How long will they last?

August 20, 1998|By Joanne P. Cavanaugh

Ediciones Vigia uses standard Cuban government-issued tan paper, which is easy to tear and highly acidic. Many of the books have a short shelf life: 50 years at the outset, though temperature and humidity control can help. Deterioration shows almost right away; some page edges are frayed and curled.

This concerns local book artist Jeanne Drewes, head of the preservation department at Johns Hopkins University. Drewes visited Cuba in May, one of several people to bring book-art supplies, including high-quality paper, to the artists.

Drewes, who is providing most of the books for the coming exhibit at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, has created a Web page that features a few of the designs (see box).

One afternoon, a few weeks after she got back from Cuba, Drewes sat in her studio in Baltimore surrounded by tiny scraps of paper and a dozen of her own finely crafted, hand-made books.

On her desk are the possible makings of a Cuba book: a 10-peso Cuban note, a seed pod from a tree at Ernest Hemingway's estate outside Havana, flattened beer labels, tiny hotel soap dishes and a Cohiba cigar label. She talks like an artist and a librarian.

"Some art is made to deteriorate. That's part of its 'art'-fulness," Drewes says. "That deterioration is like the stages of life; is that good or bad? It's sad. But as a preservation librarian, my goal is not to keep things forever, but to keep things as long as they are needed. Is eternal youthfulness in our society that right-minded? It's not real."

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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