College Book Art Association Conference in Salt Lake City

Footbridge on University of Utah campusThe 2014 CBAA biennial conference was held January 2-4 on the campus of the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. The conference theme Print Produce Publish ( P3) was conveyed through the numerous tours, featured speakers, panels, exhibitions, and workshops. Most of the conference activities took place in the extraordinary J.Willard Marriott Library, including the panel presentations, the Members’ Exhibition, the Vendor Fair, and Members’ Showcase. The library is also the site of the Book Arts Studio and Digital Lab, where several demonstrations were held and where participants could actively engage in two P3 projects.

Invited speakers were Craig Dworkin: poet, critic, editor and professor of English at the University of Utah and Lesley Dill: New York artist, printmaker and sculptor.

CBAA Members' Exhibition at A juried exhibition of artists’ books made by CBAA members was on display in the Marriott Library in cases just outside of the Book Arts Studio. You can see the presses in the studio through the glass windows beyond the display cases.

An all-day production studio on the first day of the conference, P3 Now!, led by Edwin Jager and John O. Smith, invited members to drop in and contribute

P3 Now! keepsakewhatever ideas, images, artifacts, tools, or text they might have brought from their own studios to be turned into a printed book. Participants in the digital lab spent the day creating, designing, printing, collating and constructing a keepsake for all to take home.

Another all-day production studio event, Shift Lab [in code] led by Katie Baldwin, Sarah Bryant, Denise Bookwalter, Macy Chadwick, and Tricia Treacy incorporated both digital and hand techniques. Conference attendees were invited to tweet messages, which were then “retweeted” as collaborative letterpress printed broadsides. The Book Arts Studio was a hub of activity as participants raced to print and produce before the end of the day.

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Posted by L. Whitehill Chong

RUTH LAXSON: Hip Young Owl

A retrospective exhibition of over 50 years of work by Atlanta artist Ruth Laxson, is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, January 26 – March 30, 2013. Curated by Marcia Wood, proprietor of the Marcia Wood Gallery and JoAnne  Paschall, formerly of Nexus Press, the show includes early paintings, woodcuts, etchings, drawings, handmade paper constructions, sculptures, mail art, and artists’ books, spanning a long and varied artistic career from the early 1960’s to present. At 88 years of age, Ruth Laxson is still making playful, pithy and relevant art and is still that “hip young owl.”

Ruth at home

At the opening reception nearly 400 old friends and new visitors attend. A life’s work is celebrated, and a very special person is honored.

The RISD Library is privileged to have over 30 of Ruth Laxson’s artist books plus her bookmaking process archives. Among these materials are research notes and scraps of factual information on a number of topics found in her work; social issues, gender, race, history, mythology, science, mathematics, technology, religion, and the arts. Process pieces include preliminary sketches, collages, mock-ups, make-ready, printing plates, test prints, and extra printed pages. In addition there are slides of her work, a sound recording of a performance piece, journal articles, gallery announcements, and correspondence. Researchers are welcome to come and immerse themselves in Ruth’s thought-provoking, visually exciting, playful, and very relevant world. And exhibition catalog for this retrospective will be forthcoming.

posted by L. Whitehill Chong

Artist As Archivist: Maureen Cummins at Watts History of the Book Program

November 29 – December 1, one of several extraordinary Watts History and Culture of the Book Program events was held at the John Carter Brown Library and at other locations in town. The JCB’s autumn series entitled, Books of Business/Business of Books, featured a weekend of lectures, informal conversations and a letterpress printing/bookmaking workshop with guest artist Maureen Cummins. In keeping with the event series theme, a fascinating exhibition of historic record books of early American commerce were on display at the JCB Library. Added to that theme, Maureen’s artist’s books, derived from antique handwritten documents and extensive research into archival collections, provided glimpses of the past, but with contemporary and challenging new perspectives.

Maureen’s lecture on Thursday the 29th described how her work as an artist came to be focused on archival resources as inspiration for her book concepts and narratives. She related how her love of flea markets and antique stores has unearthed many thought-provoking raw materials from which to work. In the process of mining historic archival collections, she uncovers little known stories and facts that she sensitively weaves into a new visual narrative.

Accounts, title page

For example, in her artist book Accounts, the pages of this authentic 1860’s ledger book are filled with client names and sums from a busy New York based cotton trading company. Handwritten in elegant pen and ink, the pages themselves speak of wealth and privilege. Yet Cummins has printed over these ledger account pages excerpts from the WPA Slave Narratives, in bold, sans-serif type, bringing our attention to the wealth gained at the expense of other human beings. We hold in our hands two voices from the past, brought together in a profound visually compelling new way.

