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.