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Bound for Glory: Handmade Books



Bound for Glory: Handmade Books
By Nicole Lewis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 1998; Page C05

Not too long ago, artist Rosamond Casey gave her grandmother a unique
gift: A hand-painted book she made herself.

The book, "Wood Notes Wild: Notations of Bird Music," sets quotes from
Simeon Pease Cheney's 1892 volume of bird songs against lushly painted
designs. Beyond the delicate beauty of the pages, the gift had
personal significance for Casey's grandmother, who was, the artist
says, "preoccupied with the decline of songbirds in her forest."

Casey's work is on view as part of the inviting show "Book as Art X"
at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. For the past decade,
Krystyna Wasserman, a curator there, has been putting together annual
exhibits of books that are works of art. The show is hidden away in
the museum's spacious research center, which Wasserman directs. "I
always felt when people do research and study very hard they should
get up and look at something to be inspired," she says.

Wasserman calls Casey's volume "the star of the show," noting she
spent a whole year putting the book together. "The Blue Cage," another
book of Casey's, is also featured. The pages display digitally altered
photographs of the artist's daughter and two nieces frolicking in a
garden. These carefree images are juxtaposed with the solemn text of
George Bradley's poem "Of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." Casey
envisioned the girls as the gatekeepers of Heaven, oblivious to the
serious ramifications of their position.

The whimsy of children also figures in Brooklyn artist Robbin Ami
Silverberg's "Titok (Secret)." Inspired by children's building blocks,
Silverberg created not a traditional book but 27 colorful cubes, each
representing a secret that an artist, writer or musician has shared
with her. The boxes make noises and release scents when shaken
(although exhibit visitors cannot touch them), but the secret stays
hidden.

Although Wasserman tries not to repeat artists in her shows, she made
an exception this year for Shireen Modak Holman of Montgomery Village.
Holman created her book of woodcuts on handmade paper in homage to her
father, who died recently. She combines elements of his life in
America and India, including images of his beige couch and a copy of
the newspaper India Abroad.

Behind another glass case, sculpted red stiletto heels act as the
front and back covers for California artist Gaza Bowen's "The Red Shoe
Reader." The clever book tells the history of women's footwear,
including the Cinderella tale and foot-binding in China. One of the
last pages shows a rendering of the familiar photo of Marilyn Monroe
from "The Seven Year Itch," her skirt billowing above a subway grate.
The reader can turn a wheel and change Marilyn's shoes from white
heels to sneakers.

Given the time-consuming labor that goes into the making of art books
and the small market for them, most works are created for personal
rather than commercial reasons, so Wasserman ensures that each work in
the show is accompanied by an artist's statement giving background for
these private pieces.

At the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW.
Through Jan. 16. 202-783-5000. The research center is open Monday
through Saturday.

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