Another book by Cummins, Crazy Quilt, provides personal narratives of 19th and 20th century women who were placed in institutions for the insane when it was clear they were as rational as anyone else. In these brief stories we are reminded of how women’s issues were viewed not that long ago, and are still viewed in some contemporary cultures.

On Friday the 30th, in the Special Collections Reading Room of the Fleet Library at RISD, Maureen continued the conversation about her work, where the lively question and answer session from the night before had left off. Students had an opportunity to see some of her books close up and Maureen was able to delve deeper and more informally into her creative process. Several other artists’ books from the RISD collection that also derive from historic events or documents were compared and discussed.

Conversation with Maureen at RISD

Saturday December 1st was spent printing and bookbinding, in a hands-on workshop, held in the book lab of AS220. Maureen asked each participant to come up with a word or short phrase to print on the letterpress, with each person printing a small edition of their page. When all the pages were printed and collated, they created a kind of visual poem, with both elegant and humorous combinations of text and meaning. Students were taught a simple pamphlet stitch binding and each went home with a keepsake book of their very own.

For more information about the work and career of Maureen Cummins, go to http://www.maureencummins.com/  The RISD artist book collection has two of Maureen’s books and several hand printed prospectuses from her other books. A new book based on documents from the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire, which took place in Manhattan over one hundred years ago, will be added this summer.

Posted by L. Whitehill Chong, Special Collections Librarian

In Celebration of John Cage’s 100th Birthday

John Cage would have turned 100 on September 5th and in honor of his work and the significant influence he has had on artists past and present, there is a website inviting participation in this world-wide celebration. John Cage: 2012 Centennial Two other important links you might want to check out are Cage 100: walking along paths the outcome of which I didn’t know  and Laura Kuhn’s blog.

Inspired by Cage’s writing and work, Connecticut book artist, Robin Price, has joined in the celebration. Her recently created bookwork, As You Continue, is a response to Cage’s words of encouragement after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake that heavily damaged the building of the Crown Point Press. In Robin’s book, the John Cage quote “As you continue, which you will do, the way to proceed will become apparent” is written with sumi ink and brush, using her left (non-dominant) hand on 7 random sections of large USGS topographical maps. The map pages are stab-bound with a strip of Fabriano paper, letterpress printed with the title and handling directions.

Robin’s use of the map as a substrate for Cage’s words reflects the view that all journeys in life are paved with uncertainty, but as you proceed with courage, and assess your surroundings, you will find your way. In applying this metaphor to the process of creative thinking and making, the parallel is clear. The journey for artists is complex and often the way ahead is undefined, even as the first tentative steps are taken and then assessed. From this point a glimmer of where to take the next step emerges and eventually a destination is reached, often far from what was first imagined.

For Robin, the act of writing became a meditation, as seen through her own observations of the process from her website:

METHOD: Using my unskilled left hand is as authentic to the content – as I interpret it – as I can be.

STRUCTURE: The writing activity is time-based/sequential in the making and the viewing; the sheets for each writing remain together & are bound sequentially

INTENTION: I think about whom this message might help, besides myself, as I write it again and again: people I know and people I don’t know who might find it useful for repeated viewing.

DISCIPLINE: Practicing each time before I begin a new stint of writing settles me, then I breathe deeply as I write the book pages, quieting my mind as much as possible.

NOTATION: I am notating Cage’s words – as recalled by Kathan Brown – onto sheets of maps, to suggest travel and finding one’s way.

INDETERMINANCY: The assortment of USGS topographical maps for any one book reflects a mostly-random gathering process.

INTERPENETRATION: It was only after I carried these words with me for a year and a half that I found my way to authenticity.

IMITATION: I imitate what I perceive as a state of meditation.

DEVOTION: This practice is the most intimate of a few tributes I have made over the years for John Cage, or, rather, the way in which I perceive his life and work as it affects mine.

CIRCUMSTANCES: For eight months beginning in late 2011, injuries had left me incapable of printing letterpress or doing other strenuous studio activity; a gentler path was called for.

You can see As You Continue and another of Robin’s artist’s books in the library’s Special Collections, 43, According to Robin Price, as well as an exhibition catalog, Counting on Chance: 25 Years of Artist’s Books by Robin Price, Publisher, which features many of her other works. The library has a 1993 catalog of the retrospective exhibition of the work of John Cage, Rolywholyover: A Circus, which was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and designed in consultation with him.

 Images and text used with permission of Robin Price. Posted by L. Whitehill Chong  

CALL FOR ENTRIES: MATH + SCIENCE = BOOK ARTS

Often arts organizations or galleries send out calls to the book arts community for submissions of work to be included in an exhibition. The 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR is a small gallery that features the work of book and paper artists, and this recent call for entries looked quite interesting.

