April – May 1992

This exhibition honors the work of the late Carroll Coleman, proprietor of The Prairie Press and one of the most influential practitioners of fine printing in the Untied States. Over the course of his 39 year career, thirteen of his books were named among the “Fifty Best Books of the Year” by the American Institute of Graphic Arts. His excellence as a printer and publisher was also acknowledged in exhibitions of Prairie Press books at the Grolier Club in New York and the Society of Typographic Arts in Chicago.

Not long after graduating from high school, Coleman edited a literary quarterly, The Golden Quill, and printed it on a small handpress in the basement of his Muscatine home. A few years later, in 1935, he established The Prairie Press imprint and resolved to issue books which would express his own ideas of design and typography. He knew there were many writers in Iowa and the mid west doing fine work who should be published. What could be more fitting than for a private press in the center of this area to attempt this, and what better name than The Prairie Press? He concluded that if The Prairie Press could have some part in preserving the work of contemporary writers of this area, it would have fulfilled its purpose.

Coleman kept this goal firmly in mind when he moved the press to Iowa City in 1945 to accept a position with the University of Iowa’s Journalism School as head of the newly established Typographic Laboratory. He later served as the University’s Director of Publications and Manager of Printing Services. In his roles as printer, publisher, teacher, advisor, and designer, Coleman influenced many writers, readers and printers.

In his lifetime’s work Coleman established a standard of craftsmanship that would give his printing the status of an art which it had enjoyed in the days of early masters of type and press, ink and paper. He knew that collectors might be more attracted to books of greater elaboration, and consequently larger prices, but bearing in mind the fact that library budgets are reduced in many instances, and too many book buyers have flattened purses, Coleman kept prices for his books as low as possible, consistent with the best standards of book design.

On display are a selection of books and ephemera from The Prairie Press, samples of Coleman’s design work for other presses and publishers, and correspondence from the Coleman archive.

This exhibition was prepared by David Schoonover, Rijn Templeton and Pamela Spitzmueller.