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Book art: demanding, entrancing, overlooked

Washington County Museum displays 45 works from artists


by: COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY MUSEUM - 'Twenty Six Friends Times 6' is a star book with pop-ups by Carol DuBosch and will be one of 45 pieces on display at the Washington County Museum this month.For 10 years, printmaker Barbara Mason wanted to try her hand at an “artist’s book.” She and a poet friend finally sat down and talked about combining “her poems and my prints,” Mason said.

Mason’s friend happens to be Oregon’s Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen. The talented women compiled nine poems and 14 prints, and gave it a try.

“It has to be so precise,” Mason said. “I’m a professional artist and I sell my work, but (the book I made) looked like I did it with my feet. Paulann’s wasn’t much better. We laughed and laughed and laughed, but at least we got a feel for how it was done.”

Mason, who is on the board of the Washington County Museum, suggested it host the month-long book-art exhibit, which opened on Wednesday and features 45 works from some of the nation’s best book artists.

“In the digital world, books may seem like an endangered species,” said Sam Shogren, executive director of the museum, “but bookmaking is more popular than ever.”

The exhibit is partially linked to an upcoming book-arts conference in Forest Grove, where every two years this fast-growing faction of the arts community descends on Pacific University.

June 25 will mark Forest Grove’s 11th biennial Focus on Book Arts conference, with five days of classes on bookbinding, printing, printmaking, artists’ books and more.

Book art is as much — and sometimes more — artwork than book. It includes everything from scrolls to fold-outs to concertinas to loose items in a box, and sometimes even the bound, printed sheets most books are known for.

“It’s an underserved part of the art community,” said Mason, a Portland-based printmaker who helped with the exhibit. “But the people that get into it are very into it. It’s a hidden gem that doesn’t get as much attention as it should.”

Mason found her way into the book-arts community largely by accident. Having been a part of the Portland artistic community since the 1970s, she had seen the art form and was fascinated by it.

Some months after their first, laughable book-art attempt, Mason and Petersen attended the conference in Forest Grove and met bookbinder (and conference director) Laurie Weiss, who agreed to help them.

On Valentine’s Day 2012, the three released their collaborative effort, “Dark River of Stars.”

It took a year to do, Mason said. “Each page took me nearly a half hour, which made for six or seven hours of printing. Then all those pages go to (Weiss) for binding. Even now we only have 20 of the 50 we had planned to make, but it’s a beautiful book.”

The cost is part of the reason book arts are still “underserved.” “Dark River of Stars” sells for $350.

“I don’t think anyone ever does it for the money,” Mason said. “You can’t make a living at it, but people love it and get really excited about it.”

The lack of money in book arts doesn’t mean the rest of the art world hasn’t noticed the art form. Shortly after “Dark River of Stars” was released, Yale University library bought a copy. The state capitol, too, had an eye on the book and last May invited the three women to show framed pages in the governor’s office.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an enormous honor,” Mason said.

For now, book arts remain “a hidden form,” but with that kind of interest it won’t stay hidden for long.

Book Arts exhibit

Open now through June 2, at the Washington County Museum, 120 E. Main St. in Hillsboro.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free for members; non-members pay $6 adults, $4 for seniors, students, children and active military. Age 3 and younger are free.



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