Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Arts as Egalitarian Practice

We like to name and sort, it helps us make sense of the world. One of the earliest stories of naming is in the Bible when Adam is asked to name each animal. It would have been cumbersome to say "the black one with wings that hops around" or "the one with four legs that comes up to my knees and barks." 

But in some cases, we don't have to agree on the names or properties of things. Is weeding also gardening? You aren't growing anything, you're pulling it up. But, of course weeding is necessary to enable the plants you want to grow. With many activities, we don't have to codify and standardize what they are and are not. They just are. Bureaucracies organize and reorganize/rename to gain power or money, among other things. Historians tend to classify and create movements and groups that may or may not have existed formally. It helps organize theories and timelines, and may make a more coherent story.

What I've always liked about book arts and the book arts community is the open and inclusive nature. So many different practices work side by side under the umbrella of the book. Papermaking, printmaking, letterpress printing, bookbinding, boxmaking, painting, drawing, textiles, sculpture, and more—you can make any kind of book in your own quirky way. We share some common terms in order to understand each other, but overall, the boundaries are loose.

The community has no king or queen, no hierarchy. There are no book art police. Sure, people judge, but that happens no matter how you live your life.

Part of this fluidity comes from the wealth of talent and creativity from a variety of media, each with its own focus. There is some codified information, mostly that derives from longstanding traditions of craft guilds and apprentices. But in making a hard cover, for example, one teacher may teach the application of glue to the boards, another may suggest applying glue to the paper or book cloth. 

Another part of the openness is from the generosity of the makers and the sharing of information. We don't keep secrets; we are excited to pass along what we have learned, created, and discovered.

We know that naming can be powerful. But occasionally structures and techniques are invented simultaneously and named differently. Once taught and over time, structures and terms also may be renamed. 
The structure many of us learned as "Secret Belgian Binding" for example, was actually named "Criss-Cross" by its creator, Anne Goy, but many people continue to call the binding by the name they first learned. While it helps to have names that we all understand, it doesn't take long to discover one person's X-book is another person's O-book. In this case, the diversity of practice and of naming can open a conversation, and it may actually inspire new ways of seeing.

Thank You

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Bookworks in Museums, NYC 2018

On a recent visit to New York we knew to seek out the exhibit The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity at Bard Graduate Center but were also happy to discover some beautiful books and calligraphy at The Met as well.

According to the website, the Bard exhibit was a "Focus Project," which is one of a series "developed and executed by Bard Graduate Center faculty and postdoctoral fellows" working together with graduate students. 

A large screen caught our attention first: a video that showed the making of a Coptic binding with headbands, leather cover, and clasps. We were transfixed by the process, and I feel I will have to try this out, as it takes the binding several steps beyond what I usually make. I've never seen anyone put covering material over a Coptic binding; most people leave the spine visible and unsupported. But clearly the books don't have to remain that way.

There were a few authentic books and objects and several facsimiles precisely made by Georgios Boudalis.

Tablet codex, 4th century AD
wood and wax

The origin for the term "codex" is "caudex" from tree trunk. The wooden frames for some of the codices in Egypt, like this student's "exercise tablet," had a wax surface that could be incised, then melted and reused. Each board was sewn to the next.

Someone once said this book was much like the "magic slate" toys with the black waxlike substance coating cardboard, the two plastic sheets (one clear, one frosted), and the red stylus. You drew or wrote on the top sheet, then lifted the sheet to "erase." The toys still lurk around the web, on Ebay and such (not in the exhibit). It turns out that our household has one. The back suggests: Write Your Name / Make Fun Designs / Draw Pictures / Play Games / Scribble & Erase. Nothing about practicing writing or arithmetic.

