A cultural resource unique to Florida and rare anywhere in the U.S., Florida Atlantic University's Arthur and Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts is the product of one man's genuine enthusiasm. Arthur Jaffe's 1998 donation of his personal collection of artist's books has grown to become the centerpiece of a nationally known, multi-faceted arts enterprise that draws more than 4,000 visitors each year to the school's Boca Raton campus.
In August, the school took note of Jaffe's extraordinary contribution and honored him with its President's Medallion for Distinguished Service, the 37th time the honor has been bestowed. (Had she still been among us, Jaffe's late wife Mata would surely have been a co-recipient.)
A spry and lively 93, Jaffe is still a regular presence at the Center's offices and exhibition space at FAU's Wimberley Library. An elfin figure, he can be seen welcoming the public to the collection -- now grown to some 12,000 items including broadsides, prints, book-like objects and ephemera -- and drinking in the appearances of visiting artists, opening eyes to the universe of aesthetic possibilities of books as art form.
The Jaffe Center's vision is an expansive one, with books and language-related exhibitions of the most avant-garde sort. Past exhibitions have featured the Inter-Florida FLUXUS Tour's performance art in the legendary Fluxus tradition, and the innovative Susan Joy Share's "Animated Library."
The Center doesn't overlook local creatives, reaching out to foster native talent. It co-sponsors the ongoing project "Stories on the Skin: Tattoo Culture at FAU." Its current exhibition, "The Sweat Broadsheet Collection," is a collaborative effort of SoFL book artists, writers, and printmakers, its name is in part a tribute to Miami's Sweat Records, where early meetings for the project were held.
In addition to exhibitions, the center offers bookmaking workshops, lectures, films, and offbeat, charming events like Real Mail Fridays where the public is invited once a month to gather, socialize, and write letters. (Much credit for the spirited, day-to-day activities goes to JCBA director John Cutrone.)
In a statement accompanying FAU's announcement of the award, school President John Kelly said he was "aware of all you have done to establish and expand this priceless cultural resource at FAU ... a true treasure for our faculty, students, alumni, staff, and members of the greater community."
If Kelly gets nothing else right in his time at FAU, he will at least have this to his credit.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.