March 4 - May 3, 1997
K.K. Merker: Serving the Muse
Stone Wall Press and Windhover Press, 1956-1996
Curated by Michael Peich
In March-May 1997 the Grolier Club commemorated K.K. Merker's forty years as a literary fine printer with a comprehensive exhibition of his work. For the exceptional quality and beauty of his editions, Kim Merker has earned widespread admiration and recognition, as well as numerous awards and prizes, including the prestigious AIGA Fifty Books of the Year Award. His rich and fertile career has produced important books, and inspired others to pursue their interests in publishing and design.
K.K. Merker arrived at the University of Iowa in the fall of 1956 to pursue an MFA degree in poetry at the Writer's Workshop. To fulfill a requirement outside creative writing, he chose Typography, taught by Harry Duncan. The course introduced Merker to handmade books and to his mentor, and ultimately changed the direction of his life.
In 1957 he set up his own press and began making books under the Stone Wall Press imprint. The second publication of this new venture, The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees (1960), edited by Donald Justice, demonstrated Merker's skill as a designer, and established his reputation for recognizing important literary work. Subsequently, Stone Wall Press published first books by poets Philip Levine, Mark Strand, Denis Johnson, and Marvin Bell, as well as work by Ezra Pound, Theodore Roethke, Donald Justice, Simone Weil, W.S. Merwin, Thom Gunn, and others. The last Stone Wall Press book was issued in 1976.
Merker established the Windhover Press at the University of Iowa in 1967 as a teaching press where students interested in design, editing, or bibliography could work directly with him in the creation of finely printed books. The new press continued the mission of Stone Wall Press by publishing worthy manuscripts by both well-known and emerging writiers in well designed and meticulously printed editions. It also expanded to include not only poetry but also fiction, translation, and historically significant manuscripts like Henry David Thoreau's Huckleberries.
The Grolier Club exhibit displayed the range of Merker's talent as a designer and editior, and placed him, along with Carroll Coleman's Prairie Press and Harry Duncan's Cummington Press, at the center of the Iowa school of bookmaking. He has taken the Iowa tradition one step further by establishing the Iowa Center for the Book, which encourages students to explore all aspects of the book arts, including printing, typography, and papermaking.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Grolier Club published Printing and the Mind of Merker written by Sid Berger, a critical bibliography of Merker's work at Stone Wall and Windhover Press.
K.K. Merker: Serving the Muse / Stone Wall Press and Windhover Press (1956-1996), was organized by Michael Peich, Professor of English at West Chester University and proprietor of the Aralia Press, with the assistance of Frank Mattson, former curator of the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library.