Thursday, December 28, 2006

BookMakers: Handmade Books from the University of Alabama's Book Arts Program

Sarah Bryant's book The IndexSarah Bryant's The Index

Students, graduates and faculty from the University of Alabama Book Arts Masters Program will present their work at an exhibition in Central's Fourth Floor Gallery at the Birmingham Public Library January 3-February 12. The exhibition will highlight the three labor-intensive stages of the bookmaking process—papermaking, printing, and book binding—with work by artists from the region who are affiliated with the University of Alabama’s graduate program.

The painstakingly crafted paper, prints, and books on display at the Birmingham Public Library will demonstrate a remarkable craft that—in a world of mass-produced white paper, speedy laser printers, and efficient printing presses—most of us are unaccustomed to seeing. Book artists begin papermaking by using a variety of natural fabrics and fibers: a second-hand linen dress found at a thrift store, bark from a tree native to Alabama, or an old pair of denim blue jeans. Flecks of color, unexpected textures, and imperfections around the edges make each piece a unique medium for language and art.

The fineness of the paper is enhanced when the artist carefully chooses words that are imprinted onto each homemade sheet with a printing press; the force of metal or wood type depresses ink into porous fiber. Many of the pieces in this exhibition feature the artists’ own writing or that of a cooperating author. Artists choose a typeface—better known as a font—to complement the subject matter, mood, and color of the piece and often include etched images to serve as a background or central illustration.

Finally, each single work is bound together to make a new work—a book—that is both practical and aesthetically exquisite. Bindings range from simple to remarkably intricate and demonstrate a variety of ancient and modern stitching techniques from around the world. Covers are made from paper, cloth, and leather and complement the work to be found inside.

This University of Alabama program teaches papermaking, printing, and book binding using historical techniques, emphasizing the art and craft of making books by hand with traditional materials and equipment. The works in this exhibition illustrate that traditional book artists draw on many creative abilities—writing, etching, sewing—to transform something as practical as a book into an elegant work of art.

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