When is a book visual art? New Group supports Triangle Book Artists

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Susan Leeb’s book Hidden Identity, on display at the “Code X” show at The Carrack Modern Art in December 2013. Photographer: Elisabeth Strunk-Effron.

by Taryn Oesch

One of the exciting characteristics of the Triangle is the great variety of art forms represented in the artists and organizations that live here. One of those art forms is the book arts, which Triangle Book Arts describes as including “bookbinding, artists’ books, printmaking and printing, papermaking, zines, calligraphy – followed by a hearty et cetera.”

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Book sculptures by Mary Blackwell-Chapman, as shown in the “Code X” exhibition at The Carrack Modern Art in December 2013. Photographer: Josh Hockensmith.

Josh Hockensmith is one of the founders of Triangle Book Arts, a local group that has its origins in a series of events hosted by Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. Josh, who works at UNC’s Sloane Art Library, noticed the same group of people were going to each event and decided it would be beneficial for book artists to have a network. At first, this network consisted of 10 to 12 people.  Four years later, it’s going strong with over 100 people on its email list and 20 to 30 active members. Triangle Book Arts gathers monthly for planning meetings and workshops taught by members. They also hold group shows. These shows are gathering momentum, with three held over the past few years (including shows at The Scrap Exchange, The Carrack, and Daylight Project Space). They also have two shows in the works for 2015. Workshops are taught by members on topics such as working with mica, content generation, or specific book binding techniques. A couple of years ago, one member even hosted California’s “Wandering Book Artists,” Peter and Donna Thomas, to do a workshop, and Triangle Book Arts is hoping to host more out-of-town artists for future workshops.

Josh says he is still surprised, four years later, that he finds new people who do book arts in the Triangle all the time   Josh says this area is “saturated with people doing this kind of work”, as well as a “really vibrant arts area in general.”  This artistic climate is valuable to Triangle Book Arts, he says, because when it holds a show at a local gallery, its artists “reach a really rich art audience who may not have connected with book art otherwise.” There are book arts events in other areas of the state, too, especially in Asheville, which has a book arts show every year or so. Triangle Book Arts uses Asheville as an inspiration and an opportunity to collaborate, and the book arts groups in both places are working on holding a two-group, two-city show in 2015. Triangle Book Arts is looking for a gallery interested in being the Triangle host.

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A table of books at the Triangle Book Arts exhbition, “Code X,” at The Carrack Modern Art in December 2013. In the foreground is Lisa Gilbert’s book Seeking Nirvana: The Unintentional Buddhist. Photographer: Elisabeth Strunk-Effron.

How does one become interested in the book arts? For Josh, it started with a love of books. He is a self-described “bookworm” who majored in English in college, planning to go into creative writing. He discovered handmade books and artists books, though, and they became his “obsession.” His job at UNC has been great training.  He worked there repairing books for seven years, getting hands-on craft experience, then moved to the art library, where he works with artists’ books.

The term “artists’ books” calls to mind coffee-table books containing reprints of works by Picasso or Monet, but it actually refers to an art form. Rather than a collection of art, it is a genre that “uses the book form expressively to embody an idea or a concept.” Many of the book arts are represented in the artists’ book, including printing, binding, and papermaking. When Josh makes an artists’ book, he begins with a more conceptual, text-based idea, then thinks of a way to embody that idea in a book, including determining what materials will resonate with the idea. For example, when he makes a book of haiku, he uses Japanese materials and a Japanese binding method so that the materials, technique, and text together result in a cohesive, resonating piece of art.

Josh also says the book arts are more accessible today, thanks to the same technologies that are used to make digital media prominent. These technologies make it “easier to make really cool books….Layout programs are getting more powerful and more interesting,” and he can use InDesign and an inkjet printer to make a book at home that would have only been made in a professional shop 10 years ago.

Triangle Book Arts is celebrating a successful year with a holiday potluck on December 13; it’s open to the group, so artists who are interested in going should email Josh to be added to the listserv. He says it will be a great opportunity to meet members, who will be showing and discussing their latest work. The group will pick up with workshops and other meetings in January; these events will be communicated on the listserv. Triangle Book Arts also has a blog and a Facebook page that interested individuals can follow. In addition to Triangle Book Arts workshops, artists can learn more about the form by taking workshops taught by Triangle Book Arts member Kathy Steinsberger at Pullen Arts Center in Raleigh. The book arts community, like much of the arts community in the Triangle, is passionate, dedicated, and eager to share its talent with you.

Taryn Oesch is a freelance writer and long-time Raleigh resident, graduating from Wakefield High School in 2006 and Meredith College in 2010. She enjoys volunteering for The Justice Theater Project and organizations that support children and teens with chronic illness and disabilities. In her free time, she plays the piano, spoils her godchildren, and battles for apartment space with her uncontrollable collection of books.

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