Thursday, September 27, 2012

Words as Jewels

Words are our friends. We use them every day. They can sparkle and shine. Here is an exercise in which we can examine words one by one, as if looking at each facet individually for perfection and flaws. The short text that this generates is a good catalyst for a handmade book.

  1. Do a free write of prose, a Person/Place/Action exercise, or a Step-By-Step Story.
  2. Distill the text down to a 30-Word-Story (or fewer words not counting a title). What is the essence of what you are saying?
  3. Give the text a Working Title. You can change it later. (Thanks to Charles Hobson for this concept.)
  4. Create a grid that is 5 x 6. Put one word in each box near the top of the box.
  5. Examine each word separately and see if it is the best word, or if you can find a livelier or better choice. Write new words under the old words.
  6. Circle all of the best words, one in each box.
  7. Copy over the revised story and use it in a book, if you like, or send it off to the Safety Pin Review.
  8. Try the exercise with the grid again, this time completely changing the words, not just using synonyms, but looking at parts of speech: try a new noun for your original one, a new verb, etc..
See how different words change the meaning and how they contain emotions within them. For example, suppose you use the word "seeing." It could be replaced by: looking, noticing, glancing, ogling, examining, spying, understanding, or watching. Which one has the right emotional resonance for what you are trying to say?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Walter Benjamin and the Meaning of a Collection

An article that referred to Walter Benjamin's piece "Unpacking My Library" caught my attention. In the essay, Benjamin (1842-1940) wrote about what being a book collector meant to him and focused on memory as well as books: each book is like a portal to a personal past (60-61).  Although it was published in Die literarische Welt in 1931 and translated by Harry Zohn, the essay could have been written yesterday. You can also find it in the 1969 book Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, which is a collection edited and introduced by Hannah Arendt, who has her own collection, The Portable Hannah Arendt. In Benjamin's description of his love for collecting and his knowledge of how he acquired each book, he seemed to imply that his collection was the most meaningful to him alone.

A book is filled with memory by nature: each time you turn the page you must remember what came before. A collection of books, then, can contain both short-term memories for the reader and long-term memories for the collector. For Benjamin, the books were connected to cities, to smells, to the weather, and other details; they preserved ("locked in") all of his sensations while traveling. For a sole reader. For him. For a time. Would he have explored a place so deeply if he hadn't been looking for his next purchase?
…one thing should be noted: the phenomenon of collecting loses it meaning as it loses its personal owner. Even though public collections may be less objectionable socially and more useful academically than private collections, the objects get their due only in the latter (67).
The act of gathering may lose its meaning. But does the collection itself lose its meaning without the original owner? In some institutions, particularly for special collections departments,  just one librarian decides what books to add to the shelves of rare books. If the library is new, she defines the themes and scopes; if the library is older, he may be continuing a previous librarian's vision. Benjamin asserted:
 —ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them (67).
The meaning of the collection is not completely lost with a new collector. In continuing a collection started by previous generations, the current librarian is keeping alive the original collector's memory. The original collector still lives on in the books. Mills College Library, for example, has the Jane Bourne Parton Collection of books about dance because an endowment was provided; the librarian continues to add to the shelves and may actively enjoy the act. But Benjamin seemed more concerned with the "phenomenon of collecting" than the global meaning of the collection itself. His interest was how the object could be brought forward into the present, given meaning right now, activated when the collector handled it. The librarian takes on the role of the original collector, although in Benjamin's eyes, this may not be enough to keep the objects alive since the librarian may or may not know the full story of the acquisition or the decisions behind it.

In addition to books, Benjamin noted other kinds of collections. He provided an amusing reference to"booklike creations from fringe areas," which he found perfectly acceptable. Some examples:
…some people become attached to leaflets and prospectuses, others to handwriting facsimiles or typewritten copies of unobtainable books; and certainly periodicals can form the prismatic fringes of a library (66).
I do agree with his notion that each book carries a history with it, unique to the owner. I'm not sure I would glorify the act of collecting quite so much; it seems to me that using the collection more as a memory jog (or as a "rebirth", a way to recover lost youth) rather than a delight in what is written on the pages was his purpose, or at least the purpose of this essay.
A collection of other people seem to know about Benjamin's essay. Lots of other people.
As I unpacked some of the book art from my library to show students on the first day of class this semester I noticed that most of the books I had brought are also collections. 
  • Bug-eyed (1994), Mare Blocker's book of creepy things, very short stories about one particular bug or critter after another (a book I bought) 
  • Childhood Summers by the Sea (2003), a book of poems and prints by Andrea Taylor about her home and memories in Canada (was sent to me) 
  • Jim Hair Photographs, Vol. 2 (2006), mostly of different people (given to me by Jim Hair
  • Book Book. Words in Japanese that correspond to sounds in English by Seiko Tachibana (printed in my studio, 1996, which I either bought or traded for) 

