Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sandra Dias, "A weft worth reading," Amherst Bulletin, 19 October


In "Fiber + Book," an exhibition on display at the Fiber Arts Center in Amherst, the concept and potential meanings of a book are explored in myriad forms, and shapes that range from boats to tea cozies and maps of the heart to nests.

Mixed-media and book artist Sharon McCartney of Belchertown, who curated the show, expanded upon an exhibition held last year in which New England book artists explored the use of fabric in the construction of books. When Museums10, a collaboration of Valley museums and businesses, announced that it would sponsor a celebration of the art of the book in the Valley this fall, Susan Loring-Wells, the center's director, asked McCartney to revisit the concept. This time she invited book artists working with fiber from around the country to participate. The current exhibition runs through Oct. 27 at the center, which is located at 79 South Pleasant St.

McCartney notes in her curator's statement that fiber becomes the forum for expanding the notion of what a book is; none of the artist books have been made using traditional bookbinding processes.

"Books have been sewn, woven, knitted, quilted and collaged using diverse materials such as handmade paper, fabric, thread, wood, plastic and found objects ... books are transformed by the imagination of these artists into personalized containers to house collected images, reveal private icons, share stories, and make statements about social, political and spiritual issues," McCartney writes.

The artists use the book form as "a bridge between their private and their public lives," McCartney says. "By closely focusing your attention on both the fabrication of a piece and the story it tells, you will come to appreciate how the artists have found ways to use their beautifully crafted books to confront personal questions and universal issues."

Coverage of this small, short-run exhibit in the local press is most welcome. No less welcome would be equally detailed coverage of the major programs and exhibitions that the Museums10 partner organizations are presenting throughout the fall season.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

In the Margins: Related Events, 18-26 October

Thursday, 18 October

"Emily Dickinson's Reading: 'The Long Foreground'"
7:30 p.m.
Amherst Woman's Club, 35 Triangle Street
(corner of Triangle and Main, east of the Homestead)

Emily Dickinson's reading, broad and deep, was vital to her existence. It offered a circumference within which she dwelled and outside of which she imagined possibilities. Dickinson scholar Jack Capps will offer his perspective on "The Long Foreground" that helped to shape Dickinson's development as a poet. A reception will follow the talk.

Capps retired in 1988 as professor of English at the United States Military Academy. Author of the pioneering study Emily Dickinson's Reading (1966), Capps earned his Ph. D. at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with editor Thomas Johnson who produced the first complete collection of Dickinson's poetry.

Replenishing the Shelves

Jack Capps's lecture inaugurates a special project at the Emily Dickinson Museum, Replenishing the Shelves, to recreate the libraries of the Homestead and The Evergreens as accurately as possible. The effort is dedicated to and led by Polly Longsworth, a longtime Dickinson scholar and the first chair of the Emily Dickinson Museum's Board of Governors.

Through the three decades that Emily Dickinson wrote her poetry, ample, eclectic libraries-containing those treasures the poet called "The strongest Friends of the Soul" -stood open to her perusal in the Homestead and The Evergreens. Today, the shelves of both dwellings are bare. The project to recreate the family libraries relies upon the collections as they now exist at Harvard University's Houghton Library, where several hundred Dickinson family volumes have resided since 1950, and Brown University, which has housed the remainder of the family libraries since the early 1990s.

The Emily Dickinson Museum is looking for clean, tight books in good condition and in the exact editions known to have been in the Dickinson family libraries. Once acquired, the books will be displayed as they were when the Dickinson family occupied their homes. Full information about the project, guidelines for acquisition, and the initial booklist is available at the Museum's website.

Friday, 19 October

"Writing for Children: From Leo Tolstoy to Hampshire," with book artists Paul DuBois Jacobs, Jennifer Swender, and David Costello

5:30-7:00 p.m.
Hampshire College, Franklin Patterson Hall 108

Thursday, 25 October

Professor Kathy Peiss, Department of History, University of Pennsylvania (formerly of UMass-Amherst), will present a lecture entitled, "Weapons in the War of Ideas: Preserving Culture in World War II". Her current research is a study of librarians, books, intelligence gathering, and cultural reconstruction in the World War II era. This is the Franks and Lois Green Schwoerer 49 Annual History Lecture at Smith College.

The lecture will take place at 4:30 p.m. on , in the Neilson Library Browsing Room. For more information, contact Lyn Minnich, Smith College History Department, 585-3702.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Barry Moser, “God, Posterity, and the Well Made Object." Lecture: Graham Hall in the Brown Fine Arts Center, Smith College, 12 October, 8 p.m.

Barry Moser lectures, and, after his talk, sketches on the blackboard and explains wood engraving technique to an enthusiastic member of the audience (future artist?)

Artist Barry Moser--wood engraver, painter, printer, and cultural commentator—spoke on themes for which he has been best known in recent years, deriving from his Pennyroyal Caxton Bible (1999), the first Bible completely illustrated by one artist since that of Gustave DorĂ© (1865).

