Susan Howe and R. H. Quaytman, Tom Tit Tot 2014
In late 2014, the Library Council of The Museum of Modern Art will publish Tom Tit Tot, a collaborative project by the American artist R. H. Quaytman and the American poet Susan Howe. The most recent artist’s book issued by the Library Council, Tom Tit Tot brings together a series of sixty-seven poems by Susan Howe with design and artwork by R. H. Quaytman, the poet’s daughter.
Howe created the poems for Tom Tit Tot with slivers of typeset text extracted from her readings in American, British, and Irish folklore, poetry, philosophy, art criticism, and history. Beginning with copies of the source material, and including excerpts from the texts themselves and from surrounding footnotes, tables of contents, and marginalia, Howe cut out words and sentence fragments, then spliced and taped them together while retaining their typefaces, spacing, and rhythms. These re-collected images, formed into arrangements shaped both by control and by chance, were then transferred into letterpress prints.
Quaytman’s design for the book is inspired partly by the geographical atlases and histories of Emma Hart Willard (1787–1870), an American author, educator, and civil and women’s rights activist. For the frontispiece Quaytman created an artwork based on two of Willard’s visualizations of geography and history, Picture of Nations and Temple of Time. Quaytman’s frontispiece, also titled Temple of Time, was printed as a six-color silkscreen at Axelle Editions, Brooklyn; digitally at the Lower East Side Printshop, New York; and by letterpress at The Grenfell Press. Three more of Quaytman’s images, printed by letterpress at The Grenfell Press, are bound into the volume. One shows an unraveled knitted baby’s sock, and derives from a photoengraving in Thérèse de Dillmont’s Encyclopedia of Needlework, first published in 1886; the second shows a thumbprint on black paper; and the third is an abstract image taken from the artist’s frontispiece.
The text is hand-printed at The Grenfell Press in New York by Brad Ewing and Leslie Miller, who designed the volume with the poet and the artist. Brett Groves, Quaytman’s longtime printmaker and collaborator, worked closely with the artist to produce all of the images in Tom Tit Tot. The book, measuring 12 3/4 x 10 inches, is hand-bound in green Japanese buckram by Mark Tomlinson in East Hampton, Massachusetts. The deluxe edition is hand-bound in black leather by Claudia Cohen in Seattle.
Stamped in gold on the spine of Tom Tit Tot is an abstract pattern designed by Quaytman. Generated from a woodblock handmade by James Cooper, the pattern refers to the edges of the plywood panels used for the artist’s silkscreened and painted works.
Tom Tit Tot is printed in an edition of ninety-five copies, plus twenty artist’s copies. Each copy is signed and numbered. Eighty copies of the edition are reserved for members of the Library Council. A deluxe edition of twenty-six copies, plus four artist’s copies, features Quaytman’s print A Sketch of the Whole Complicated Subject of Universal History. Each copy of the deluxe edition, along with the accompanying print, is signed and lettered a through z; the artist’s copies are signed and lettered aa through dd.
May Castleberry, Editor, Contemporary Editions, for the Library Council of The Museum of Modern Art, produced the book for The Museum of Modern Art. At the Museum, thanks are due to all of the members of the Library Council for their support for the Library Council’s publications, with a special debt of gratitude to Kathy Fuld for her help on this project. Many thanks also to: Daniela Delvos, Department Assistant; David Frankel, Editorial Director in the Department of Publications; Milan Hughston, Chief of Library; Peter Reed, Senior Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs; and Glenn D. Lowry, the Museum’s Director. Outside the Museum, thanks go to Anna Jardine.
About the artists
R. H. Quaytman, born in Boston, is known for the literate, photographically based, silkscreen-printed panel paintings that she presents in what she calls “chapters.” Quaytman’s mother is Susan Howe; her father was the abstract painter Harvey Quaytman. Her work has been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; London; the Renaissance Society, Chicago; and other institutions, including the Venice Biennale.
Susan Howe has received numerous honors and awards for her work, among them the Bollingen Prize, two American Book Awards from the Before Columbus Foundation, and a Guggenheim fellowship; she has been a distinguished fellow at the Stanford Institute for Humanities, as well as the Anna-Maria Kellen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. She taught for many years at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where she held the Samuel P. Capen Chair of Poetry and the Humanities. Tom Tit Tot is an in-progress trilogy dedicated to the artist Paul Thek (1933–1988) and the collector Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924). Parts of the poem were exhibited at the Yale Union in Portland, Oregon, in 2013 and in the Whitney Biennial of 2014. Sections of Tom Tit Tot appear in WO O D S L I P P E R C O U N T E R C L AT T E R , a collaborative performance by Howe and the composer David Grubbs.