AFTER SPENDING SEVERAL reclusive years painstakingly illustrating the vellum folios of a single copy of an 11th century Bible, a monk's stylized handiwork would be set aside in a monastic library where only a select few would ever witness its craftsmanship and beauty. Hopefully this same fate doesn't await the wildly creative and often exquisite, handmade, one-of-a-kind and limited edition artists' books in "Westward Bound," a new exhibit at the Finch Lane Gallery/Art Barn.
The exhibit, produced by the University of Utah Marriott Library Book Arts program and cosponsored by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers and Utah Calligraphic Artists, showcases the work of 31 regional book artists and 11 invited artists of national and international distinction."Westward Bound" and the 1998 Summer Artist Book program are the culmination of three years of book art activities, classes and workshops at the U of U. According to Sidney E. Berger, head of special collections at the University of California, Riverside, the result is a celebration of the "artistry of traditional letterpress, thoughtfully restrained typography, sensitively rendered illustration, and bindings that unite beauty and function."
With the renaissance of traditional handcrafts in the 1950s and '60s, printing and bookbinding were revitalized by book arts programs in a number of our nation's universities. Here hundreds of eager students were initiated into the once exclusive club of the handmade book. During this period, press printers and bookbinders began to view themselves as artists, creating what would become the modern book arts movement.
By the '70s, the book arts community had split into two factions - those who produced distinctively bound letterpress books printed on handmade paper and those who were more visionary, creating non-traditional, one-of-a-kind or severely limited edition books. These books took a long time to produce, incorporating such artist techniques as sculpture, canvases, three-dimensional objects and innovative notions about what constituted text. Some of these books had no words; some were made of found objects - pieces of glass, hair pins, twigs, cloth, buttons; some used highly nontraditional materials - mylar, sheets of metal, wood, string, wire and stone. It's this later interpretation of book art that viewers will encounter in "Westward Bound."
While many of the books in the exhibit are examples of superb design and execution, several - and unfortunately they are by some of our local artists - appear to be no more than competent mock-ups of a commercial artist's book proposal. Certainly this is due to the short time Utah artists have been involved in the art form. However, these weaker works are just as engaging and clever as the better-executed pieces and worthy of investigation.
As part of "Westward Bound," the Marriott Library's Books Arts Program has invited internationally recognized book artist Claire Van Vliet to conduct lectures and workshops. (See adjoining box.) Well-known guest book artist/papermaker Dianne Reeves and artist/book dealer Edwina Leggett have also presented earlier workshops.
"Westward Bound" will be at the Finch Lane Gallery/Art Barn, 1325 E. 100 South (Reservoir Park) through July 23. In the future, the exhibit will travel to numerous exhibition venues throughout the western states.
For more information on the exhibit call 596-5000.
Lecture and workshop
June 15-26 - Intensive workshop with Van Vliet at the U of U Art Department, room 258, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
June 23 - Lecture with Van Vliet at the U of U Marriott Library/Gould Auditorium, 7 p.m.