Once Upon A Time/Book Six (1992), a fun and well-done book I bought that has a beginning, middle, and end, is by Carol Blinn, and it stood out because it contained one story. I wondered if, for most people, making a book of a collection was easier than laying out a narrative. More interesting? A way to put a variety of meaningful work between two covers? Or is this just what collectors prefer to collect?

Looking at book art through Walter Benjamin's glasses (if he had them, I don't know), each poem, or each bug, or each photograph is part of a whole world for the artist. The parts have much more meaning to the maker than for the viewer. How do we change that? Or do we want to change it? You can take one object, one photograph, one situation and push it deeper. Or you can skate the surface with a collection. Make one book for each piece in the collection and you have your proverbial "body of work." Either that, or you've just acquired your own library. As Benjamin wrote, "Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method" (61).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Road Books, Scrolls & Letterpress Detours

A little portable device with a map in it. Sounds contemporary, eh? But someone was trying to make one in 1920s in the UK and named it the Plus Four Wristlet Route Indicator. This object was apparently included in the exhibit in 2008 of Weird and Wonderful Inventions and Gadgets at the British Library and in Curious Contraptions at The National Trust's Standen House in East Grinstead as well as at the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. Here is a picture of the comparison between then and now in an article in The Telegraph. Maurice Collins is the man from whose collection it is borrowed. I wrote to the three venues as well as to Maurice himself to see if I could get some definitive information. The British Library said that the Wristlet is listed in a handout as "c. 1926." Ultimately, the date was all I could find, but the search led me other places.

Maurice wrote that the Wristlet dated from 1927, and I was thrilled to hear that he had been a letterpress printer and had owned his own printshop. He told me he had recently given a talk called "From Winklebag to Swag." What is a winklebag? you may ask, as I did—I found the answer on the website for Winklebag Press ("hand-printed in Suffolk by blokes"). Starting around Victorian times in London, street foods (shrimp, jellied eels, and periwinkles [edible sea snails], for example) were sold in paper bags printed with hymns, poems, etc., so the sellers could distinguish themselves from their competition. Printers who produced these "winkle bags" were held in low esteem. Michael Dobney, proprietor of Winklebag Press, answered my email and told his story: 
I can just about remember them in the '60s, standing with their barrows outside pubs in London at weekends, and I guess they disappeared around the end of that decade…My first job was in an advertising agency in 1967 and my boss, Head of Print/Production used to inspect proofs every morning - at that time all type was set overnight in hot metal. And if something didn't meet his high standards he would say, 'Who printed this, the bloody winklebag printers?'
"Winklebag printer" is certainly a colorful insult. Michael also wrote, "Avoid jellied eels at all costs." I seem to have taken a scenic detour. Now back to the Route Indicator…

According to another blog, in 2010 in New Zealand, Simon Jansen made a contemporary Route Indicator Wristlet. Like its historical model, the device straps on like a watch and has two double scrolls in it that contain travel directions. Jansen describes all of the materials he used, including: brass modeling tubes with slits; flat back plate; pieces of brass; glass microscope slide; windscreen sealant; binding post screw; and an acorn nut (which, to my disappointment, was not made from the actual nut of an oak tree, but is a bit of threaded metal with an acorn-shaped end that might go with a bolt). These little lamp parts would work for scroll finials, too. A benefit to this mechanical gadget, Jansen notes, is that it is silent.

I like thinking about a wearable book and its special function: the need to move from place to place in order for it to be relevant. Here's a quickie facsimile made from found materials (photo, left): dowels, beads, glass microscope slide, piece of soda can, bit of map, ribbon. Imagine a site-specific scroll book of a poem, story, or bit of information at every block. Or, in a gallery setting or park in conjunction with objects. Walk ten paces, look up: a sculpture hanging from a tree. Take three giant steps left and take a pencil from a vase. Maybe the pencil has a message on it. Create one for your house and change the objects periodically. Or maybe you need one for your passwords or keys: a personal treasure map. Retro geocaching. Or something.

