Our History

Every now and again, perhaps over coffee in the bindery at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, I’d find myself sitting across from Arthur Jaffe and, in a wistful mood, no doubt, I’d ask him, “Did you ever think, way back when you and Mata gave your book collection to FAU, that it would become what it’s become?”

“Oh, no,” he’d say. “Never.” It was always the same answer, but sometimes we do this, we ask the same questions; it is just part of the story and how we tell it. And I knew the answer, too, because I was there from not much later than the beginning of the Jaffe Collection, which opened at Florida Atlantic University’s Wimberly Library twenty years ago, in January of 2000. It was a very quiet place in those days, the Jaffe Collection: locked, dark for most of the time. We’d open it up only when guests came to visit, and back then, those guests were usually friends of Arthur's and Mata’s. When they would come, Arthur would gather everyone around the large oval table in the meeting room of the Jaffe Suite, which started as three rooms: the collection room, the office, and the meeting room. We’d gather round that table, 8 or 10 or 12 or us, and we would watch as Arthur showed us books. He liked those visits to last two or three hours, and in that time he would take us through maybe a half dozen books, page by page, telling his tales about the books and how the books came to be in his collection. We never spoke to classes back then. I distinctly remember the first class we did speak to. They came up from FAU's Downtown Fort Lauderdale Tower campus, and the class was taught by Fran McAfee, the brother of our head of Special Collections, Dee Cael. I’m sure it was Dee who organized the class visit. For some reason it was me who spoke to the class, not Arthur. There were more students than would comfortably fit in the meeting room, so we sat in a circle in the collection room, and I showed books, just as I had watched Arthur do for months. I showed his books, and I told his tales, and I told his jokes. It was a complete flop, just terrible. My first lesson learned from the Jaffe Collection was the same one that every one of our staff and students have learned over the history of this place: the books in this collection have their own voices, and it is up to each of us to tune into what they say. I had to wend my own way through the collection and find my own books to discuss and my own stories to tell. It is one of the magical things about a collection like this: where there is interaction, the books come to life.

So. These books and the people who have worked with them all these years have taught me so many lessons, and I have been a really lucky guy, I know this. I hope many other lucky people follow in my footsteps in this space. I find myself in an odd position: the last of those who were around from almost the beginning. Mata died soon after I began working here, in 2001, and even Arthur, who I worked with every day for years and years, is long gone. Everyone who had something to do with the establishment of this place has moved on, be it from their jobs or from this world, and I’ve begun to hear alternative histories, which I suppose is what happens with legendary places. So I am here today to tell the tale as I know it, as I heard it over and over again from Arthur and from the other players. And so here we go.

We keep the photographs of three people in the Jaffe Center’s reception area: there is Mata Jaffe’s high school portrait, and there is a portrait of Arthur Jaffe, in a suit and tie, smiling and standing on one of the rungs of the rolling bookcase ladder at the Jaffe family home in Boca Raton. And there is a portrait of Dr. Otto Bettmann, founder of the famous Bettmann Archive, a vast archive of 19 million images, mostly photographs, that eventually was acquired by Corbis and moved from Manhattan to the Iron Mountain National Underground Storage Facility in western Pennsylvania. The relocation of the Bettmann Archive to western Pennsylvania is neither here nor there, of course, as it relates to our story, but it is interesting, I think, in that Arthur Jaffe was born and raised in Butler, Pennsylvania… just minutes away from the Iron Mountain facility that now holds the Bettmann Archive.

Dr. Bettmann retired to Boca Raton late in his life, but grew bored with retirement, and found employment here, at the Special Collections department of FAU’s Wimberly Library. If we are to go back to the root of the matter, it would be Otto Bettmann who might be considered the person who planted the small mustard seed that eventually grew into the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. Otto Bettmann was a friend of Arthur’s, and he got Arthur involved in the Wimberly, too. They first met when Arthur, who was working with the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, was tasked in 1989 with interviewing Dr. Bettmann for the Federation’s Oral History Project. They became fast friends, and even to the last days of Arthur’s life, he could do a pretty good Otto Bettmann impression, giving us his finest German accent.

As Dr. Bettmann grew older, he began considering a good successor for his position of curator of Special Collections. Arthur Jaffe, he felt, was the one best suited to the task. William Miller, Director of FAU Libraries at the time, agreed, and Arthur was appointed to the Ario S. Hyams Professorship in 1994. The photograph in our lobby, of Dr. Bettmann surrounded by books, holding his signature magnifying glass, is signed to Arthur:

To Arthur Jaffe, my distinguished successor as FAU’s Rare Book Librarian, with every good wish for continued happy hunting in the field of bibliophilia we both so dearly love. Signed, Otto Bettmann 9/25/94

Arthur was no librarian, but he certainly was a bibliophile, as was Mata. By the late 1990s, they had built a collection together that was approaching 3,000 volumes––books collected more for their aesthetic qualities than for their information. In Arthur’s version of the story, he and Mata began asking their children about the future of the collection and if anyone was interested in taking it on. “Oh, I might want this one, Dad, and maybe that one…” they each told them, but Arthur says this is not what he and Mata had in mind. They wanted the collection to remain intact. When none of the kids expressed an interest in looking after the entire collection, Arthur and Mata began exploring other options. They considered first their alma maters. Arthur was a graduate of Penn State, and Mata was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Both were interested in the Jaffe Collection, but by this time, the Jaffes were both pretty heavily involved in the South Florida book scene. They had moved to Boca Raton in 1984, and by the late 90s were involved not just in Florida Atlantic University Libraries, thanks to Otto Bettmann, but also with the Fontaneda Society, which was a regional bibliophile society, and the beginnings of the Bienes Center for the Book at the Broward County Main Library in Fort Lauderdale, which would evolve into the Bienes Museum of the Modern Book.

