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Su Friedrich’s “Sink or Swim” added to the National Film Registry

Sink or swim [electronic resource] by Su Friedrich. West Hollywood, CA : Stag Films, 2013. One online resource (47 min.).

Congratulations to Princeton University Professor of Visual Arts Su Friedrich, whose 1990 documentary “Sink or Swim” has been added to the National Film Registry by the Librarian of Congress. The autobiographical story about the schism between a daughter and her father can be viewed here:;2180783

index“Acting Librarian of Congress David Mao announced today the annual selection of 25 motion pictures to be named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. These films, which epitomize the diversity and richness of the nation’s cinematic heritage, have been identified as motion pictures that deserve to be preserved because of their cultural, historic or aesthetic importance.

‘Selecting a film for the National Film Registry recognizes its importance to cinema and America’s cultural and artistic history,’ said Mao. ‘The registry is an invaluable way to advance public awareness of the richness, creativity and variety of our nation’s film heritage.’”

For a complete list of the 2015 inductees, see

From the registry:
Sink or Swim (1990). In this autobiographical tale told in voice-over by a teenage girl (Jessica Lynn), Su Friedrich relates a series of 26 short vignettes that reveal a subtext of a father preoccupied by his career and of a daughter emotionally scarred by his behavior. Black-and-white film clips of ordinary daily activities illustrate Friedrich’s poetically powerful text to create a complex and intense film. Of this work, which garnered numerous festival awards, Friedrich wrote, “The issue for me is to be more direct, or honest, about my experiences, but also to be analytical. ‘Sink or Swim’ is personal, but it’s also very analytical, or rigorously formal.”

Friedrich’s films and videos have been featured in retrospectives at major museums and festivals, and she has received both Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships. Michael Zyrd wrote in Senses of Cinema: “The textures, cinematic and emotional, of Friedrich’s work are both private and highly mediated, embodying an aesthetic style and range of concerns that make her one of the most innovative and accessible artists currently working in the dynamic tradition of the modernist American Avant-Garde.”

One More Spring

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One of AIGA’s fifty best books of 1936 was One More Spring with hand-stenciled color by William Addison Dwiggins (1880-1956), who also designed the binding. Each of the 750 copies sold for $10 and it continues to be a favorite of book collectors.
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While many of his books were designed to look like stencil printing, the final editions were in fact printed from relief metal blocks. This title, however, clearly states that the designs were stenciled by Dwiggins and so, I take it as fact. The flat areas of color show no evidence of a human hand but the artist was extremely precise. I would not want to second guess him. What do you think?

At this point in his career, Dwiggins did all the work himself from his home studio in Hingham, Massachusetts, separating the design into individual stencils and cutting them from celluloid sheets. Several designs include one stencil repeated many times to form a picture. For painting on the color, he cut off a shaving brush since he didn’t have the traditional animal-hair pompon.

dwiggins one more spring8The artist wrote, “the cutting is done into bits of celluloid taped in place over the pen drawings of the elements. After the ties have been located, a light cutting is made, not all the way through the film, and if necessary, French chalk rubbed into the scratches. Then over black paper to let you see where to go, a final cut is made through the film.

Curator Philip Hofer called Dwiggins, “America’s one truly modern typographer, and by far her most outstanding book decorator and calligrapher; a mechanical wizard, type designer, and specialist in advertising layout; an illustrator, mural painter, costume designer, and sculptor, a playwright, satirist, and perhaps beyond ever the best of his art – a thinker and poet in prose.”

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Robert Nathan (1894-1985), One More Spring. (Stamford, Conn.: Overbrook Press, 1935). 20 stenciled decorations by W.A. Dwiggins. Edition of 750. Presentation letter from Frank Altschul to Elmer Adler, dated October 29, 1935, laid in. Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) PS3527.A74 O6 1935.

Wood engraver’s magnifier

wood engravers magnifier

Among the many optical devices in the graphic arts collection there is a loupe on a pole, which until now, we had not been able to name. The image below makes it clear the magnifier was specifically designed for wood engravers. It comes from an article in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in April 1883 about the artists working for that newspaper.

For wood engravings of that period, a design was copied onto a block of wood, which was then cut into many smaller sections of approximately three inches square, depending on the original. Each section was given to a different engraver who would use this magnifier to cut the tiny lines of their portion of the image. Once all the blocks were completed and reassembled, the whole would be stereotyped to make a metal printing plate strong enough to stand up to the steam presses. The wood would be trimmed and reused for the next design.

For other objects in the optical devices collection, see this pdf:

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, (New York, NY) Saturday, April 14, 1883; pg. 125; Issue 1,438; col A

tp036-woodeng.jpglion Example of an engraved wood block (enlarged)