The original, and Jansen's remake, is a beautiful little structure, not unlike Peter and Donna Thomas's "Project 8: The Scrolling Book" in More Making Books By Hand: Exploring Miniature Books, Alternative Structures, and Found Objects, but in miniature and wearable. A companion to the Wristlet is a little box that stores all of the scrolls when not in use. So much potential in a tiny portable book like this and its accessories!

For another unique look at maps, check out these papercut maps from StudioKMO.

Maurice Collins has written two books that highlight some of the gadgets in his collection: Ingenious Gadgets and Eccentric Contraptions: And Amazing Gadgets, Gizmos and Thingamabobs.

I found a page turner for large ledgers and a bookmark in Ingenious Gadgets. My favorite was a pen wipe in the shape of an ink bottle with bristles on top. I asked Maurice if he had any other gadgets related to books. He wrote back:
i have over 1600 items in this collection, remembering them all is difficult, but the following comes to mind…mechanical page mark/indicators a few types, a book reading table worn around the neck used for victorian journies by train…
A book reading table! A personal, portable lectern. For teachers and preachers, or others giving direction, perhaps…

Monday, September 17, 2012

Outsider Art Outside

He appeared on Solano Avenue—the main shopping artery near my house—perhaps two years ago, but he disappeared for several months. I know, because I kept looking for him. He is back now and spends the day on the street, bending wires with a small pliers and hammering bits of soda cans: creating birds and bugs, flowers and assorted objects. When he is finished he attaches the objects to the trees, bushes, and traffic signs around him. I walk past him several times a week and always wish I could interact with him. I'd like a bird, maybe, or the black bug I saw recently. He has rigged up a "donation" box, so I thought he might be open to selling a piece. But I don't want to insult him. A friend said just ask if his work is for sale.

As I walked to his perch—a ledge by the side of a bank—I wondered if I had created a magical person in my head that didn't exist in reality. I wondered if I wanted to keep him mysterious. But he is a real person and he deserves his dignity. Next to him sat a cup of coffee, or an empty cup, I wasn't sure.

"I like your work," I said. He was holding several thick coat hanger wires twined together. I broke my usual rule when asking people about their art and guessed. "Is that a bird?"

"No, it's an arm," he said. I felt his impatience, his grumpiness with me. I had interrupted him.

"Well, I enjoy looking at it." I pointed out the various pieces I could see attached to trees. He pointed to another one, also affixed to a tree. I saw that he was making human figures now. I geared myself up to speak again. "Do you sell your work?"

"Why, can you sell it for me?" His voice was somewhat fierce. I felt sheepish.

"Oh, Oh, I can't sell it. I was just thinking I might like to buy one." I felt embarrassed; in this situation, I couldn't do much. "Well, anyway, I'd like to give you a donation." I found a five in my wallet and put it in his makeshift cardboard donation box. I started to walk away.

"Here," he said. He intended for me to stay. He threaded a wire through one of three holes in a folded piece of pierced soda can while I watched. 

"When did you start making these?" I asked.

He took the wire out through the end hole. The middle hole was empty. He stopped and looked around. There were screws and bolts and odd pieces of metal on the ledge next to him. There were more coat hangers on the ground. He wasn't finding what he wanted. He held the object out to me. I did not guess what it was. I did not say, "tell me about it." I just accepted it and thanked him.

As I walked home I thought about making things: where they go, what they are for, what they mean, how they connect to reality. I thought about bringing him a handmade book, but imagined it cannibalized, bits of it ending up as other objects. 

My little piece is infinitely simpler than the birds and bugs and flowers and assorted objects that he usually makes, and I don't know what it is, but it came with a story, and I'm happy about that.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Barry McGee's Connection to Humanity

Barry McGee has a huge show at the Berkeley Art Museum right now. I first saw McGee's work in the Art in the Streets show at L.A. MOCA last summer, a show that both intrigued me and baffled me. In addition to graffiti, why did I want to see recreations of alleys, broken down vans, seedy places, in a museum? But it stayed with me. I keep thinking about it. Eureka! That's part of successful art, like it or not: it haunts you over time.