I’m not sure which came first––Otto Bettmann’s death in 1998 or the Jaffes’ interest in FAU as a repository for their collection––but by the end of 1998, they decided that Florida Atlantic University was the place for their collection. For one thing, this was their home now. They had been living in Boca Raton for nearly fifteen years. Another factor was the enthusiasm of FAU Libraries’ Director William Miller after the Jaffes approached him with the idea of giving the books to FAU. Dr. Miller had a vision for the Jaffe Collection that was open and warm and inviting: a special suite where the collection would be housed within the Wimberly Library. This was quite a bit different from other offers they received, in which the books would be caged or placed in a vault. The idea tuned into one of Arthur’s central beliefs: that books are meant to be touched, meant to be handled. Arthur and Mata accepted Dr. Miller’s offer.

The next step was getting the university to agree. It was no small undertaking, accepting this gift of 2,800 books. The books would require stewardship and care, and Dr. Miller’s proposed suite within the library came with a significant expense for remodeling. There was a concern from the university’s administration at the time that the Jaffe Collection, though wonderful, did not support the university’s curriculum or mission, and Arthur understood this viewpoint. He would say through the years, “The Jaffe Collection is about nothing, and it’s about everything.” But this is the thing about libraries in general: they operate in the background, rather quietly, and typically without all the glamour that goes to other aspects of any university. And yet they are key to the success of every student and every university program. This collection, meanwhile, was even more of an enigma. Books as aesthetic objects? Dr. Miller knew he had to make his case for this proposed gift to the university’s Board of Trustees. Arthur asked if he could help. “Just give me two or three books that represent the collection,” Dr. Miller told him. I don’t know what books Arthur and Mata chose for the mission, but Dr. Miller took them, gave his pitch, and the board said yes.

The plans were drawn for a three-room suite on the Third Floor East of the Wimberly Library. At that time, there was a large window at the eastern end of the building, which overlooked a grassy area and the breezeway. On the approach to the window, on the left, was the bay that would become the Jaffe Collection. The bay took up the northeast corner of the building, so only two walls had to be built to enclose it, on the south and the west. Two large sliding glass windows were installed for exhibition space; the windows, I imagine, were probably Arthur’s idea. His family had owned department stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, and Arthur understood the value of an enticing display. (I, too, came from a retail background, with Hallmark Cards and with Burdines, a Florida department store, and Arthur would sometimes help me with displays at the Jaffe Center. He’d always elbow me in the ribs and say, “We’re just two old window dressers.”) Two glass doors, green like the rest of the Wimberly at that time, were installed and opened into the Jaffe Collection. The walls were finished in a warm terra cotta and the floors were hardwood maple. Wooden cabinets were installed along the south wall, and nooks were built into all the other walls and pale green library shelving installed. The shelving system was simple: Letters A through Z were labeled along the top soffit, and books were placed on their shelves by the whims of Arthur and Mata. All the books by a certain artist might be placed together, say on the second shelf of Range C, and in the database that was kept of all the books, the location for those particular books would read “C2.” It was a system that worked pretty well for a library of 2,800 books, and things were neat and organized and easy to find. The collection space was furnished with two large wooden rectangular tables and a dozen chairs upholstered in green cloth.

The maple floor ended at the office, which was the room north of the collection and then the room next door, to the east of the office, was the meeting room with that oval table that Arthur was so fond of seating folks at for his talks. The chairs were on casters, and the casters fell out of the seats anytime you rolled them over a bump. It would be years before one of our student assistants, Will Landis, had the foresight to fix the casters into the chairs with epoxy. Windows in both the meeting room and the office overlooked the campus, both casting north light into the rooms.

The opening reception for the exhibition was the evening of January 18, and it was there that I first met Arthur and Mata Jaffe. I myself had graduated from FAU in 1995 with a dual major in Art and in English, and in the interim had discovered something that brought both disciplines together: the book arts. I studied at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and went on to earn an MFA in the Book Arts at the University of Alabama, and when I returned home to South Florida, stumbled upon the Jaffe Collection. It had never crossed my mind that libraries collected books like the ones I was making, but soon after my return home from Alabama, the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami contacted me and asked if they could purchase one each of the books and broadsides I had made for their collection. This was pretty exciting for a new book artist, and so I began writing letters to other university libraries in the state. One of those letters went to FAU, and I guess my timing was spot on. Zita Cael, better known as Dee Cael, who was the head of Special Collections at FAU, called. She suggested I come by and meet Arthur and Mata, but first, come to the opening of their exhibition. My partner Seth Thompson and I did. I remember being overwhelmed by what I saw, and charmed by Arthur when I met him. He invited me to come back to his office a few days later, which I did. He bought some of my books, and I gave him some of my broadsides as a gift. I remember spending the better part of an hour as we looked together through one of his books in the collection: “The Handmade Papers of Japan." Dee called again a couple of months later and invited Seth and me to a meeting. She was there, and Arthur was there, and there were the folks I’d come to call the Bindery Boys. They operated a bindery on the 5th floor of the library. They were self-taught, and they mostly repaired books for clients from outside the library. Seth and I weren’t sure exactly what anyone was talking about at the meeting, but eventually it became clear: they were offering me a job. I accepted, and by the end of March, I was on staff at FAU Libraries’ Department of Special Collections & Archives.

Though I was hired specifically to work with the Jaffe Collection, there was not, in those days, a whole lot to do. Mata, I learned, was terminally ill with ovarian cancer, so the Jaffes did not spend much time at the library. In fact, I can count on one hand all the times I met Mata. Before she died, in the summer of 2001, I felt compelled to write her a letter, just to let her know that I would be the best steward I could for the books she and Arthur had collected. It wasn’t until just before Arthur died that I realized Arthur had never given her the letter; he was probably quite frazzled himself in those final months of her life. In his latter years, it was his way to clear out papers and files and bring them to me to go through to either archive or dispose of. My office came to look like a small mountain range eventually, filled with the hills and valleys of Arthur’s papers. One of those piles he brought me included the letter to Mata, never opened.

