A book arts day in Philly

I arrived in Philadelphia a day early for the Guild of Book Workers Standards Seminar, so I spent the day exhibit hopping. I had hoped to register for one of the official GBW tours, but they sold out before I could register. Bummer.

Nevertheless, my multi-stop tour proved worthy. I even discovered additional exhibits later on that I didn’t have time for – Philadelphia does not disappoint.

First stop was to the Philadelphia Free Library where there were multiple book arts exhibits going on simultaneously.

Philadelphia Free Library

The Once Upon a Book exhibit by the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers featured books where members were to “rebind, alter, restore, or create from scratch, a book intended for children”. It was hard to get good pictures of the books because they were in glass cases and sometimes I caught unfortunate reflections. I did my best to capture the awesomeness.

This design binding of The Secret Garden by Jane Griffith was insane. It was bound in full leather and was decorated with suede and sea snake (sea snake!). You can’t see it in the picture, but it had hand-painted end pages and silk endbands.

Book art by Jane Griffith

And if you’ve read my blog before, then you know that I’m a total Karen Hanmer groupie (hi, Karen!). I loved this book, Bradel, Bradel, Bradel: A Bindery Cat’s Primer, that included pictures of her cat, Bradel.

Book art by Karen Hanmer

This next book was my absolute favorite. I am such a huge fan of Really Rosie and when I saw this binding of Alligators All Around I totally freaked out. I know all the words to the book/song and my daughter is now learning them (it’s on heavy rotation in the car). In case you didn’t know, Really Rosie is a musical based on several books by Maurice Sendak (The Nutshell Library and The Sign on Rosie’s Door) and the music is by Carole King. It’s so good.

Design binding by Becky Koch

Alligators All Around by Becky Koch

Next, I went to the Print and Picture Collection to see Thesaurus: A Book Exchange between Graduates and Faculty of the University of the Arts Book Arts & Printmaking Program and found that a bunch of books had been laid out for the GBW tour that had just left. The awesome librarians asked me if I’d be interested in checking them out before they put them away – that was a hell yeah!

The most fun piece I saw was Dress Hedi Up! A Print Exchange. The project was organized by a graduate student at the University of the Arts and included work by 27 friends, colleagues, students, and former students of Hedi Kyle‘s. It included a paper doll of Hedi along with a bunch of outfits and accessories you could use to dress her up. 

Here’s the box that contained all of the prints:

Box for prints from Dress Hedi Up!: A Print Exchange

Look! It’s paper doll Hedi!

Prints and box from Dress Hedi Up!: A Print Exchange

I couldn’t take pictures of all 27 outfits, but here’s a taste of what was in that fabulous box:

Print by Margaret Kessler for Dress Hedi Up!: A Print Exchange

Print by Margaret Kessler

Inside the box was a key to the artists behind the prints. I thought that it was a very clever way to deal with identifying prints that might not have had names on them.

Key of artist prints from Dress Hedi Up!: A Print Exchange

After drooling over the books on the table, I moved on to Thesaurus. This project took place in 2004. Students and faculty at the University of the Arts (I should have gone to school there!) created an edition of books with a uniform height and width. All other criteria used were at the discretion of each artist.

Here are some of the books that were on display:

Book Art by Hedi Kyle

A Catalog of Z Words by Hedi Kyle

Book art by Denise Carbone

Ink Chart [EXPERIMENTS] by Denise Carbone

The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg by James Engelbart was my favorite. At a specific point in the book you have to use the knife to cut open a signature. This is meant to represent the cutting open of the goose. I found the execution (ha, ha) very clever.

Book art by James Engelbart

Here’s the portfolio box that contained all of the books in the edition – it was designed by Hedi Kyle. This woman must never sleep!

Thesaurus Portfolio Box by Hedi Kyle

I finally moved on to the hallway exhibit, The Book as Art: Highlights from the Book Arts Collection. This was when I got to see my very first Keith Smith book in person – hello Ladies First!

Book art by Keith Smith

The Coupon Chronometer by Amee Pollack caught my eye, mostly because I’m a self-confessed coupon nerd. The collection of coupons that comprise the book includes printed text, a poem that spans multiple pages.

Art book by Amee Pollack

I love Paul Johnson‘s work, so seeing one of his pieces in person is always a treat:

Book art by Paul Johnson

Merman by Paul Johnson

I had reached the halfway point of my tour. I headed up to the University of Pennsylvania, my alma mater, for the next exhibit – but first, lunch! I walked to Koch’s Deli for the World’s Greatest Chicken Salad Sandwich and a Dr. Brown’s cream soda. HEAVEN.

Now that I had refueled, I walked to Penn’s Kelly Writers House to view The Word Made Manifest: Text in Handmade Paper.

Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania

The exhibit was curated by Mary Tasillo of the Common Press, Penn’s book arts and letterpress studio. Work included pieces that featured handmade paper as its primary art form.

I loved these two paper pieces by Helen Hiebert that included watermarks, lit from behind:

Handmade paper art by Helen Hiebert

Equality, from Word Broadsides

Handmade paper art by Helen Hiebert

Justice, from Word Broadsides

I was also taken with this piece by Melanie Mowinski. It’s funny how much of her work I encountered during my tour.

Handmade paper art by Melanie Mowinski

Selections from “Here Stands: Paper Words”

These last pieces by Steve Kostell and Drew Matott caught my eye. They are part of an artist book edition that includes pigmented pulp printing.

Handmade paper art by Steve Kostell and Drew Matott

Signature Proofs (St. Pauli)

Handmade paper art by Steve Kostell and Drew Matott

Signature Proofs (Use Your Imagination)

I’ll admit that at this point in the day, my feet were really starting to hurt. Nevertheless, I pressed onward. Last stop, City Hall, where long, creepy hallways are their specialty.

Philadelphia City Hall

It was in City Hall that I ran into a former co-worker from my Paper Source days. What a pleasant surprise! She was the manager that hired me and started me on my bookmaking journey. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. Thanks Lisa!

This exhibit Variations of the Artist Book: Philadelphia Center for the Book Member Exhibition was really wonderful. It had an educational component where each case focused on a specific quality of artist books – structure, content, text, images, and materials.

Display case with artist books

Display case with artist books

Here are some of my favorite pieces in the exhibition – they really vary in form and technique:

Book art by Roberta Lavadour

Relative Memory IV by Roberta Lavadour

Book art by Karen Lightner

Yikes : Yipee by Karen Lightner

Book art by Eriko Takahashi

Peace Crane (03.11.2010) by Eriko Takahashi

Book art by Jessica Dueck

Journey on the Subway (Viaggio sul Treno) by Jessica Dueck

Book art by Amanda D'Amico and Erin Sweeney

In the Neighborhood by Amanda D’Amico and Erin Sweeney

So there you have it – a glimpse into my day of speed-exhibiting. Blisters = worth it.

2 Responses to “A book arts day in Philly”

By James Neto - 15 March 2020 Reply

What a great place to visit!

By Elissa - 16 March 2020 Reply

James –

It really was amazing how many book arts events were happening in Philadelphia at the same time. I had a great time touring the city.


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