In relation to the McGee show, the word "Situationist" popped into my head, pulled from the yellowing memory-folder of art history class. Upon researching the Situationists, I found a context for the graffiti show and for McGee's work. It wouldn't be a coincidence if there were a connection; McGee has formal art training from San Francisco Art Institute and likely would have studied art history. Whether he sees it this way or not he is connected to history, concepts, and concerns of artists before him.

In addition to the Situationists—a group I'll look at in a minute—one can see other connections to art history in the book Writing on the Wall: Word and Image in Modern Art. The work of Frenchman Ben Vautier, Le Magasin de Ben (1962), brought the shop into the art gallery, much like McGee's imaginary store. Allan Kaprow presented Words in 1961, a "labyrinth of texts" and "A physical environment overflowing with words" that were handwritten and stenciled: humble and very crude, but carrying with them a living energy. McGee handpaints images and words and uses stencils as well to recreate graffiti that he also makes outside the gallery. Others in France during that time didn't want to use the expression of handwriting, but used existing typography to bring "the street directly into the gallery by producing works that were made from torn advertising posters." McGee is channeling the concerns of many artists in the 1960s.

If you look at the Situationist Manifesto by Guy-Ernest Debord (1957) you start getting an uncanny feeling about McGee's work: here we are again, politically. The BAM website says his work calls, "attention to the harmful effects of capitalism, gentrification, and corporate control of public space." One of the prints from McGee's art school days looks to be an intaglio and chine collé: the text has phrases like "union" and "collective bargaining" and "political citizenship." The group connected with Internationale Situationiste put up a fight against the bourgeoisie and what they saw as the evils of capitalism. Debord wrote in his manifesto:

Capitalism has invented new forms of struggle (state intervention in the economy, expansion of the consumer sector, fascist governments) while camouflaging class oppositions through various reformist tactics and exploiting the degenerations of working-class leaderships.…The new desires that are taking shape are presented in distorted form: present-day resources could enable them to be fulfilled, but the anachronistic economic structure is incapable of developing these resources to such ends.…

One way to look at this is that what we need is harder to distinguish from what we what. Advertising plays a huge role in this distortion, pressuring us to want more. Overall, Debord protested the exploitation of the working class, and the conflict between the workers, who were paid little money, and the business owners, who received all the profits from the workers' labor. Debord, if it isn't clear already, was a proponent of Marxist theory.

The gallery, arguably, could be considered a space for the privileged, and since McGee spent most of his artistic life in a gritty area of San Francisco, he is hyper-aware of the divide between inside and outside. He bridges that gulf with this show. The BAM website notes that McGee "has brought the urban condition into the space of the gallery." Not just the aesthetics, but the condition, the mood and feeling of it, the "anarchic vitality of the inner city street." Aaron Rose, in the book Beautiful Losers, points out that by, "Living in The Mission [in San Francisco] one cannot avoid being constantly confronted by the downtrodden. There are homeless people and drug addicts living in the streets…" (42)

I visited the McGee show before it opened (photo at left), watching the minions installing it, waiting to see how it would all turn out, still curious and confused by it. I went to see it two months later. I thought I would be challenged, but I did not expect to be moved. 

McGee was in residence for more than two months creating the installation that covers the large main level, plus three smaller side galleries. On this enormous scale the viewer is completely immersed in McGee's vision and the aesthetic of the everyday street—most of that aesthetic balances between art and decay. Thankfully, the wall text is spare and adds just a few points the viewer might not know otherwise, such as that the framed artworks on napkins (photo at right) were by Barry's father, who drew on and collected what looks like hundreds of them.

In addition to the geometric pattern pieces, paintings on patched dropcloths, and collections of handlettered signs and ephemera, there are animatronic figures that appear to be spraypainting various walls. The neverending sounds in the echoing gallery include the figures' electric mechanisms and the murmurings from the column of stacked TVs (a modern Tower of Babel, perhaps?). My friend Sibila, who has been officially photographing the show for a catalogue, told me she had seen a disturbing gang-hazing video, although I did not see it. As I was taking a photograph of a creepy thing inside the invented store, I was delighted to be mistaken for part of the installation. A woman said, "I thought you were one of those animatronic characters: your arms were moving up and down." Maybe it was that black hoodie I was wearing…

The creep factor was certainly the first feeling I experienced, but it gave way to sorrow. In the lower gallery I came upon a workshed-like building with rusted tiled walls and a painting of a man crawling on his hands and knees, dripping paint, possibly crying. It was situated near a wall of liquor bottles with faces painted on them so I suppose one meaning was a man looking for one last drink. But when I looked into the shed I felt as if I had been punched; I recognized the pieces inside to be by Margaret Kilgallen, his late wife (1967-2001). Although there was no signage to indicate this, I was pretty sure what I was looking at, and I felt grief. I explained this to an older woman who was peering in after me. "Did you know her?" she asked. I hadn't, but wished I had.

