February 9, 2021

Spiral Staircases

         I love spiral staircases, and of course I’m not alone in this.  There’s something about spiral staircases that’s special: they’re more mysterious, more sinuous, more evocative of castles and libraries and secret spaces.  I’ve had it in my mind for some time to do a print of one, and a year ago I began a mini block to work on during a workshop.  But I never get very much done during the actual workshop, and I think I may have messed something up through not being fully focussed on my own block at the time, and then I even misplaced the little block for a while until various things got put away properly… and the end result is that I haven’t finished the block and am not sure that I ever will.  So let’s have a look at some artists who were more successful in completing images of spiral staircases!
        These four pieces have the full variety of viewpoint: one from the top looking down, one from the bottom looking up, one from the base looking straight on, and one from the middle.  
They also represent a variety of block print techniques: the first is a multi-color multi-block print, the fourth is a 3 (or 4?) color reduction print, and the other two are printed from single black blocks.  On the other hand, I don’t have as wide a diversity of dates represented, and oddly (or at least it seems odd to me) these stairs are all fairly modern.  Well, the pierced wrought iron treads are certainly Victorian in flavor, but even that seems pretty modern when there are so many iconic spiral staircases from the medieval and renaissance eras that could have been featured.  And my first two here are even more modernist in flavor, celebrating the sleek curves of the early twentieth century’s attempts to be new and dynamic.
        So where are all the block prints of ancient spiral staircases?  Well, to be fair, the same features that give medieval spiral staircases their air of romance and mystery make them extremely difficult to depict.  They are narrow, enclosed, dim, and disappearing quickly around the curves both above and below, so that you can actually see only a tiny bit at a time.  I imagine it must be pretty tough to capture any of that in a single image.  At any rate, I didn’t even try.  My mini block attempts to show a carved wooden library-style staircase that is open all around.  That’s much simpler (and yet still I think I messed something up!)  But even if these block printed examples don’t show the full range of what makes spiral staircases so wonderful, I hope you enjoy them anyway.
        This just in: On an unrelated topic, I do have a cool opportunity for everyone who’s interested in hearing me do a reading.  This upcoming Saturday, Broad Universe is holding one of our signature Rapid Fire Readings: ten authors in an hour, about five minutes each, giving a whirlwind sampling of excerpts from works of sci fi, fantasy, and horror.  (Don’t worry, they never read any truly graphic parts from the horror.)  Most of our readings take place at conventions, but with everything virtual these days you have a rare opportunity to join us without attending a con.  This Saturday at 9:30 pm (US Eastern time zone) you can join us for free.  You do have to sign up in advance, and you can visit the Broad Universe web site to find the list of Saturday’s authors, as well as the link to register.  You just might discover your new favorite author!

[Pictures: Spiral Staircase, color linocut by Cyril Power, c 1929 (Image from The British Museum);

Littauer Center Staircase (Harvard University), wood engraving by Thomas Willoughby Nason, 1949 (Image from 1st Dibs);

from Landschaften und Stimmungen (Landscapes and Moods) by Frans Masereel, 1929 (Image from The Met);

Spiral Stairs, Aldeburgh Beach, linocut by Graham Spice (Image from Graham Spice Artist);

Block in progress by AEGN, photo 2021.]

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