If you think a book means cardboard covers and paper pages, then you need to head over to the Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound and have your horizons broadened. The Collins – which throughout the rest of the year hosts a swathe of visiting and local letterpress and book artists – is currently the venue for this year’s exhibit by 30 members of the Puget Sound Book Artists group, and the show continues to stretch the boundaries of creative materials, construction, binding and content.
A non-profit that links amateurs and professionals from all sections of the book art field, the PSBA offers year-round monthly meet-ups for workshops and or lectures. And it’s notjust for folks who live around Puget Sound: This year’s show features work by new members living in Oregon, New Mexico and Indiana.
As such, the show’s by no means even in quality – there’s stunning artistry by letterpress professionals like Chandler O’Leary (delicately watercolored horse prints in a cute little stitched pouch), by print artists like Dorothy McCuistion, Mark Hoppman (intensely textured pencil sketches in a large folio) and and college instructors like co-curator Kathryn Govan. There’s also less skilled amateur work, which is nevertheless heartfelt and often innovative. Every work is different, and presents the concept of a book in a uniquely thought-out way.
In the ‘creative materials’ category comes everything from sea shells to human hair. Diane Jacobs’ “Nourish All Our Relations” presents a series of simple bifold paper squares letterpress-printed with deep pastels of salmon, chicken and honeybees along with a handmade bamboo box with two ironic insets – a porcelain wishbone and a felted spoon. Lynne Knopp’s “Trilogy of Hope” (a curators’ choice award) is an accordion book made of stitched-together honesty (lunaria) seed pods, backed with rocks and inserted into vintage paper holders. The effect is at once fragile and steely.
Then there’s Arini Esarey’s “Laa ilaha illallah,” which won the Recognition of Excellence award for good reason: Esarey has stitched her mother’s prayers (in Arabic and English) into a cloth book trailing threads like memories, bound with shimmering green: an intensely personal and female religious expression of a male-dominated faith. Bonnie Julien covers her photo album with beaten copper, while Elizabeth Walsh fits her watery-inked “Sonnet to a Clam” inside a gold-painted clamshell, like an underwater jewel. Jan Ward fits her blackbird accordion art book with actual twigs, Carletta Carrington Wilson’s open-book collage is fecund with peacock feathers.
Also creative is the construction. If you aren’t familiar with accordion, maze, tunnel or flag books then here’s a marvelous selection; but even within categories there’s creativity. Marilyn Stablein and Bonnie Julien respectively offer flag books as an oddly illogical ode to math and an advent calendar; while Judy Lynn makes a sound-book via strips of onomatopoeic text stuffed inside an acrylic cube with shakeable ball bearings. Lynn also creates one of the most visually sculptural pieces: “12 Jan. 2012,” a multi-sided prism made of individual vellum triangles glued together, each printed with fragments of text or gelato color in a dream-like representation of a single day.
Finally, there are creative bindings. Kathryn Govan offers an entire selection as a single work: a mini A-frame house like a toy library, housing indigo-covered books with leaf, vine, Z, X and bowtie stitchings along their spines. Bonnie Egbert binds a sheaf of bookmarks, each with photos and text of the Hood Canal, with a bolt, seashells and seaweedy ribbon – the ultimate keepsake. And there’s a beautiful and atmospheric rebinding of Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” with goatskin spine and papyrus covers inlaid with leaves.
Elliot Press even defies the sheer dimension of a book with a set of over 100 loose cards printed with alchemical symbols – unfortunately looking more like a set of coasters than anything mystical.
There aren’t many bound-paper books at the Puget Sound Book Artists show. But books that hold knowledge, inspiration and memory in a highly tangible and beautiful format – there’s a whole roomful.
Open 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday, Thursday; 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday through July 31. Free. University of Puget Sound Collins library, North 17th and Warner Streets, Tacoma. 253-879-3675, pugetsound.edu, blogs.pugetsound.edu/pugetsoundbookartists