Sara Gwendolen Frostic was a Michigan author, book manufacturer, linoleum-block nature artist and papermaker.
Born in the "thumb" of Michigan, Gwen Frostic spent her entire life in the state. She wrote, illustrated, printed and published 21 books and contributed to three others. Though some described her as handicapped -- she walked with a limp, spoke with a slight slur and had a withered left arm -- she never thought of herself that way.
For over 40 years her 18-press print shop in Benzonia with its inviting gallery/showroom was a popular tourist attraction for folks visiting the northwestern part of Michiganís lower peninsula.
Frostic's books are filled with exquisite illustrations which have been described as enchanting, delicate, breathtaking, and even inspirational. Often mistaken for woodcuts, her entrancing artworks are actually made from linoleum-block prints. She painstakingly copied nature in her art, depicting the wildflowers, birds, insects and small furry animals she knew and loved in her native state.
In the early 1940s, Frostic set up her first printing shop in her home in Wyandotte, just south of Detroit. Though she moved twice, she continued to work out of her home for the rest of her life. During the 1950s she operated in both Wyandotte and Frankfurt, but in 1964, after she had fallen in love with "the north," she transferred her now booming business to Benzonia.
A Frostic book is instantly recognizable: hardcover, no jacket, every page a different kind of paper, and simple but beautiful illustrations on every spread. Frostic created everything you see in her books, from the myriad papers to the exquisitely printed illustrations to the wisps of free verse that flow across the pages.
If you examine a Frostic book more closely, youíll find the front board covered in smooth, colored paper and illustrated with a simple but elegant block print depicting some natural object. The spine and rear will likely be bound in a differently colored, differently textured paper. No text will be found on the covers except a subdued title on the front. Her most popular books measure about 6 x 9 inches, although she made many that were closer to 8 x 10.
Inside the book, youíll be amazed by the many and various fancy papers, some smooth, some textured, some embossed, some mottled, some like tissue paper, some translucent. Many pages will have deckle (ragged) edges while others will be neatly trimmed. Earth-toned papers and earth-toned inks will be heavily favored. The text will be gracefully designed and will not appear on every page. Each spread will be individual and unique, a beautiful work of art in itself.
Some Frostic books contain no publishing information at all. Even more frustrating, Frostic never indicated reprints. To compile a bibliography with accurate points of issue may be impossible since she was not one to worry about such things. Different printings of the same title show minor variations, notably fabricoid or leatherette substituted for smooth paper on the boards, although it might be the other way around. Signed books are not uncommon as she was often on hand to sign books for visitors.
Frostic also manufactured blank books, note cards, placemats, scratch pads and other types of paper ephemera. Since her death in 2001, her business, Presscraft Papers, has been carried on by her longtime friends Pam and Kirk Lorenz, and by her nephew, Bill Frostic.
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