Mata died on July 8, 2001. Arthur used to tell me that Mata “brought color and light to the collection.” Most of what he collected when he was single and together with his first wife, Lois, who died before he met Mata, was quite dark. The works of Leonard Baskin, for instance, or the novels in pictures of Frans Massereel and Lynd Ward from the early 20th century. Mata’s influence was clearly seen in the addition of works, especially colorful ones, by artists like Mare Blocker and Susan Allix. I still tell people about Mata and her color and light. One of the books in the Jaffe Collection, “Book of Common Prayer” by Miriam Schaer, was given to us by Mata’s daughter Peggy when her mom died. It is saturated with magenta and red. I’ll show that book in presentations now and that's usually when I tell folks Arthur’s story about his wife.

The Jaffe Collection was, for the most part, in those days around Mata’s passing, a dark room with little activity save for the occasional presentation Arthur would give to his friends and family. I, meanwhile, bumbled about in Special Collections on the 2nd floor. I was given a small office (LY249) and one of my first tasks was to go through the stacks in Special Collections and examine each book and fill out a form, taking note of conservation suggestions for each book. None of these suggestions would ever come to pass, as we did not have a conservator on staff and still do not. But the task did help me get very familiar with the rare books housed in Special Collections. I was also given digital tasks involving Photoshop and Pagemaker, the predecessor to Adobe InDesign. Back then the library would host a huge open house at the start of each fall semester for new and returning students and for faculty and staff. I was handed the task of designing invitations and signing based on a theme chosen each year by the librarians. I came to dread summers, as this task would take up most of my July and August for the first two years I worked here. I felt tethered to the big desk in my little office. Eventually, I needed an out. I looked to the Jaffe Collection.

The first “real” thing I did with the collection was build an exhibition. Ever since I had arrived, and lord only knows for how long prior to that, there had been an exhibition of children’s books from Poland on display in the cases outside the Jaffe Collection. I asked if I could change it out and was given the okay. I began looking through the books in the Jaffe Collection and a theme came together: so many books here made by hand… my theme would be handwork. I called the exhibition “Manus/Hands: Messengers of Mind and Spirit,” and it was truly my introduction to the breadth of the Jaffe Collection. I simply typed the word “hand” into the Jaffe Collection database and received more hits than I could possibly deal with. I don’t recall the dates, but that was probably in late 2001. Our exhibitions were brief back then, lasting only a few weeks. I did a second show titled “Color & Light,” honoring Mata and her influence on the collection. I followed that with another called “The Illustrated Broadside,” which featured broadsides from my own collection, since the Jaffe Collection didn’t hold many of its own back then. That fall, we did a show featuring the work of Leonard Baskin. It was called “A Fellowship of Demons,” demons being a common theme in Baskin’s work and the title of the book we had just acquired that was completed after his death. I remember vividly the headline that ran in the student paper: “Library Puts on Demonic Display.” Hardly. But still, it drew students in. Any publicity, they say, is better than none. We began promoting our exhibitions to the FAU community and they proved to be quite popular. We gave the exhibition space a name: The Jaffe Atrium Book Arts Gallery. Folks began coming around to see what was new. I began speaking to more classes. Arthur began coming around more often, too. The lights inside the Jaffe Collection were on a lot more often.

Perhaps driven by all this new bustle and hubbub, I began looking beyond the Jaffe Collection. I made plans during 2002 with book artist Ed Hutchins, who I had met a few years prior at Paper & Book Intensive when it was hosted at the Penland School of Crafts, to exhibit his work the following year and to bring him to FAU for a lecture and for two hands-on workshops. His exhibition was a traveling one called “Design/Construct/Engage,” and we opened it at the Jaffe Collection in January, 2003. Soon after that, we hosted our very first lecture in what we called the Wimberly Library Book Arts Forum Series. It was a big one: artists’ book scholar Johanna Drucker. Ed Hutchins’ talk followed in a couple of weeks. Oddly enough, the Wimberly Library Book Arts Forum Series never took place in the Wimberly; the talks were usually hosted at the Board of Trustees Room in the Williams Administration Building, and sometimes at the large lecture hall next to the Schmidt Gallery. Their popularity, though, helped us realize that we needed programming space at the Jaffe Collection. What really brought that to light, though, were the workshops Ed Hutchins taught during his visit. There were two workshops over two days: “Watch Closely: Pictures that Move” and “Guerrilla Bookmaking.” Both were held on the 5th floor of the Wimberly Library on folding tables. Registrations poured in, to the point that ahead of them, I found myself emailing Ed on a regular basis, asking if he would take a few more people, then a few more, then a few more yet. Each workshop finally capped at about 35 participants each. Ed pulled it off brilliantly. It was quite apparent that the local community was eager to learn how to make books.

By the end of 2002, my efforts at work were pretty much all centered on the Jaffe Collection. We took on additional staff. Librarian Liz Locke had helped Arthur and Mata with the initial set up of the Jaffe Collection and she would come in to assist with database entry every now and then, but as Arthur continued to build the collection, it became clear that we needed a more regular presence. Seth Thompson was brought on board in the summer of 2002 for that purpose, first as a part time assistant but eventually full time. Seth and Arthur shared the office at the north end of the Collection for years. That autumn, we hired Rita Feigenbaum, who had been a volunteer in Special Collections, to work with our non-traditional materials. Rita had been registrar at the Jewish Museum in New York before retiring. At the Jaffe Collection, she catalogued and organized our vast ephemera files, and she enjoyed her enigmatic title of “Ephemerist.” In fact, we all grew our jobs and responsibilities in those days. Seth became known as “Collections Specialist,” for that truly was his role. Me, my business card over the years went from reading “Book Arts Specialist” to “Book Arts Coordinator” and eventually, once Arthur retired, to “Director.” Arthur’s card usually read “Ario S. Hyams Professor” or “Curator.” Eventually, after an honorary doctorate was conferred upon him by FAU President M.J. Saunders, he was “Professor Emeritus.” Georges Banet worked with us part time, as well, assisting Rita and me as necessary. He had begun on the Fifth Floor with the Bindery Boys. The Bindery Boys were all in their 80s and they called Georges "The Kid" because he was a few years younger than they were. And Marianne Haycook, a long time friend and supporter of the Jaffe Center through all these years, and one of Arthur’s closest friends, was our first volunteer.

