Rare book collector lends Vigía collection to UA Little Rock for Cuban art exhibit

One of 71 artists’ books created by the Cuban publishing house, Ediciones Vigía, on display at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Ottenheimer Library March 14 to April 19.

In 1998, Bill Fisher visited the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, also known as the MARCO, with his brother and grandmother during a trip to Mexico. At the art museum’s gift shop, Fisher spotted something that took his breath away. 

“I found these incredibly beautiful books about which I knew nothing,” said Fisher, a San Antonio-based tax lawyer and rare book collector. “I clearly recall a magazine of poems and stories for children, made in the shape of a house with a chimney, cellophane windows, and other charming details. The books have such a sense of joy and whimsy that I bought them all on sight. Then I asked to speak to the buyer to learn more.”

He discovered that the works were created by the Cuban publishing cooperative, Ediciones Vigía under the artistic direction of Rolando Estévez and Alfredo Zaldívar. Founded in 1985, artisans in Matanzas, Cuba, created handmade books using collaged, repurposed materials.  

According to an article by Kim Nochi, Ediciones Vigía originally served as a meeting place for artists and writers to discuss their work. They began creating artistic fliers to advertise their meetings. This eventually grew into an independent publishing house that creates handmade interactive works of book art that are internationally renown.

“Ediciones Vigía creates community in Cuba,” Fisher said. “It’s a cooperative where people come together to create and publish these books, providing lots of job opportunities. Then there is the community of authors and artists who contribute works to those books. Then there is the fan network of Vigía — librarians, collectors, and readers who love the books and the context from which they come.”

Fisher lent 71 of his prized Vigía books for a Cuban art exhibit at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “Binding Communities: Cuba’s Ediciones Vigía and the Art of the Book and Entrepreneurism,” will be displayed in UA Little Rock’s Ottenheimer Library from March 14 to April 19.

The exhibit’s opening reception on Tuesday, March 14, will feature a talk by Fisher, where he will discuss some of his favorite pieces in the exhibit and his nearly 20-year search for Vigía books. The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 4:30 p.m. in Ottenheimer Library Room 535.

Since that fateful day nearly 20 years ago, Fisher has collected more than 500 Vigía books. Through his search, he has met scholars, librarians, and other collectors who appreciate the artistry of the Vigía books.

“When I show people the Vigía books, their eyes light up,” Fisher said. “They can spend all evening asking questions and handling them. It’s exceedingly engaging.”

He met Dr. Erin Finzer, chair of the UA Little Rock Department of World Languages, in 2012, when they were both making presentations on the Vigía books at a conference at the University of Missouri.

Fisher’s favorite books in the exhibit are “Testamento del pez” (The Fish’s Testament), written by Cuban Poet Gastón Baquero, which is in the shape of a cigar box, and the first publication of the script for the famous Cuban movie “Fresa y chocolate” (Strawberry and Chocolate), which he sought for years before plucking it from the shelves of a bookstore in Mexico City.

Bill Fisher's book “Testamento del pez” (The Fish’s Testament), written by Cuban Poet Gastón Baquero,
Bill Fisher’s book “Testamento del pez” (The Fish’s Testament) written by Cuban Poet Gastón Baquero, Photo by Carly Machen/UA Little Rock Communications.

 

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