Made By Hand at the Indiana State Library July 1

Thumbing through paperbacks while we bathe in the sun has become a celebrated part of Summertime. Whether you read classic literature, trashy romance or spine tingling suspense, there is no better time to get caught up in fiction than during the lazy days of Summer. Often, we take for granted the fact that books are so readily available on the shelves of the Indianapolis public library or at book stores across the United States. The invention of the printing press changed the world, leading to the cavalcade of fiction and nonfiction that permeates our lives. Travel to a time before the printing press, when wood block carving was the predominate method of book production, a the Indiana State Library’s “Made By Hand.” Learn about this early book making technique, and see some of the wood block printed books in the Indiana State Library’s collection. This FREE Indianapolis event is Thursday, July 1 at 5:30 pm.

Wood block printing is a technique for printing text, images and patterns that originated in China in antiquity. This method of printing on both textiles and paper is a long and arduous process that requires tremendous skill and artistry. Essentially the craftsman creates a stamp from a wood block, which is carefully prepared as a “relief matrix.” The carver cuts away at the areas of the wood block to show white space with a knife, chisel or sandpaper (always working along the grain of the wood), creating characters or an images to show “black” on the original surface. When the image is complete, the block is inked and brought into contact with the medium for printing (either textile or paper).

The process is complicated further, when you consider the print image is a mirror image of the wood block carving. Thus, the carver must carefully plan and execute his carving (always working in reverse) to create an acceptable finished product. The process of stamping dates back to as far as Mesopotamia (3000 BCE), where cylinder seals with carved images were rolled across wet clay tablets to create a two dimensional representation. However, the earliest wood block printing to survive are from China and date to the Han dynasty (220 BCE). The simple find of silk printed with flowers in three colors relays historical information about the advancement of civilization more than two thousand years old.

Though the process of wood block printing was prominent in Europe as well noted from the printing of images on cloth, it is clear that it was developed several centuries earlier in Asia. The process used by the Chinese to print solid text fit logically in their linguistic system, which contains thousands of characters. Because of the vast number of characters, wood block printing suited their needs better than movable type to the extent that characters only need to be created as they occur in they text. Though the Chinese had invented movable type, the preferred system remained wood block printing.

The world’s earliest dated printed book has been traced back to AD 868. This Chinese scroll, which measures at sixteen feet long, contains the sacred Buddhist text of the Diamond Sutra. Because of the great maturity of design displayed in the book, it is believed to be one of many from this era. The clarity of the book reflects a process of development which occurred over several generations. Learn more about wood block printing and its growth through history at the Indiana State Library’s “Made By Hand” Thursday, July 1 at 5:30 pm. This Indianapolis education event is FREE and open to all Indianapolis people.

Located in Indianapolis downtown, the Indiana State Library has prime Indianapolis real estate near dozens of Indianapolis attractions. After the lecture, head to any of these scrumptious Indianapolis restaurants or Indianapolis bars for a bite to eat. Stay tuned to Indianapolis News, Events and Information on Fun City for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis. We cover Indianapolis arts to Indianapolis sports and everything in between. Get out in Indy and find some fun! Make the Circle City your playground.

Made By Hand
Thursday, July 1 at 5:30 pm

Indiana State Library
315 West Ohio Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202