I suspect the magic slate has been erased by the magic tablet: the iPad. Similar, but the tactile sensation is missing. Moving along…

Facsimile of tablet codex, 2016
Georgios Boudalis
"the original tablet codex was smoothed, burnished, and coated with sizing, possibly gum arabic" and black ink could be used

It included a cord that wrapped around it like a carrying handle. From this example we are led to understand that the wax tablets were like notepads and the burnished and sized tablets were for permanent information storage.

Facsimile of a single-gathering codex, 2017

Tackets (rolled strips of parchment) and leather stays reinforce the binding and hold the folded pages (which would have originally been parchment) in place. The cover, wrapped around and tied shut, would have kept the springy parchment book from popping open and provided a portable case.

Codex of a Psalter, 18th century
Coptic, paired needles
This book had no cover over the boards and spine, and it was kept in a leather satchel.

This Coptic stitching is a model for what we do today.

The Bard Graduate Center sells a catalogue of this exhibit here.

Downstairs, in the Reading Room, many shelves held many artist's books and zines. 

On the wall was a 2016 textile piece by Francesca Capone, courtesy of Nationale (Portland, OR gallery: shown on her website in "Text means Tissue" show and her book of the same name available at Printed Matter here),  that reminded me of Lisa Kokin's asemic work from 2015-16. Capone's piece invokes ancient writing, such as Greek, that was written one way, then written back the other like an ox plowing a field, a boustrophedon. (The snake book structure, developed by Scott McCarney, was originally referred to as a boustrophedon for this reason.) Capone's thread-writing seems to mirror itself, the edges like tabbed or marked pages.

PLEASE DON'T FIND ME I'm bellowing still. Experiencing loss in the woods. Lost is me. Seeking actual touch (TBL)
Francesca Capone

Armchair travelers can search the Met collection with the word "book" and see what happens. Here were some of the books and calligraphy that we saw and that excited me, primarily for their design. I think you will agree that they relate to both Kokin's and Capone's work and to the Bard exhibit.

Turkish Qur'an Manuscript
15th-16th c.
sewn endbands

page view

Folio from Qur'an Manuscript, Egypt or Iraq
9th-early 10th c.

Folio from the "Qur'an of 'Umar Aqta'"
Calligraphy attributed to 'Umar Aqta'
reconstructed page, each page originally over seven feet tall
Present -day Uzbekistan
late 14th-early 15th c.

Second Volume of a Qur'an
Iran or eastern Mediterranean
9th c.
"second volume of a thirty part Qur'an meant to be read over the course of a month"

I liked how these displayed together. 
Folio from the "Tashkent Qur'an"
Syria or North Africa
late 8th-early 9th c.
"based on early form of kufic script with no diacritical marks to distinguish the letters, and with very little illumination"

Album of Calligraphies
Turkey, ca 1500
Calligrapher: Shaikh Hamdullah, d. 1519 "the most famous Ottoman calligrapher"
Each line of text was by the Prophet Muhammad regarding moral and legal behavior, pasted onto marbled paper.

Panel of Nasta'liq Calligraphy
Calligrapher: Sayyid Amir 'Ali
mid-17th c.

Section from a Qur'an Manuscript
twenty-ninth section of thirty-section set
each page only has five lines "providing a sense of monumentality."

  • Books, texts, textiles 
  • Ink, thread 
  • United States, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, and India 
  • Fourth century through the twenty-first century 

Different museums. Various purposes, different religions, variety of meanings. All are related, interwoven. Whether they were chosen consciously or not, the contemporary artwork calls back to the ancient crafts. There is something powerful, dynamic and electric  in the lines—and in-between the lines—that speaks to us. A continuation of a chain.

I'm reading The Peregrine by J.A. Baker. Birds know about the plow and the lines of the plow; it provides them with food: worms and bugs for gulls and small birds; gulls and small birds for the peregrine. It seems we can all find nourishment in the lines.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Enchanted Egg Pin Cushions

I've been sewing and enjoying my little wabi-sabi egg. It holds my needle while I am in progress on a project and livens up my day. Since I had more garnet emery, which is supposed to help keep needles sharp, I started making more. The eggs feel enchanted and have become little studies in color and texture. They are a nice weight in the palm of the hand. Each egg takes a few hours to make. I'm putting them up to share at my Etsy store: nevermindtheart. I'll be able to ship them on Monday, April 16.

