“Bookworks 14 – Cincinnati Book Arts Society’s Annual Exhibit,” The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

June 21st, 2013  |  Published in June 2013

“Bookworks 14 – Cincinnati Book Arts Society’s Annual Exhibit,” The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

By Karen Chambers

One might say the concept of book as artwork dates back to the 7th to 4th millennium B. C. with the very first examples of text carved into stones. This is especially so when mnemonic symbols were replaced by ideograms or pictographs.

In the modern era, Germano Celant argued in Book as Artwork 1960/1972 that the artist’s book debuted in 1960, and his volume is considered to be the first to deal with the new medium.

Now I have no desire to give a comprehensive history of the genre—nor could I. Instead I just want to share some thoughts about “Bookworks 14 – Cincinnati Book Arts Society’s Annual Exhibit,” installed in the atrium at the Main Library downtown.

The nonprofit CBSA’s aim is to create a “spirit of community among hand workers,” and membership includes book artists, bookbinders, papermakers, paper marbelers (sic), archivists, conservators, and “those who love books.”

This exhibition presents 41 works by 25 makers, by my count, and there are three veins of exploration: traditional books, accordion-format books, and books as sculpture. Each artwork is accompanied with a statement by the artist. The information ranges from explanations of processes to the artist’s inspiration, and, a bit too often, to how much fun the book was to make, conjuring up the image of a kids’ workshop.

The best place to start is Karen Hanmer’s “Dirck de Bray: A Short Instruction in the Binding of Books.” On the label Hanmer notes that the book uses quotes from the 1658 text, which has been edited by Koert van der Horst and Clemens de Wolf. There are illustrations from the original book that have been printed on vellum to reference the original binding. Prints of two of the original pen-and-watercolor drawings are used on the cover. One depicts workers screwing down what looks like a bulky wooden press, which is probably a plough used to trim pages to the same size. The other may illustrate a papermaking workshop with a birdcage hanging above the artisans, a charming touch.

CBAS-piece Lou Kroner 1

The label also lists the techniques and materials used, but fails to explain them. So as soon as I sat down to write this review, I did a quick computer search. The book has a Bradel binding, a technique that dates from the 18th-century in Germany and (per Wikipedia) has “a hollow back and visible joint built up on the book.” It’s a durable binding that allows the book to open fully (alas, here we can see only the cover). Traditionally this type of binding has different materials covering the outside boards and the spine, but Hanmer has used Cave (the name of the handmade-paper mill) paper for both. The end sheets are Bugra, a paper produced by a German paper mill for pastel and charcoal drawings, but which works well for other drawing mediums. It has rolled leather end bands (headbands and tailbands) filling the gap between a section and the edges of the boards, which helps keep the sections from collapsing from gravity and lessens damage when the book is pulled off the shelf by its headband. It also has a graphite top edge, 23-kt. gold stamping, and hand-tooling. That may be TMI but I felt compelled to track it all down.

Next take a look at the accordion books, which are made of a continuous folded sheet of paper. They originated in Asia as an alternative to scrolls that were unmanageable in size. There are plenty of websites about how to make accordion books, and here I want to add “and they can be made by any age.” Of course, that does not disqualify them as a serious medium for artists.

Among the 10 or so accordion books shown is Margaret Rhein’s modest “Architectural Stamp Accordion Book.” Its title pretty much describes it. Rhein relates that her mother in law, Faith Golder, gave her a sheet of black-and-white stamps featuring Masterworks of Modern American Architecture. The book, made of Rhein’s handmade paper, is postage-stamp size with the stamp pasted on one page with a miniature text describing it facing it. When folded, it is tied with a narrow black silk ribbon and fits into a tiny slipcase. Rhein has turned some 37-cent stamps into something precious, in the best sense of the word.

Judith Sterling-Sturm’s “Avians for Planned Parenthood” bridges the gap between the conservative accordion format and sculpture. She presents a nest on a branch, and a tiny accordion book spills out of it. What inspired her was seeing a nest with a condom wrapper woven in. According to Sterling-Sturm, the text “tweaks a maxim of Planned Parenthood.”

Carol Fried addressed the future of the book in “Only Yesterday Touch Was Possible.” The black, flying-saucer-shaped sculpture has a lens in its center. Her label explains her concept: “How do we experience the notion of ‘book’ in the 21st century? Placing a book in a container that projects it and contains it, explores how we experience the idea of a book in a world filled with Kindles, i-books, computers, and recordings. A floating facsimile, a fata morgana, a book that is both here and not here, that is what ‘Only Yesterday Touch Was Possible’ represents.” It’s satisfying as an object, but I appreciated her explanation.

There’s much more that could be written about the other works in the show, but they really need to be seen instead of reading about them.

Karen S. Chambers

“Bookworks 14 – Cincinnati Book Arts Society’s Annual Exhibit,” on view through Aug. 18, 2013, at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Main Library Atrium, 800 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH. 513-369-6900, www.CincinnatiLibrary.org. Sun., 1 p. m.-5:00 p. m. Mon.-Wed., 9 a. m.-9 p. m., Thurs.-Sat., 9 a. m.-6 p. m.


1) Lou Kroner, “Paul’s Blues,” courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Comments are closed.