Unexpected Encounters with Book Arts – and Dartmouth – in Guadalajara

Last November, I traveled to the 30th annual Feria international del libro (FIL) in Guadalajara, Mexico.  This is a major international book fair, with 2,042 publishers representing 47 countries.

Celebrity sighting: Rigoberta Menchú in the FIL 2016

I was one of 200 librarians from public and academic libraries in North America attending the book fair, my travel and lodging sponsored by the American Library Association’s ALA-FIL Free Pass Program. For some of my colleagues, book shopping at the FIL is a competitive sport.  They wheel around suitcases bulging with purchases, and post pictures on Facebook of the boxes of books destined for their R1 library.  I’m more of a JV player when it comes to the FIL. Buying books is certainly central to my trip.  But it is the other, less tangible things, like unexpected encounters with a new publisher, author, or colleagues, that I hope for.  These can have the most enduring impact.

One such encounter happened at this year’s FIL.  I was inside a stall occupied by three independent publishers from Mexico, with my head down in a book, when suddenly I heard someone ask, “Dartmouth?”

I looked up, a little startled, and nodded.  Clemente Orozco introduced himself, smiled, and said, with a handshake, “I’m Clemente, Class of ’85.”

Clemente Orozco ’85 with linotype in the Impronta studios

I learned that Clemente, the director of Taller Impronta, a letterpress and fine press book publisher in Guadalajara, is a Dartmouth graduate.  As we talked, I also learned that this “’85” is the grandson of José Clemente Orozco, whose mural, The Epic of American Civilization, located in the Baker Reserve Corridor, is classified as a National Historic Monument.

Later that week, Clemente welcomed me and two other librarians to the Impronta studios, where we toured the workshop with its dozens of letterpress and linotype presses.  After lunch, we visited Orozco’s murals in the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Palacio de Gobierno.  As we walked the city, Clemente pointed out architectural landmarks: art deco buildings, his grandfather’s house, built upon his return to Mexico in the 1930s, and a house designed by Luis Barragán.

Clemente Orozco ’85 and Melissa Padilla ’16 at the Impronta studios

A further unexpected coincidence that evening brought us together with current Dartmouth student Melissa Padilla ’16.  Melissa was in Guadalajara to conduct interviews for her senior thesis project, and together we dined on enchiladas, tamales, and strawberry atoles.  It was a beautiful Dartmouth moment to see an ’85 and a ’16, both from Guadalajara, meet and share their experiences at the College.  We ended the evening back at the Impronta studios, where a book launch and gallery opening celebrated a new edition, Al circo, illustrated by Clemente, and an exhibit of prints from La Mano press, a printmaking collective in Michoacán, led by Artemio Rodríguez.

Meeting Clemente at the Guadalajara FIL was not only unexpected, but fortuitous, given Dartmouth’s commitment to the book arts and the cultural production of Mexico.  At present, Sarah Smith, Book Arts Workshop Program Manager and I are exploring ways to collaborate with Clemente Orozco in the coming year, perhaps inviting him to campus as a visiting artist, or even conceiving of ways to bring Dartmouth to Guadalajara via an experiential learning opportunity.  I did send boxes of books home, many of them intended for specific faculty and students.  One never knows what one will find at the FIL!