Sunday, February 17, 2013

An Altering Experience

Sales are slow everywhere so I gave myself over to the lure of art this weekend in hopes it would save me from the obsessive inner voice which tells me repeatedly that the bookseller gig is up. Though as I told my friend Mary on Friday, to hear me tell it it’s BEEN up for sixteen years, yet somehow I’m still here inspite of it!  At any rate, I headed for the basement yesterday morning with a small damaged book in hand – A Study of Poetry by Mathew Arnold who is perhaps best known for his hauntingly beautiful, but ultimately despairing poem Dover Beach which laments World War I.

I only remember the last stanza, so here goes:

Ah, love, let us be true to one another!

For the world which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams

So, various, so beautiful, so new

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

If THAT wouldn’t convince you to stick your head in the oven I certainly don’t know what would. And yet I chose my images for the book in an almost meditative state with those very words looping endlessly through my head. I’ve tried making an altered book many times, but every time I failed and gave up, anguished to the soul over my own shortcomings. But now that the Altered Book Group of Cleveland is coming to the book fair I so much wanted to make a small book as part of the door prize and now – a miracle! – I have. (lots of pictures below)

I think the fact that the book I chose to use was about poetry helped me a great deal. Almost right away I latched on to an  odd, random memory, part of which isn’t even mine. In November, 2003 Eric and I took a getaway trip to Hocking Hills in southern Ohio not far from Athens. If you asked me for a memory of it I would have told you about the charming cottage in the woods, the candlelight dinners and the spectacular jacuzzi. But from my viewpoint on the basement floor I saw the image of birch trees and immediately transported myself to southern Ohio in the dark of winter's night. Though Eric and I hiked several miles there one day and every night made the trip by flashlight from cottage to restaurant, I truly don’t recall seeing any birch trees. I also remembered standing at an echoing cave drunk with the beauty of a circle of young Mennonites singing Amazing Grace, a heavenly chorus of young voices calling out in the wilderness. So clear was this image that it took me several minutes to realize that it never happened. Well, not to me anyway. It’s my sister-in-law’s memory, not mine. Yet somehow the poem I wrote in response, in part, derived  from its imprint.

The other thing that came to me as I sat on the floor filtering through hundreds, if not a thousand, images, was a color, a persistent, deep, glowing purple. Ah, yes. THAT I knew. It was a reminder that there was a time when I seriously practiced meditation. Whenever my chattering mind – the Buddhists call it “monkey mind” – finally settled down I would slip into a heightened state of consciousness,  announced  always by an intense purple light burning behind my eyes. The color was so brilliant it seemed  like a purple flame. Endlessly it rushed forward, receded into a deep black void, and then exploded again in a burst of molten amethyst. To this day I associate the color purple with the stirrings of the soul. The purple page too sprang almost effortlessly to life.

I tell you all of this because it was such bliss to make this little book. You’d think I would want to keep it since there may never be another, and certainly not ever one that captures these precise two threads that connect me to my past. But I made it to go into the gift basket for the door prize and that still feels right to me. Not only is it a fitting memento of the 31st annual Antiquarian Book and Paper Show, but it feels good to pass on something made from so much joy.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Fair Work

It’s cold in northeastern Ohio today. Even the ducks agree, though why it’s comfortable to dangle duck feet in freezing water is one of nature’s mysteries. And yet that’s exactly  what the feathered ones are doing as I look outside the back door. The lake is a mirror of ice except for two liquid ovals, one larger than the other, but both resembling a duck convention. I guess it’s the duck equivalent of the  main show and the  shadow show, a thought which reminds me of the New York City ABAA book fair and “the shadow show” held at a different location during the same weekend. Dealers in town for the big event can rush over to the shadow show, load up  on goodies, and then rush back to the Armory in time for the main attraction. With any luck they can also cash in on a morning’s shopping.

Okay, okay, I KNOW. I have book fairs on the brain these days. But the annual Akron Antiquarian Book and Paper Show  will be held at the end of March this year which means I’m in high gear with planning and PR. The date of the show fluctuates with the Easter weekend, so this year we have less time to pull  it together. I hinted sometime back that we’d had an awesome idea which tanked, consequently forcing us to fall back on Plan B. But of course even Plan B (which I personally love more than Plan A) couldn’t be counted on without risk of a later meltdown. Except – drumroll please! – there will be no meltdown because we actually managed to pull it off. Yesterday I got the good news that The Altered Book Group of Cleveland will exhibit their gorgeous artwork at the fair and be on hand to demonstrate and talk to fairgoers about this sometimes controversial art.

Personally, (and this comes from a woman who wouldn’t give a nickel for an e-gadget) I am waaaaaaaaaaaaaay over the controversial part. Our hired  PR guy likes it though because of the potential buzz, so I’m rolling with it in case he can squeeze some action out of it. But really. In today’s crazy e-book world people are hauling books to the recycling center by the boxload. My bookseller buddy Andrea who has an open store in Akron finds piles of them outside  the door of her shop every morning. So if an artist wants to take some common or damaged book and transform it into something more than itself far be it from me to have a hissy fit over it. I love using found items for my own little projects, so in my view  the altered book may well be the ultimate  found object. An altered book can be beautiful, astonishing, and/or thought provoking, but each one  is made of something found even if it’s “just” wisdom, grace, and raw talent. I saw one at a gallery that turned a religious book  into a strong statement about violence against women. Whether you liked it, or you didn’t, you certainly never forgot it and part of that was the creative way found items were used to express the intensity of the artist’s feelings.

Ever since last summer when I spoke at Highland Square Library where I  met  a group of young adults who blazed with excitement over the book as object I have felt as though we are turning an exciting corner in the future of the book. Oh, I think traditional books will still be important to a greater or lesser degree (I fervently hope so anyway),  but the book as art is already becoming a revolution. Artists and writers experiment not only with altered books, but with books started from scratch. They make handmade paper, test new  bindings, write stories and poems, and keep handmade journals with or without  decorated pages. But like medieval monks gilding and illuminating vellum pages with the colors of the earth’s glories today’s artists turn the ordinary “stuff” of 21st century life  – even digital images – into something extraordinary.

And THAT’s why I wanted the Altered Book Group of Cleveland to be at the show this year.

P.S.Thank you to my two new followers. I just found you today!