General 3-26-2007

Believing: Cecilia Lieder and Calyx Press

In another of our (not exhaustive!) series on nominees for the Minnesota Book Awards, Ellen Sandbeck profiles Cecilia Lieder, publisher of Calyx Press and candidate for two of the awards.


Cecilia Lieder, a printmaker, small press publisher, and writer/poet who lives in Duluth, has two books in finalist position for the Minnesota Book Awards this year. This is a rather astonishing feat, since Ms. Lieder has only been in the book publishing business for three years, and some of the other finalists in her categories include books published by Minnesota Book Arts, Accordia Press, St. John’s University Press and the University of Notre Dame Press.

In the fine-book category, Promises Vague Yet Certain has been chosen (the poems are by Donald Dass, book design and linocuts by Cecilia Lieder, letter-press printing by Jon Hinkel). Response, a chapbook recording a collaborative show of poetry and prints at Lieder’s gallery, is a finalist in the poetry division.

Though a newcomer to the publishing world, Lieder is decades removed from the dewy-eyed art-neophyte stage: she has been a printmaker for more than 35 years, and has been making her living as a printmaker and freelance designer since she was 28 (the same age, perhaps not coincidentally, at which she began writing poetry).

Lieder prints her intricate woodblock and linocut prints – many of which are quite large and complex, requiring multiple color blocks – by hand, using the back of a spoon. Says the artist: “Printmaking monumentalizes drawings: they change; they become more bold and sculptural.” She is quite right. Even her prints of iris flowers look monumental. About three and a half years ago, Lieder decided to open a prints gallery in order to “bring the work of print artists, some of whom who had been working in obscurity, out into the public eye.”

Lieder’s Northern Prints Gallery occupies the main floor hallway and former living room and dining room of a lower duplex in her home. The gallery’s wall space is covered with original prints – the current show, “Erotic Justice,” runs through March 31, and features the work of six artists paired with six poets.

Two of this gallery’s shows were like the layout process of a gigantic book, with the text and images displayed on the walls. Indeed, it was the first of these two gallery shows, featuring collaborations between print artists of the Northern Printmakers Alliance and poets of the Lake Superior Writers Group, which spawned Lieder’s publishing company, Calyx Press. Since that time, Lieder has published 12 books.

The Minnesota Book Awards finalist Response is a miniature of the collaborative show of the same name that brought together 40 regional artists and writers. The chapbook is a remarkable demonstration of northeastern Minnesota talent. Promises Vague Yet Certain is a beautiful handmade book of Dass’ poetry, printed expertly by Hinkel on rich archival paper, and bound with handmade papers from Cave Paper. The stark poems are elegantly complemented by Lieder’s linocuts of ravens and the clean, sere design of the book.

With all Lieder’s education and experience in printing, book design, and writing (B.A. in art and English from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul; two Masters –in poetry and art– from the University of Minnesota Duluth) perhaps the biggest wonder is not that Cecilia is running a successful small press, but rather that it took her so long to become a publisher. But better late than never, and according to Lieder, “It’s been a long time since I’ve loved doing anything new as much as I’ve loved creating these books. It unites all these interests I have, including arts activism.”

Arts activism and collaboration seem to be the keys to this woman’s heart, the catalysts that really spark her engine. Lieder is also closely involved with the Artists Relief Fund, which was established in Duluth in 2004 in order to assist artists in Northeastern Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin who are suffering from unexpected financial emergencies. The no-strings-attached grants are released very quickly to the artists needing them. The Fund is based on the premise that artists give a lot to their community and should be helped when they have crises.

Lieder is happy about the fact that the fund has been able to support several artists already. Calyx Press Duluth helped produce an Art Fund chapbook, “North Country Sampler”. All profits from this chapbook are being donated to the fund.

Though her work is beautiful, and expertly executed, it may be that Lieder’s activism will be her true legacy. She says, “I believe in art and I believe in artists. I do what I can to support them.”