Infinite Possibilities: Math, Science, Book Arts, will be a juried exhibition of book art inspired by the world of math and science—real or imagined. For most analytical types, math and science are often described in artistic terms: the eloquence of an equation, the beauty of a concept. Infinite Possibilities looks at the opposite: how math and science can be used artistically to inspire book artists to think creatively about such topics.

This exhibit is open to book and paper arts related works created as either edition or one-of-a-kind. Artist books, sculptural books, book objects, altered books, zines, broadsides and sculptural pieces are all encouraged exploring subjects ranging from math, science, medicine, space, architecture, engineering, physics, genetics and more. Entry deadline is September 28, 2012

For more information and the official call for entries go to: http://23sandy.com/infinite-possibilities/callforentries.html

Posted by L. Whitehill Chong

The Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project is designed and organized by a small group of creative folks based in Brooklyn, NY, who call themselves the Art House. They are an independent group that organizes global, collaborative art projects. The Sketchbook Project is their main endeavor and was begun in 2006. It has developed into a growing collection of over 18,000 sketchbooks, created by artists of all ages, from over 130 countries. The sketchbook library is kept permanently in the Brooklyn Art Library, their storefront exhibition space in the heart of Williamsburg, but each year’s collection of new sketchbooks travels to exhibition venues all over the world.

The most recent venue for The Sketchbook Project was at the Lynn Arts Center in Lynn, MA. Upon entering the gallery, visitors were greeted by Sketchbook Staff and invited to sign in at their computer station to obtain an “Art Library Card.” With card in hand, you would move to another computer station where you scanned in your new library card and then searched the library database. Searches could be done by artist names, themes, colors, materials, medium, and randomly, or by keyword tags. The system selected one sketchbook that matched your search and another sketchbook at random. The collection itself is cataloged and shelved on rolling bookshelves behind the computer stations. Your request was sent electronically to staff members’ smart phones who then retrieved the books from the shelves and gave them to you at the “Pick Up Books” station. You could then take the books to a reading table and spend as much time with them as you wished. When finished you brought the books to a “Return Books” station. You could go back to the “Check Out” station and ask for more books as often as you liked.

Near the reading table was another workstation where visitors could sit down and create a piece of “Mail Art.” Blank postcards, envelopes, markers, pencils, crayons, etc. were provided. These postcards will be distributed at the next Sketchbook venue. Visitors were allowed to take home a piece of “Mail Art” made by participants at a previous venue. At another table, you could also sign up to participate in the 2013 Sketchbook Project and pick up your own blank sketchbook to fill and return. Instructions for participating can also be found on their website. The cost for participating is $25.00.

Activity at the sketchbook viewing table was both lively and focused. The sketchbooks themselves were widely varied in medium and content. There were artist books, travelogues, diaries, pages of doodles, comic books, zines, sketchbooks with fold-out pages that become posters, and even a felted toy rat, complete with change of paper doll-like clothes. The sense of community engagement was very strong and the mood celebratory. Many visitors who may have been shy about being able to fill a sketchbook, left with a new feeling of empowerment.

Sketchbooks have been used by artists for centuries. They serve as personal portable records of their ideas and designs, as a place for working out creative solutions to problems, for capturing an image of a person, place or thing that inspires them, and as visual journals of their daily life. Keeping a sketchbook is as important to an artist as breathing and fuels the creative process. Kudos to the Art House, for bringing inspiration to many and keeping this tradition alive. The next venue for the Sketchbook Project will be at the Space Gallery in Portland, ME July 12-14.

Posted by L. Whitehill Chong

Paper: Indispensable Substrate

Currently on view in the library is an exhibit focusing on the indispensable material that artists have used for centuries…Paper!  Most people think of paper as mainly made from trees, which is still pretty much what most of our ordinary paper for daily use is. But did you ever think about what paper was made of before we started using trees? This exhibit shows examples of precursors to the paper we know today, showing the development of surfaces for writing and mark-making from parchment and papyrus to paper made from plant fibers and even old rags. Both European and Asian paper-making techniques are highlighted, with examples of paper-making moulds and deckles, as well as specimens of fibers and sheets. Different kinds of paper have been used to create decorative papers for bookbinding and printing, using such techniques as marbling, block printing, folding and dyeing as in Japanese Itajime papers, Japanese marbling or Suminagashi, and paste papers. Handmade papers have been used in many artists’ books and a selection of student-made books is on display.  Hand Papermaking, a journal devoted to the creation and study of handmade paper has produced a series of portfolios featuring specific image-making techniques, all using handmade paper.

As a substrate for much of the world’s writing and art-making, paper still has the ability to captivate and inspire, to record and dispense ideas, and to add a subtle but satisfying tactile element to communication.

All RISD Library exhibitions are open to the public 8:30 am to 7:00 pm weekdays.  This exhibit will be on view through July 8, 2011

posted by L. Whitehill Chong