What do Czech beads, deer fur and a pink prom dress have in common?
They are among the peculiar materials employed by three local book artists Madelyn Garrett, Marnie Powers-Torrey and Toni Nelson for their juried pieces in "The Guild of Book Workers 100th Anniversary Exhibition," on display at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts through March 18.
With 60 works in the traveling show, Garrett, head of Rare Books and founder of the Marriott Library's Book Arts program, emphasized how extraordinary it was for Utah to be so well represented.
"I think it says a lot about the caliber of the programming offered by our Book Arts Program," said Garrett. "I am proud that we will be so well represented as this exhibition travels across the country."
The trio also received particular mention in the exhibition review in the February/March issue of American Craft magazine, a periodical known and respected nationally and internationally.
Yet while the 60 books in the exhibit are a wonderful assortment of the eccentric, impish, traditional and new, many potential exhibit patrons may not be sure exactly what to expect from a book arts display.
Historically, the guild's major focus (started in 1906 in New York City) was on bookbinding. Over the years it has grown to promote hand papermaking and decorating, printing, calligraphy and illumination, and the conservation, preservation and restoration of older book materials.
It has also become quite progressive in its approach to what a book can be.
For example, Powers-Torrey Book Arts program studio manager at the University of Utah and Red Butte Press printer engages viewers with "The Warm-Blooded Book," a poem written by the artist that describes the experience of reading and handling a book. Each stanza addresses one of the five senses and is bound in deer fur.
"Actually just four of the senses," Torrey explained in a telephone interview. "I don't encourage you to eat the book. The fifth section draws everything together."
Not only did Powers-Torrey write and bind the book, she also took the photographs, printed them in a Van Dyke brown process (which involves coating the paper yourself with chemicals), set the type and printed the piece by letterpress.
"Many artists do it all, actually," she said. "That's the quintessential artist book."
Nelson a long-time volunteer for the U.'s Book Arts program created a book that is certain to make you stop and take notice. Its title is perhaps the most entertaining and catchy in the entire exhibit: "I Wish I'd Been a Slutty Girl, Among Other High School Regrets."
Her book is a lighthearted and whimsical recollection of high school experiences wherein Nelson regrets being so straight-laced and missing all the fun that other more hip girls had. Designed as a purse, Nelson's work and its wrapper were made using shocking pink, prom dress sateen.
"Everything inside and outside is all me," Nelson said. "I wrote it, I designed it, I printed it and included some photographs that were meant to look like old Polaroids."
The photographs are of little dolls "pretending to be slutty, but not like Barbie Doll slutty, they're really very innocent looking." In the end, the book is a playful homage to the "girls who really knew what it was all about."
Garrett created a design binding for a book printed and published in London in 1914: "The Art of the Book: A Review of Some Recent European and American Work in Typography, Page Decoration and Binding."
"I only found the book," Garrett said. "I didn't do anything with the insides. That is what design binding really is. You have to work with the text in order to get something that is appropriate for the cover."
The resulting beaded and embroidered binding is patterned after historical panel bindings from the 16th and 17th centuries. Produced over a six-month period that averaged two hours per square inch, Garrett's binding consists of miniature Japanese and Czech beads sewn into a pattern of floss-embroidered velveteen.
Because artist books are so unique, they can be produced only in small numbers, usually in an edition of five to 10.
For example, Richard Minsky's design binding for the well-known novel, "1984," by George Orwell, brings together lizard-grained cowhide, white hologram foil stamping, an LCD monitor embedded in the cover and a miniature video camera hidden behind the leather with a one-eighth-inch hole for the lens. When you hold the book up to your face, you see yourself on the screen.
"One of the most beautiful books in the exhibit is "Reliqui?" by Karen Jutzi, Powers-Torrey said. "It's a small book, an abecedarium (a book employing the rudiments of the alphabet)."
For every letter of the alphabet, a female saint who was martyred is listed and illustrated by a Van Dyke printed photograph of a tortured bird. (The images were taken from the collections of the Field Museum in Chicago.)
"It's an interesting choice, but it's just absolutely gorgeous, it really is."
Other books that will intrigue and inspire are Timothy Ely's "Clockwerk Men Before Enlightenment," Adam Watson's "Dancing Dodecapod," Peggy Johnston's "Starship Log and Pod," Barbara Lazarus Metz's "Birds of North America" and "Know Your Wild Birds" and Melinda Padgett's new binding for Willa Cather's "Death Comes for the Archbishop."
Because the books in the exhibit are truly works of art, they are exhibited as such: to be seen and not touched. This, however, is contrary to what most people do when encountering or experiencing a book.
"I come across this all the time when I'm curating and installing an exhibition," said Garrett. "We put the books to their most accessible, in a case, and then we put Plexiglas over the top so no one can touch them, and that's sort of the antithesis of what a book is."
So, while you may not be able to handle these works of art, all are truly worth seeing.
"What we're trying to do in this exhibit is educate people about Book Arts," said Garrett. "It's like describing an elephant. You really have to see this thing, to walk around it and actually experience it for yourself. We're trying to get as many people as possible to see what we're talking about."
Garrett said people didn't used to understand prints, and now prints are considered a legitimate art form and people collect them.
E-mail: [email protected]