The Sea of Isla Negra is one of a series of sixteen one-of-a-kind handmade books that are the product of a five-year collaboration conceived by longtime creative partners Manuel Neri, a highly-respected Bay Area figurative artist best known as a sculptor, and Mary Julia Klimenko, Neri’s primary model for close to four decades. In the early 1970s Klimenko, herself a poet, began the practice of reading poetry aloud to Neri as he worked, favoring the work of Spanish-language poets, among them Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca. As the 2004 centennial of Neruda’s birth approached, the pair—who had already produced three fine press limited-edition books together featuring Neri’s artwork and Klimenko’s poetry—conceived the idea to produce a tribute to Neruda. Esteemed calligrapher Thomas Ingmire and master binder Daniel E. Kelm joined the creative team to produce Oda a la bella desnuda/Ode to a Beautiful Nude, a single poem hand-lettered in English and its original Spanish, accompanied by seven Neri drawings and bound by hand, in 2004. Over the next five years, fifteen more bilingual books would follow, six additional volumes using Neruda’s poems, and nine based on poetry by García Lorca.
The resulting body of work is a testament to the rebirth of the one-of-a-kind handmade book. Before the advent of print in the West, manuscripts were the book, defined by densely penned text and rich but space-conserving embellishment. The Neri/Ingmire/Kelm collaboration belongs to the genre of art: contemporary manuscripts, rendered in expressive and spare calligraphy carefully considered to honor the poetry and visually converse with the drawings chosen to accompany each volume. In each of the luxurious large-format volumes, every visual and structural element serves the whole, including the decorative leather-covered bindings, designed and constructed so that the books open completely flat for viewing.
Poem by Pablo Neruda.
Drawings by Manuel Neri.
Calligraphy and text design by Thomas Ingmire.
Introduction by Julia Klimenko.
Binding and box by Daniel E. Kelm and Kylin Lee.
The Sea of Isla Negra was included in the 2012 exhibition Things that Dream: Contemporary Calligraphic Artists’ Books/Cosas que sueñan: Libros de artistas caligráficos contemporáneos in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda of Green Library, Stanford University, April 19-July 8, 2012. A catalogue of the show is available for purchase.