At the moment, there are fourthree / two of the eggs shown here. Reserve yours now by placing an order!

A Robin's egg blue one.
(SOLD 4.14.18)

A lively leaf one.

A forests and trees one.

And a black and tan handwriting one.
(4.14.18: SOLD)

A little velvet here and there.
A little gold metallic thread.
Nestled in a swirl of raffia, each will be packed in a little clear bag.
A little visual poem.

Happy spring!

Addendum: I will be making two more…

Friday, April 6, 2018

April Book and Quilt Exhibitions in the SF Bay Area

There are three interesting exhibitions in the SF Bay Area this month. Well, more than that, but I have work in three.

In San Francisco, there's Musubu: Book Art: Tokyo-California at The American Bookbinder's Museum, April 7 - May 19, 2018. Reception: April 7, 2018, 5-8pm. 355 Clementina Street, San Francisco, CA. Curated by Jody Alexander and Hisako Nakazawa. Musubu means "to tie, to connect, or to be bound by friendship."

This exhibit was shown in Japan at the Urawa Art Museum in the Fall.
A page opening from the catalogue (which will be available in SF as well.)

My letterpress haiku perpetual calendar/book, Days Made Strange is in this show.

Days Made Strange

In San Jose, we have the Studio Art Quilt Associates exhibition, Guns: Loaded Conversations at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, April 22 - July 15, 2018. My quilt, "Hand Gun" is showing there. The opening is Sunday, April 22, 2018, 3-5pm. Address: 520 First Street, San Jose.
Note: just found out this show will travel next year to The New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA, January 9, 2019 to April 6, 2019.

Hand Gun

And in Turlock, California, there is an exhibition of Art Quilts: Works by Members of Studio Art Quilt Associates at Carnegie Arts Center, 250 N. Broadway. Opening: April 19, 2018, 6-8pm. Mother's Day Tea and Art Sale: Sunday, May 13, 2018.

Photo by Sue Siefkin:
My two felted books, as 3D quilts, Beautiful Tattoos and Smiled Politely and Left are showing there.

Beautiful Tattoos

Smiled Politely and Left

If you would like to read a little, my creative nonfiction story, "Between Stops" was posted at, a literary online magazine. You can click on the title, or here.

And it's National Poetry Month! I'm feeling behind.
And my 30-year-old sewing machine just gave up.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

New Art Quilt: They Know Which Way to Go

In December 2017, there was a small article in The New York Times; it could have been easily overlooked. But the title grabbed me: "Harriet Tubman's Hymnal." Within that article was a quote from Eric Williams, curator of religion at the Smithsonian’s Center for the Study of African American Religious Life in which he comments that here was a sacred book Tubman owned but could not read. Clearly it was precious to her, a symbol, perhaps. A book she handled over and over, marking it with personal wear.

Around this time I also became curious about the quilt pattern of "flying geese." And, of course, I had birds on my mind as I waited to watch the cycle of the Osprey nest again (which began the beginning of March). I thought there might be a link to the African American slaves' flight to freedom, possibly a link to Tubman herself. I knew that most birds fly south for the winter and north to make nests and rear their young. North to carry on the line. Folklore presents quilt patterns as part of a communication system you can read about here: flying geese pointing the way to go. Research may not be conclusive that it was used in the Underground Railroad, but I decided to incorporate the idea into my quilt for the symbolism anyway.

The flying geese pattern can look like rooftops or envelopes bearing messages; it can look like the V of a flock of birds flying; it can look like the outspread wings of one bird. I started out points up, but I liked the patterns balancing on their points for the gray birds. I kept the points up for the teal blue background.