Through this time, Dee Cael was head of Special Collections. She funneled acquisitions budgets from Special Collections to the Jaffe Collection, for we all agreed that the Jaffe Collection was to be a dynamic collection, not a stagnant one, and that we would continue to build the collection as much as possible. Arthur Jaffe certainly spent plenty of his own money on that goal, too, but Dee was always thinking of the Jaffe Collection. So much so that in 2004, when a gift from Mata Jaffe’s estate came in that was earmarked for an expansion of Special Collections, she decided it would be best used for an expansion of the Jaffe Collection. And with that we began planning what would soon become the Jaffe Center for Book Arts.

Construction of the Paul C. Wimbish Wing at the Wimberly Library began in early 2005. There had been talk for years of expanding the library to the east, but there were many challenges, both financial ones and logistical ones. A series of tunnels run alongside the Wimberly, so getting a crane in would be problematic and would require the construction of a bridge. One thing was for sure: if we were going to expand all five floors of the Wimberly’s original tower, it had to be done all in one go. Dr. Miller and library development officer Mary Dean were steadfast in their fundraising and dealmaking, and eventually raised all the funds necessary. The major portion of the first floor was paid for by the Hillel organization, providing space for the Hillel Center. The second floor was funded by Student Government for a student study lab, accessible 24 hours a day through a first floor entrance on the breezeway. The fourth floor was funded by SEFLIN, the Southeast Florida Library Information Network. Two gifts directly benefitting the library funded the rest. A gift from the estate of Paul C. Wimbish, a Miami realtor of the mid 20th century, gave the library the fifth floor. FAU’s University Club helped fund a meeting room on the fifth floor, and the whole suite became the home of the newly-arrived Marvin & Sybil Weiner Spirit of America Collection, a collection of Colonial and Revolutionary American books and related items. The third floor expansion was made possible by Mata Jaffe’s gift, matched dollar for dollar by the State of Florida.

Even at this time, the idea of a book arts center was not quite concrete. We had acquired tools and machinery over the years that for the most part were in storage in a room at the east end of Building T6, a building that would eventually house our paper studio. Brien and Beverly Varnado of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, responded to a call I had put out on the online Letterpress Discussion List for printing equipment. A librarian at Charleston College saw my call, knew that the Varnados had an idle print studio in their garage, and put us in touch with each other. In 2004, Collections Specialist Seth Thompson and I drove up in the library van to South Carolina to assess the situation. Brien graciously offered us an 1890 Wesel Iron Handpress and a double cabinet filled with Caslon types, along with lots of other equipment, as his gift. We were in business. We hired a press rigger from New York, Gregg Timko, to move the equipment from Mount Pleasant to Boca Raton. We also bought a Vandercook 4T press from Gregg for $1,000 (ah, the good old days when presses were cheap!) and so his journey began from his New York warehouse, Vandercook press in tow. We had him stop first in Raleigh, North Carolina, at my Penland pal Dave Wofford’s Horse & Buggy Press studios, to pick up some other equipment I had purchased: a David Reinna Hollander Beater, a deep wooden vat, and moulds and deckles for papermaking, as well as our famous dry box with the National Waffle Association sticker on it. We had no planned space for hand papermaking, but I was hopeful and determined. From there, Gregg went on to the Varnados’ garage in Mount Pleasant. If I was going to hire a press rigger to bring us a press, I was for sure going to get my money’s worth.

When he arrived, Seth and I helped Gregg slowly and methodically unload the goods into that room at T6. The idea was we would open a letterpress studio there, but it never came to pass. Instead, it became the place where we stored the equipment, for other ideas were coming to fruition.

The original plans for the Jaffe expansion called for walnut paneling and other trappings of a traditional library, but Arthur said no, this was not that kind of library. He wanted a more contemporary look, better suited to a contemporary rare book collection. The plans also included a conservation lab and a meeting room, neither of which came to be. And while I am a bit sad that we still have no conservation lab, I am pretty delighted that we didn’t get another library meeting room. The original Jaffe Collection space was to be that meeting room, but we asked Dr. Miller if we could instead turn it into a letterpress studio. He agreed. We had to bring Gregg Timko back again when it came time to move the presses from T6 to the third floor of the library. The conservation lab that never came to be turned out to be our bindery, and Gregg helped us move board shears and nipping presses down from the fifth floor, since that was where we’d been storing equipment for bookbinding, and also where we had been holding book arts workshops.

If you knew Arthur, you know he was excited about everything. He took countless visitors through the construction site, many of them elderly friends of his. This was entirely against the rules, but Arthur, undaunted, would open up the door to that led from one world into the other, from the finished library to the unfinished. It was locked but somehow he had wrangled a key. I would follow as often as I could, mostly out of a sense of obligation to watch over him and his visitors. There were men in hardhats and there were gaps in the concrete floor that opened to three story drops, and there, too, were Arthur and his friends, some of them leaning on walkers. They’d eventually emerge, a bit dusty, the wheels of their walkers white, but always beaming with Arthur’s infectious excitement over what was going on. They were exciting days for sure. We ordered furniture and custom made exhibition cases, based on cases Arthur had seen at an exhibition of works by artist Richard Tuttle. Arthur contacted calligrapher Suzanne Moore in Washington to tell her we wanted to feature her calligraphic artwork as a five foot stained glass window; she reworked her original for a better end result. The window was fabricated in Pompano Beach. We were busy day in and day out. We were transforming the Jaffe Collection into the Jaffe Center for Book Arts.

