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ASU Professor Emeritus Gene Valentine remembered for letterpress printing, love of languages

Late ASU Professor Emeritus Gene Valentine (left) smiling with his wife, Kristin, and their dog.

Gene Valentine in 2018 with wife, Kristin, and their dog Everest. Credit: Friendship Village

February 28, 2022

Gene Valentine, Arizona State University professor emeritus and a charter member of the ASU Emeritus College, died on Feb. 22 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He is survived by his wife, ASU Professor Emeritus Kristin Valentine, his daughter, Karin Valentine, and his son-in-law, ASU Professor Anthony Roberto.

Valentine was born July 29, 1938, in Brigham City, Utah, and attended Box Elder High School followed by Utah State University, where he was awarded full scholarships in music and chemistry. To help with university expenses, he worked as a chemist at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. While an undergraduate, he changed his major to English and graduated with a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in English at Utah State University. He also did additional graduate work at the University of Utah. 

Valentine married Kristin in June 1967, and together they moved to Thessaloniki, Greece, to teach at Anatolia College from 1968–69. During that time, their daughter was born. Later, Valentine taught English at the University of Kentucky. When the family moved to Arizona, Valentine taught linguistics at ASU. In 1996, he completed his certificate in the Scholarly Publishing Program in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. 

His lifelong friend Tom Phelps, who was best man at Valentine's wedding, remembers first meeting Valentine when they were students at Utah State University.

“I was a fine arts major and he was working on a master’s degree in English literature. I learned that he had done undergraduate work in both chemistry and English, and I thought that was an odd mix of subjects, but he said the Greeks studied everything. I could not argue,” Phelps said. 

Gene and Kristin Valentine were co-authors throughout their academic careers, taking sabbaticals together in Spain and New Zealand, and publishing both scholarly journal articles and textbooks in the fields of ethnography and human communication. Gene Valentine also served as a review panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities for several years. 

two people standing on bridge on vacation

Gene and Kristin Valentine on one of their many international trips. Credit: Kristin Valentine

In addition to his many scholarly writing projects, in 1979, Valentine combined his early years of restaurant cooking and his experience living in Greece and wrote a Greek-American cookbook, “Greek Cooking at its American Best,” with colleague Ellen Vidalakis Furgis. 

In 1979, Valentine established the Almond Tree Press for his publishing efforts, taking the name from Greek mythology and the almond tree, which has symbolized the rebirth of nature since antiquity. During Valentine's tenure at ASU, he took courses in printmaking at ASU’s Herberger Institute School of Art, taught by Professor Emeritus John Risseeuw.

archived black and white photo of two people using letterpress

Gene Valentine (left) with Daniel Mayer and a Vandercook press. Credit: ASU

This intersection of language and art led to a new passion for Gene in letterpress printing and papermaking. As a result, in 1982, he purchased a Vandercook Press, on which he hand-printed broadsides, books and pamphlets on paper he made from plant fibers.

Broadside created for a 2015 Barrett, The Honors College Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecture.

He later became the in-house editor with ASU’s Pyracantha Press, an independent publishing imprint at ASU’s School of Art, which is directed by Daniel Mayer, a close friend and colleague of Valentine's. 

“Gene was a joy to have around Pyracantha Press, where he contributed on many levels with his deep knowledge of languages, typography, editing, proofreading for projects and quick wit to bring levity to any subject,” Mayer said. 

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Valentine created the annual commemorative broadsides for Barrett, The Honors College Flinn Foundation centennial lecturers and scholars-in-residence on his Vandercook Press, and this work was featured in the  Emeritus Voices Journal, published by the Emeritus College at ASU. 

His collaborations included many luminaries, such as Annie Dillard, Sherman Alexie, Stephen Jay Gould, Carlos Fuentes, Maeve Leaky and N. Scott Momaday. 

His work can be seen on exhibit at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, archived at ASU’s Hayden Library Special Collections, and was recently featured in “The Art of the Broadside” exhibition at ASU’s Pyracantha Press on the Tempe campus.

His pop-up book collection is also on display in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection at Hayden Library. 

Letterpress works on display

“Art of the Broadside” exhibition at ASU in 2021, featuring works by Gene Valentine. Credit: Mayer/ASU

In 1998, Valentine began a collaboration called the Paper Project with ASU Professor Charles Kazilek. Using the ASU Keck Bioimaging Laboratory scanning-laser confocal microscope, a series of scans were made of successively deeper layers of hand-made and mould-made paper. These images were then assembled digitally into a single composition for each type of paper.

The resulting compositions, which can be viewed through 3D glasses for full effect, have proved to be helpful in understanding how fibers are interlaced within a specific paper. They also became 3D works of art that have been featured  in several exhibitions, including at the Arizona Science Center and the Arizona Museum for Youth. 

3D paper images of nature

Samples of 2D and 3D images from the ASU Paper Project. Credit: Kazilek and Valentine/ASU

In addition to his contributions to ASU, Valentine was a valuable adviser to the University of Utah’s book arts program. He was instrumental in setting up the program’s book arts studio and was integral to the development of its teaching and outreach programming. Valentine's activities from this program, and his letterpress and paper-making, are archived in the J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collection at the University of Utah for use in teaching and research. 

“All aspects of the art of the book were a journey and joy for Gene,” Mayer said. “Gene’s wisdom and friendship will be very much missed by all who knew him.” 

During his lifetime, Valentine was a beloved husband, father, father-in-law, teacher and friend.

“Notable was his kindness, good humor, genuine interest in people, warmth and ease of his company,” said Ali Carew, longtime friend of the Valentines.

This article was written with contributions from Gene Valentine, Kristin Valentine, Daniel Mayer, Tom Phelps and Madelyn Garrett.

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