Zephyrs of Inspiration at the Codex Book Fair

Codex2024_Cari_Water Book

There are so many ways to love a book. Read it, write it, buy it, lend it, borrow it, steal it, study it, bury it, weather it, adorn it, slice it, draw in it, play with it, make art of it.

If that continuum sounds strange to you, meet artist books. The short definition of an artist book (I hear chuckles in the corner) is an artist’s creation to explore “bookness.” Naturally there are as many ways to describe an artist book as there are artists. But the best way to understand an artist book is to see one, hold one, and best of all, talk to the maker about how and when and why they made the book.

That’s what I did when I traveled up to Oakland one early February afternoon to the Codex Book Fair, a 4-day extravaganza of bookish brilliance happening in the Bay Areas every two years since 2007. This year about 200 book artists from all corners of the world came together to celebrate book art, and each other, and creativity.

A smiling woman named Amandine Nabarra put a book in my hands and said, “Let it flow, like water.” And it did, in waves and ebbs and and puddles. It was pure delight, this book called Water, its actual title being the symbols meant to indicate Bernoulli’s Equation. That would provide some intellectual fun for some, but for me it was as fascinating as a Slinky toy when I was a kid.  (I have put the video, too long for this post, on my Substack page if you’d like to share the moment with me.)

Codex2024_Peter and Donna Thomas

I am always pleased to visit the colorful table of Peter and Donna Thomas. They are like the down-home mom and pop of the book arts world, their creations unfailingly bright and accessible. Long known for their miniature books, they have probably made every other kind of book you might imagine and some you have not, including a whole series inside a ukulele, a creation that is likely to call forth a song from its makers. Peter and Donna stopped by our homestead on their ramble across California, following in John Muir’s footsteps in 2006.


I was so absorbed chit-chatting that I failed to take photos of the wonders on their table, so Donna kindly sent me this superb one of the new book of which she is most proud, The First Rule of Life. Conceived of and produced just at the start of the pandemic, its content was inspired by the journal kept by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts on a journey to the Sea of Cortez, and includes facsimiles of their field notes and Donna’s always heartwarming watercolor paintings surrounded by this imaginative hand-stitched frame, creating a portal to another world.

Then I was off to visit another distinguished couple of the book arts world, Suzanne Moore and Don Glaister. Suzanne’s work never fails to enchant me; she has been a guiding light for my book art since the very beginning. This year was no exception, with this book, Ineffable Abstraction, using the words of Ben Shahn’s Love and Joy About Letters:


These stirring words, “The mystic relationship of letters growing under one’s hands,” are a devotional that can apply to drawing letters or telling stories with them, and are bound in Don’s exquisite leather covers.


I was equally moved by Suzanne’s book entitled Dreamings, a unique manuscript book that is part of her Q series entitled “Rescuing Q: Quandaries and Queries.” The paintings are inspired by the Dreamtime of New Zealand’s Maori people, paired with her signature use of translucent papers to allow the recto text to be in conversation with its continuation on the reverse side (the verso when the page is turned).


I love elemental metaphors, so it was not lost on me that my last two posts about the Codex fair used metaphors of Fire and Water. This time I felt the presence of Air, the element most associated with speaking, writing and communication. It was so enlivening to breathe in all of the art, to feel the excitement of creativity wafting around me in the ethers.


This was underlined by my visit with Maro Vandorou, one of several people I had come to find. There on her table, as in past years, was a quiet book that blew my mind, a love letter to a mysterious Wind Priestess, a-ne-mo-i-je-re-ja, who is referred to exactly twice in the Linear B tablets excavated at Knossos Palace on the island of Crete. The pages, translucent as air, light as a feather, has the text written in a long lines of the mysterious syllabic script across very wide pages, untranslated and printed in ocean blue ink.


The fair bustled around us, each artist hoping by bright colors or performing books to attract the attention of we who came to see. Maro’s table was a grey cloth with white pages printed in a language three thousand years old, and yet here was where my heart leapt. The symbols of the Linear B tablets include forms that are identical to some of those on the table of marks made by the pioneering Marija Gimbutas from ritual objects found in the Neolithic settlements of Old Europe, a thousand miles to the north. It has long been surmised that these cultures were pushed south to the island of Crete as the culture of Europe changed. This is of course the work of my heart, the basis for my book The First Writing.


