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Books become artwork

In her art book “Learning to See,” Eldorado artist Barbara Parke Wolff documents with drawings the changes in appearance of plants and objects around her.
In her art book “Learning to See,” Eldorado artist Barbara Parke Wolff documents with drawings the changes in appearance of plants and objects around her.
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Despite the glare of a computer screen in nearly every lap, some artists still celebrate the elegance of the page.

Book arts can tell a story with text, color, imagery or the fold of a page.

For 150 members of the Santa Fe Book Arts Group, a passion for the page produces books, folded, scrunched and painted into stars, fans and carousels. Books may crown stilts, emerging from wood, leather or fabric. Some artists add everything from children’s toys to hardware to this altered art form.

Sixty book artists have created the 90 pieces opening in the New Mexico Capitol Rotunda Gallery today. The exhibition will remain through Dec. 13. Group members used everything from calligraphy to photography and poetry to create pop-ups, altered books, boxed books and sculptures.

Eldorado artist Liz Faust was looking for a change after spending 25 years in computers.

“My first career was in information technology,” she said. “I like to be able to touch and feel. And I like the look of books as art because it’s so free.”

With echoes of Magritte, Faust created “Reading Lamp” from folded National Geographic magazines and a shade decked with eyeglasses. She had collected eyeglasses, buying 100 demonstration pairs on eBay.

“One idea sort of lead to another,” she said. “The idea of a ‘reading lamp’ as a double entendre seemed fun.”

Cynthia Sanchez, executive director of the Capitol Art Foundation, served as curator for the exhibition. In jurying a show with about 150 entrees, she looked for “the concept of the book advanced.”

“Every year it’s different,” she said. “But I’m looking for some evidence of narrative. It doesn’t have to be a traditional book that’s folded and painted.”

Sanchez was looking for artwork revealing the artist’s hand: hand-stitched bindings or hand-made paper.

One artist created a marionette.

“It’s kind of an autobiography of their body,” Sanchez said. “It’s sort of skeletal.”

Another used an old songbook once belonging to her father. She included a wooden piano bench to tell the story.

Book artists may range from fiber fans, calligraphers, poets and print makers to journalists and librarians. Now in its 18th year, the Santa Fe Book Arts Group coalesced around about 25 book lovers. Membership has since blossomed to about 150. Organizers say book arts are the fastest growing art form in the U.S., based on new programs and classes emerging across the country. Where there once existed just three master’s degree programs in the field, today most American colleges and universities offer formal certification in book arts, BAG member and Santa Fe Community College teacher Marilyn Chambers said.

For many group members, the launching point began with a career change and a class.

Placitas’ Meg Johnson had retired from a career as a textile artist. Hungry for a change, she picked up a Santa Fe Community College catalog and noticed classes in color theory and book arts.

“I really love paper and I love text and design,” she said. “I was tired of making clothing. I wanted to apply those methods to paper.”

First she learned how to use a printing press and to set her own type. She combined words with her own “long inventory” of imagery culled from fashion design. Her exhibition piece centers around “The Fragrance of Orchids,” a poem by Confucius found in the I Ching. She combined Asian imagery with deep purple and red shading and shadows on rice paper.

“You can tell a little story,” she said. “You do it visually and with texture. I got interested in doing it with text.”

Book art was a natural to former librarian Ruth Krug of Albuquerque. She combined books and words with her love of fabric in her “Altered Cookbook Apron.”

The fabric band dangles pieced-together cookbook pages stamped with coffee pots and cups.

“To me, aprons symbolize love,” she said, “—— a woman’s love for her family. In my generation, women wore aprons and they cooked for the family.”

She sees her piece as a tribute to her mother and her grandmothers. She discovered the old cookbook in a thrift shop. The homey stamps reveal her favorite beverage. One reads, “With more coffee I could rule the world.”

Eldorado’s Barbara Parke Wolff turned to book arts after a career as a nurse, firefighter and paramedic.

“I had a doctor who wrote his orders in old English and he collected rare books,” she explained.

The physician gave her a book on calligraphy augmented by a pen after operating on her knee.

“I practiced doing my alphabet,” she said with a laugh. “Everybody got letters.”

Then she visited the San Francisco Center for Book Arts. It was the natural next step, she added.

Parke Wolff made “Learning to See” after documenting the bloom and wilt of a Christmas amaryllis.

“I’m a closet draw-er,” she said. “I drew it every day. I made myself do it as it changed —— even to the dead things.”

She repeated the process with pears and tulips.

Her second exhibition piece resembles an illustrated journal. She sketched people and buildings around Santa Fe during the early morning hours.

“The lighting is so beautiful and there’s nice contrast,” she said.

She dated the drawing, adding the street location and anything remarkable she gleaned from the scene.

“It makes that experience so much more meaningful than a photograph,” she said. “You’re taking it into your cells.”

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