UW-Madison Book Arts: An Oral History


Since the 1960s, faculty in UW-Madison’s Art Department nurtured artists interested in bookmaking. Students learned techniques in letterpress printing, typography, printmaking, book structures, graphic design and papermaking from faculty, such as Walter Hamady, Warrington Colescott, Phil Hamilton, Jim Escalante, and Mary Hark. Program’s graduates established book arts curricula across the U.S. and  influenced on the broader book arts community. To celebrate their accomplishments and preserve their unique stories, UW-Madison Book Arts: An Oral History commenced in 2018 with funding from the Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries.

Book Arts at UW

Book arts at the UW began in 1965, when Claire Van Vliet was hired as Colescott’s sabbatical replacement and was entrusted with setting up the type shop. The following year Hamady started teaching in the Art Department, where he built his reputation. This led to students coming to Madison to learn from him. Not all students, however, came through Hamady; Jim Lee, for example, chose UW to work with printmaking staff, finding that books served as the ideal way to package his prints.

The Books

A few examples from alums include: Marta Gomez’s works employing playful structures and Sandra Fernández’s pieces challenging the very idea of the book. Some, like Diane Fine’s Forever & Ever, tell personal narratives, while other books, such as John Risseeuw’s Roadkill, deal with political issues. In their oral histories, the artists share the stories behind their books, describe their creative process and reveal the experiences that shaped them.

Project Summary

This project would not have happened without David Pavelich’s vision, Lyn Korenic’s deep knowledge of Kohler Art Library’s Artists’ Book Collection, or without Sarah Lange’s oral history acumen. And, of course, the project’s ultimate success stems from the narrators, who gave Sarah their time and who spoke with such depth about their life and work.

Speaking of the narrators, the table below includes all who Lange interviewed for this project (and their oral history number). Click on each link below to access the audio, summary, and transcript for each oral history.


Charles Alexander, 1768
Jim Dast, 1230
Jim Escalante, 1743
Sandra Fernandez, 1773
Diane Fine, 1772
M. Gomez & I. Soll, 1778
Marta Gomez, 1780
Susan Gosin, 1770
Mary Hark, 1767
Amos Kennedy, 1764
Katherine Kuehn, 1776
James Lee, 1771
Ruth Lingen, 1777
Jeff Morin, 1769
Kathleen O’Connell, 1766
John Risseeuw, 1765
Pati Scobey, 1854
Barbara Tetenbaum, 1763
Walter Tisdale, 1774
Claire Van Vliet, 1855
Mark Wagner, 1856
Christopher Wilde, 1775
Gomez, Marta. Inner Outer. Madison, Pijaos Press, 1986. University of Wisconsin–Madison Kohler Art Library: N7433.4 G65 I56 1986.

This project also includes brief bios on each narrator.

Thanks, also, to Teresa Bergen for her wonderful transcriptions, the graduate students–Kaitlynn Gipson, Isaac Lee, Peter Wagner, and Samantha Garlock–who helped “OHMS” each of these interviews, and to the teams at Digital Library Services & the Shared Development Group, particularly Jesse Henderson, Karen Rattunde, and Steven Dast for getting these oral histories online. Finally, this project would not have run so well without Troy Reeves’s dedicated supervision of students and overall coordination of its moving parts.

Excerpts from these oral histories were featured in an exhibition, “Speaking of Book Arts” at the Chazen Museum of Art. Co-curated by Tracy Honn and Korenic, it ran from February 1 through March 2020. That exhibit spawned an online catalog, written by Anna Simon.

For more information about this or any UW-Madison oral history project, visit the Oral History Program or email Oral History Program Head Troy Reeves.

Page co-written by Troy Reeves & Sarah Lange, with help from Katie Nash, Tracy Honn, and Lyn Korenic.