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by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Everyone who has an interest in Clallam County — its people, its history and its glorious natural wonders — owes a debt of gratitude to Magdalena Bassett.
Bassett is the largely unsung hero behind the impressive and growing collection of works on Clallam County and on this little slice of paradise, from Seattle to Forks.
Bassett, an artist and designer, provides key assistance to the authors and photographers who want to put their ideas on paper in the form of a book, thereby preserving them forever. The latest contribution to the local canon is “Clallam County Schools, East to West,” a history in essays and photos by former long-time educator Irene Wyman. The 154-page book, designed by Bassett, includes dozens of photos of schools and schoolchildren from long ago.
It’s a beautiful piece of work, made even more special by Wyman’s generosity. Wyman, who leaned heavily on the assistance of local historical societies and native tribes, is returning the favor by donating virtually the entire run of 1,000 books to various nonprofits. They will keep the entire sales price of the book.
Books are now or soon will be available for purchase from the Clallam County Historical Society, Clallam County Genealogical Society, Forks Timber Museum, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library, the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, Clallam Bay Friends of the Library and at the Makah Museum.
Beautiful by design
Wyman’s book joins a number of others produced by Bassett, who provides guidance from the get-go for writers and photographers. Some clients bring their work to Bassett for the final step, like David Woodcock of Greywolf Photography. To produce “From the Air: Olympic Peninsula,” Bassett created the book’s design, but the photos already were lovingly prepared for publication by Woodcock. But that’s the exception.
“Sometimes it’s just a shoebox of photos and a manuscript,” Bassett said. “Sometimes it’s just an idea. I help them formulate those ideas,” Bassett said. To aid the authors in making a decision, Bassett also makes a “mock-up of the cover and a couple spreads to help them see.”
“I guide them through the project,” she said. “I make it as simple as possible.”
Bassett said creating a book from scratch isn’t something an amateur is prepared to do. “People are amazed at how many parts there are in a book,” she said.
Wyman is among Bassett’s biggest cheerleaders. “She was wonderful. She’s extremely talented,” she said.
Wyman had seen “Women to Reckon With,” another Bassett project, and was impressed. Then she met Bassett’s husband and collaborator, DJ, in a “forever learning” class.
Wyman gleaned the stories from local sources and typed them up. With these she created a PowerPoint presentation, but as “I kept getting more and more stories, it evolved,” she said.
To punch up the book’s design, Bassett used DJ’s photos of items from Wyman’s extensive collection of schoolhouse memorabilia, providing “3-D” accents to the pages.
Bassett is active in every phase of the production, including proofreading. She’s developed a special trick: reading the manuscript backward to ensure she doesn’t anticipate the words that will follow.
“You never catch everything,” she said. “But you have to do it.”
Bassett also works out the arrangements with the printer, which for hard cover books very often means working with firms in China, Korea or Taiwan, with proofs flying back and forth across the Pacific.
The results are impressive.
By way of Poland
Bassett was born in Poland. Though it “was difficult,” she managed to escape the Iron Curtain, making her way to the U.S. “I knew I wanted to stay here,” she said.
Bassett spent the next 12 years in New York, then spent time in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Jackson Hole, Wyo., before showing up on the peninsula a decade or so ago. She agrees she has lived in some the most beautiful spots in the U.S., but admits with a laugh her top priority: “I chose places with no mosquitoes.”
While in Santa Barbara, Bassett and DJ became interested in sustainable farming — lavender, specifically. The couple brought that knowledge to the peninsula where they established Blue Moon Lavender. Bassett designed the lavender farm, the products and the website.
After seven years, Bassett said, “We decided to concentrate in the book business.” DJ now handles the photography chores, which means taking photos, but as often means restoring or manipulating existing images. “He’s a master photographer,” Bassett said. “He can take the darkest daguerreotype and turn it into something useful.”
Bassett said the work is more than technical and requires an artist’s sensibility. “We try to minimize manipulation of historic images,” she said.
In recent years the couple has “basically narrowed the client base to the Olympic Peninsula and Seattle.”
The result is a number of fine books. In addition to Woodcock’s book of photography, which was recently picked up by Costco, Bassett helped produce Terry Buchanan’s “History of Fort Casey and Defense of the Pacific Northwest.” She said the book is the result of Buchanan’s enduring interest in the fort. “He went there when he was 13 or 14,” she said. “He’s been totally caught up in it ever since.”
Bassett said she had “super fun” working on “Gods & Goblins,” an updated version of an older book that explains all the weird and wonderful names found within Olympic National Park.
Next up: “History of the Sequim Police,” the working title for a book to be released in conjunction with the celebration of the Sequim centennial, and a second book with Irene Wyman, “School Marms And Masters of Clallam County.”
Bassett also produces very short-run books, perhaps as few as 10, including fine photo albums for families.
“I charge by the project,” she said. “Every one is different … the amount of time to design it, to go over the proofs.”
She also said that consultations and estimates are free.
Bassett said in her spare time she loves volunteering. “I’m spending huge time redesigning the stuff at the Sequim museum.” DJ, who is executive director of MAC, also collaborates on that effort. We’re “helping bring the museum into the community,” she said.
Contact Bassett at 683-8406 or 460-9393 or see bassettstudio.com.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.