What is a book? The question seems more relevant than ever at this time in which digitalization is overcoming traditional media. The trend allows for an increase in volume of information (even an overwhelming flood), yet it also threatens to open a dark gap in our civilization. Digital media depend on an energy infrastructure external to the would-be possessor of the information. Digital information is so dependent upon the maintaining of a gigantic network that any break in that network could relegate everything digital into oblivion.
Books as physical objects, on the other hand, are self-contained repositories of information. Creators of art books hew to the idea of the book as a tangible presence; a unique object of beauty that contains a variety of stuff. Artist-made books are mystical, magical things that can contain imagery and information while retaining the quality of being a work of art in and of themselves.
Puget Sound Book Artists is holding its seventh annual exhibition at University of Puget Sound’s Collins Memorial Library. The show is free and open to the public and will be on view through July 28.
PSBA is an organization comprised of professionals and amateurs from the book, paper and printing arts communities. There are bookbinders, papermakers, printers, book artists, archivists and conservators. The group puts on exhibitions, workshops, lectures and publications dealing with all aspects of the art of the book.
This year’s show is a themed exhibition called “Northwest Musings.” The artist-made books in the show all explore some idea of what the Pacific Northwest means to each participant. Many deal with the native flora and fauna, while others explore the topography and the culture, both ancient and modern, of the region. Some explore architecture, transportation, coffee house culture and environmental issues.
There is a great and inventive array of styles of making books. There are accordion books, flag books, books with woven, piano hinge spines. Double dos-a-dos with slip covers, Jacob’s ladder books, slab-bound books, codices with Coptic stitch binding, books with concertina binding and tomes with drum leaf binding.
There are books with driftwood covers and books made with all kinds of paper, much of it hand made. The artist books incorporate buttons, beads, denim, wood gnawed by pine beetles, clam shells, coffee bags, sticks, stones and the list goes on. Each book is a thing made from a great range of materials. The pages have everything from the written word, to fine drawings, prints, collage, embroidery and combinations thereof. Many of the books have textured boxes to contain them. Some even have elaborate containers, like Peter Newland’s miniature travel trailer made to contain his “Travel Musings.”
More elaborate still is Patricia Chupa’s “Thuja Plicata,” which has a container that is like a tree trunk topped with a Northwest native style hat woven from strips of cedar bark. Randi Parkhurst built a miniature tower to contain “InSpired.” Kathy Dickerson’s “Indianola Beach Field Guide” is a set of beautiful little pages in a cover made of driftwood that is set up on a small stand made of driftwood.
One of the masterpieces in the show is Chandler O’Leary’s “One Hundred Views of Mount Rainier, at least.” This book consists of a beautiful box with three drawers equipped with ribbon pulls. Inside are 120 “image flats,” scenes that can be assembled in a diminutive viewing stage so that they create a 3-D image of a particular view of Mount Rainier. This volume leaves one dumbstruck by the amount of work that went into it and the high level of fine craftsmanship required to make it. Each of little vignettes is utterly charming. O’Leary is certainly a living treasure that Tacoma is fortunate to have.
“Northwest Musings” is sure to inspire its viewers to rush home and begin to assemble their own books out of whatever is at hand. The only drawback of this show (an unfortunate necessity) is that all of the artist-made books are housed in glass cases. A book is made to be opened and held and looked thorough. One stands like a poor kid in a candy story, wishing for access to the sweet treasures behind glass. What a pleasure it would be to hold one of these gems, to spend time opening it, exploring all of its pages and meditating on its contents. The show is a tantalizing glimpse into private worlds contained within the leaves and pages of the works of art on display.
“Northwest Musings” runs through July 28. A PSBA artist conversation will take place June 22, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. A panel discussion is scheduled for July 19, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Both events take place in room 020 of the Collins Memorial Library. For further information visit www.pugetsound.edu/academics/academic-resources/collins-memorial-library/about-collins/artwork-exhibits-in-the-library/psba-7th-annual-members-exhibition.