The Art of Books
Taking the Page Beyond the Press
THIS BUILDING WAS ONCE FILLED WITH BOOKS. More than 100 years ago, this historic building was home to the Madison Public Library. Serving the community from 1900 through 1967, it was a place to learn, to study, to discover, and to dream. And everything about it revolved around books.
The Art of Books: Taking the Page Beyond the Press brought back to the building a collection of different kinds of books – ones that do not necessarily use words to convey the message. This exhibit was featured at the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts from July to December 2015.
Using imagery, the books break down the wall between what we expect to see and what the artists are compelling us to see. These books serve as containers, and conveyers, of information where language can be less important than texture on the page, and where the paper counts for more than just the story told on it. The illustrations and the binding might actually turn out to be the story.
There are infinite ways a book can be explored. The form of the book, a symbol for ideas, information, and literature, may be the most relevant signifier and richest material we can work with today. In our twenty-first century media-filled environment, we can respect the history of the book while contemplating its future in the face of shifts to digital technology, fully embracing the myriad ways books can tell their stories.
The works of art that were on exhibit are the creations of twelve artists, each using a different method to relate a story. Some have used materials as unorthodox as sand, grains, found objects, and even mica to craft these unique artistic statements. These brilliant book artists combine literature with sculpture in a new form of expression that creates an effect greater than the sum of its parts. To help the visitors of this exhibit the museum displayed these works thematically based on some of the building’s quotes. Although not officially part of the current exhibit, many of the inscriptions on the walls, the fireplaces, and the stained glass windows reflect the importance of books in our lives & the relevance of the themes of the books presented in the exhibit.
Objects on Display
“Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.”
– E.P. Whipple
Lighthouses traditionally guide ships, alerting them to possible impediments and providing a welcoming beacon for a safe haven. These books in the exhibition reflect the individual artists’ memories and emotions about specific locations, travel experiences, and thoughts on travel & relocating.
- Montana September by Karen McDermott highlights her memories of Glacier Park, Montana
- Follow the Map & Keep Going by Lynn Keffer echoes the design & folds of traditional maps while guiding the viewer to imaginary locations (opposite page)
- Color Path of a Changing Landscape by Karen McDermott creates & re-creates the same landscape, using only 11 shapes & 11 colors
- Mexico by Joe Reilly contains watercolor sketches created while he was in Mexico
- Birmingham by Lynn Allison Starun contains memories—comfortable, uncomfortable & bittersweet—of her years in Birmingham, Alabama
- Through the Year in New Jersey by Lynn Allison Starun traces some of her experiences during one calendar year in Summit, New Jersey
- Sur-Real Estate by Marcia Miele Branca depicts the challenges—seeming “surrealistic” at times—that the artist had while looking to buy a house (currently on display at Coccia Realty, 49 Main Street, Madison, NJ)
“Tongues in Trees; Books on running brooks; Sermons in stones; and good in everything.”
– William Shakespeare
For those who love nature, the outdoors can become a “reading experience” of sorts. Communing with nature provides many opportunities for learning & reflection through the “sermons” implied in nature. The selections below emphasize nature & lessons either learned or in the process of being learned.
- Paper Garden by Karen McDermott reminds the viewer of the pleasure & simplicity of nature in its colorful garden
- Love of Nature by Randy Keenan uses the natural substance of mica to form its pages
- Request for Divine Intervention by Joan Bess symbolizes “sermons” & spirituality in a variety of formats: prayer wheel, Milagros, icons, & talismans
- The Scroll Format of Flow by Leslie Nobler evokes the Torah & other important spiritual writings
- The Spirit & Sailor by Leslie Nobler reminds the viewer of the horror of genocide
- Leaves of Grass by Jean Stufflebeem replicates the open field with its hand-made, grass-embedded paper
- The Hand-Made Paper in Bark Book by Fran Willner invites viewers to imagine their own stories on the blank pages
“The books that help you the most are the books that make you think the most.”
– Theodore Parker
Sometimes, reading can become a very challenging experience, but the rewards are great when one can finally decipher the meanings, the themes of written selections. The pieces below are invitations to look, to think, to create a story that is meaningful to the viewer.
- Fogbound by Lynn Allison Starun expresses the foggy nature of what “truth” is
- Burning Book by Jean Stufflebeem evokes its theme of “Passion” through color, texture & the use of fire
- The Hidden Room by Liz Demaree invites the viewer to imagine the excitement & mystery of discovering a hidden room in an otherwise familiar environment
- The Hidden Pages by Lynn Keffer are organized & filed neatly, but the subject matter is “hidden” from the viewer, leaving room for personal speculation & reflection
- Contemplation of Intricate Workings by Joan Bess invites the viewer to do just that: contemplate the intricate workings of this piece of art
- The House Depicted in Nightmare by Randy Keenan can evoke the viewer’s own nightmarish fears
- Malicious Code Wars or The Secret Inner Life of Your Computer by Lynn Allison Starun relates the challenging experience of trying to figure out computer glitches
“God be thanked for books. They are the voices of the distant and the dead and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages.”
– William Ellery Channing
Throughout our lives, we learn to look to the past in order to understand the present & plan for the future. The books below either hark back to actual historical events or seem to evoke imaginings of past events.
- Ancestral Secrets & The Book of Chef Robert by Liz Demaree both seem to depict mysterious—& sometimes frightening—memories of the past as the viewer probes the secrets while “entering” the houses & their rooms
- Anne & Rebecca’s Book by Leslie Nobler reminds the viewer of people and events that took place during the Holocaust & World War II
- Wakarukaruka by Ann Vollum expresses the artist’s memories of growing up in South Africa
- Calls of Their Ancestors by Fran Willner expresses an unknown past through various totems
- Asian Encryptions by Fran Willner appears to lead the viewer through selections of ancient advice
- With Hook & Thread: Grandmas’s Sample Book celebrates Karen McDermott’s family history
- Editions I – Letter from a Friend by Fran Willner presents a specialized history through real letter exchanges between her husband & Fran during World War II
“A good book is the best of friends the same today and forever”
– Martin Farquhar Tupper
Most people can readily name their favorite book & often where they were when they first read it. Even when other books are donated to book sales, some books just cannot be let go. They become touchstones that may often be revisited & reread. The selections below reflect the sense of wonder and happy memories that some books invoke.
- The Library of Unforgettable Books by Randy Keenan highlights some of the popular books of the current time
- Peep Show, a “Beastly Beasties” Book by Ann Vollum evokes favorite stories of childhood, made even more special by its presentation of “peeking” into the proceedings
- Classics in a Nutshell by Joan Bess contain synopses of some of the most-loved books
Special Thanks to These Contributing Artists
- Joan Bess
- Marcia Miele Branca
- Liz Demaree
- Randy Keenan
- Lynn Keffer
- Karen McDermott
- Leslie Nobler
- Joe Reilly
- Lynn Starun
- Jean Stufflebeem
- Ann Vollum
- Fran Willner