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

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

Come See Artists’ Books!

Vamp & Tramp, Booksellers: Fine Press and Artists’ Books

will be visiting the RISD library wednesday april 13th from 2:00 to 4:00 pm in the reading room for special collections, room 223

RISD students, faculty and staff are invited to come see a large selection of artists’ books, some of which the library will consider acquiring for the collection.  Bill and Vicky Stewart, proprietors of Vamp & Tramp, Booksellers, will be here to show us many books and answer any questions about the work and the artists.  Let us know your favorites!

Watts Program: Transformations of the Book

To start off the Spring 2011 series of workshops and lectures for the Charles H. Watts II Program in the History and Culture of the Book, students from Brown and RISD learned first hand about contemporary handmade artists’ books and fine printing. The first presentation was given by Rosemary Cullen, Special Collections Librarian at the John Hay Library on February 16th. Students were shown examples of artists’ books from their collection of over 400 titles. Many of these books, fabricated by hand, stretched the boundaries of traditional book structures and materials and a lively discussion of what made them a “book” instead of a sculpture followed.

On Friday February 25th students were shown a selection artists’ books from the Fleet Library’s collection of over 1400 titles, by Laurie Whitehill Chong, Special Collections Librarian and Curator of Artists’ Books. These books, also varied in concept, structures, materials and craft, were first read aloud or performed followed by an an in-depth discussion and analysis of each book. When it comes to “reading” artists’ books, there are so many layers of meaning. Exploring how each artist used images, text, materials and structure to communicate to the reader proved that the possibilities are endless.

Following the presentation in the RISD Library students then went to the John Carter Brown Library where RISD Professor Jan Baker, of the Graphic Design department, showed student made artists’ books from her own classes. Participants were invited to look over the books on their own and select one that they would present to the group. Seeing the quality and integrity of student work helped the current students to feel that making a book of their own was possible.

On Saturday February 26th, students were treated to a special workshop given by Steve Miller, printer extraordinaire, book maker and director of the Masters Program in Book Arts at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. In this workshop, held in the type shop of RISD’s Design Center, students learned how to print a “Sandragraph” on the letterpress. A Sandragraph, created by Harry and Sandra Reese of the Turkey Press, is a fabricated low relief printing plate that is made to be type high. When printed, this plate creates a textural abstract design or subtle image that forms the background to subsequent layers of printed type and image, adding depth to the printed page. It also makes the text and images less isolated and stark against a pure white background. Creating a Sandragraph involves simple materials such as a piece of MDF board, acrylic gel, muslin, and all manner of low relief bits of paper, string, cardboard or any other textured detritus. Students got to make a sample plate, set up the plate on the press, learned how to lock it in, ink the plate and print. In the process, Steve gave many useful tips for printing and also showed many wonderful examples of printed broadsides and books that incorporate Sandragraph prints. One of the many take-aways from  Steve’s workshop was that spontaneity and playfulness in printing can work very happily with the demands of precision.

In the afternoon, Steve Miller gave a public lecture back at the John Carter Brown Library entitled “21st Century Letterpress and the Artisan Book”. Steve spoke of his career as a printer, having studied with master letterpress printer Walter Hamady of Perishable Press in Wisconsin. Following grad school he established his own Red Ozier Press with Ken Botnick and moved to Manhattan to set up shop. Miller sought out various poets and writers such as Alan Ginsberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Isamu Noguchi, Billy Collins, and Octavio Paz, to make small printed chapbooks of their works. Later he moved to Alabama where he developed the MFA Book Arts Program, which he directs. In the past several years Steve has been recording interviews with book artists and poets and this series of podcasts is available on iTunes. He is also proprietor of the Red Hydra Press at the University. Steve is one of the co-founders of the Paper and Book Intensive, an exciting two week series of workshops and classes in the book and paper arts.

Steve spoke in depth about his own journey as an artist, calling himself a “floaty poet boy” with a passion for poetry and printing. He feels his mission has been to awaken authors to the joy of the printed page and to establish a long term relationship with them. This was clearly evident in the samples of collaborative book projects he brought with him. Printing for Steve represents magical moments of attention where he is totally focused on every detail of a print.  In Steve’s words, “it’s not a single ‘ah ha!’ moment, but a long slow ‘aah haaaa….’ action.” It’s all about the making of a printed page, the very foundation of the artisan book.

