who successfully returned home after years abroad.
I love those videos in which a sky full of clouds above a picturesque landscape is shown in fast-forward. I get that same feeling listening to Buskin and Batteau sing the title track of their 2009 release, Red Shoes and Golden Hearts.


David and Robin have conducted the introductions: a€?Exceptional intelligencea€¦ meet classical training. David and Robin were part of a Sunday evening group concert in Connecticut in mid-September They would be at rehearsals during the afternoon, but would talk during a€?down time.a€? We set up a phone interview to find out what their life paths would reveala€¦ Succinctly, it's been one hell of a ride. And then I got into folk music in high school, basically because a lot of girls were into it. From April 1963 to September 1964, a network TV show called Hootenanny featured pop-oriented folk music. Later on, a different coincidental event occurred where David went to a concert to see Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Allman Brothers and Appaloosa, a band that Robin was in. After David got out of college, he was drafted and ended up in Army entertainment doing shows for the troops from the fall of 1966 to the fall of 1968. When he was around 8 years old, around 1956, Robin was on a trip with his family driving through the Adirondacks.
Once, Dee Dee called to ask, a€?Do you want to get together and sight-read some classical music? Robin left Harvard after his junior year, because his father died and the family was broke.
After the band made two albums, Robin's mother found a well-paying job doing translations for the Boston court system and Robin was able to go back to school.
Back at Harvard, he said, a€?I took a wonderful writing course with Kurt Vonnegut.a€? He remembers Kurt as a wise, generous man who, the more successful he got, the more he tried to give back to others. Pierce Arrow toured and opened for many big acts -- The Kinks and The Doobie Brothers among them. Things went well from there until one of the band members dove into a pool during an after-gig party and hit his head, breaking his neck.
By then, David and Robin discovered that they were having more fun playing Everly Brothers songs backstage than they were doing the act onstage. The steps that occurred in the formation of David and Robin plus Marshall Rosenberg into a full act is a testament to the generosity and flexibility of Tom Rush. The beginning of the end for Buskin & Batteau started when they were booked as the closing act at the first-ever Friday night show at the Newport Folk Festival. Robin did get involved with Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which supports children with with incurable cancer and blood diseases. Now they've both realized that the most important thing is the love of making music together. David and Robin were part of a Sunday evening group concert in Connecticut in mid-SeptemberA  They would be at rehearsals during the afternoon, but would talk during a€?down time.a€? We set up a phone interview to find out what their life paths would reveala€¦ Succinctly, it's been one hell of a ride.
There they encounter resident trout and bass a€“ even sunfish, chubs and dace, all keyed into the increasingly plentiful and highly nutritious bounty of salmon eggs. Situated 90A km south-west of Prague at the confluence of four rivers, PlzeA? is first recorded in writings from the tenth century. That vision was about innovation and creativity within the context of an historical tradition. This is what youa€™ll see in a Sobota binding a€“ exceptional attention paid to context and relationships, using materials and technical means that do indeed function and last. He knew his work was valuable and documented it fastidiously a€“ confident that it would be last. There was, however, nothing about his nationalism that demeaned anybody elsea€™s traditions or origins. That smallish incident within the parade of American fringe politics elicited an insanely violent level of suppression. Masaryk a€“ and the cute little girl with a bouquet of flowers, is my mother Eva, at the age of three. Schmidta€™s income from the federal mint far exceeded anybody elsea€™s in the extended family and supported a network of cars, cottages and rent-controlled flats. Schmidt, as he preferred to be called, was a man of conservative demeanor who preferred polite and reserved forms of speech and address. While visiting their unassuming engraver and extending my tourist visa 30 days at a time, I was quietly becoming qualified for life as a counterfeiter a€“ a vocation within which, one is set for life, however it may eventually turn out.
Jan allowed several binders to have their way with it a€“ amo boxes for slipcases with shell casings for hinges and so forth. This next incarnation of our exhibit in PlzeA? was all just a bit more prosaic and provincial. Is it the binding we consider and exhibit a€“ or is the binding there to conserve a text, which is ultimately the point? There are also binders to whom everything else is merely the text block, who care little if it is an offset trade edition or a book made by hand. The tales therein recorded reflected the accreted wisdom and wit of a people as they retold them across the highlands in modest log cottages after the harvest was in. The way of working belongs to the Sobota vision I addressed earlier a€“ the honor and soul to be found in conscientiously made handcrafts. I dona€™t feel that accomplished or ready to assume their mantle and yet with every generation that is what must happen.
Gravels, with just the right flow of fresh water running up through stones of the right size are but a tiny portion of the riverbed.A  The salmon must struggle past cities and sewer pipes, farms and irrigation systems, dams and turbines, fishermen and waterfalls a€“ just to reach the streams of their birth. I noticed that if I bought a turtleneck and and learned how to play the guitar and went down to Greenwich Village on the weekends, there would be a lot of young women down there. David characterizes it as a€?the nanosecond in recorded time that folk music was a viably commercial enterprise.a€? The show used college students for its studio audiences.
