Artists' Books by Martha Hall and Others on Exhibit at Bowdoin Library

Story posted January 21, 2004

Two exhibitions of "artists' books" are now on view at Bowdoin College's Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. The exhibits run through March 31.

"Holding In, Holding On: Artist's Books by Martha A. Hall" is a traveling exhibit that has already appeared at Smith and Wellesley colleges, and will end its run in late 2004 at Yale University.

As a complement to the Martha Hall exhibit, Bowdoin has installed "Artists' Books from the Collections," featuring works from the library's distinguished Book Arts collections.

The artist's book, initially a twentieth century anti-establishment phenomenon that now enjoys wide appeal and has spawned a flourishing craft, is conceived of by the artist as artwork in book form.

Artists' books challenge established notions of binding structures, reading conventions, and production processes. These "books" convey the artist's expression independent from the traditional textual communication or illustration normally found in publications.

The works sometimes reflect collaboration among writers, artists, book designers, printers, and binders. In other instances the artist plays all of these roles alone.

"Holding In, Holding On: Artist's Books by Martha A. Hall"

The process of making books has been a powerful part of my healing.
Some of the books have a life of their own it seems;
Pushing me to communicate a strong message.
They are a way to share my emotions with my family.
They are a way to educate others about cancer.
They are a way to touch the hearts of people.
They are a way to effect change in the medical profession.
They are a way I can have a voice in the world.
They are about making choices.

They are about living.

So wrote Martha Hall in the introduction to the catalog of "Holding In, Holding On." Twenty-eight of Hall's works - from Bowdoin's collection, from the libraries at Smith and Wellesley colleges, the University of New England, and Yale University, and from the Hall family's private collection - make up the show.

Hall, a book artist from Orr's Island, died of breast cancer in December 2003, and cancer informed nearly all of her work. She expressed her emotions and sentiments as a patient living with this frightening disease eloquently, creatively, and with technical complexity.

Her pieces challenge the conventional book form through the construction of unusual binding structures, complex paper sculpturing and altered sequencing of paging and text. She combines papermaking, collage, various printing and painting techniques, stitching, and cut-outs with the use of color and abstract shapes to convey mood as powerfully as she does through the verse and text that accompany her constructions.

Her works express joy, fear, hope, depression, anger, doubt, but above all they celebrate such essentially human concepts as dignity, tenderness, vulnerability, and living well.

Books in the exhibition date from 1997-2002. Some, like Legacy, are miniatures crafted in inexpensive editions. Others, with accordion-fold bindings, fancy flag-book structures and hand-made papers, are of extremely limited editions, and many are unique.

For some of her works, Hall collaborated with other writers and artists (for example Allison Brown in the epistolary series Paper Passages). Mostly, though, Hall's artist's books are solely of her design, composition and construction.

A color catalog, produced by Smith College to accompany the exhibition, is available for $15 through the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library.

"Artists' Books from the Collections"

Bowdoin's collection of artists' books serves the teaching and learning that are fundamental to a liberal arts education.

Focusing mainly on Maine artists, items are selected to exemplify a broad array of techniques and approaches, especially those that interrogate the book form and demand a physical reading of the work in unusual ways.

Represented in the exhibition are works by Leonard Baskin, Crystal Cawley, Julie Chen, Roberta Delaney, Donald Glaister, Rebecca Goodale, Michael Kuch, Nancy Leavitt, Richard Lee, El Lissitzky, Thomas Logan, Mark Melnicove, Jan Owen, Georgiana Peacher, Stephen Petroff, Bern Porter, Ed Ruscha, Jill Timm, Claire Van Vliet, and David Wolfe.

Some of these artists collaborated with Martha Hall or watched closely as she developed her craft. Others share her ability to translate feelings, thoughts, and artistic skill into art objects that we can view, handle, and interpret.

"Reading" these artists' books brings understanding and provides perspective for our own being, as good writing and good art always do.

Both exhibits are installed on the second floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library on the Bowdoin College campus. Exhibit hours are 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is free. For more information call 725-3280.

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