Catalog 15: Cuban Artist's Books

Catalog 15: Cuban Artist's Books

A 320-page catalog of more than 300 handmade books from Ediciones Vigía, Cuadernos Papiro, and Ediciones El Fortín over the last 30 years.

 Short videos of individual books are available on my YouTube Channel.

Ediciones Vigía

Of the three publishers, Ediciones Vigía is the oldest—established in 1985 by Alfredo Zaldívar and Rolando Estévez—and the best known inside and outside of Cuba. It has been the subject of exhibitions in many countries and even a monograph in the US, the recently released Handmade in Cuba.

Estévez, a set designer by profession, established the design aesthetic for Vigía. A large group of writers, artists, and artisans in the Vigía circle collaborate to publish hundreds of individually designed, and hand assembled books.

Typically, one artist creates a maquette for a book and then a group of artisans will figure out how to replicate the design 200 times. Most early Vigía books had print runs of 100 and later 200 copies, because that was as many as it was possible to produce before the mimeograph masters wore out, a tradition that continued after new printing technology was acquired.

While Ediciones Vigía has published many well-known writers from Europe and the Americas, it has retained its focus on the community of writers in and around Matanzas. Few publishers anywhere have produced so many literary books by regional writers and Vigía’s local emphasis is unparalleled among the makers of artist’s books.

In the post-Estévez era, several designers who once worked alongside him have begun to shape a new Vigía aesthetic, notably Elizabeth Valero Molina, Frank David Valdés, Adrián Milián Suárez, Marialva Ríos, and Johann E. Trujillo.

Ediciones El Fortín

Ediciones El Fortín is a spinoff of Vigía, founded by Estévez in 2014. This new Matanzas imprint claims to be based in “Bellamar”, which means “lovely sea.” Bellamar is intended to counter the violence implied by naming a city Matanzas, which might be translated as “Murderville.”. El Fortín produces books in small numbers, usually fewer than 50 copies, with elaborate structures and packaging. While Fortín books are much closer to Estévez’s one-of-a-kind book-art pieces than the typical Vigía title, they also make extensive use of Vigía-style handcoloring and paper and fabric collage.

Cuadernos Papiro

Cuadernos Papiro started as a papermaking collective in 1994 and began publishing books in 2001 under the direction of Tatiana Zúñiga Góngora and Manuel Arias Silveira. The press is in Holguín, on the opposite end of the island from Havana. Cuadernos Papiro (whose name translates as papyrus notebooks or papyrus quartos) makes all its own paper from recycled materials. Its founders obtained a linotype machine so they could print all their books with lead type. A dedication to obsolete equipment is central to Papiro’s vision. Most of Papiro’s books are illustrated with relief prints, most often linocuts and collagraphs.