The Heart of Moving Parts
From limited edition books costing thousands of dollars to inexpensive chapbooks of political poetry, Felicia Rice takes publishing to beautiful extremes
By Tessa Brunton
In a sunny studio on Empire Grade, publisher Felicia Rice displays her latest masterpiece: a $2,400 book titled COSMOGONIE INTIME An Intimate Cosmogony. The tissuey glassine cover crackles as Rice opens it, and the textured pages glow in the morning light. Every page in the book is hinged and unfolds like an accordion. This book is obsessively perfect and Rice handles it with the reverence of a fetish item. It has taken Rice six years to complete this book, keeping with her average of finishing two books per decade.
Rice runs Moving Parts Press, a publishing company that has created high-end limited edition books since 1977. COSMOGONIE INTIME An Intimate Cosmogony combines the poetry of contemporary French poet Yves Peyré with the art of Felicia's late father, Ray Rice, also using translations by Elizabeth R. Jackson and Rice's own talent as a book artist, editor and publisher. This book, like Rice's others, belongs to the exquisite, expensive world of high art and rare book collections.
As Rice flips through the book's pages in her studio, she pauses to read aloud a favorite verse of Peyré's poetry, "Hung up rabbits are dancing slowly, spinning languidly around at the crossroads of another world."
Peyré's five long poems were printed in French and English and coupled with abstract illustrations; each image is shadowed with teardrops of color. The process is slow. 96 editions must be carefully printed, hand-painted and stenciled.
Because Rice prints collaborations between artists and writers, it was fortuitous that she met poet Yves Peyré over a lunch in Paris. Despite the fact that she knew little French and he spoke limited English, they established a friendship that would motivate the production of COSMOGONIE INTIME.
"I describe it as being the spider and the fly. I thought about being a writer or being an artist and how difficult it is to be published and establish a reputation so that people come to you," Rice said. "It's like flies buzzing around trying to find a place to land. I've always been interested in working collaboratively; it is natural for me."
The term Cosmogony refers to a branch of astrophysics that studies the origin and structure of the universe. Rice tackled this challenging subject matter in her cozy printing studio, where, opposite a wall of neatly stacked typeface, there are several massive printing machines. The studio is in the basement of her house, and mock-ups of previous books hang like streamers above the doorway. Here Yves Peyré and his family stayed during their visit to California while the book was developing.
"Yves came to this country with his family on a western sojourn to California, which can be mythological for a European," Rice said. "I think he feels like he's a Frenchman whose work has arrived in California, whereas I feel like I'm a Californian who has embraced this whole French culture. ...This house was a meeting place of cultures."
It is clear that much of Rice's work involves international collaboration, and she also makes cross-cultural poetry available to a larger audience by printing trade editions of her books. In addition, she has produced a series of chapbooks, which are inexpensive stapled collections of poetry. One series documents Chicano/Latino cultural events, and titles like From Silence to Howl allude to political unrest.
In this way Rice has emulated her parents, who were also artists collaborating internationally. In fact, her parents traveled to Mexico and became involved in the art and labor movements of the 1930s. Rice grew up around apprentices of Diego Rivera, and her mother knew Frida Khalo.
Rice's involvement in political artistry extends beyond her collaborations. Her work in publishing began when few women owned presses. "Back in the '70s we were pioneering. There were some [women] before, but we were trying to forge new inroads into the printing world," she said. Rice's books have been shown extensively, from the Whitney Museum in New York to the Library of Congress. She has also received numerous grants from the French Ministry of Culture to complete her projects. Rice said, "The books all have a journey, and when they go out in the world they take me places, which is the really amazing thing about them."
Felicia Rice's work is on display in Special Collections at UC-Santa Cruz's McHenry Library in an exhibit, 'New Work From Moving Parts Press: COSMOGONIE INTIME,' that runs through Dec. 8 and also includes paintings by Ray Rice. (831.459.4000)