Book art comes to Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher

Carrie Ann Schumacher’s 2003 work, “Emil and La Vie En Rose,” is among the art displayed in “Unhinged,” Sept. 27-Jan. 3 at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher.
Carrie Ann Schumacher’s 2003 work, “Emil and La Vie En Rose,” is among the art displayed in “Unhinged,” Sept. 27-Jan. 3 at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

“Unhinged: Book Art on the Cutting Edge” surveys recent directions in book art through the diverse work of 60 prominent artists from the United States, Australia, Canada and Great Britain.

Opening in Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher on Sunday, Sept. 27, and showing through Jan. 3, the exhibit explores the potential of the book as creative medium through both intimately scaled pieces and large installations, as well as a myriad of styles and processes.

Museum director Patricia Leach was keen on featuring book art as a way to stimulate literacy and a new appreciation for books, and asked Barbara Matilsky to curate the show. Matilsky selected the artworks during a two-year period of research, meeting with experts in the field, talking with artists, searching the Internet and discovering information in books.

“Whenever I mentioned ‘book art’ to people in our community,” says Matilsky, “they assumed it referenced illustrations in books.”

“It was clear that I needed to present a survey of the many different directions opened by artists working with books so that viewers would appreciate the rich diversity and creative possibilities of this medium,” she says. “I was particularly interested in showcasing a variety of styles, techniques, and approaches. At the same time, it was also important to highlight the wide range of subjects and themes that artists were exploring, ranging from social, political, and environmental issues to their search for spirituality and beauty.”

Some artists in the exhibit carve old volumes or twist their pages into unique sculptural configurations. Others make their own books and experiment with a multitude of formats, such as accordion-style and pop-ups, and some reconfigure ancient book forms, such as the scroll or codex, to create unique artworks.

Books are often combined with other materials, both manufactured and natural, such as plastic, crystals and twigs.

The exhibit also presents artists’ personal experiences, including messages about identity, human justice issues, and environmental concerns. From political statements to metaphysical ideas, book artists interpret their medium through expressive and sometimes humorous constructions.

“With digital media quickly surpassing books as a means of communication, the idea that artists can infuse new life into this traditional object underscores the continued importance of the tome in daily life,” Matilsky says.

The exhibit features artists who revolutionized the field, including Whatcom County artists Elsi Vasdall Ellis and Thomas Wood.

“Our ‘local favorites’ added to this diverse spectrum of styles and ideas,” Matilsky says.

The exhibit also features a hands-on display created by Hedi Kyle, one of the pioneers of book art.

The museum will host a variety of programs and events in conjunction with the exhibit throughout the fall, including free admission during the Oct. 2 and Dec. 4 Downtown Art Walk nights.

“Unhinged: Book Art on the Cutting Edge”

When: Sunday, Sept. 27, through Jan. 3.

Where: Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher, 250 Flora St.

Details: whatcommuseum.org, 360-778-8930 and Facebook.