The figure looming over and inspiring the talk was Flannery O’Connor, whom Moser admires and calls one of the greatest but most underappreciated American authors. His point of departure for this explanation of both his aesthetic vision and his views on religion and society was her declaration that God and posterity are served only by the well-made object.

What if that object is the Bible and one wishes to illustrate it? Moser, the former preacher turned enemy of all dogmatism, was in classic form as he contrasted the richness and complexity of the religious tradition with the intellectual poverty and oversimplifications of fundamentalists of all stripes. His lecture recapitulated many themes that he had addressed before, but with greater scope and in a more philosophical framework.

Moser cited an observation by religious scholar Martin Marty to the effect that the Bible presents two pictures or ways of viewing life: the vertical, dealing with relations between God and humans, and the horizontal, involving relations between humans. His focus in illustrating the Bible was on the latter, what he called “the overarching drama of humanness.”

Had he tried to depict the “vertical” relationship, he said, he would have had to turn to abstraction, as Josef Albers did in the Washburn College Bible (1979). The problem in that case, however, was that such an art would either call excessive attention to itself or perplex the viewer, or both. An art that requires specialized knowledge would only distract the reader from the text, which must remain the real focus. For that reason, Moser prefers to work in what he calls the artistic vernacular, worrying less about the “innovative” formal character of his work than about the innovative thinking that he hopes to inspire. His constant goal has been to peel away the accretions of saccharine piety, sanctity, and sanctimoniousness.

For him, the Bible is a book that should pose tough questions rather than provide pat answers, and open rather than close minds. The chief commandment for art is therefore “that it should not be boring.” He detailed the characteristics of his wood-engraved illustrations that had won him fierce hostility from some and plaudits from others: nudity; the frank and unsparing depiction of violence and tragedy; the depiction of Creation in an African setting; the insistence on the Jewish character of Jesus and other New Testament figures; troubling allusions to contemporary social issues.

In some ways, Moser reminds one of descriptions of Spinoza, who struck contemporaries as both heretical and “God-intoxicated.” Moser focused on the humans and human relationships in the Bible he said, “because I don’t know what God is.” That remains for him “an unfathomable mystery.” Citing O’Connor: “A God that you can understand is a God that is less than you.” He therefore remains humble about his work. Again, citing O’Connor: “Honesty is only honesty, not truth.”

Moser’s remarks were based on a piece in his In the Face of Presumptions: Essays, Speeches & Incidental Writings (David Godine, 2000)

Opening: "Poetic Science: Bookworks by Daniel E. Kelm," Smith College, 12 October

"Poetic Science," which runs from 12 October 2007 through 10 February 2008, is the first area solo show of works by book artist and binder Daniel Kelm, who with his wife and fellow artist, Greta Sibley, runs the Garage Annex School for Book Arts in Easthampton.

Kelm's opening lecture to a standing-room only crowd in Stoddard Hall was in effect an intellectual and aesthetic autobiography. He recounted his itinerary from budding juvenile inventor, to student and teacher of chemistry, to book artist. What was most striking, in addition to the sheer enthusiasm for the subject, was the sense of logical consistency: At the end, one came away with the impression that the present destination was inevitable, at least to the extent that all the elements of his wide-ranging intellect and equally probing art fitted seamlessly together, and that each would seem incomplete without the others.

In a sense, it was a romance: Kelm fell in love with chemistry at age 7. He related how, from an early age, he was drawn to science not only as technical knowledge, but also as the wondrous (and to a child, quasi-magical) means of exploration and transformation of the materials around us. He described the curiosity triggered by his father’s work as a photographer and related some of his own early scientific misadventures, such as an attempt to make “perfume,” which instead yielded mainly a cloud of toxic chlorine gas that cleared the house and led to his “laboratory” being banished from the family basement. He retains both a sense of the magic and the passion for experimentation.

Kelm explained how science led him to books, which eventually directed him more deeply into science, which in turn ultimately led him back to books. After presenting spreads from the how-to experiment handbooks that so fascinated the boys of the baby boom generation, he described falling in love with books as objects as well as vessels of knowledge (noting in passing that Daniel Faraday was also a bookbinder). He was drawn in particular to the tactile elements in the tooled covers of old books, a revelation that will instantly make sense to anyone familiar with Kelm’s own highly sculptural creations, which push our notions of book structures to their limit.

As a student and teacher of chemistry, Kelm was equally drawn to philosophy. In place of what he called the Baconian belligerency of modern science, which viewed nature as an opponent to be conquered and despoiled, he welcomed the notion of interdependency and gentle mystery that he found in alchemy. Science, he lamented, had become soulless. In many ways, his views echo the plaints of diverse early nineteenth-century thinkers, from Blake to Goethe to Mary Shelley (it is no coincidence that a number of the German Romantics, such as Novalis, were trained in metallurgy and mine engineering).