Marshall Rosenberg, their percussionist, was also in that same audience (none of the three had met each other). After he got out of the military, he had written a song called a€?When I Need You Most of All, and approached Lou Levy, the father of a friend who was highly connected in the music business. He says, a€?The band sucked, but I got to meet Robin.a€? Percussionist Marshall Rosenberg was also in Pierce Arrow, so this is where the core of their current act met. As an adult, Harold was the subject of a€?Butterflies Are Free.a€? first a book, then a Broadway play and then a movie. Robin went to the school cafeteria where he encountered George, who gave a proprietary greeting, just as the jukebox started playing a€?Please, Please Me,a€? by the Beatles. Robin figured,in a naive 60's way, that he'd form a band, get a record contract and support the family. Kurt once offered financial help (eventually unneeded) to Robin's younger brother who was having financial difficulties. They were the middle act between Blood, Sweat & Tears and The Allman Brothers, so The Allman Brothers at that point was the warm-up act for Appaloosa. Warnings of a huge hurricane, perhaps the biggest ever, scared everyone away, and they wound up with no audience. This widely beloved stamp was re-issued in 2000 and mother continues to receive philatelic fan mail to this day. He died the day I was composing a colophon for the Spawned Salmon with words of praise for his lifea€™s work. After they teamed up, they wrote a€?The Heart of the Audience,a€? a song about that concert. The Everly Brothers' a€?Bye, Bye, Lovea€? came on the radio and Robin got so excited that he started turning the wheel side to side, almost taking the family over a cliff.
He also wrote his autobiography, To Race the Wind, which was made into a CBS-TV movie in 1980. Marshall joined the band, got David into the band as well and it became the start of Pierce Arrow.
At a 4th of July show opening for Aerosmith, the audience began throwing firecrackers at them. However, the break in momentum destroyed the band's relationship with the record company causing record promotion and band morale to go downhill.
David asked his friend if Robin could do half the set and then they'd do a couple of songs together.
This paid extremely well and, begun as a sideline, had started to become their main endeavor. He describes it as a€?Neo-folk, written with tears running down my face, for Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, sung with the help of Judy Collins and Rachele Cappelli and a choir of campers.a€? It's available for download from CD Baby and all proceeds go to the Camp. They were both entering a period in life where the gaps in their responsibilities seemed to offer another chance to work together. The engraving was masterfully done by Schmidta€™s long-dead colleague, Bohumil Heinz (1894-1940). The state security apparatus was surely aware of my presence, but if they kept tabs on me, I never knew.


Taking lessons while kids outside were playing ball left him "really torn,a€? he says. I saw all the luminaries of that period, including Billie Holiday.a€? At the same time, the Long Player format or a€?LPa€? with a full a€?albuma€? of songs took prominence over the smaller 45rpm singles everybody used to collect in the 50's. After high school, David attended Brown University, and while there, he was in one of those of student audiences.
Levy replied, a€?They've just broken upa€¦ pick one!a€? David picked Mary, and Levy arranged for them to meet. It was here that a series of auspicious connections started and continued through his life. During his career as a lawyer, Krents worked hard to expand legal protection for the handicapped.
Robin told George to knock it off because everyone swore after suffering through that humiliation their first year that they wouldn't engage in this practice. Robin says, a€?My backbone lit up, and I thought, 'This is my music.' That moment of odd juxtaposition became Robin's rock 'n roll epiphany.
The orchestra was faculty-organized and contained a number of prestigious a€?funa€? players.
David's daughter had just started college and Robin's son was approaching college-age also.
Everything is just so wonderful and everybody so creative, but suspending judgment long enough to actually look at some artwork and then giving it a chance isna€™t so bankrupt, is it? Human body parts are again flying and the Baron is at his best defeating Turks and evading friendly fire from buffoonish generals. Farmers would occasionally find their possessions and take them as souvenirs, unaware that the last Indians still lived in their midst. Damn the cost; ita€™s who we are and the last material vestiges of soulful encounters with our elders a€“ onea€™s whose stories are slipping inexorably away, thinned by each passing year and generation.
Their kids were grown and they were by then slipping into that last, reflective phase of life a€“ done competing.
Circumstances led to the group's dissolution through the 90's, but they stayed in touch and recently started working together again full-time. However, he was still immersed in classical music, spending more time playing the violin, learning concertos, playing with the orchestra. One was a friend from Andover, a top-notch clarinet player, a€?Dee Deea€? Pei, Dee Dee's father was famous architect, I.M Pei. These guys are alive!a€? [and wanted to stay that way] After they were greeted with obscenities opening for Jerry Garcia, for the following gig they decided to play all their songs quickly in succession to prevent the boo-birds from gaining a foothold.
