Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on the Future of the Book

Looking at the Future by Looking at the Past: Study of the CzechAvant-Garde and the Works of Josef Capek

Dana Bartelt.

I propose to give a presentation on “Looking to the Future by Looking at the Past”-the study of the Czech Avant garde and how it is still influencing a thriving graphic tradition in the Czech Republic. Fine Art books are being produced successfully in the Czech Republic by small publishing houses such as Aulos, Prague, and others. Printing techniques such as intaglio printing, letterpress, lithography and silkscreen are being used to produce limited editions. The Czech Avant-garde movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s had a profound influence on design around the world; it included cubist, functionalist (bauhaus) and Russian constructivist styles. But one of the unique contributors to book design during this period was Josef Capek, Czech artist, who designed over 500 books during the 1920’s through 30’s in Czechoslovakia. His distinctive designs are sought after by collectors around the world, and speak a timeless visual language because it cannot be categorized by any artistic trend. The unique book design of Capek, who was predominantly a cubist artist, relies on the content of the book for inspiration. In an article by Capek, he explains how to make book jackets:
“ my country...the book market is always full of books-some that are not so successful and some by famous people, so new publishers must work extremely hard to attract attention.
This realization turned me from my love of standardization to a conviction that each and every book should be given a unique style, a special, individual appeal. If you look at the windows of bookshops in my country, you’ll see books shouting, jumping over each other, assailing each other. In the fight for attention, every new book struggles to kick aside the books that came out the week before. In other words, this is a game in which you have to attack with powerful visual justification.”

Capek was a writer and painter, as well as designing book covers. His designs reflect his literary or ‘poetic’ approach to his designs. Because most of these books had relatively large runs and needed to be produced inexpensively, he chose to create the designs using the technique of linoleum cuts. (Attached are several examples)

I propose to show the work of Josef Capek and to speak about his place within the Czech Avant-garde movement (including other renowned artists/designers such as Karel Teige and Ladislav Sutnar), and how his work influences book design today. I would also refer to the tradition of excellence in book design in the Czech Republic, historically and currently. And will show examples of current works, their influence, and the prospect for fine art books in the future world market.

I can also offer an exhibition of Czech book covers. I have over 300 examples of Josef Capek and many more other Czech Avant-Garde examples.


Dana Bartelt  (Czech Republic)
Associate Professor of Graphic Design
Department of Visual Arts
Loyola University New Orleans

Dana Bartelt is Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Loyola University New Orleans and Director of the North Carolina State University Summer Study in Prague Program. Her Czech roots influenced her studies and research projects including an exhibition of “Contemporary Czechoslovak Posters” (City Gallery of Contemporary Art, NC 1989) which traveled to 22 cities in the US, and an exhibition and book, “Art as Activist: Revolutionary Posters from Central and Eastern Europe”, which traveled to 18 cities in the US (Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service, Washington DC 1990). Currently, she is working on two publications/exhibitions: “The Bookcovers of Josef Capek” and the “History of Czechoslovakia in Posters: 1918-1993”. These projects involve not only the research and gathering of material but production and design of the books. She also writes articles on these subjects and has been published in the major journals of graphic design including Print, Communication Arts and Eye magazines. She is currently working on an several articles about Czech artists and designers: ”Kafka and Flejsar in Prague” for Design Issues (MIT Press) on Czech poster artist, Josef Flejsar; the collages and illustrations of Bohumil Stepan, Czech book illustrator; and Illustrative bookcovers from the Czech Avant-garde movement. She wrote the extensive introduction for Jiri Sliva’s illustrative book, “Cafe Fetish” (Marlowe Books, NY 2001). As principal of her own design firm, Synergraphics (1988-1996), and continuing freelance design work while teaching, she has won several awards for her book designs. Prof. Bartelt is also very active in her professional organization, The American Institute of Graphic Arts, serving as President of two chapters-Raleigh, NC and New Orleans. While serving on the borads, she organized many events and projects including several calendar projects using local graphic design design talents as well as her own to benefit several charities such as the Wake County Literacy Council, North Carolina, and a school for high-risk teenagers, Treme Academy, New Orleans.

  • book design
  • Czech Avant Garde movement
  • fine art books
Person as Subject
  • Capek, Josef

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)