Kelm devoted a good deal of the lecture to the description of his own alchemical work, in particular, attempts to build ever more efficient refining furnaces, which he evocatively described as performance sculptures (one can be seen in the exhibition). Moderns, he said, stress the spiritual side of alchemy, whereas he wanted to redirect attention to its physical aspects: Even though our scientific theories may now be different, the alchemists made great strides in technical ability. He nonetheless also took pains to explain why he found the mythical or allegorical side of alchemy so compelling as a path to a renewed sense of wonder at the processes of nature--for example, the recovery of gold from the heating of metal ash wrapped in lead as the emblematic encounter of the "gray wolf" and "rejuvenated king."

Kelm’s most explicit engagement with alchemy as subject rather than principle of his art occurs in the “Templum Elementorum,” commissioned as part of a Smithsonian exhibition on “Science and the Artist’s Book” (1995).

Exhibitors were required to base their work on a text held in the Dibner Library’s collection, and Kelm chose Vannoccio Biringuccio’s sixteenth-century De la pirotechnia (On working with fire), for its description of an innovative tower-like furnace:

Inspired by this motif, Kelm created four columnar glass vessels, keyed to the four elements and marked by their associated colors: red for Fire; yellow for Air; white for Water; and black for Earth. Each container holds a book which represents the “voice” of that element and includes alchemical symbols and words that relate to some relevant aspect of the project. These books also include examples of the related elemental metals: lead for Earth, copper for Water, tin for Air, and iron for Fire. He called the book Templum Elementorum, which means “sanctuary of the elements” in Latin.

view video

Although those of a strictly scientific and rational nature may raise an eyebrow at Kelm’s statement that objects have consciousness, few of us would deny that material objects, and above all, works of art, can speak to us by engaging our senses as well as our intellects, often in inexplicably powerful ways. Certainly, this is the belief that one takes away from the stunning exhibit, as I hope further postings on this blog will affirm.

Dan Kelm doing chemistry and displaying "Templum Elementorum" while teaching "Alchemy and the Artist's Book" at Hampshire College, Fall 2002.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Press Roundup

Some recent stories:

• Kenneth L. Ross, "Collaboration binds local book stores", Springfield Republican, 7 October: On BookStores10 as the sponsors of the "Books Out Loud" weekend.

• Ed Shanahan, "For Leonard Baskin. Posthumous Exhibits, Praise and Emotion Continue to Exalt the Man and His Legacy". From Includes mention of the plaque dedication.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon: 23 September

For the third time, in what is becoming a new Amherst tradition, staff and friends of the Emily Dickinson Museum assembled in shifts to read through the entire corpus--1789 pieces--of the author's poetic oeuvre.

This year witnessed several innovations:

The first and second Poetry Marathons (2004, 2006) were held in April, National Poetry Month. The first took place over a span of several days, whereas the second was run as a true marathon: long and nonstop. Both, however, took place at the Dickinson Homestead. This year, not only was the date moved to the fall, so as to coincide with BookMarks, but the readings also rotated among several locations in the Dickinson Historical District and Central Business District: Emily Dickinson Museum, Town Hall, Amherst College Frost Library, and Fiber Art Center.

Beginning the event at 6 a.m. rather than 9 a.m., as last year, may have reduced the number of public participants and onlookers in the early sessions, but assuredly gave the core group of readers (who were not free to head for their beds until approximately 4 a.m. last year) a much-needed chance to recuperate at a decent hour (we sense a new tradition in the making).

The first Marathon in 2004 earned feature coverage from National Public Radio.Listen

The photographs are from the end of the second session at the Dickinson Museum (3-6 p.m.).

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies: Art of the Book Open House, 23 September

The Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies, one of the most-undervalued cultural gems of the Valley, made its contribution to BookMarks with a special one-time mini-exhibition of treasures from its collection: its so-called "Renaissance Top 10" (actually 16).

Reading in the Renaissance: An Exhibition of Books from the Early Age of Print, the catalogue compiled by curator Philip Palmer, provides a detailed description of the content and publication history of the books, along with notable features of the individual copies in the Center's collection. For example: The Arcadia displayed here is only one of seven editions in the holdings but was the personal copy of William Wordsworth. The 1549 Pliny is one of the most recent and finest acquisitions. The 1536 Galen is the oldest book in the collection.

#1 Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia (Basel: 1549)
#2 Ben Jonson, Works (London: 1692)
#3 Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (London: 1598)
#4 John Milton, Paradise Lost(London: 1705)
#5 Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (London: 1609)
#6 John Donne, LXXX Sermons (London: 1640)
#7 William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet (London: 1734)
#8 Ludovico Ariosto (trans. Sir John Harington), Orlando Furioso (London: 1634)
#9 William Prynne, Histrio-mastix (London: 1633)
#10 Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (London: 1587)
# 11 Katherine Philips, Poems by the most deservedly admired Mrs. Katherine Philips, the matchless Orinda (London: 1667)
#12 Sir Walter Ralegh, The History of the World (London: 1621)
# 13 Geneva Bible (London: 1598)
# 14 John Gerard, The Herball, or General History of Plants (London: 1633) [ 1597 ed.]
#15 Galen of Pergamum, Opera omnium utilissima (Basel: 1536)

Search the holdings of the Renaissance Center.