In the side gallery, usually reserved for the contemporary Matrix exhibitions, a few framed drawings were locked up with the quoins and furniture formerly belonging to a letterpress shop. The rusted tiled walls were made up of printer's galleys, but I had not recognized them right away since they were presented face down. The quantity of them made it clear just how many old letterpress companies had gone out of business. More regret. But how this would affect a non printer, I do not know. More regret that not everyone would know this, too. In Beautiful Losers Aaron Rose explains that the "trays" were, "from  the factory that was housed in the building before he moved in. There must have been five hundred of them!" So the galleys were part of McGee's landscape and home turf, too.

Two iPads are affixed to the top of a low wall that play segments from the Art:21 show that was broadcast originally on PBS. In it, McGee talks about his hunger to learn all kinds of art and to be an "art jock," and his worry that he will be seen as "selling out." He expresses concern that his art is being seen by fewer and fewer people as it goes into galleries—because these are the same people, over and over, who see it— in contrast to his work on the street that can be experienced by everyone. I wonder if he realizes that the beauty of having BAM as a venue is that UC Berkeley students (who are probably not usually regular museum-goers) always get in free and can visit as many times as they like. Here is a clip from the video.

And the Art:21 video with Margaret Kilgallen and Barry McGee.

Eventually, the Situationists abandoned art, looking to directly overthrow capitalism. It seems clear that McGee loves art, he thrives on it, he is someone who has to make it and to make the connections between people. It is comforting, somehow, to add him to the link of artists who want to make change in the world by bringing that messy world into what can be a sterile gallery setting. Nothing may ever be new—conceptually—in the art world, but the individual artist can still surprise and move us emotionally with his or her personal vision.

And, to close with Debord,  who wrote that it is your job to explore and fight for important freedoms:

Your role, revolutionary artists and intellectuals, is not to complain that freedom is insulted when we refuse to march alongside the enemies of freedom. Your role is not to imitate the bourgeois aesthetes who try to restrict people to what has already been done, because what has already been done doesn’t bother them. You know that creation is never pure. Your role is to find out what the international avant-garde is doing, to take part in the critical development of its program, and to call for its support.

The call is out.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Reading Room, Revisited

The Reading Room, February 3, 2012

Beginning last January, when it opened, I have been continually visiting The Reading Room, an installation at the Berkeley Art MuseumIn the spirit of the Little Free Library, The Reading Room offers a place to take and leave books, although in this case there is an admission because of its museum setting. Go on the first Thursday of the month, however, and you will get in free. Each visit provides a slightly different experience as the character of the books changes. The original new and glossy small press books overwhelmed it at first, then there were the many books brought in by random visitors, and now there are fewer books overall: mostly the overstock small press books again.

On my last visit, which was September 7, I noticed three handmade objects made of book pages. While they were a bit crudely put together, they also carried a vitality with them that warmed up the room. Someone has been making things intentionally to leave there, which I find inspiring. When I go next I just might bring something, too.

The Reading Room is on exhibit until December 9. Maybe we can all leave some art behind.

A paper box sitting atop a collage

Altered and photocopied book pages taped together

Collaged text and a couple of assembled pages

More elaborate book art objects left behind in Scotland in 2011 are here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Queen of Wands: Women, Art, and Tarot

I could not have predicted this: tarot cards are showing up around here. This is not my doing. I was mildly interested at first, since they are made of paper and printed, but now I have warmed to their surreal imagery. The deck that caught me was produced as a sample book for a paper company. (I wish I'd thought of it.) We aren't studying how to tell fortunes, though, and won't be hanging out a shingle any time soon. We are looking at them as samples of art and history. 