The Center’s official opening day was March 27, 2007. We and all of the Special Collections staff worked with Terri Berns, the library’s Information and Cultural Affairs Director, and her staff on a grand opening program that spanned all five floors of the new Wimbish Wing. The program began outside under a tent with music and speeches and then evolved into a progressive party with a stop on each floor. We threw a couple of pretty grand parties together, Terri and I, for the opening and for Arthur's 90th birthday, too. Our opening exhibition was a traveling show called “Books in Black: A New Page.” It featured artists' books made by people of color about the accomplishments of African Americans. It was one of many exhibitions since that ran on multiple floors of the Wimberly, beginning in the main lobby on the first floor, then continuing at two exhibition cases that stood outside the Administrative Offices and on, finally, to the Jaffe Center, both in our gallery and our lobby.

Our presence grew dramatically with the new center, and soon we were giving presentations on artists’ books and the book arts to university classes and community groups on a regular basis, sometimes five or six in a week, and we were able to greatly increase our offerings in book arts workshops.

The new Jaffe Center for Book Arts featured a print shop, a book studio (which would later be called the bindery), five offices, and a reception area, all of which revolved around the Book Arts Gallery, the library/gallery hybrid space that houses the Jaffe Collection. The missing link back then, as far as the book arts go, was hand papermaking. We turned our sights to that T6 building where we had been storing all of that printing equipment. Arthur was very fond of those old buildings, and he worked hard to save what was left of them. The Boca Raton Historical Society was involved, as well, since the buildings were what was left of the Boca Raton Army Airfield that existed on this site before Florida Atlantic University came to be. A plan developed for T6: the Historical Society would open and operate a museum at the west end of the building, and the Jaffe Center would open a hand papermaking studio at the east end. But the historical society had continuing trouble raising money for the museum project; at some point, we talked them into trading spaces with us, for the west end of the building had a porch and was more conducive to our papermaking goals. Eventually the historical society just pulled their plans altogether. We, meanwhile, forged ahead with ours. We consulted with the university architects and received a proposal for the renovations necessary to open the papermaking studio. The price tag was somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000 for the project, which began with asbestos abatement. There was, of course, no money for this project. It was a challenge, but Arthur and I seemed to have a knack for getting involved in challenges, and we both shared that positive enthusiasm that helps folks think that anything is possible. And so we began raising money. We had always done well raising money here and there, a dollar or two at a time, but this was a bit different. We had to raise a few tens of thousands of dollars, and quickly.

My first idea: Champagne Salons. We had our first one in the summertime. Good hors d’oeuvres, good champagne, book arts presentation… a nice night out at $125 per person. We raised our first couple of thousand dollars then, and then we scheduled another in the fall, a Champagne Salon with a Day of the Dead theme. Same program but with a mariachi band. The mariachi didn’t show, but FAU President MJ Saunders did. She was new to her presidency and had early on met Arthur and realized what a feather the Jaffe Center was in the university’s cap (the “Jewel of FAU,” she called it). In fact, we played a big part in her inauguration, printing and making a commemorative book and also a series of letterpress printed bookmarks for the occasion. She same to our champagne salon, stayed for the whole thing, and at the end, pulled me aside and said, “I’ve been thinking. You shouldn’t have to do all this.” In the way that only university presidents can, President Saunders took care of the renovations so we could open the papermaking studio. We opened it in November, 2012, with another great party, honoring papermaking, autumn, and the history of the building. The event ran on a Friday night and all day Saturday. We were all dressed in World War II khakis, we had amazing doughnuts and we sold apples, and we brought in my Aunt Anne, all the way from Illinois. My aunt had been in the USO during the war, playing accordion. She played all over the country and throughout the South Pacific, and one of her stops in the early 1940s was right here at the Boca Raton Army Airfield. Anne Dennis was her stage name and Anne came back, with her accordion, to lead the crowd through a series of singalongs of favorite songs of the 1940s. I think it may have been the most fun Arthur had here at JCBA, for not only did it celebrate another major accomplishment for the Center, but it brought him back to his youthful days as a big band singer and a captain in the Army, for which he always had a soft spot. The history of that T6 building has always been important to us, and before I take my leave, I’d like to give our hand papermaking studio an official name: the Diving Pelican Paper Mill, in honor of the men and women of the Boca Raton Army Airfield. The diving pelican was the insignia of the BRAAF. History is hard to find in these parts, and I think it’s important to honor all we can.

Before her resignation, President Saunders gave us another room in that historic building, the one across the corridor from the papermaking studio. Again the architects came. The stipulations this time: raise half the money for the renovations, we’ll cover the rest. I don’t think they thought we could do it, but we did, thanks mainly to one donor, Buddy Mayer. She was a friend of Arthur’s and she and her granddaughter came to visit the Jaffe Collection one day, and Arthur and I explained our situation. She sent us a check for $20,000, which covered our share of the renovation costs and got us some furniture for the studio, too. In 2014, that studio opened as our Book & Paper Studio, and so now there are two satellite JCBA studios at Historic T6. There are days, albeit crazy ones, when we have multiple workshops going on in two locations: workshops at the library and workshops at T6. I schedule them when I am obviously not at my wisest… but then again, I do like a good challenge.

Folks would often ask Arthur what was his favorite book in the Jaffe Collection. He’d always say he couldn’t possibly decide. Eventually, though, he would start talking about a volume bound in red leather with gold tooling: "The Cranach Hamlet,” printed letterpress by Count Harry Kessler on handmade paper, illustrated by Edward Gordon Craig, at the Cranach Press in Weimar, Germany, 1930. Arthur always wanted this book and he found it listed for sale in the New York Times classified section early one morning. He immediately phoned the dealer. The dealer was in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, I think. He woke the poor guy up out of sleep. To have an excited Arthur Jaffe wake you up with a phone call about a book… it was probably a very good sale, though, so I’m sure the book dealer was content to take the phone order and then return to slumber.

