To Margaret Couch Cogswell's recollection, she was a slow reader as a child. The physicality of the book and the pictures inside often captured her fancy more than the words. Perhaps it was this fascination that led her into the realm of the book arts — a burgeoning art form that highlights the intimate and interactive qualities of the book.
Today Cogswell is a well-known book artist, and one of many that will be exhibiting work at BookOpolis – a book-art extravaganza happening Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 and 26.
Now in its fifth year, BookOpolis will be held at BookWorks in West Asheville. The festival kicks off Friday evening with a raffle, awards and a talk by Andy Farkas, a local book artist and printmaker. On Saturday from noon until 6 p.m., an open house allows people to peruse the book exhibit and meet some of the artists. Farkas will be demonstrating a traditional Japanese woodcut printing technique that he often utilizes in his books. There will be paper-making demonstrations in the new paper-making studio, screen printing (you can bring your own T-shirt or garment to print on), letterpress printing and bookbinding demonstrations throughout the day.
And then there are the books, of which almost 100 will be on display. "We clear off all the work tables in the studio and arrange them on the tables according to loosely defined categories like fine press, sculptural, altered, miniature, pop-ups, journals, political, and narratives," says Laurie Corral, owner of Asheville BookWorks. "We encourage people to handle the books, gently of course, with care, but how else can you really appreciate books unless you pick them up?"
The books are selected by a jury based on how well they merge ideas with creative use of materials and inventive modes of construction. All the books are either one-of-a-kind handmade books, or printed in small editions. Last year Cogswell exhibited her sculpture of a dog who held a chewed-up book in his mouth. Farkas exhibited hmmm…, his book of woodcut prints about a bear who thought he was a tree.
Regional artists produce most of the books exhibited at BookOpolis because, says Corral, "we have an unusual concentration of book artists in this area." One reason for this may be the region's long-standing craft tradition. "Another reason may be the concentration of young artists in Asheville who have studied some form of book arts or are self-taught," says Corral.
One such artist is Clara Boza, who became interested in books after seeing an extensive book exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts while she lived in Washington, D.C. "That was my introduction to the book arts, but I only made my first book in Western North Carolina four years ago. I fell in love instantly."
This year Boza will be presenting her book My Two Cuban Landscapes, based on her memories of Cuba as a child of émigré parents. The book will be included as part of a Small Book Edition to be presented at BookOpolis, in which 14 area-based book artists have created small books (no book is larger than three inches by three inches by three inches) that will be housed in a handmade case. The edition will be raffled off, and proceeds will fund a residency for an artist at BookWorks.
In recent years Bookworks has become the hub for local book artists and collectors who praise Corral for launching and maintaining the facilities. "BookWorks has become a home away from home, Bowa says. "Laurie has created a much-needed place for those who care about the book arts — whether practicing bookmakers, aspiring book artists or people who simply love the art and craft of bookmaking."
Cogswell agrees: "BookWorks is a real gift to the community."