It was with a huge amount of honor and excitement that I took on the position of exhibitions chair for the Guild of Book Workers 2018-2019 traveling exhibition. The tradition of excellence in creativity and craftsmanship that has been showcased in each exhibition through the years has never ceased to inspire me. With its travel to various venues around the country and full-color print and online catalog, this exhibition is a vital means for increasing the public's awareness of all areas of the book arts. It's also an important way for members to increase their own visibility as artists, and many cite this exhibition as a significant reason for maintaining GBW membership. As such, I wanted to do my best to continue this tradition of excellence and exposure under my tenure. I tried to come up with a theme that would provide a starting place for creation, but also be open enough that it could be interpreted in many different ways. I am glad to see that it has inspired participation amongst our members.
The theme of "formation" was prompted when I was in Charleston for the 2016 Standards conference, browsing in Blue Bicycle Books. I came across a memoir by the writer Eudora Welty called One Writer's Beginnings. A portion of the summary on the dust jacket reads, "she sketches her autobiography and tells us how her family and her surroundings contributed to the shaping not only of her personality but of her writing." Having recently worked on a fine binding that was more autobiographical than I am used to, I had this subject on the brain. And so I started thinking about the formation of personal narratives and histories, how our histories help to inform the work we make as artists. As I began to talk more openly about the idea of "formation" as a theme, it was clear that this was a word that could be taken in many different directions: biology (the formation of plants), craftsmanship (forming pieces, how we make things), forming ideas, geographies - these are some of the interpretations I have come across. The possibilities really seemed endless, and as entries began rolling in, I saw that members had thought about the theme from angles I hadn't yet considered. It was a hugely gratifying experience to come up with a concept and then see the many ways that the idea inspired others to create.
The jurors had a huge task at hand when it came to narrowing the 102 submissions down to the 51 that will travel with this show. I was very excited to work with Graham Patten, Sarah Smith, and Coleen Curry, as they are all artists I admire, and I and was curious to see how they would come together and select work to form an exhibition. Each of them brought their own unique expertise to the task at hand, and each represented a specific area of the book arts. Graham was able to serve as the spokesperson for artist books, Sarah for fine binding, and Sarah for printing. After all of the submissions were received and anonymized, I created a Google Drive for the judges to view and organize as they saw fit. It took a number of conference calls among the three of them and a very detailed spreadsheet to make the necessary decisions. I can say with certainty that they considered each submission carefully, thinking about everything from technical craftsmanship to conceptual execution. I am beyond pleased with the group of pieces they chose to include. Not only does it represent a wide array of what constitutes "book art," but the members included are from 19 different states, and include both longtime Guild members and exhibitors and those new to GBW exhibits.
When I took this position on, I was warned by many who had come before that it was a huge amount of work and that the first thing I should make sure to do should be to find a group of people I could rely on for help. There are many people I am indebted to for the success of Formation and would like to let them know how grateful I am for all their help:
Karen Hanmer provided invaluable mentorship throughout the process. Without her organized notes and documents from her time as exhibitions chair, I wouldn't have known where to start as I began this process two years ago. Peter Verheyen also provided much-needed advice and suggestions, and acted as a mentor along with Karen. Lizzie Curren Boody came to my rescue when I had too much on my plate, and helped with research and data organization that made my job much easier. Mariana Brotherton Crabbs helped in a huge way by setting up the online submission forms and helping me with many last-minute questions. Jeff Altepeter assisted by patiently holding onto the three large shipping crates for the past two years, and by sending all of the pieces from Vessel back to their homes. Henry Hebert swiftly and generously stepped back into GBW work when he set up a much-needed online catalog for Vessel so that exhibition venues could have an idea of what kind of work they would be receiving. Laura Bedford, the GBW Treasurer, came to my rescue over and over again by patiently answering my budget questions. She is a vital piece of this organization's success, and we all owe her many thanks!
Finally, this catalog wouldn't have been possible without the help of Cara Schlesinger, Rebecca Chamlee, and Tim Gurczak. This is the first time we have tried combining the exhibition catalog with an edition of the GBW Journal, and Cara's expertise in editing, production schedules, and generating content was of the utmost importance. We were in close contact along the way, and her vision helped make this publication what it is. Rebecca lent her time and numerous design talents to the exhibition logo, the catalog, and the exhibition signage. She produces work under the name Pie In The Sky Press and can be seen at www.pieintheskypress.com. Tim worked many long evening hours using his personal equipment to photograph all of the work for this catalog. His expertise, attention to detail, and dedication to this project resulted in beautiful photography that does each piece justice. His work can be viewed at www.timgurczak.com.
I would also like to thank my colleagues at the Northeast Document Conservation Center for allowing me to receive the artwork at the center, and to use the space to photograph and pack everything up for travel. It made my job much easier to have a large, professional space to do this work in!
I hope you all enjoy spending time with the 2018-2019 Guild of Book Workers exhibition. My time planning and executing the show was an act of formation in itself, and seeing the fruits of the labor both in print and in person are hugely gratifying!