Arthur had stories about so many of the books. There are two Ge’ez Bibles, for instance, from Ethiopia in the collection, bound in leather wrapped wooden boards, probably from the 1700s at least. They stand out as there are not many old books here. Arthur and Mata were vacationing in Africa, and while on a safari tour in Kenya, the group stopped for a Coke at a state run tourist stop. Arthur went exploring and he found these two old Coptic bound books in a case. They were gifts, he was told, from the government of Ethiopia to the government of Kenya, for Kenya had provided assistance in a time of famine. The Kenyan government decided to sell the books. Who knows how long they had been sitting there. But here comes this slight American guy who loves books… naturally, he bought them. He only had a few bucks on him, so he had to use his credit card. These were the days of imprint machines and carbon paper, and for some reason, there was a limit of $100 per charge at this Kenyan government shop. The bus had to wait for him while the clerk issued receipt after receipt for all of the $100 charges it took to reach the price of the two books. He never did tell me how much he paid for them. He just said he left with the two old books and with a very large stack of $100 charge receipts. It was, no doubt, a very expensive trip.

Arthur Jaffe died on January 25, 2015. We worked side by side on a daily basis for years. And though he is no longer present, I do hope that I carry on his ideas and his legacy. He believed in openness and optimism and to me, the best metaphor for that is an open book and I like to think of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts as a place of open books and a place where anyone can learn something new.

Jaffe Center for the Book Arts from Jaffe Center for Book Arts on Vimeo.

Dee Cael, who quietly helped the Jaffe Center grow by letting us do what we thought best, retired in 2014. She used to tell me she was here when there were more rattlesnakes on campus than students, and I believe her. There were other team members in Special Collections who helped the Jaffe Center, too: Jean Gers, Leslie Siegel, Nancine Thompson. Victoria Thur is our current Head of Special Collections, and she has a bit of that Jaffe-style thinking, too: a couple of years ago, as we were approaching the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Vicky thought it would be a swell idea to print Martin Luther’s 95 Theses letterpress on the iron handpress. We were cool with that idea, and she and I and our students did just that. Now she's got her sights set on a printing of Thomas Paine's "Common Sense."

Library Administration has changed over the years, too. Dr. William Miller went from being Director of FAU Libraries to Dean of FAU Libraries. Upon his retirement, we worked with Rita Pellen as Interim Dean. Carol Hixson is now Dean of FAU Libraries, and we are grateful for her support and her belief in what we do. Whenever I am in her office, I notice she has a letterpress-printed broadside in a frame on a wall. That, to me, is a good sign that we are in capable hands.

FAU President Anthony Catanese accepted the Jaffes’ gift of 2,800 books in 1998, and he was here for the opening of the Jaffe Collection in 2000. President Frank Brogan came to two of our important events: the opening of the Rosa Trillo Clough Archive of Italian Futurism, and the grand opening of the Wimbish Wing and the expanded Jaffe Center for Book Arts in 2007. Arthur invited President Brogan back afterward for a more extensive visit; when the president called to schedule a 30 minute visit, Arthur refused. “You have to give me at least a couple of hours.” I’m pretty sure they settled on one. President MJ Saunders oversaw the period of our greatest growth and expansion beyond the library and helped make it possible. She was a good friend to Arthur and to the Center, and would often just drop in to hang out with us. President Saunders conferred upon Arthur an honorary doctorate in 2012, and he was very proud of that. President John Kelly, our current university president, conferred upon Arthur the President’s Distinguished Service Medallion in 2014. I was so proud of Arthur at both ceremonies; people loved him, no matter how old or young they were. He received long standing ovations at both ceremonies, especially from the graduating students, all mostly 70 years his junior. They whooped and whistled for him and applauded. Well-deserved, I’d say.

Rita Feigenbaum, our Ephemerist and unofficial “book police,” retired in 2011. While she was here, she would even discipline Arthur over improper book handling, and once told me I couldn’t bring a pumpkin in to the gallery because it was food. (But Rita, I was decorating for our Halloween Book Arts 101!) Seth Thompson, our Collections Specialist, left in 2013; I still can’t locate books like he could. Describe a book to Seth, and he could pull it off the shelf for you in a matter of seconds. Seth was also responsible for the jaffecollection.org website from its inception, back when it was all summery colors of yellows and oranges and reds, through its celadon period, and was pretty much my right-hand man at the Center while he was here. Arthur and I would come up with crazy ideas and Seth would either make them happen logistically or pare them down to where they would be practical… and then he would make them happen. Eric Bush, our Office Manager since 2014, now handles our website and is the best source of knowledge on where things reside in the collection. Janine Hill worked here briefly before Eric did, in that same capacity. Five years in and Eric, I think, is perhaps almost at the point where he is comfortable with my work style. He’s often the person most pop-up visitors see first, and can give a mean tour of the center. Most of the book cataloging in recent years has been done by FAU Librarians Malka Schyndel and Daniel Scheide. Daniel has an office now in the center and sometimes, on his Facebook page, I’ll see “Book of the Day” and it’s Daniel showing off whatever weird artists’ book I’ve just purchased and that he’s got to figure out how to catalog. I think he (and Malka, too) enjoy the challenges of Jaffe Collection books. Most recently, Jeanne Jaffe, Arthur’s daughter, retired from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and has relocated to South Florida and has gotten involved in the center as our Coordinator of International Programs. Jeanne often teaches in China and her interest lies in collaboration between the Jaffe Center and students and academies in other lands, like China, Japan, Korea, and Mexico. It is uncharted territory for us, but we’re excited to see where the adventure leads. One thing is for sure: Jeanne has her dad’s enthusiasm and spirit, and for me, it’s awfully nice having a Jaffe back in the house again.