Both men and women have illustrated the decks, but the most famous one was drawn by a woman who, at one time, was also a publisher. I wish she could have predicted how popular her work was going to be; her life might have been easier. Those who know tarot have likely stumbled upon the Rider-Waite deck designed for Arthur Edward Waite by Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951) and published by Rider & Co. It was originally called the Rider-Waite deck, but Smith's designs and drawings have been properly acknowledged and many current references add her name (Rider-Waite-Smith); now there is a Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Set. 

Arthur Waite explained that the Queen of Wands indicated, "A dark woman, country-woman, friendly, chaste, loving and honorable.…Also, love of money, or a certain success in business." Smith's drawing of the Queen depicts a woman on a throne holding a wand with leaves growing out of it in one hand and a sunflower in the other; she is flanked by two lions, and a black cat sits in the foreground. It is a warm and rather welcoming image, I think, reminiscent of the arts & crafts movement and symbolism. The RWS deck, like many others that follow it, is very much of its time, even though it also draws on earlier decks.  

In the wonderful biography that accompanies the RWS deck, Stuart R. Kaplan, founder of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., wrote that Pamela, "Pixie," had a small press, but he did not elaborate. It was called the The Green Sheaf Press after her short-lived magazine, The Green Sheaf, but I can find no other information about it. Kaplan does show us pictures of "A Broadsheet" (1902), done with Jack Butler Yeats (artist and brother of poet William) which contained drawings and writings on a single page; illustrations for sheet music; and contributions to other journals. Smith was quite a character. She would listen to music and draw the visions that occurred to her; she was involved in theater and mysticism, held salons, and told stories in dialect. In addition to being an illustrator, she wrote prose and poetry and attempted to run a number of small businesses, which sadly failed each time. Although she was recognized by Alfred Steiglitz and her paintings were shown in his gallery in 1907, she died in debt at age 73. The deck she drew is still the most popular one and the source for many other decks since its 1909 debut.

Years ago, I bought an artist's book, a tetra-tetra-flexagon, called The Queen of Wands by Susan E. KingShe describes it on her website as a "paper sculpture." (See a photo of all the faces on page 129 of Making Handmade Books and page 117 of Expressive Handmade Books. You can still buy one from her for $15: edition of 800.) The book is based on a panel discussion from the early 1990s, and in the writing King muses about women and work, women and power, women and surrealism, and women and otherworldly connections. The flexagon contains images of a hand holding a pica stick (printer's ruler) and a hand holding the Queen of Wands card from what I now know is the Thoth Tarot Deck.

The Thoth deck was created in 1938-43, but it was first published in 1969. Its images were by another woman artist: "painted by Lady Frieda Harris under the direction of Aleister Crowley." In the accompanying pamphlet, Crowley explains that the Queen represents the "watery part of Fire, its fluidity and colour." The imagery is quite angular and cold to me and represents 1920s and 30s Futurism-inspired art deco. Even the yellow cat is icy. I must say that the Queen looks good, much better, in the warmer rose color of King's flexagon.

According to Susan's book, during this conference panel a pica stick was passed around and handed to each woman as she spoke: each speaker was to draw on the past as well as talk about the present and future of women in the book arts. King wrote, "If we held true willow wands, perhaps prophecy would be easier." In 1993, while there were many women printers and book artists, we could not have foreseen just how many there would be today, nearly twenty years later. Women printers and book artists are thriving: the field has grown. I like to think that Pamela Colman Smith and Lady Frieda Harris were each a Queen of Wands as well.

Ten decks, now. And counting. I've been asked to make a box for them as a birthday present. Purple book cloth has been requested. I can see it now…

Some strange depictions of women here, with their wands, batons, and what look like baseball bats…(You can click on the picture to see it larger).

Top row (left to right)
Rider-Waite-Smith: 1909; artist, Pamela Colman Smith
Aquarian Tarot: 1970, cropped version of RWS; artist, David Palladini (See Jane Yolan's The Girl Who Cried Flowers and Other Tales, for another example of his lovely work.)
Thoth Tarot Deck: published 1969, created from 1938-43; artist, Lady Frieda Harris
Linweave Tarot Pack: Brown Co., 1967; artist (this card) Nicolas Sidjakov. Company closed in 1989.
Conver Tarot: 1760; artist, Nicolas Conver (woodblocks)

