J.K. Emery

J.K. Emery

The Book Arts League and the Eaves Press trace their beginnings to the Little Press of Este Es, founded by Dr. John Evans, a Denver physician, and his wife, Thelma. Dr. Evans’ love of Persian art and poetry drew him to Boulder and to Mehdi Nakosteen, an education professor and an Iranian scholar, says J.K. Emery, “ who knew more rubaiyat than Shakespeare knew sonnets.” Emery, then The University of Colorado’s director of publications and a current member and adviser to the Book Arts League, describes with affection the little circle that began meeting at Dr. Evans’ Black Forest home, south of Denver.

“We spent delightful evenings discussing our passion, beautiful books. We examined John’s complicated letterpress, looked at his priceless book collection (including one of Dard Hunter’s famous works on papermaking on original handmade sheets), and listened to the organ recitals with which he accompanied his rich Welsh baritone. Thelma gave demonstrations of her binding techniques and Medhi provided Middle Eastern food well sprinkled with saffron.”

Before Dr. Evans’ death in 1967, he had started printing Nakosteen’s work, Dust and Destiny, completing only the color printing and gold stamping. Emery volunteered to finish the printing and typesetting, “probably foolishly and definitely naively,” he says. It took months of setting and redistributing from the limited sorts and printing only four pages at a time. The book was completed, and the experience gave Emery an idea: Why not move the Este Es Press to Boulder and give it a home at the university?

Nakosteen, his wife, and Mrs. Evans arranged to have the press equipment donated to CU and moved to Norlin library. The Este Es Press was rejuvenated, and the Colorado Typographical Society was born. The society, with about six members, was active until the early 70s. The Este Es Press continued to publish occasional works under Nakosteen’s leadership until his death in 1982. The pressroom remained dormant until 1983 when Nora Quinlan became head of Special Collections at Norlin. Her interest in rare books and letterpress printing led to the creation of the Eaves Press, named for its location under the eaves of Norlin’s third floor.

Around 1990, Julie Seko and Brian Allen led a resurgence of interest in the book arts, particularly the operation of the Eaves pressroom. This led to the formation of the present organization, the Book Arts League (BAL). Allen served as the League’s first president.

In 1996, Norlin Library decided it could no longer house Eaves Press. Concerned that the Eaves equipment might be disposed of, BAL reached an agreement with the University in which the League assumed ownership of the Eaves Press collection and moved it into storage. Operating under the auspices of Friends of the Libraries, BAL continued its educational and creative activities during the multi-year search for a permanent home.

On February 6 2007,  the Lafayette City Council adopted a lease agreement between the City and the League for the use of the Ewing Farm as the League’s long-term headquarters and studio. The culmination of five years of patient work and cooperation between the League and the City of Lafayette, the agreement establishes a permanent home for the League’s valued collection of type and old presses. This partnership with the City allows the League to continue its mission as a community resource for the traditional and contemporary arts and crafts of the book while helping preserve a historic Boulder county homestead.