Jan Sawka, 1946
In 1983, Jan Sawka was appointed resident artist at the Pratt Manhattan Graphic Center. Suddenly, the chances to self-publish a limited and truly artistic form of an “ideal” book looked very promising (please see the entry before this one to learn about the birth of the concept for an ideal book). It took Jan over three years to hand-engrave dry-point plates for 25 “pages” and one title plate for his “Book of Fiction”. Slowly, page after intaglio-hand-pressed page, he printed 33 editions at The Pratt Center and hand-painted the mountain of prints. Enthusiastic encouragement came from the Center’s Director, Andrew Stasik, himself an outstanding printmaker. Each edition, 25 regular ones, plus 8 artist’s proofs, was differently finished. Sawka used various media, including color pencils, crayons, pastels, inks, markers, guache and even acrylic, so practically each of the 33 editions is truly unique.
“The Book of Fiction” was exhibited at The Pratt Manhattan Center as the part of Sawka’s three-gallery show in March of 1985 (see Solo Exhibitions-Sid Deutsch Gallery, 112 Greene Space and Pratt Manhattan Center, 1985). To everybody’s astonishment, a few days after the opening, Michael Fragnito, then-editor of Clarkson N. Potter, division of Crown Publishing, saw the show of “The Book of Fiction” and decided to… publish it in the form of lavish coffee-table album. The task of printing went to arguably the finest printing company in the world, Toppan Printing Co., Tokyo, Japan.
By the Fall of 1986, the offset edition, beautifully printed and bound in Japan, was ready. To publicize it, three places across America were chosen: The Anca Colbert Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; The Evelyn Siegel Gallery, Fort Worth, Texas and the Rizzoli Soho Bookstore and Gallery, New York City. The ideal book that had once seemed fated only to remain in the immaterial realm of ideals, “The Book of Fiction” had been made manifest twice, beyond Sawka’s wildest expectations. The offset version went on to win “The Best Book of 1986” of “The New York Times,” while the hand-printed editions were sold to top museums, to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and major private collections worldwide. Perhaps this was proof that the beautiful and tangible book was not such a thing of the past after all.