I printed words on the blue from wood type: Freedom, Liberty, Moses, North. Tubman earned the name "Moses" after the biblical leader who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. For the pattern, I cut up the words to disrupt them, making them nearly illegible.

Embroidered text is the title: they know which way to go. One "way" is upside down. Hand-quilted with a multitude of running stitches, like air currents, topographic maps, paths, footsteps, people fleeing.

A freedom quilt. We still have U.S. history to answer for. We know which way to go: but we have to vote for it.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Joy of Materials: at the Quilt Fair

On March 18, I went over to the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond for the quilt show and fair, Voices in  Cloth put on by the East Bay Heritage Quilters. I knew I would have to ration myself, that there would be some interesting materials. I went a few years ago, but was not so actively working with textiles then. 

Several hundred quilts were on display, including a special section with some lovely textile work from Korea. There is also a blog by Mirka Knaster, one of the curators, that show Korean images here. And more images at Youngmin Lee's blog hereThe Korean quiltwork interests me even more now that I saw the Korean Couture show at the Asian Art Museum in January. The use of what looks like silk organza is stunning.

Previously, photos were not allowed. This time I could take some for personal reference only, but not to share, so I will list some links of a few people who made quilts I admired. 
Jungsik Kim, "Cheokgeori" ("a rack of books" made with traditional Korean paper)
Young Won Kwon, "The Aesthetics of Line/Moon Jar"
Ye Ryung Cho, "Beyond"
Youngmin Lee, "Out of the Box II"
Roberta Horton, "Indigo Rag/Boro"
Jan Etre, "Foray into Shibori"
Jennie Alexich, "Red Squares"
Mabry Benson, "Kuba"
CL Tree, "Aqua"
and the hilarious "Godzilla Fakemono" by Ryan Young made from up cycled denim and with a patch of Godzilla on the back.

My purchases.

Picked up the beautiful sashiko thread at Kimonomomo. Sashiko supplies are hard to find here, but I discovered these folks have a by-appointment-only shop in Alameda, CA. They also have an Etsy shop. I am so doomed.

Two spools of sweet antique silk thread from Tinsel Trading, a shop on my side of town, but I've never been inside. It has all kinds of vintage notions. And a textile roll, which appears to be a strip from a quilt (early 1900s). Someone magical about this object. But it is disintegrating. I'm not sure exactly what to do with it or if I will try to preserve it. I just like it. Had a brief but enjoyable talk with Marcia Ceppos, the proprietor. Read their fascinating story here.

The original quilt seems to have been backed in the green plaid cloth.

And three jars of Jacquard "Lumiere light body metallic acrylic" fabric paint from Sproule Studios. Great for stenciling. The paint stays soft after it is applied. Had a nice chat with April, the proprietor about art, crafts, and teaching. I could feel her excitement about all of these things, and I recognize a good teacher in her. Read her About Us page and check out her last paragraph to see what I mean.

Friday, March 23, 2018

New Art Quilt: Almost Cherry Season

Some of the work I feel most connected to comes to me in dreams.* Usually it is an image that I need to follow. Sometimes a title. Sometimes a whole story, a structure, or a color palette. This time it was the vision of fragments of cherry prints scattered throughout white-on-white fabric. At first I thought I would have to buy white patterned cloth. Then it dawned on me that I could and should certainly print it myself. "Should" because I would feel more connected to it; it would have more meaning to me because I had paid close attention to it.

As I hunted for cherries to draw from life I discovered that they aren't yet in season and that they are a huge import from the western United States. I would have to draw from images online. The quilt would be about anticipation and being in the moment, both.

For the white patterns I chose to print a linoleum block of leaves from my "library" and some related wood type words that included a phrase from the Magic 8-Ball, "Ask again later." On my walks up the hill I noticed the prunus plum/cherry blossoms were out (mid-February), so I carved a new block for them and printed that in light pink.

