On Translation


To understand the act of translation is to read it, see it, trust in the meaning of another’s language, and ultimately surrender to an intuitive understanding. No amount of awareness will ever completely capture all the subtleties of a place or voice that is not one’s own. Translators contend with this task. There are so many points of view, so many arguments for and against circling around this need to communicate in ways that our human frailty can comprehend. Then there are the complexities of metaphor when translating image into text, text to image, or taking the additional leap of image/text into object. The struggles inherent in the making of a book are akin to how one moves from one language to another. Each translator along the way then must attempt to capture this in a way that holds in place (or at least attempts to) the fragile world of conviction.

Artists’ books are like this. There are so many types, and equally so many skilled hands and minds that go into their development. Many fail or never reach the deeper meanings of what was intended. Many surprise, not only the makers, but those who come upon them.

To look back at the fifty books we have made is to summon up the mysteries of our failures and successes. The second half of our first centum of books is underway.

This catalog represents our efforts to make objects of beauty and meaning. Our trust in both owes a debt to the people of words and images. Behind each and every book are numerous and thoughtful translators of places and voices, those willing to struggle through the details of bringing an idea forward.

It would take many more pages of effort to elaborate on the act of translation and its relationship to artists’ books. Instead I suggest you read Swan’s Way (Marcel Proust), translated by Lydia Davis, or, at the very least, read her introduction.

This year we must also look back and remember a close friend. Nancy Willard left this world many gifts of her own making. She was a great translator of the human spirit, as anyone who has read her poetry, novel, essays, and children’s books surely knows.

—Bill Kelly, Founder