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About 20 artists create pieces inspired by 'The Book of Unknown Americans' by Cristina HenrÍquez

PMG FILE PHOTO - Mary Burgess' piece 'Snow Before the Storm' captures the character Maribel's joy at seeing her first snowfall.

For the 20 or so who participated in the Lake Oswego Reads art exhibit, the adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" was reversed.

Instead of words being conveyed through an image, the artists sifted through hundreds of pages of text to create one resonant piece of art.

"It's the highlight of a lot of our year. I look forward to doing this project every year because it's a challenge," artist Mary Burgess said. "We're not picking our own subject matter, so it makes us think and read and do some more problem-solving than we normally might do."

Through the Lake Oswego Reads extravaganza, the Lake Oswego Public Library distributes hundreds of books to community members and hosts talks and programs related to the book.

The art exhibition — featuring art inspired by the chosen book — is one of those programs and includes a tour to different venues throughout the state. This month, the exhibit will be stationed at

the Wilsonville Public Library.

This year's book was "The Book of Unknown Americans," by Cristina Henríquez. The novel chronicles a prosperous family who moves from Mexico to Delaware so that 15-year-old Maribel, who suffered a debilitating head injury, can receive better medical care. During the story, they struggle to adjust to American life and meet other families from Central and South American countries who live in an apartment complex.

When she read the book, artist Lisa Finch-Wiser placed sticky notes on pages that included vivid imagery and might work for a painting.

"Most of the artists go through that same proc=

ess as well," Finch-Wiser said.

In the end, Finch-Wiser depicted two buildings encased in art during an ice storm, which proved an important plot point in the book and signified how the immigrants in the book feel isolated.

"The feeling of this image is about isolation, which was a common theme in the book — that those families were isolated in their buildings yet they found ways to seek each other out, invite each other in and build community," she said. "I was particularly sensitive to the isolation theme in that my mother's family were immigrants, and I was always sensitive to some of the things they experienced."

Burgess's painting showed a portrait of Maribel on the beach, which proved a fleeting happy moment before her father was seriously injured.

"It's that juxtaposition of a moment where you are elated and happy not knowing something is happening to someone you care about," she said. "It's like another world. I was drawn to that moment because of that and because I like to paint figures."

Some of the other artwork Burgess was impressed with was a fused-glass piece by Jenn Ferrante that symbolized the boundaries placed by society and Korean immigrant Haelyn Y's self-portrait that symbolized her rebirth as an American citizen.

"This was one of the easier (books to depict) because the author was very descriptive of the characters, very detail oriented and the scenes, you just felt like you were right there," Wiser-Finch said.

Henriquez actually saw the exhibit when she visited Lake Oswego earlier this year and was impressed, according to Wiser-Finch.

"She was just amazed

at the work that was

produced," Wiser-Finch said.

The artwork is available for purchase, although the pieces with a red dot next to them already have been sold.


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