My cherry drawing and subsequent print is a composite of various images I found online, and it decided it simply wanted to be two colors, just two shades of red, no more. I was on the verge of trying one more darker red, but the print said no. I printed it on paper as well, just a few copies. The prints are here as "Always Cherry Season" at nevermindtheart.

As the prints dried and I waited, I felt I wasn't expressing all the emotions of anticipation and being present; I needed to write, set, and print a poem as well. The first poem I wrote felt too light. Something was missing. I remembered Kenny, my co-worker when I worked in my twenties at Pegasus Books. Perhaps I had been thinking about him all along. I remembered he had given me a chapbook of his poems, and that his Filipino family had been migrant workers. That intertwining relationship of the fruit to human workers felt important to include.

The chapbook I have is from 1998, the cover designed by another co-worker, Gina Lewis (now Gina Lewis Lee). The poems are grounded, dark, poignant, some are heartbreaking, chronicling some of the things he had told me: family, a life cycle from his own childhood and young adulthood to his proposal of marriage to the birth of his daughters to his separation and divorce. He and his former wife lived around the corner from my husband and me. We had daughters the same age who met a few times, too young to remember. The poems were so good. I'm not sure I appreciated them at the time. I thought I would reach out, see if he had a poem for my magazine Star 82 Review. What was he up to? Ask Google. The first listing online was his obituary. 1954-2013.

I cried. I didn't know him that well even though we worked together for two years. He was soft-spoken, thoughtful, loved his daughters and jazz music, dressed well. 

A dream took me on this journey. 
This quilt is dedicated to Kenny's memory. Light and darkness. Rest in peace.

Poems by Kenneth Zamora Damacion online:
(1984, page 34): Hawai'i Review, Number 16, "Young Hands, Young Face"; this is about picking plums.
(1990, page 24): Hiram Poetry Review, issues 48 & 49, "Murder"
(1990, not formatted): from The Missouri Review, Vol. 13, No. 1, "Black Humor"
(Summer 1995): Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 61, No. 3, "Parable"

75.5"h x 30"w

detail and poem: "Almost Cherry Season"

While the poem fragments are at different angles,
all the cherries are rightside up.

detail: some running stitching for quilting, also

quilted with embroidered twiny vines/branches

*(Links at the titles) My artist books Tree came as a vision, title and complete book structure; In the Wake of the Dream came as consecutive dreams to be altered; The Elephant's Lesson was a dream; She Is the Keeper was a dreamed story; A Witness to Curious Speed came as a title only; Buddha's Bowl came as a complete story. 

Larger image of Almost Cherry Season will be posted soon at

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What about "Untitled"?

A colleague and I have a longstanding and friendly (I hope) disagreement going. Basically, I believe in titles, and she, for the most part, does not. We had another round of it as we looked at the Way Bay exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum in March, so it's on my mind again.

I wrote a post, "The Untitled Library: How Titles Work," in 2013 here, in which I examine how a title is important in order to give the viewer a starting point. Today I will take up her opinion and examine it from her side. Seems fair. She's a painter, so I will be using painting as the example.

The Arguments for Limited Titles or "Untitled"
A title narrows the viewing experience. When you give a piece a title, the viewer then says, "Oh, it's about that." But sometimes the artist wants it to be about that and more than that, so a title would be limiting the experience. Without a title, the viewer has the freedom to see the painting how she likes. In this case, the artist is trusting the viewer to engage with the painting on her own terms. Like receiving a gift. The artist is also trusting that the viewer will spend the time needed to feel and reach into what she is seeing. I like the idea of trusting the viewer.

A title is forced. For people who are primarily visual, words aren't necessarily part of the game, and trying to come up with a title may be difficult, painful, and may not feel right. The artist may not feel that the title is honestly connected to the work. She may feel it does not add to the experience. And she may not want it to add to or distract from the immediate viewing and reaction to the painting itself. I recognize that I am a word person, that words come easily to me and are an important part of my work. But I acknowledge that not everyone works like this.

