The Beautiful Book – celebrating the allure of artists’ books

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On a recent visit to Denver, I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Reading Room at Abecedarian Gallery. It’s a rare treat to be able to pick up an artist book, sit down at a table and slowly experience it. Most of our art viewing experiences remain in galleries and museums where one goes to mostly see art, but in Abecedarian’s Reading Room you can hold art. With some books you might need to ask for assistance, either due to their fragility or value, others you might need to wear gloves – but most of the books you can just sit with, personally and quietly. I didn’t have time to look at every book – the gallery’s Reading Room hosts both special exhibits and a collection of represented artists, but below are a few books which will stay with me for a long time. Heidi Zednik

Currently on display In the Reading Room: The Beautiful Book, an exhibition honoring the art and craft of the handmade book. This exhibition was originally curated by Laura Russell for 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon. This exquisite collection showcases the beauty in craftsmanship, materials, and imagery of the bookmaker’s art, each piece a reflection of the artist’s experience.

Several artists new to Abecedarian Gallery include photographer Vicki Topaz of San Francisco, California who explores the intrigue of the French “pigeonnier” – the survival of these “silent abandoned dwellings” has been compromised over the centuries, but Vicki has given them new life in her limited-edition book, Silent Nests.

With Silent Nests (Vicki Topaz) I returned to my childhood of living in rural Austria in the late 1960’s and 70’s. At that time, I had the chance to wander old castles and villas, climb around ruins and barns. So the images of these ancient pigeonniers held a familiar taste, one of dreams and lives nearly forgotten and obsolete, royal in monochromatic stillness, as if caught by chance. I turned each page slowly, eager to not want to rush the experience of seeing each new pigeonnier and then slowly come to rest. I leaned down closer to some images; as if I might be able to fall into this journey across France, fall beyond the picture. Heidi Zednik

Another exploration of wonder is manifest in two oversize works by Valerie Carrigan of North Adams, Massachusetts.

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In a folio of lithographs she presents birds as messengers urging us to stop and pay attention to that which strikes the soul in a new and extraordinary way.

With Messenger, Valerie Carrigan, took me into a mythical and intimate family journey — one of signs and omens, death, love and continuation. A large book, I immediately knew this book would require my full attention. I cleared the table to give Messenger space. I initially found it open, “in display”. I wanted to start from the beginning, so I closed it. Black cloth cover. When I first opened it, I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. I am not a printmaker, nor a book artist, so I was unsure whether the folded pages inside were to be lifted out, or folded back. I chose to lift them out. I first read the text printed on the outside of each folio – poems, parts of the story that ultimately become the book. I folded back the folio, and each time found a large lithographic image of a bird, intensely close up. The intensity of each bird’s gaze mirrored the impact of each omen on the family. And so I moved through the book, lifting out each folio as if it were its own small book. If you have the chance, grab this book. It holds an exquisite combination of rawness and tenderness. Heidi Zednik

Artist Kelly O’Brien of Alexandria, Virginia, offers TurningPointe, a miniature accordion book constructed of paper, tulle, thread, and pointe shoe ribbon. Proving that you cannot judge a book by its cover, TurningPointe transforms into a wearable, life-sized tutu.

Other artists new to Abecedarian Gallery include Marilyn Joyce, Portland, Oregon,

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Marilyn Joyce’s Winter took me on a culmination of winter walks — stains and drawn lines marking steps and things noticed; the pages dry and smooth to the touch. The long horizontal format echoed space and openness. The pages curled on top of each other as I folded them from left to right; the sound of dry folding. No words accompanied this initial journey. Just like walking, it took place in silence. Then, finally, on the last page, a poem; which was just enough. A rich experience in simplicity. Heidi Zednik

Tom Biby & Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, San Francisco, CA/New York, NY, Dan Kirchhefer, Topeka, KS, Susan Lowdermilk, Eugene, Oregon, Nathan Lucas, Portland, Oregon, Mary V. Marsh, Oakland, California, Kitty Maryatt, Claremont, California, Amandine Nabarra-Piomelli, Irvine, California, Regula Russelle, St. Paul, Minnesota, Cathy Ryan, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Moe Snyder, Portland, Oregon, Sandy Tilcock, Eugene, Oregon and Rob McDonald, Lexington, Virginia and Tom Lascell, Canton, New York.
The Beautiful Book also includes work by gallery favorites Alice Austin (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Alicia Bailey (Aurora, Colorado), Jana Sim (Chicago, Illinois), Roberta Lavadour (Portland, Oregon), Jenny Craig, (Portland, Oregon), Bea Nettles (Urbana, Illinois), the artistic team of John O Smith & Edwin Jager (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) and Jan Owen (Belfast, Maine).

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