For 20 years, Chad Pastotnik has printed handmade books in Mancelona, Michigan. Pastotnik’s exhibit 20 Years of Deep Wood Press will be at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center through the end of this month. He uses a lot of natural fibers in his work, but one common ingredient is missing.
“There are no trees in the paper that I use. Wood pulp paper is really nasty stuff. It’s highly acidic and won’t last a hundred years,” Pastotnik says. “The way we produce books is everything is hand-stitched, handmade papers. They are cotton-based papers. The leathers that I used are vegetable tanned. All of the standards that are required in a fine book.”
Pastotnik studied printmaking at Grand Valley State University where he became interested in book arts. But he never had the money to buy his own studio until one day when he was driving to a faculty review of his senior show exhibition.
“I was in a really bad car accident and lost my vision for a while. So I had a little nest egg from that. And when I retreated back north to lick my wounds months later this insurance guy shows up and gives me a check. And I’m like ‘Oh, great!’ Either I’ll move to Prague, because Prague had just been liberated at the time and I could be a king with that kind of money. Or I’ll just buy a beautiful piece of property on the river that I love to fish. And so I went with the latter.”
Pastotnik and Deep Wood Press work with many Michigan authors, but the press also reprints classics like Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. He says all of the materials and artwork in each book is designed to fit it’s unique theme.
“The production value must compliment the subject. So, whereas in Heart of Darkness we use that marbled paper to…cause Heart of Darkness is about what Apocalypse Now is very loosely based on, but the original story is about the East India Trading Company and on the Congo river. So this swirly, muddy, organic, marbled paper is to like evoke the idea of the Congo—the jungle and the water and the mud and the dark parts of the story.”
Pastotnik says hand making a book can take a few months or even a few years, but it’s well worth it.
“I follow the same practices that Gutenberg would have used or people before then. And those books, you know the incunabula before Gutenberg and everything from after that, those books are still around. And my books, if properly taken care of—which means not dropping them in water or anything like that—they’ll be around in 500 years or a thousand years. Go into your local bookstore and pick up a book and even if it’s a hard cover book, you’ll be lucky to give that to your grandchildren because everything is machine made now.”
You can see Chad Pastotnik’s work at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center through the end of the month.