Student Assistants over the years: Jonas McCaffery, Ashley Miller, Megan Boehm, Brooke Frank, William Landis, Charles Pratt, Ilana Smith, Sarah Huang, Nicole Brodkin, Natalia Cereceda, Joao Victor Lordello, Helen Edmunds. JCBA Student Assistants are always bright and curious and eager to learn new things. Jonas, it seemed, was here forever. He was an out of state student from Nebraska and could only afford tuition for a couple of classes at a time, so he worked with us for years. Ashley was a wizard at coding. Seth would ask her to update the website so it could look a bit like this, and she would type in some letters and numbers and symbols and in two minutes it was done. Megan only worked with us for one semester, but I remember her best as the student who was genuinely upset to graduate. “I like it here,” she said. She didn’t want to leave. Brooke, Charles, and Nicole came to work here after being exposed to the place during a class I used to teach for Freshman Visual Arts majors. The class always began in an assigned room, and after the first class, I’d move the meeting location to the Jaffe Center. Some students, apparently, especially Brooke, Charles, and Nicole, rather liked it. Will could build anything and one of my favorite things he did was make a sign for one of our Letterpress Appreciation Day prints that said something to the effect of, “To purchase a print, speak to anyone sporting a handlebar mustache or a plaid shirt,” which pretty accurately summed up our staff in those days. Ilana was known to begin Wednesday Tours by popping out from under a table, and she sometimes answered to Audrey, though I don’t recall why. My favorite thing we did together was a creative reading of an Edward Gorey book; she got all the good costumes. Sarah, with Nicole, began a Video of the Week series, highlighting the artists’ books in the Jaffe Collection. Natalia was our resident chess player and a Real Mail Fridays enthusiast. Joao was one of the few student assistants who was not an Art Major but a Finance Major, and he was great at marketing our events and workshops. Helen is our student assistant these days, and I love watching her in the Print Shop, where she gets really excited about type and prints.

Volunteers assist mostly with events and special projects, but there have been a few over the years that have been more involved: Marianne Haycook, Judith Klau, Ezzat Fairplay, Donna Read, Karen Esteves, Steve Moore, Sandi Lent, Terri Hamilton, Carol Walker, and Kelly Sullivan all come to mind. I’m sure I’m missing others, and I apologize for that. There was that one volunteer who came to work with us just at the time that Seth Thompson decided to quit coffee. She was a bit pushy, as I recall, about certain things, and three days in she was pushing buttons just right and Seth snapped. He just exploded at her. He then quietly apologized and stepped out to get a coffee. He was much better when he returned, but the volunteer decided to move on.

Mini collections that have been brought into the fold at JCBA: The Rosa Trillo-Clough Archive of Italian Futurism (thanks to Professor Myriam Swennan Ruthenberg), the Arthur J. Williams Pop-Up Collection, and the archive of ISCA: The International Society of Copier Artists. Other collection gifts that have mattered a great deal: Lee Kline gave us his collection of Miami printing blocks, representing a graphic design history of midcentury modern Miami, and Timothy Eaton gave us a collection of early artists’ books, circa 1960s/70s. This is an important period in the history of the artists’ book movement, and the Jaffe Collection was sorely lacking in this area prior to Mr. Eaton’s gift. We use some of Mr. Eaton’s books in almost every presentation we deliver. As for Mr. Kline’s printing blocks, they get extensive use in our print shop, mostly by our students.

Working with someone like Arthur Jaffe, I early on tested the limits of what was right to do for a place like JCBA. I began thinking of it, at some point, more as a center for creativity, for books come out of our greater experiences. Small intimate concerts seemed to me a good fit for the Book Arts Gallery, and so I began inviting artists to perform in our space. Every time I asked, I received a yes. And so we’ve had concerts of the living room sort with artists like Jane Siberry, Matt Alber, Anne Azema and Joel Cohen of the Boston Camerata, and the Core Ensemble. Arthur loved each of them, and I still remember fondly sitting with Arthur and Seth and Jane Siberry at our conference table in the gallery the day after her concert, Arthur showing artists’ books to Jane, and telling her how much he loved the line, “Somedays even lipstick is a lie,” which came up in one of her songs. In January 2018 we brought Gaelynn Lea, the winner of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Competition for 2016, for another of these small concerts. She loved the setting so much, she returned again the following year, this time to give a talk/concert about disabilities and the arts.

There was also a long-running film series, called the Flipbook Film Series. It was an idea I borrowed from one of my bookbinding professors at the University of Alabama, Paula Marie Gourley, who, instead of class one day, showed us a film called “84 Charing Cross Road.” In the Flipbook Film Series (and in the Musicbox Film Series that accompanied it), we screened films that in some way featured books or the book arts, whether extensively (like the 2009 documentary “Proceed and Be Bold,” about letterpress printer Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.) or just in passing (like the beautiful handmade scrapbook that makes an appearance in “Amelie”). The screenings were never money-making ventures. They were designed as student-focused events, using self-determined admission, with the goal of getting students in to watch a Bjork concert film, for instance, and in the process get them interested in the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. It worked, and many of those students, alumni now, still come around for JCBA events and workshops.

As a center for book arts and creativity, we have also made our share of books and prints. Some of our best projects: First, the book we made on the occasion of FAU Libraries’ Millionth Volume. The initial idea was to buy something really exquisite, but then of course came the lightbulb flash: “We’re a book arts center. Let’s make our millionth volume." We decided to focus on the Burrowing Owl, FAU’s mascot. Dr. Miller wrote an essay about the burrowing owl, as did Dee Cael and myself. President Brogan (or maybe Lynn Laurenti in his office) wrote an introduction. Terri Berns drew the illustrations. I designed the book, based on the size of an adult burrowing owl (about 8 inches tall). Our presses here at the university were not quite up to snuff yet, so Seth Thompson and I printed the book letterpress from photopolymer plates at Convivio Bookworks, our press at home. We printed it on handmade papers made by Twinrocker. Then we sent the edition of 100 off to Paula Marie Gourley in Eugene, Oregon, who marbled the papers for the covers and bound the book. Arthur wanted a yapp binding, so that’s what Paula did. And she bound one very special copy in full leather: our millionth volume. It resides at the Jaffe Collection, boxed with one of the copper plates we used to print the illustrations.

