Graduate School Meditations · Professional Development

Archiving the Trianon Press: Center for Archival Research and Training Fellowship

What is the Trianon Press Archive?

In operation from  the 1950’s-1980’s, Trianon Press was a fine arts press based in Paris.  The Press was run by Arnold Fawcus, a former combat ski-instructor and counter espionage intelligence officer turned fine art book-maker.  The Press is best known for their work under the William Blake Trust making the highest quality facsimiles of the catalogue of Blake’s illuminated prints, from which Trianon’s prints are virtually indistinguishable from the Blake originals, save for watermarks.  Trianon also published reproductions of modern artists such as Paul Cezanne, Marcel Duchamp, Ben Shahn, and others.  Trianon’s publications also have a strong connection with prehistorian Abbé Breuil’s reproductions of various cave painting sites in Africa.  All of Trianon’s texts are interested in visual culture.  The Archive is a rich collection of published materials, unpublished works, general business documents, exhibition materials, personal documents, and documents relevant to UCSC’s acquisition of the Archive.

 

Beautiful and meticulously crafted these books were essential for making rare texts and otherwise immobile artworks accessible to interested readers and scholars in a pre-internet age.  The books and the processes by which they were made at Trianon are situated within the long history of bookmaking and image reproduction from medieval illuminated manuscripts to digitized off-set printing used today.  The press utilized collotype, a photographic print reproduction process, and pochoir stenciling to color their images en masse but by hand. A temperamental process requiring years of apprenticeship, collotype was a photo-mechanical process that made images of the highest quality reproducible in runs of about 500.   Currently, only one press ostensibly continues to work in this tradition as more efficient and modern printing and imaging technologies have made the labor requirements of collotype obsolete and insupportable.  Pochoir stenciling involves an equally laborious process of painting individual swathes of color onto sheets of paper using hand cut stencils as guides.  Preparation of the stencils themselves was its own meticulous and process requiring experienced craftsmanship.  From subject matter to production to marketing, the whole life cycle of a Trianon text was deeply intertwined with fine art practices.  Fawcus utilized museum exhibition as a means of promoting Trianon’s work and connecting the texts to the sourced artworks and artists.

As a successful and prolific press, this archive is useful to book historians, those interested in graphic reproduction, ecologies of print in France, book design, graphic design, literary studies, cultural anthropologists, museum exhibition, and more.

Adventures in Archival Work

Librarians and archivists manage, house, and make accessible valuable objects and documents with historical, social, political, and cultural significance.  Working under the mentorship of talented and patient librarians and archivists at the UCSC McHenry Library’s Special Collections in the Winter quarter of 2019 was and continues to be a transformative professional experience.  Working as an assistant archivist with the UCSC Elisabeth Remak-Honnef Center for Archival Research and Training (CART) has shown me how I can could find a place working in archives. Some of the skills gained during my time archiving include data management, archive preservation, processing, synthesis and analysis of objects, project management, and methods for efficient work in the face of thousands of unruly papers and objects that need ordering and care.

I worked on the general business documents of the archive, including correspondence, financial records, administrative records, publicity materials, and production records.  Within these sub-sections of the business records were fascinating objects and documents.  I was particularly taken by the collection of manuscript samples sent to the press, as well as the beautiful artwork samples in the Archive, which included publication prospectuses with sample prints and Christmas cards designed in-house.  Going through this portion of the archive meant processing approximately more than two dozen cartons and a total of 930 folders and bins each containing multiple documents–sometimes dozens or hundreds–most of which was paperwork.

Coming out of this experience, the work that the other fellows and I have done was vital in making materials in one of UCSC McHenry Library’s largest archives available to students and the public after many years of processing.  I have also helped write materials used in finding aids that will help people reach these objects. It was a rewarding and validating personal, professional, and academic experience.  Working so closely with archives has offered me experience for possible non-academic career trajectories, and it has given me new ways to think about how archives can be utilized in my research and in my role as an instructor.

Archiving in the Classroom / Classroom in the Archives

My home department, Literature, offers many intersections with the Archive.  An example would be to schedule a visit for the class to examine the Trianon Press Archive at UCSC’s McHenry Library if the course is reading William Blake, the poetry of Thomas Gray, Dante, graphic fiction, discussing book history, print culture, and intersections with the visual.  You might work with librarians ahead of time to display a series of objects or documents.  Many students do not know how to access Special Collections, nor do they know what they can do with these materials.  So, just going with your class is an essential experience of campus resources.

If the class is reading William Blake, you might ask the students to choose an object and think about how it illustrates, extends, complicates, challenges, or advances specific ideas.  Students could think about how the objects help them understand the text, its author, or other conceptual material.  They might compare these texts with the ones they use during the course to think about how the medium and design make a difference to reading.

Students could also be shown various items from the collection that show a book in production in its various stages.  This could be coupled with a discussion of Blake’s own print making techniques.  Students could research his techniques and compare them with the Trianon.  There are lots of generative questions for students to think about.  Why does Blake do this?  Who are these/his books for?  Why does that matter? Why did Trianon produce these books?

Students could also focus on the materiality of an object.  You might ask them to investigate the object and make a detailed account of it in writing or in a short presentation of the object.  This might be a good opportunity to make a small poster and exhibit it.