Gaylord Schanilec

He’s incredibly talented at using very difficult techniques to translate a visual narrative into beautiful artwork. He just happens to be in our back yard, but he’s recognized internationally.
— Jeff Rathermel, Executive Director, Minnesota Center for Book Arts

With the completion of what seemed like the ultimate book project, (New York Revisited, The Grolier Club, 2002), I came across a copy of Dry Fly Entomology (London, 1902) by F. M. Halford, the popularizer of modern fly fishing. Inspiration from Halford's book led to a personal trilogy exploring the intersection of art and science — Mayflies of the Driftless Region (Stockholm, 2005), Sylvæ (Stockholm, 2008), and Lac Des Pleurs (Stockholm, 2015).

This consumed the next dozen-or-so years and culminated with the realization I had said all I had to say about life in rural Wisconsin. I've recently moved to Saint Paul where, from another perch on the shoulder of the Mississippi I watch clouds, residential construction, and schools of pigeons turning like fish in the sky.

Excerpt from "A bookmaker, unbound" by Mary Abbe, Star Tribune, February 2013):

Even in this tech-obsessed time, a master book artist like Gaylord Schanilec can not only survive but gain international renown for his spectacular craftsmanship…Actually, the world didn’t beat a path to Schanilec’s door. Instead, he took his meticulously handmade books to New York, London and beyond, and collectors leapt at them like trout after mayflies. They’re in special collections everywhere from Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum to the New York Public Library, Harvard, Yale, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Back in Schanilec’s home state, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center own his books, as do the Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Minnesota.

He’s one of the two or three finest color wood-engravers ever. He’s really that good,” said Robert Rulon-Miller, a rare book dealer in St. Paul who has followed Schanilec’s career for more than 30 years. “He’s a man of many parts: engraver, printer, bookbinder, editor, writer, natural philosopher, and he brings all this stuff together into his books.” Handmade everything A bibliography of Schanilec’s print projects, recently compiled by Rulon-Miller, lists more than 600 items including dozens of books he’s written, designed, typeset or illustrated, plus hundreds of bits of ephemera ranging from pamphlets to a special bookmark for the Hennepin County Library system.

Schanilec’s books are no mass-market marvels. A typical print run might result in just 25 copies; his largest printing is about 1,000 volumes. Each is a labor of love for which the artist hand-sets each letter of type, designs every page, carves the illustrations into blocks of wood and prints them in multiple colors. He does not make the paper, but has on occasion done the binding himself. They take as long as two or more years to make and typically sell for $150 and up. “He’s incredibly talented at using very difficult techniques to translate a visual narrative into beautiful artwork,” said Jeff Rathermel, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. “He just happens to be in our back yard, but he’s recognized internationally.”

Over the years he has printed poems and broadsides for such luminaries as Robert Bly, Gary Snyder and Meridel Le Sueur, as well as memoirs by former Minnesota Gov. Elmer L. Andersen and philanthropist Kenneth Dayton. His two books about New York City include “The Bicycle Diaries,” an acclaimed collaboration with writer Richard Goodman on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.

Rooted in Minnesota, he is best known, however, for his own writing and illustrations on regional topics as wide-ranging — and esoteric — as St. Paul’s now-demolished High Bridge, Mississippi waterfalls and “Mayflies of the Driftless Region.” An award winner at the 2005 Oxford Book Fair, the “Mayflies” book involved four years of research … and features 13 pristine engravings detailing every aspect of the insects, down to the veins of their translucent wings. “His work is so quintessentially Minnesotan it seems bred in the bone,” said Patrick Coleman, rare books curator at the Minnesota Historical Society. His observations of flora and fauna are so keen that “fly fishermen and other people really melt,” Coleman said.