book artists: Margo Klass, Jacqueline Rush Lee

Looking through the Center for Book Arts’ list of artist members I found myself wondering how the individual artists’ locations might have shaped or influenced their work. The first name that stood out to me was Margo Klass–simply because she’s located in Fairbanks, Alaska. What kind of books would one make, surrounded by that harsh and beautiful scenery?

The wonderful kind, apparently. Her artist’s statement on the CBA site immediately caught my attention: her background in art history led her to study handmade books by way of medieval manuscripts, which is pretty much how I came to have an interest in the subject, and she combines aspects of both manuscript and architectural design into her work, taking inspiration from Northern Renaissance altarpieces as well as the manuscripts themselves. Klass has several series of works listed on her website: the Books of Intentions, about which she says

The Books of Intentions represent a celebration of one’s need to collect these notations. Each Book of Intentions is a gathering of ideas encoded in symbolic notation. They share a kind of journal format, a paginated book in which a vocabulary of visual language is used to list and notate. Each has a porcelain book cover and is sewn with an exposed Coptic binding across the spine. The embellished casements are a reference, both ironic and sincere, to prescribed storage of sacred texts.

The four books are separated by differences in the text papers, in each case a variety selected to complement the cover. Each book has its own stylistic language of notation, with compositions that respond to that style. Sometimes the intentions seem to be recorded like a grocery list, sometimes they seem akin to a mathematical formula, and still other times they are fleshed out into fully formed compositional ideas.

Her earlier work, frankly, appeals to me more than the Intentions, simply from an aesthetic standpoint: I find the colors and design of Clay Book III

and Bark Book III

and Longstitch Bindings I and II

delightful in their simplicity and elegance. (Also, I love little pebbles as decorative elements, and having them be “set” like jewels by tying them up in little parcels of string is wonderful.)

From a completely different perspective (and climate!) comes Jacqueline Rush Lee’s book sculpture. Lee, like Klass, takes found objects and repurposes them into art–but rather than making books out of non-books, she makes sculpture out of existing books. Her Anthologia, for example, is a flower made of books, the careful folds of the pages forming a pattern like quilling:

and her Petrified Book closes the circle between petrified forest, wood pulp, paper, and bound books:

I find Lee’s work to be more thought-provoking and fascinating than pleasing, but I think that’s the point. Taking books and doing things like this to them–firing them in kilns, dyeing the pages, rolling them up in giant booksushi sculptures–triggers my thou shalt not destroy books reaction–which I think Lee is well aware of, and is pushing the boundaries of what a book is by what it can be made into.

-Liz Bamford

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1 comment
  1. I like journals/ books like the ones seen above, except I would do away with all the fancy texture stuff. The twigs, buttons, etc. make the book cumbersome, stack poorly, and are simply impractical. For me simple is best, and so long as the book isn’t falling apart I’m happy with any old paper back. The good stuff is inside…

    That said, It’s always a big treat when I buy myself a journal. The best journal I ever bought was a leather bound book I bought in a free trade shop in Paris. It’s hard to tell if I truly loved the book for what it was, or if I fell in love with it more because I was pleased with the writing that I put inside it, and remember the times I chronicled therein happily. The funny thing is I rarely go back to this journal anymore.

    What I learned from the purchase is that I like leather. I like the pages to come in booklets, and for the spine of the book to be flexible so that its easier to create a flat writing surface. When I got back to the states after traveling in Europe I planned to take a road trip out west. wanting something more rugged than my neatly cut French piece, I bought a buffalo Hyde journal in New York. This one was made of one big cut of leather and had the pages strung together with thick leather lace. I took my time with this book. It took me nearly two years to complete, and by that time I was living in Israel. I liked the journal so much I took a wander in the Old City of Jerusalem one day and asked an Arab leather worker if he thought he could make me something similar except with camel leather. He could but the price he asked for was exorbitant…

    For me, book art is all about the story of how you came by it, and what you can use it for. I think something like the Jacqueline Rush’s studies are more of a statuesque art form than a proper book, because the materials used overshadow and engulf the written content and or pictured material. One has to be able to turn pages and witness an evolving message. If the pages crumble or are petrified and covered in paint, how is this a book? Stone tablets with writing on them provide an exception, because from one tablet to the next the message still evolves. The point is that books should provide at the very basic level an interactive resource.

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