Visual Arts » 3D

Spineless Book Art

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"To understand book art, you kind of have to separate yourself from your definition of a book."

Sonja Staum is the director for the Herron Art Library and curator of their Artists' Books Collection, and she is explaining the slightly ambiguous definition of artists' books.

A miniature ring book titled 'Diamonds' by Ashley Richardson.
  • A miniature ring book titled 'Diamonds' by Ashley Richardson.

"It's taking whatever that concept, idea, or issue is and representing it in some kind of work of art.  It's only limited by the artist's imagination," she adds.

Staum uses a piece in their world-class collection of artists' books as an example.  It consists of bottle caps with little notes written on them and a little box to hold them.

"The artist has written all of her thoughts on the bottle caps, and then this is the 'book' or container for her thoughts," she explains, pointing to the box.

Staum, who has always been fascinated with artists' books, has been collecting book art for the Herron Art Library for years.  In 2005, a generous gift from Mark and Carmen Holman of Indianapolis significantly expanded the collection and has attracted national attention. 

The pieces in this collection include a variety of artwork that fall into the all-encompassing "artists' book" category.  On display you find traditional hand-bound books with sketches and poetry, but most of them push the boundary and traditional definition of a book.  There are pop-up style brochures, books the size of your thumb, intricate origami sculptures and even a puzzle.

Despite the significance of Herron's collection, it never attracted much public attention and in 2007, a call for original works to display in an exhibit was poorly received.  Staum then approached the Harrison Center for the Arts about doing an artists' book exhibit.  The collaboration would include pieces from Herron's collection as well as new pieces by local artists.

An artist's book with wood covers titled 'Gestures of the Unconscious' by Stacey M. Holloway.
  • An artist's book with wood covers titled 'Gestures of the Unconscious' by Stacey M. Holloway.

The result, Book It - A Celebration of Artists' Books, opened in August 2008.  The show was incredibly well received and broke attendance records for the Harrison Center's First Friday events.  This year, their sixth annual book arts show, Spineless, will feature select pieces from the Herron Art Library collection and work from 15 local artists.

The work on display is beautiful and often thought provoking.  Two years ago, it inspired one of the attendees to make an artist's book herself.  After retiring four years ago at age 62, Barbara Hosein became involved in Indianapolis' art scene a little later in life.  She attended the Harrison Centers artists' books exhibit in 2011 and became fascinated with the art form.  

"The juncture of the physicality of a book and the heartfelt message of a thought is beautiful," she says while trying to explain what made the artists' books stand out from other pieces of art.

She took a class about book art at Herron and began making her own pieces.  This year, she will be one of the local artists on display at Spineless.  Her work, which is inspired by the materials she works with, often includes found objects or symbols that are representative of her idea as a whole.

"I try to say something with my work, not just make something that's decorative."

The pieces that Hosein submitted tend to follow the more traditional idea of a book, while Minda Douglas, another artist whose work will be displayed at Spineless, stretches that definition.

"My piece is more sculptural, but it has 'pages' and text which can be found in most artist books," Douglas explains.

"I like the broad definition of book arts the Harrison Center promotes with the exhibition, and I also respect the great work the Harrison Center does for the arts in Indianapolis and surrounding areas," she adds.

An artist's book card game title 'Natural Order, A Game of Pairs' by Anne Covell.
  • An artist's book card game title 'Natural Order, A Game of Pairs' by Anne Covell.

The Harrison Center opens new exhibits on First Fridays and never fails to attract a crowd of local artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts.  However, anyone who wants to come discover local art and enjoy some free wine and cheese is invited.  This month, Spineless will be opening on Friday 6-9pm in the main Harrison Gallery.  For those who cannot attend opening night, the exhibit will hang through August 30th.

The pieces that the Herron Art Library donated, though, will only be on display opening night.  To see the rest of the collection, visit the library located on the first floor of the Herron School of Art and Design.

Every year, Staum looks forward to helping the Harrison Center put together the exhibit.

"I'm doing it to serve the teaching and learning and curriculum that happens at the art library, and I really do think it's an awesome time to see some interesting and exciting arts."

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