A title is good as an identifying mark. Sometimes the artist titles her works with numbers or initials as a way to list the paintings and note which one is in what show and what has sold. Clarity in cataloguing for the artist and for the gallery owner as well.

I think these are valid arguments, and they encourage other questions. Are we making art or are we in the mirror business? (This is the subject of one of my 2012 posts, "The Mirror Business.") How much time will a viewer spend with a work of art? And how much work is reasonable for the viewer to have to do? Titles can be as simple or complicated as we like.

So you see, my colleague and I both have strong opinions about titles. But it's good to step into someone else's argument sometimes, try to understand why they think the way they do.

The blank books and journals I make are probably the only things I do not title.

There's an amusing film that spoofs art and music called, "Untitled."

Monday, March 19, 2018

Wabi-Sabi Egg

One afternoon, I took a little detour from my main event. I idly perused March 2018 Quilting Arts Magazine in the library; one article in particular about making amulets interested me called, "Objects of Comfort," designed by Victoria Gertenbach, which you can see part of here. The scraps were wrapped around shells and sticks, which didn't appeal to me (I like natural things au naturel), but the technique was full of color and texture. From Lulubears I had bought some garnet emery (ground of garnets) to make little pin cushions and thought this might be a good opportunity to combine the amulet/pin cushion/garnet emery and make a small pin cushion for myself to hold my needle when I'm in progress. Because I like the packaging of the sashiko needles, I've been keeping them in their tube in their box and leaving one needle out while I work. Not so good. I'm afraid I'll lose it.

So I made this wabi sabi egg. First I made a loose form with batting around a wooden craft egg and basted it together. I removed the wooden egg, poured in the garnet emery and stitched up the holes! Then began wrapping and basting scrap cloth around the now batting + emery egg. Whip-stitched the edges, adding a few decorative stitches.

The stitching became addictive, and I kept adding more.

By taking the detour I realized how to solve a problem for another quilt in progress.
Just keep swimming, er sewing.

(post about sashiko needles here)
porcupine egg.

(post about making divided insert tray/compartments for a box here)

This is the kit that follows me around the house. 
Plus the sashiko needle package.
There's my little new egg in the center, the wooden egg on the right.
And the assortment of thread, tape measure, seam ripper, scissors, tiny binder clips, small wooden needle case for my other needles, and safety pins.
I can probably take out the wooden egg. But it's weighting down my errant threads.
And I like it, too.
Addendum 3.20.18: Attention Southern California dwellers! Textile artist and designer Christina Kim of dosa is giving a free mending workshop at the new Institute of Contemporary Art LA, on Sunday, April 15, 2018! Love, love, love her work. Wish I could go! See milagros made in Oaxaca on her website here.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Rauschenberg-inspired Coptic Journals

Robert Rauschenberg's energy and whole-hearted investigation and engagement with colors and materials still buzz in me, and I felt I needed to newly investigate and engage with colors and textures in the book form. These journals seemed a perfect place to combine acrylic painting and some leftover fabric scraps I had originally printed for my quilts. I kept to Rauschenberg's colors: white, black, and red. Well, pink crept in, too.

They're small and sturdy. Perfect for carrying with you. 
Great for writing or drawing in tight spaces like diner counters or on a subway.
Nice Strathmore Drawing paper inside.

A little preview from a quilt I'm working on now in these with the cherry blossoms printed from a linoleum block and a peek at the letterpress printed poem.

This one has maps enfolding each signature.
A piece of printed cloth from Housework here on the back.

Textured red and white, with little white accent ties on the spine.
A fragment of the cherry linoleum cut on the back.
(Another peek at my upcoming quilt: Almost Cherry Season.)

If they appeal to you I've put these new Coptic journals up at 
nevermindtheart, my Etsy store.