As it says in the “About Ink Meets Paper Design” on this page, my inspiration and book knowledge began while attending Pratt Institute. I was accepted to Pratt with my photography portfolio. I thought photography would be the way I would spend my entire profession.
When I arrived at Pratt (mini fridge and jug of laundry detergent in hand) I began taking my classes. Only later I would find out that I was incorrectly scheduled in the standard “Foundation” curriculum by the admissions department. Not knowing that as a media major, my “Foundation” should have been slightly different than the Fine Art majors, I went about my first year happy with the classes I was taking, but looking forward to taking photography classes the next year.
Once my freshman year was winding down, and I began to schedule my classes for the next year, I made sure I scheduled my classes to include both the photography and video classes required for photography majors. In addition, according to Pratt’s credit requirements, every semester students are required to take at least one class outside their major. At a loss as far as what class to choose that both fit in my schedule, and also still had openings, I debated between ceramics, painting, and a class named: “The Art of the Book” that seemed somewhat interesting. I wasn’t much of a writer, and I had never done anything like it before, and none of my friends had heard anything about the professor. I pondered my options, and firmly picked ceramics to be my elective class. They say everything happens for a reason, and that couldn’t be any more true then in the following string of events. I went to the ceramics department; the class I had chosen had just been closed. Same for the painting class. Off to Professor Werner Pfeiffer to ask if he still had an opening in his class “The Art of the Book” He confirmed there was still an opening, and even when I mentioned my lack of writing skills, and my ability to really draw well, he assured me that would not be an issue. He felt confident that my photography skills and classes would easily translate to the assignments in the class.
Apprehensively, I went to my first class the following fall. The class was in a dusty studio space that even though it wasn’t a in the basement, it was on the ground level of one of the main buildings, the only windows we had were at ground level. There were huge contraptions that I had no idea what they were for. I sat down and waited for Professor Pfeiffer to arrive. In he came, big sheets of paper under his arm, bucket of glue, paint brush, his hair was a bit rumpled looking. What in the world did I get myself into, I thought.
Professor Pfeiffer began the class by talking about paper, paper structure, paper make up and everything paper. How boring! Then, I really started listening to him. He had some interesting facts about paper, and how to manipulate it. This was intriguing. He then gave us our first assignment. He explained it to us, by making the book himself. It was a very basic sewn single signature book with a cover. Seemed easy enough, he made his in less than 15 minutes – this class was surely cake! But we had to fill it with content of some sort. It could not be blank. I started sweating. I left the class, happy to return to the darkroom. Over the next week, I purchased my supplies and began what was my first book. I ended up creating collage pieces to go into the book, and titled it “Colors” (not very original). Little did I know as I was cursing my cut marks, my attempts at sewing, and at times, Professor Pfeiffer himself for making it look so easy, that that first book (once finished) would launch a lifelong obsession with making books.
I took both Art of the Book classes that Professor Pfeiffer offered, and then took a class that gave me double credits as it was a collaborative class between the English Department and the Fine Art Department. For this class, I had to write, in addition to designing and building books. I found that if I wrote about subjects I knew well, I wasn’t so bad. As my time at Pratt progressed, I found I was having much more fun, and feeling much more fulfilled working on books then I was in the darkroom. I changed my major to Art Direction, hoping to still work WITH photography, but could incorporate book elements as well.
Much of Professor Pfeiffer’s books are “art” books, or sculptural books. I personally prefer to create books that can be used by anyone and can be useful in everyday life. What I was taught by Professor Pfeiffer was a core understanding of paper, bindings, and how to create something that can be cherished by anyone.
I am sure he doesn’t remember me, (he has been teaching for more than 40 years) but be sure to check out this PHENOMENAL interview with him where he talks about both a sculptural piece he made, and the book he translated it to.
Thank you Professor Pfeiffer, for inspiring a wide eyed college student, and for your art.