Woodcuts and watercolors, typeset and penned by hand, picture books and storybooks and a fold-out combination of prose, poetry and recipes. The books in "The Art of the Book" exhibit are not easy to categorize.
But they are all intriguing. And, because they are books, they are difficult to display.
Marnie Powers-Torrey is the Book Arts studio manager and a printer for Red Butte Press at the University of Utah. She curated "The Art of the Book" exhibit, which runs through July 16 at the Main Salt Lake City Library. Powers-Torrey is also the curator of an exhibit of student-made books on display at the U.'s Marriott Library. That exhibit is called "Counterform," and it runs through July 15.
Powers-Torrey says book art is inherently hard to display because the whole point of books is to handle them. "They are intimate."
Also, she says, "There is a chronology implied in books." As readers, we want to first leaf through a book. Then we want to sit down and read it. If it has no text, we want to look at the pictures. In both cases, we want to start at the beginning and turn the page whenever we want to turn the page.
Powers-Torrey's job as curator was to figure out how to show only the cover and a page or two, under glass, without leaving the viewer frustrated. She needed to give us a peek, but still demonstrate the range of what the artist had accomplished. Hers was a tricky task.
Books may be difficult to exhibit, but the book is a perfect form for artists, says Madelyn Garrett, curator of the rare books division at the Marriott Library. "The book is an interactive canvas," according to Garrett. She says the book provides physical connection between the interior world of thought and the exterior world of action.
Garrett explains that the U. has a student exhibit every spring, but this is the first year there has been a downtown exhibit at the same time. The "Art of the Book" came about through the invitation of the City Library and the Utah Arts Festival.
At first, Garrett says, the idea was to use some books from the U.'s Special Collections and then send out an invitation to various book artists. At first, she says, she and Powers-Torrey thought they needed to do a nationwide search.
Then they discovered there were plenty of lovely books right here in Utah. They had more than enough for an exhibit.
Powers-Torrey gave a lecture when "The Art of the Book" opened. She outlined the history of book art, beginning with clay tablets in Egypt. Modern book art began in the 1960s, she said. Artists in the '60s saw books as a way to break out of the galleries and make art more democratic. (Ironically, it wasn't long before their limited edition books were in demand and became too expensive for the average person.)
Until quite recently, book art was an art form of the East Coast and the West Coast. Now book art seems to be converging in the middle of the country, Powers-Torrey says. The most exciting things are happening in Utah, she adds. And artists from every part of the state are represented in "The Art of the Book."
Sue Cotter, of Parowan, and Day Christensen, of Highland, each have their own presses. Powers-Torrey would call Day's book, in this exhibit, a classic example of fine press work. (The work is accompanied by hand-printed etchings.) Sue Cotter's work in this exhibit is an example of a book artist who uses letterpress.
A group called the Utah Calligraphic Artists collaborated on a mixed media book titled, "Yippie Yi Yi Ki Yi," which is also in this exhibit. Powers-Torrey would classify that book as an "artists' book." Then there is "The Book of Rust," by Randy Hankins. It is void of text or illustrations, though it does have pages, and Powers-Torrey would define it as a "book object." All three categories book object, artist's book and fine press come under the umbrella definition of book art, she explains.
As she began to pull together this exhibit, Powers-Torrey sent out a survey to book artists. She asked them if they considered themselves primarily artists or primarily book people. Eighty percent of those who answered said they were artists first, artists who just happened to discover the form of making books. Many of those who answered her survey said they would not classify a book as "book art" unless a substantial part of the book was handmade.
Some of the books in the "Counterform" and "The Art of the Book" exhibits are printed on handmade paper. All have been bound by hand.As for Powers-Torrey, she was a book person and an artist all along. She majored in English and philosophy at Boston College, then came to the University of Utah in 1997 to get a master' in fine arts in photography. When she got here, she learned of a new program for bookmaking. She signed up for a class. She hasn't left the presses since.
If you go . . .
What: "The Art of The Book," work by Utah artists
Where: The Gallery at Library Square, 210 E. 400 South, Level 4, Salt Lake City
When: Through July 16
How much: Free
Also: "Counterform," works by University of Utah students, at the U's Marriott Library (fifth floor) through July 15
E-mail: [email protected]