He also co-wrote a€?All Aboard Americaa€? for Amtrak and did jingles for numerous other clients.
These scraps turned out to be a deck of medieval playing cards - the second oldest such cards known. A book is so much more than the sum of its parts a€“ and yet each of us tends to have our own bailiwick in which we shine and to which we look first. What kept him going was that he discovered that he could play songs from the radio, an activity the teacher a€?highly disapproved of.a€? a€?She called it a€?junk,a€™a€? he recalls, a€?but I didn't care.
We wondered aloud a€?what ifa€? a counterpart had been able to do something similar before he initiated the Iraq War. Another was John Adams -- an even better clarinetist -- who would become a Putlizer Prize-winning minimalist composer. These plates have been inked and wiped by hand, employing methods that woulda€™ve been familiar to Rembrandt.
Once I learned, at 7 or 8 years old, that I could figure out the chords of the songs, then I was hooked. Once, a friend from camp called to invite him to play at a chamber music party at her house in Stamford, Connecticut.
Robin recalled, a€?He was like a lot of other kids at Andover, who were children of very successful people, who could never live up to the expectations of their fathers. They were asked to perform at Woodstock, but, due to an overly crowded roster, they were dropped via a last minute phone call. After a few shows, David and Robin asked Tom if they could play a couple of their own songs. Robin put his music career on hold, entering a a€?semi-retirement.a€? For the next 13 years, he and David would get together once or twice a year to play at charity events, but that was the extent of Robin's participation. Once I learned, at 7 or 8 years old, that I couldA  figure out the chords of the songs, then I was hooked.
They crashed with my wife Jana and me in Kalamazoo, while taking the a€?orientation coursea€?nearby. I can confidently report back to my English reader, that Jan would only grow in stature for you, if you could have fully understood the subtlety of his thoughts in his own maternal tongue.
I wasn't getting a lot of it right, but it was good enough for me.a€? I told him that I wished that I coulda€™ve done that, and he immediately tried to assure me that I still could. An a€?old fat guya€? who lived next door came over with his clarinet case and opened it and asked if he could sit in. They would never know achievement at that level and thus never have the love and respect of their fathers because they could never be as great. Get off!a€? One particular fan in the back was especially abusive and, finally Robin lost it. Perhaps right for those who shouldna€™t have sharp objects, for fear of hurting themselves. That show was purchased whole by Special Collections at Western Michigan University and constitutes the largest collection of Sobota bindings and the most complete archive of my work. Later, he met Peter Yarrow and a€?Paula€? Noel Stookey, got to know them well and wrote songs for them also.
They were a€?nicea€? kids and said a€?OK.a€? He played the Mozart Clarinet Quintet and was very good, but would end phrases in an unclassical way, playing the last note a little too forcefully. That worked so well, that Tom said, a€?Why don't the three of you play as my opening act and then play as my band?a€? It was enormous fun and became the set-up for all of Tom's shows.
That worked so well, that Tom said, a€?Why don't the three of you play as my opening act and then play as my band?a€? It was enormous fun and became the set-up forA  all of Tom's shows. Few people would have cast a second glance at that glued-up mess of moldering old papers before pitching it, nor would they have recognized what they had in hand or known how to restore or sell it.
The nice part of it is, he continued, a€?is that any time you learn anything new it gives you that same kick. These folks were a profound blessing to a family facing some truly rough sailing a€“ a Godsend. Schmidt had worked was signed with warm dedications to him and thus worth real money to collectors. He wanted to see the printmaker in me come to full fruition and I wanted to be worthy of his attentions. The family has dwelled within sight of the seats of power, pushing copper plates through a press and outlived the Hapsburg Monarchy, First Republic, Nazis and Communists. The intact packages were still there on their shelves, all duly graded, labeled and priced, awaiting an owner who was never to return. Back home, their Czech neighbors would have envied them and accused them of theft or worse, but people here seemed to be pleased as punch to see them prosper a€“ genuinely happy for them. Those items too, kept trickling out the door, until there came a sad, sad day, when the golden eggs were all gone.
Get your ass up here and I'll beat the shit out of you!a€? The rest of the crowd waited a few beats and then yelled, a€?Yeah!
They bashfully admitted their foolishness and went back to making beautiful books a€“ and their American friends were so relieved to see them regain their sanity. You take time to grieve and then pick yourself up by your bootstraps (by God a€“ get a grip) and get on with it (Rome wasna€™t built in a day you know). StrejA?ek was still working, but it was all coming to an inevitable end, as he grew shaky of hand and hard of seeing. Enriched by my days of being nurtured by Prague, Matkou MA›st (Mother of Cities), I moved on to meet my destiny with art.



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