Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Evolving Omnity.

If you have gone to Wikipedia for any reason today, then you already know that it's the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, which is pretty cool. This anniversary has been at the back of my consciousness most of the year, since we happened to be in Cambridge during a great Darwin exhibit at the Fitzwilliam Museum over the summer. (I also sang in a pair of concerts that tipped their hat to Darwin this past weekend, but I won't elaborate on that.) This is all just background information so that you can feel my synchronicity.

I was at the Goodwill Outlet today, rifling through giant piles of crap, and this book appeared right in front of me.


The words "evolving omnity" sound so much like something the Brit would say while trying to be ridiculous and/or enjoy syllables that OF COURSE I picked it up. Also, the book looked extremely cool/hippie. Then I opened it and saw this, which actually spreads across two pages:

Two glorious pages of tree.
left side

Two glorious pages of tree.
right side

And then pages and pages of poetry that look like this:

Second page.

I think I paid about 50 cents for it and then asked the internet to tell me some things about this book. First of all, it's not worth much, which is fine. These things are just important to know if you go on Antiques Roadshow. Also, it's not an antique, which I ascertained by looking at the publication date (1981). Wikipedia tells me that Gwen Frostic, the author, lived and worked her whole long life (1906-2001) in Michigan. TomFolio.com gives us this intriguing info, borne out by the book I have in hand:
A Frostic book is instantly recognizable: hardcover, no jacket, every page a different kind of paper, and simple but beautiful illustrations on every spread. Frostic created everything you see in her books, from the myriad papers to the exquisitely printed illustrations to the wisps of free verse that flow across the pages.

If you examine a Frostic book more closely, you’ll find the front board covered in smooth, colored paper and illustrated with a simple but elegant block print depicting some natural object. The spine and rear will likely be bound in a differently colored, differently textured paper. No text will be found on the covers except a subdued title on the front. Almost all Frostic books measure about 6 x 9 inches, although she made some that were closer to 8 x 10.

Inside the book, you’ll be amazed by the many and various fancy papers, some smooth, some textured, some embossed, some mottled, some like tissue paper, some translucent. Many pages will have deckle (ragged) edges while others will be neatly trimmed. Earth-toned papers and earth-toned inks will be heavily favored. The text will be gracefully designed and will not appear on every page. Each spread will be individual and unique, a beautiful work of art in itself.
I haven't read the entire book yet--it is dense and has already sent me running to the dictionary for things like "olamic" (ancient, eternal) and "indesinency" (unending continuance, perpetuity) and "diuturnity" (lastingness), not to mention "omnity," which I am certain she made up to mean "the universal everything." PS, when I say "running to the dictionary" I mean the OED online. There are perks to working for a university.

Anyway, this is an awesome thing to have and Frostic sounds like a fascinating person. The poetry is like Walt Whitman with a crazy thesaurus, exulting in nature more than people, with a healthy dose of specifically outlining evolutionary processes in a reverent and mystical yet scientific way, and a few Mary Oliver kind of interludes. Frostic's book actually seems to follow the outline of Genesis, in a way--but as Darwin might have seen it, as though Frostic was writing this to demonstrate the beauty of scientific processes at work in the world to people who quail at the idea that some deity in the sky did not actually put us and everything else here.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's a perfect thing to read on the anniversary of Darwin's book.

Final page.

You can still go visit her shop, Presscraft Papers, which has a pretty terrible website. I'll try to scan more of these pages and put them up on flickr, but maybe I'll just throw some Gwen Frostic quotations at you once a week. For starters: "Random vicissitudes shall forge the futurity of all."


  1. Awesome entry. I was mesmerized by it. Frostic sounds fascinating.

  2. The kind of thrift score you can research is the best - love it, so pretty. Also, Frostic - I think I'll be adopting it as some kind of descriptive. If something is ornate and handmade maybe: "How totally Frostic!"