Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Sketchbook Project 2012-I Remember You Ruth & Ken

Cover of completed book
During the last months of 2011 and the first month of 2012 I was completely absorbed in finishing my entry for the Sketchbook Project 2012 put together by the Brooklyn Art Library through Art House Co-op. This project involves selecting a theme and completing work on a book that is sent to you in the mail.

It is a very challenging project as you are limited in terms of media, size, and scope. Once the book is completed it is mailed back to the Brooklyn Art Library where it is digitized and added to their collection. A digital version is posted in their Digital Library. The actual book itself goes on tour for the better part of a year all over the world. People come to view the collection and check out the sketchbooks. Each time someone views a book an email is sent to the artist who created it. I am very excited about receiving notices that people have viewed my book!

I was very intrigued by taking part in this project for several reasons. First and foremost, having an opportunity to have a work I created travel and be seen by people all over the world was very exciting. My hands have created a work of art, an artist's book, that will be touched (hopefully) by a great number of people. I find myself imagining them turning the pages, feeling the texture, absorbing the images, understanding that the distance between each of our souls is very thin.

Secondly, the format of the project-a book-grabbed my heart from the start. I love making works of art that look like books. Books are a means of transferring information, culture, images, in a very personal way. Boorks are also, in my view, the great democratizing agent of the modern world (knowledge is power) as well as being a very personal, individual and tactile experience of that same information, culture, and image of our world around us. The transformation of cultural communication from the oral tradition to early manuscripts into the printed books of the 16th century fascinates me. As a book historian I have studied the method of making and content of books given specifically to women from the 15th century to modern day. In my personal studio work I create artist's books that can at once be "read" through the narrative content of the images and also viewed as a very personal work of art.

In this project my heart was immediately drawn to one of the categories, "I Remember You," which was offered by the project coordinators as a starting point or creative muse for the participants. My only sister died in 1993, and both our parents died in 1994. My first husband died  3 years later in 1997. I have two adult daughters who are building their own lives, but I wonder sometimes that they do not know "all the stories" from our family that they need to know. I am the only one left to tell those stories and keep the memory alive for them. Over the past year since we moved back to Canada I have been going through all my files and putting together a family archive for them, including notes about what each of the documents is or represents.  As an object oriented art historian, I collect information about the method of making for objects in order to place them within the context of making. The same is true of this archive I am assembling. Each small object has a story, and that story places the object within the context of our family story.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my sister and my parents, and my daughter's father. I often wish I knew them at my age now so that I could share all that I have learned since they left this reality. Often, during my prayer time or during my restless sleep at night, I encounter their souls reaching out to me through images and ideas that we shared. This particular Sketchbook Project allowed me to remember my mom and dad, Ruth and Ken, through images of their life when they were happy, healthy, and open to whatever life brought them. This is how I like to remember them to this day.

I designed my project to resemble a 1940's scrapbook. Both of my parents kept scrapbooks when they were in high school, and I still have them. My father was 5 years older than my mother. He graduated from high school, joined the Navy, and went off to serve in World War II, part of what Tom Brokaw of NBC News refers to the "greatest generation." When he returned he started attending the junior college being operated in the high school and met my mother, who was a senior. Nature took its course and they were married two years later.

When I was in junior high my parents showed my sister and I the scrapbooks they kept while in high school and also showed us how to make our own. I still have those books. My sister's scrapbooks have neatly organized pages, with careful labels and neatly cut tape. Not quite so with mine! Each page is a bit of a collage with layers, staples, scotch tape, and paste to hold the pieces of paper and photos in place. It is almost as if I were layering bits and pieces of my life onto the page, with texture and colour to tell the story of those objects which in turn, told the story of my life. Often as I look at them now, I can see precursors of my working method for the artist's books and collages I work on these days in my studio.

My 2012 Sketchbook Project is a reflection of both my parents and their scrapbooks, as well as the ones created by my sister and I so many years ago. Each photo, each piece of ephemera I reproduced and laminated for the book, has an intimate story to tell about our family. However, each photo, each piece of ephemera also has the potential to draw the viewer and their own story into ours. As the viewer moves through the book, they will have an opportunity to remove small laminated photos and objects for closer study, having a more tactile experience with the lives they see represented there.

Working on the project was fun. I disassembled the book mailed to me, and began to reconstruct a working dummy for the project to help me decide what images would go where. I created a form on my Vandercook 01 proof press with the title "I Remember You" and proceeded to make collage prints with three colours on several of the pages of the book.

When doing collage printing I print one colour, then turn the page and re-ink the form to print the second colour while the first colour is still wet. I also wanted to have an "off print" from the letterpress pages onto some of the facing pages in the book, harkening back to the scrapbooks I made when I was young.

As I printed each of these sheets, they hung in the studio to dry overnight.

Stages of Collage Printing
This project, and the folks I have met through the Art House Co-op website, are inspiring to me. Textures and colours, photos and ephemera are uniting not only in my head but in my studio production in ways I could never have imagined. I am very excited about two more sketchbook-like projects that I am working on  now in the studio. These involve more colour and calligraphic text than this particular project.

This project has also reminded me how important the stories of our lives and the lives of our families are, not only to us, but to our greater community. It is through the sharing of stories, I think, that we begin to discover our spiritual self. The stories we live and the stories we tell to others are the fabric of our lives that give us strength and courage when we need it the most.

Making this wee book these past months has reminded me of the hundreds of stories my parents told me about their early lives. When they told me those stories I could not understand the full impact they would have on me at the age I am now (56) or how not being able to discuss them with my parents at this more mature age would affect me. However, remembering those stories warms my heart and soul, and helps me to continue to be connected to them in ways I still don't quite understand.

One thing is for sure, when we tell all our stories, we celebrate the miracle of our journey, and this helps us to know that all will be well, and all will be well, and with the grace and peace of God in our telling, all will be well.