Bottom row

Tarot of Marseilles by Jean Dodal (redrawing of the Marseilles Tarot): 1701
Ancient Italian Tarot: n.d.; "The entire Tarot tradition in Italy contained in a single deck"
Spanish Tarot: 1976; artist, Domenico Balbi
Ludvig Tarot: (Hungarian): 1998; artist, Zsuzsa Ludvig
Ship of Fools Tarot: Based on the Art of Sebastian Brant's Narrenschiff: 2002; artist, Brian Williams; there are fools in every card, based on German artwork

But I'm just dipping my toe in. If you want to read further, I did find a blog by Mary K. Greer that is devoted to Tarot. And an interesting and informative post here, which includes the wonderful photo of Smith that is included in the book's biography. We were pleased and amused to find tarot cards (original, rare Oswald Wirth Tarot Deck) and strong women in the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows film as well. The story of how the deck got into the movie is here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cross Flexagon with Picture Postcards

Maybe you went on vacation and brought back picture postcards. Maybe you stayed home and a few people sent you picture postcards. Or maybe you just have a collection of them, like I do, that are overflowing their boxes. If you don't mind trimming and creasing them a bit, four of them can be used to make a cross flexagon. You could also use photographs or printouts on card stock. 

The first cross flexagon I ever saw was made by Ed Hutchins in 1999, and I am indebted to him for always sharing his processes. He has a whole page of flexagons on his website. Flexagons are a kind of revolving book, in this case a two-sided object is transformed into one with four faces. (I've included instructions for the cross flexagon and others in Chapter 6 of Making Handmade Books and just the square and tetra-tetra flexagon in Chapter 5 of Expressive Handmade Books.)

For this project, I recommend Tacky Glue, since it will stick to either the coated or uncoated sides of the postcards. PVA may work. Rub-on adhesive may work. Heavy gel medium will likely work. Glue stick will not work because it is not strong enough to withstand the flexing action. School glue will not work because it is too wet and will warp the cards. Tape is evil. Don't use tape.

Tools: pencil; bone folder; metal ruler; X-Acto knife and spare blades; self-healing cutting mat; old magazines or catalogues or waxed paper to protect your work surface from the glue; small piece of board to spread the glue 

Materials: four postcards, all the same size (or trim to same size), landscape oriented (horizontal)

1. Mark and trim the postcards. The ratio of height to width needs to be 1:2. If your cards are 4" x 6", you'll need to trim them to 3" x 6"; if 150 mm wide, trim the height to 75 mm. I had some with blank backs and didn't mind too much from which side I trimmed, but if yours have stamps, you might want to trim the bottom edges.

2. Place the postcards in front of you, horizontally. Choose which sides will be facing up. (I liked gluing the backs together.) Measure and mark one quarter of the distance of the long side across each long edge, top and bottom. I found metric much easier for the math. If your postcards are 150 mm long, you would measure 37 mm along each edge toward the center, along both the tops and bottoms.

3. Align the ruler with the top and bottom marks. Press down the bone folder and draw with it, creating a score, connecting the two marks at each side of each postcard. Fold up along the scores.

4. Arrange two postcards face down and slightly apart, scores aligned. The corners here will never show again, so decide what is okay to hide. Apply glue in an "X" to each of the outer four corners (don't go past the scores). Use the piece of board to spread the glue evenly in a square area.

5. Turn one of the two remaining postcards so that it is face up, and press it into place crosswise, slightly over the edges of two of the corners.

6. Press the other postcard into place at the other two corners. There should be a slight gap between the two new postcards. It's okay if they stick out over the edges.

7. Press under weights, or if you are as impatient as I am, press down the glued corners with your fingers for a few minutes.

8. Use the X-Acto and the metal ruler to trim the edges evenly.

9. When the glue is dry, smooth out all the folds with the bone folder to tighten the creases.

To operate the flexagon, pull up and apart with your thumbs while pushing back and together with your fingers. You will need to rotate the flexagon 90º after each flex to get at the center cuts or flaps.

Pull up with the thumbs along the center cuts.
(face #1)

Flatten into a square.
(face #2)

Pull up at the center flaps.

Flatten into a cross.
(face #3)

Pull up at the center flaps.

Flatten into a square again.
(face #4)

Pull up at the center cuts.

Here you are, back at the beginning square.
(face #1)
The possibilities begin. You can always add to the narrative and write your own notes, poetry, or prose on the backs or alter the fronts with gesso or collaged imagery.