Another very special project to me was the reproduction we made of a diary kept by artist John Eric Broaddus in New York in the summer of 1976. Arthur Williams, who gave us our pop-up book collection, holds an extensive collection of the works of Broaddus, who was a pioneer in the artists’ book movement, one of the first to take the genre out of the simple black and white softcover books of the early movement. Eric’s books are mostly one of a kind, and they are like worlds onto themselves, very dramatic and colorful. I get goosebumps thinking about them. We have a few of his books in the Jaffe Collection, but nothing quite like those in Arthur Williams’ collection. We’ve had two exhibitions of Eric’s works over the years, both titled “Wanderlust.” For the second exhibition in 2016, Arthur Williams gave me Eric’s 1976 diary and asked if we could somehow reprint it to make it more widely available. I spent a long time thinking how best to do this. The idea of printing it letterpress crossed my mind, but Eric was no letterpress printer. Finally I decided to just replicate it as faithfully as possible to the original. Our student assistants scanned Eric’s original type written diary. We reprinted it digitally, and we bound it in a vinyl binder, just like he did. Not exactly archival, but as conservationist Cathy Baker once told me, “Just make art. Let the conservationists worry about the conservation.” We placed each of reprint of Eric’s diary in a splatter-painted padded envelope, just as Eric did with his original. We were mentoring a middle school student at the time, Sabina Spindola. There were one or two days where Sabina left for home splattered in gold and lime green paints herself.

Both of these projects were near and dear to me, the first for tapping into the traditions of the book arts that are at the heart of my background, the second for the kinship I have come to feel with John Eric Broaddus, whom I never got to meet. The fact is I never saw books like the ones I’ve seen at the Jaffe Collection until I got here. Arthur and Mata opened a whole new world to me, just as their collection has done for most everyone who comes here. So these two projects represent both sides of the coin for me, the traditions of the book arts, the astonishment of artists’ books. And of course I’m very proud, too, of our annual Letterpress Appreciation Day (September 18, based on the height of type in the US and the UK) and Pi Day (March 14, based on numerical pi) Pie Prints.

Visiting artists and writers who have taught here or given gallery talks: I couldn’t possibly name them all, but I’ll try my best to come up with a decent list. Lynn Avadenka, Tom Balbo, Harriet Bart, Carol Barton, Doug Baulos, Ken Botnick, Terrence Chouinard, Béatrice Coron, Maureen Cummins, Johanna Drucker, Colette Fu, Paula Marie Gourley, Karen Hanmer, Helen Heibert, Ed Hutchins, Paul Johnson, Daniel Kelm, Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., BK Loren, Leslie Marsh, Emily Martin, Scott Miller, Bea Nettles, Stephen Pittelkow, Matthew Reinhart, Maddy Rosenberg, Miriam Schaer, Susan Share, Shawn Sheehy, Peter & Donna Thomas, Carol Todaro, Marshall Weber.

Helen M. Salzberg Artists in Residence, to date: Dorothy Simpson Krause, Lorna Ruth Galloway, Paula Marie Gourley, Tom Virgin, Julia Arredondo, Stephanie Wolff, Brooke Frank, Ingrid Schindall, Marie Marcano, Merike Van Zanten, and this year’s Salzberg Resident, Keri Miki-Lani Schroeder. Each has completed a creative project that is now part of the Jaffe Collection and taught a workshop. The Salzberg Residency program came about thanks to a mutual friend, Martin Armbrust, who introduced Helen to the Jaffe Center. Helen fell in love with the place and wanted to do something to encourage creativity. We came up with the residency concept, and it has been so wonderful having Salzberg Residents at the Center, interacting with our students and with us, teaching us all new things. And making some pretty amazing books while they’re here. Ultimately, each of these books ends up in the Jaffe Collection.

There have been two videos produced over the years about the Jaffe Collection and the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, both by Susan Rosenkranz, who also directed the video project for Stories on the Skin, a collaborative project with FAU Professor Karen Leader, focused on Arthur’s concept of tattooed people as walking books. The very first video came about when we realized that Susan, who was a student intern at Special Collections at the time, had a background in television production. We were at the same time wanting to get some of Arthur’s stories recorded, so it was a natural fit. The first video was made mostly in a studio at FAU in 2003. Some scenes were shot at the Jaffe Collection. There is a very long sequence of me fiddling with a leather binding, which, if any bookbinder were to see it, they’d wonder what the heck is he doing. B-roll, they called it. “Just look busy.” I did my best. The second video, which has been shown a lot more often, was made soon after we expanded from Collection to Book Arts Center. Video is typically part of our class instruction and community group presentations, a good way to introduce students and visitors to the Center before they actually see books. The video we use most often these days is a brief one made by the University in 2014, when Arthur received FAU’s Presidential Service Medal. It serves as a good introduction to our programs and gives visitors a glimpse of our founder and his philosophy.

Arthur and Mata Jaffe’s influence on the book arts in this region and beyond is, to me, profound. I think of so many people I have known over the years who have great treasures and hold on to them tightly. Arthur and Mata approached this place, though, with open hands. They gave a gift and so much has come of it. I’ve witnessed its impact on people through my years here, from little kids who have have never seen anything like the books we have, to high school and college students who come here expecting to be bored and yet leave amazed and invigorated, to adults who can’t wait to share what they’ve experienced here with others, to old folks who come here and sit and listen and watch as we show them books that expand their ideas beyond what they thought was the boundary of their imagination. People leave here inspired to talk, to share, to make, to learn more. This is what books are all about. This is what universities are all about. This collection is, as Arthur said, about nothing and about everything. This place is about the traditions of bookmaking, and yet is about the future of the book, too. These are the paradoxes that are at the heart of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. It’s a place that has touched the lives of thousands and thousands of people so far, and it all began with a gift of 2,800 books. Not bad.

John Cutrone
Director, Jaffe Center for Book Arts
January 8, 2020

  • JCBA’s 20th Anniversary mark was designed by FAU student Richard Rodriguez.
  • The vast majority of Jaffe Center for Book Arts workshops, events, and exhibitions are brought to you by you.
    Won’t you please consider a gift to the center to support our mission and continue this rich history? Thank you.