The lovely table of Marina Soria, who I have written about at some length in the past, enticed me at the end of the day. I came home with one of her little accordion books illustrating the alchemy possible between letter and blossom, and admired the books she made after a visit to Monet’s Giverny. A sweet souvenir of my day with the books and their artists.

I have been going to the Codex fair since it began in 2007, when I straggled up to the Berkeley campus with a few of my colorful artist books in my bag. I came away with two new dealers who sold and continue to sell my books to private collectors and special collections in libraries and the occasional museum. I missed the 2022 show because of the pandemic and also because I was trying to concentrate on writing a book instead of making one. There are only so many hours in a  day. My art life went on the back burner while I roughed out a novel, then roughed it out again, and again. And again.


When all  was said and done, at the end of the day, a memory, that nebulous creature of Air, meant the most to me.  I saw an old friend at Codex who took a workshop with me twelve years ago in Washington State. “I will never forget,” she said to me, “that you had a phone call that your father died. And you taught the rest of the class.” I was surprised to hear myself say, “He taught me to finish what I started.” Truly this was a zephyr, named for the Greek god of the west wind, the gentlest wind heralding spring. It was just past the vernal equinox, coming around soon again, and I can think of it more lightly now. I look back on what I wrote about that workshop, disguising the truest thing that happened there, but already seeking comfort in the natural world before I traveled to the desert to do the next thing.

It’s been nice for me to revisit my art life this past year. My artist books are out making new acquaintances in the world, and sometimes I have followed them, as I did last year when I flew to England to see my little book on exhibit at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It’s become clear to me that I straddle both worlds, art and writing, and that they are not as different as one might think. My book love has not waned, whatever form it takes, and it was a real treat to nurture it this month with friends far and near.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Amandine Nabarra 02/24/2024, 3:08 pm

    Thank you Cari for your kind words! It was nice to share my books with you at Codex.

    • Cari 02/24/2024, 6:57 pm

      Amandine, it’s so nice of you to stop by! Your video has given my friends and family so much pleasure. I really enjoyed meeting you.

  • Maro Vandorou 02/27/2024, 12:50 pm

    Dear Cari, it was so good to see you again at Codex this year and thank you for your kind words. Along with its intensity and wide range of artist books, Codex affords the unique opportunity to bring together all of us who love artist books, visual design, calligraphy, printing, everything and all. I am grateful to Georgia Angelopoulos who did the calligraphy for “Persephone’s Chamber” in 2017 and suggested that you come by and see me and the book. Making new friends and meeting old friends is one of the best aspects of Codex.

    • Cari 02/27/2024, 4:46 pm

      Thank you for coming by my home on the web, Maro. I’m so glad that I actually had a copy of my book The First Writing with me to show you the Neolithic forms from Old Europe that inspired my goddess alphabet and that carried forward into the script system you used, Linear B. It all felt meant. It was a heady day, exhausting but full of wonder.

  • Jane Brenner 02/28/2024, 12:09 pm

    I missed Codex this year so your reporting was very much appreciated!

    • Cari 02/28/2024, 12:23 pm

      I’m so glad, Jane! You are a faithful reader and I appreciate your commenting here. It does help me when I am crafting these posts to know readers appreciate them. Hope you are well and that maybe our paths will cross in another way this year.

  • Lexa Most 03/04/2024, 3:42 pm

    As always, it is such a pleasure to read your postings. They introduce me to worlds I would otherwise know nothing about. The Codex sounds marvelous, even for those of us who don’t follow book arts. Thank you!

    • Cari 03/05/2024, 8:03 am

      I am glad to know these books interest those who might not have dipped into this world, Lexa. That’s why I keep sharing my experiences. Thank you for writing.

  • Marina Soria 03/04/2024, 4:08 pm

    Love all you have written about the Codex art book fair!!! It is such an inspiring place to be, unluckily I could not spend the time I needed to go around it except for some few tables I could peek at before every day opening. So thank you for sharing the treasures you found!!! Looking forward for the next one!
    Thanks, Marina

    • Cari 03/05/2024, 8:07 am

      Marina, it is always a pleasure to see your work. I looked back and I think I may have even caught the first time you were shown at Codex, in one of my first posts about the fair, https://cariferraro.com/discoveries-at-the-codex-book-fair/ It seems you weren’t there but your work was, and even then it leapt out at me. I have been a seamstress all my life and for a long time was immersed in the fiber arts, until I felt I had to make a choice with my time and followed the calligraphy trail. It’s wonderful to see you bring the two together, and all the other iterations of your creative gift!

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