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Sunday, January 24, 2010

William R. Holman broadsides

There was a good bit of ephemera at the Austin Book, Paper & Postcard Show last weekend (January 16-17, 2010). I didn't find any easily defined book trade-related ephemera (bibliophemera), but I did find something that might pass the test for this blog (looks like it passed--I'm writing about it): Two broadsides from the well-known book designer, printer, publisher, and retired library administrator, William R. Holman. His wife, artist Barbara Holman, illustrated them.



The first broadside (top) features a passage written by Larry McMurtry. The other broadside features a quote from Lawrence Clark Powell, who makes an eloquent statement about the art of printing, with a subtly implicit recognition of its place and importance among a majority population who ascribes importance to function rather than form where print design is concerned. Coincidentally, I'd been reading at home Powell's A Passion for Books (World Publishing, 1958). Some coincidences just don't seem all that coincidental. Powell's quotation:
Fame does not depend upon the majority. Great art is transmitted by the few to the few in each generation who know the permanent from the temporary. This is not snobbism; this is the way life is. As for printing, all that most people ask is that it be legible. That printing can also be art does not interest them. And yet when printing is of such perfection as to be called art, then does it last as long as paper lasts.

Meeting Mr. Holman was the highlight of my weekend in Austin. In fact, I went back to talk to him several times. He is a fascinating man, 83 years young, spry, and sharp. His name was only vaguely familiar to me when I heard he was there. Gratefully, that is no longer the case.

Holman was at the show, set up as a dealer, selling a few books he and his wife either wrote, designed, illustrated, or published with Holman's imprint, Roger Beacham. Next to each stack of books was a stack of broadsides, a different design for each book. They had nothing to do with the books other than being offered as a premium for the purchase of a book. For each book purchased, you got a broadside from the stack next to the book. I bought one of each book, so I got one of each broadside.

The books were Texas Beast Fables by Harold Billings (Roger Beacham, 2006), with illustrations by Barbara Holman and The Orphans' Nine Commandments, a memoir by Holman (published by the TCU Press in Fort Worth, 2007).

This latter book is the most intriguing of the two in that Holman recounts his childhood adversities in orphanages and foster homes during the Great Depression before finally being adopted at age 13 under an 18th century "Indenture Contract." Indeed, his childhood has been compared to something out of a Dickens novel. Larry McMurtry called his story an important book and a compelling memoir. Holman overcame the odds against success and went on to become Director of the San Francisco Library and curator of the world-famous Harry Ransom Rare Book and Manuscript Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

I've since learned that these broadsides are very collectible pieces of art from a book designer whose work, along with William D. Wittliff and others, continues in Texas the tradition of fine quality established by the revered printer Carl Hertzog. That link, by the way, is for an exhibit at the Cushing Memorial Library on the Texas A&M University campus. Nicholas Basbanes wrote a piece for Fine Books & Collections about his visit to Texas A&M and the Cushing Memorial Library last year. He was invited back a few months later to give a lecture at the library's Book History Workshop.

Back to the broadsides... For the Larry McMurtry quote on the Cowboys broadside, I wanted to find out where that passage came from--which of his books--because I didn't recognize it, though I had a few ideas about where it could have come from. On my way to figuring it out, I learned that the broadside was created in 1988 for members of the re-established Book Club of Texas and given to members at their first meeting.


I made an assumption that the passage was excerpted from a nonfiction work of McMurtry's, as the prose didn't seem to fit a fictional format. I first thought of Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen because that is the most recent of McMurtry's nonfiction books I've read. Then it hit me (at 4:45 this morning!)--it had to have come from McMurtry's first collection of essays. And there I found it, the last essay in the bunch: Take My Saddle from the Wall: A Valediction, from In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas (Bill Wittliff's Encino Press, 1968).

Back to Bill Holman... After chatting with Bill (meaning I pretty much kept my mouth shut and listened), I bought one of each book, which he signed. He told me to get a broadside from each stack, I thanked him, and went back to my area to try to sell a few books. The cost of any lost sales while I was gone was more than compensated by meeting and talking with Bill Holman.

A bit later, I thought I'd like to get my broadsides signed, so back over to Holman's table. He was reluctant to put his signature on the fine, hand-crafted paper for fear of defacing or ruining the broadside with the ink. I thought of a compromise and he agreed to very carefully sign the backs in pencil.

The third time I went to talk to Mr. Holman, I wanted to ask him about the details of the broadsides--the hand-selected paper, the typography, and any other colophon type information he could share. He had told me earlier some of these details, but I couldn't remember them all. He was packed up and ready to go, although the book show still had another hour to go. Now he was having trouble remembering and made a joke about being 83 and his memory not being what it used to. He told me to email him about it; he had to go home now and go to work. "Work?" I asked. I had assumed his day was done for that Sunday. He informed me otherwise.

One part of his day was done, now he was off to his writing job. He said he strives for 250 words a day in his writing. At some point, he gathers his writing and sends it to Larry McMurtry for critique. McMurtry sends it back and he resumes with editing and rewriting and more writing. I'm 30 years Holman's junior and can't seem to find the time (nor the discipline) to put down 250 words a day. I come close several days a week with my blogs, but everyday work and home responsibilities always seem to cut into that. Yet another reason to admire this man.

As I stated before, these broadsides the Holmans created have become very collectible, commanding respectable prices. Mine are going to be prominently and proudly displayed in my office as both aesthetic decor and visual reminders of a serendipitous meeting at a book show with one of the best bookmen of a generation. Without really knowing it, unless through some intuitive mechanism, Mr. Holman enriched my knowledge and passion for this business and for this art.

1 comment:

  1. I heard from Mr. Holman himself on this post and he was kind enough to add some information about the McMurtry broadside. For the record and for those interested in the details: He handset the type in Weiss II for display and set the text in Bruce Rogers' Centaur. David Holman (son) did the presswork on a Heidelberg Press. Barbara Holman (wife) did the illustration and hand colored each sheet. The paper is a mold made sheet which Holman had made in Barcelona, Spain.

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