In his long career he has worked with many  notable artists in the field of book and paper arts.  He talked about the work of Hedi Kyle, who has contributed so many innovative book structures to the field, Carolee Campbell of Ninja Press, who has been printing fine books for nearly 25 years, and Harry and Sandra Reese who started their press about the same time as Steve in the late 1970’s.  Paper is the substrate of all fine printing and as interest in the hand printed page grew in the 1970’s and 80’s, the need for quality handmade paper led to the founding of two important paper making establishments, Twinrocker Paper in Indiana and Dieu Donné Papermill in New York.  The demand for quality type and the casting of new type faces was met by such companies as Bixler Press and Letter Foundry in upstate New York.  Small museum collections of antique presses such as John Horn‘s in Arkansas provide important models for reference and research for the contemporary printer, often assisting them in troubleshooting the mechanics of their own antique working presses. In support of book artists and printers, there are many long standing educational institutions and book arts centers across the country that Steve mentioned as well such as the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina where Steve frequently teaches and recently redesigned their state of the art letterpress studio.

It was a rich and full weekend immersion in all things “book art”.  Thanks to Steve Miller, we got a taste of the depth and variety of contemporary artists’ books and fine printing and a clear message that the “artisan book” is here to stay.  Though the artisan book has and will continue to go through changes, it has a strong legacy of passionate and focused practitioners who continue to influence the book arts with their collective wisdom and experience.  The handmade book is alive and well and it is through collections of artists’ books at Brown and RISD, and instructors like Jan Baker and Steve Miller who are training the book artists of tomorrow, that the legacy will continue.

Many thanks to Lisa Long Feldman, coordinator of the Watts Program, to the John Carter Brown Library and Staff, to Rosemary Cullen of the John Hay Library, and to the RISD Graphic Design department for all they did to make this weekend possible.

posted by Laurie Whitehill Chong

College Book Art Association 2nd Biannual Conference

If you are a student of the book and paper arts, a practicing book and paper artist, an instructor in the book and paper arts, or a librarian/curator of book arts collections, the College Book Art Association (CBAA) is an organization that you will want to be a part of.  Since its founding in 2008, this growing organization has had two annual meetings at the University of Arizona in Phoenix and the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland and two large conferences at the University of Iowa and Indiana University.  Another large conference is slated for next January in the San Francisco Bay Area and in 2013, the annual meeting will be held at Yale.

CBAA’s mission is to support and promote academic book arts education by fostering the development of its practice, teaching, scholarship, and criticism. Conferences such as the recent one held at Indiana University January 13 – 16 attest to the growing interest in the book arts in a variety of academic institutions.

At this year’s conference there were 48 sessions to choose from, numerous behind the scenes tours of rare book and museum collections as well as campus studios. Hands-on workshops in intaglio, letterpress, collograph and paper dyeing were also included.

A juried members’ exhibition of artists’ books was held in the University gallery, highlighting the broad spectrum of contemporary work in the book and paper arts.

 

 

Here is just a sampling of some of the session topics:  Book Studies and the Liberal Arts; Embodying Bookness: Reading as Material Act; Ways of Knowing: Book Arts Across the Curriculum; Codex as Canvas: the Artist Altered Book; The Library in Art[‘s Crosshairs]; Scrapbooks of John Ruskin: Stranger than Fiction; Dé-Coll/Age: Bulletin Aktueller Ideen; Work from Home: Gaylord Shanilec’s Pastoral Wunderkammern; Vander-Mation: Letterpress Printing, Calligraphy and Animation; Cross-Media Iterations of a Single Text; Rice Boy Sleeps: Artists’ Books Meet the Web; Collaboration as Impetus; Book Installation Book; The Dot and the Line; The Persistence of Hand-Making: Sustaining the Book within the Academic Arena; Asa Beneviste and the Trigram Press; Margin Arts: Haiku and Artists’ Books in the West; Poetry Made Visible: Tom Phillips and Dante Alighieri; Librarians and Pedagogy; Contemporary Bookmaking in the Middle East/North Africa; From Palm Leaf to Book; Views of Los Angeles: Ed Ruscha’s Book Works; Updating the Artists’ Publication- 1960 to 2010; The Book in Public. For abstracts of these and more, see the CBAA website under conferences.

One of the many highlights of the conference was keynote speaker Ann Hamilton.  Showing still and moving images of her work, Ms. Hamilton gave us a generous taste of the depth and integrity of her public art projects, many of which involve language, the voice, and reading.  Memorable quotes from her presentation:  “Reading stills the mind…it is sensory without leaving a mark on you”  “My voice is in my hand”   “Making is an act of finding”  She talked at length about her project at the Venice Biennale, installations at the Seattle Public Library, the felted floor tiles in the Brown University Humanities Center, the kinetic installation at the Guggenheim in New York and the most recent cork floor installation at the Ohio State Library.  Her walking meditation boat in Laos is a piece that goes on and has another life of its own.  The double helix tower in Geyserville, CA has also been used for numerous performances since it was built.    And her Stylus installation at the Pulitzer Foundation in St. Louis invites anyone to participate.  During her presentation she called in to the project and the audience sent a real-time spoken message which instantly became part of the piece.

posted by Laurie Whitehill Chong