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Mountain Home Magazine

Turn the Page

Jun 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Linda Roller

You can be forgiven for being just a little bit squeamish on entering this exhibit at the Gallery at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport. After all, actual books have been destroyed in every work displayed at Books Undone 2. Most of us were taught as small children to respect and to care for books. As a bookseller for over forty years, I have spent a lifetime caring for books of all ages and types. But librarians, booksellers, book publishers—all of the people involved in what I call “the book arts”—know that there are books that have outlived their time. They no longer have a purpose as a book. Think old textbooks, encyclopedias, as well as many of the reference works so needed before the internet. All that material is now available, updated, and cross referenced in ways that a set of books cannot do. So, these volumes usually end up in landfills. Re-purposing a book like that into a work of art is, in essence, creating magic out of something that has lost its value.

Six years ago, Penn College hosted its first exhibition of such works in Books Undone: The Art of Altered Books.

“For me, the first exhibit [in 2018] was impressive,” explains Penny Lutz, director at the Gallery. Penny’s love of books translated well into this show of books that have been folded, chopped up, twisted, and reassembled in decidedly non-book shapes. “And the public enjoyed the show.” So much so that the Gallery decided to have another such exhibit in the summer of 2024.

“In the summer, a group show brings more people into the Gallery, when the college is less busy,” Penny says.

For this second show, Penn College selected Scott McCarney as the juror for the exhibition. Scott is an artist, designer, and educator living in Rochester, New York. Penny notes that many of the artists who applied for this juried show did so because of Scott and his reputation in the medium of books. That this show is even larger than the show in 2018, with sixty-four pieces done by forty-one artists from twenty states, is a testament to that.

It’s easy to understand why artists would want to work with Scott on an exhibition of altered books. His art is primarily about books—creating books from the more traditional form of offset printing, to digital printing, to creating three dimensional works with books that have been printed. His work is found at the Museum of Modern Art, Victoria & Albert Museum, and Yale University Art Gallery, among others.

A book artist since the 1980s, Scott moved to unloved books a decade later. “I started working with discarded books of knowledge [encyclopedias, indexes, dictionaries, etc.] back in the 1990s when storage and dissemination of that type of information started moving from the analog book into digital space.” In the beginning, Scott received a lot of criticism for his use of old books as the building blocks of a new vision, described as thereby destroying them as a “book.”

“I never harmed a book that contained information that was not available in some other place or form,” Scott says. His art form developed at a time when the conversation was about the end of books and book publishing, and looking toward a future, in just a few years, where all written information was digital, when books and bookstores no longer existed. A future where books were part of our childhood memories and only seen as artifacts of a bygone age. Scott feels that it is this emotional attachment most of us have to books that makes this art interesting to see. We see the book and the image that the book now shows us.

“Work that understands the continuity of the book as a cultural object while maintaining a contemporary vision I find most successful and satisfying,” Scott says.

The books are altered but the pieces arriving at the Gallery at PCT tell a story as completely as any book can. Some, like the globe, literally take the book and tells the same story in three dimensions. Others, using the text once in a book, educate. Scott calls this the books becoming sculpture.

Though the show has artists from all over the country, one local artist is exhibiting two works. Dave Stabley is no stranger to the area or to Penn College. As full-time instructor in ceramics and wood sculpture for over a decade, Dave still teaches classes at PCT in the mediums he loves.

“My creative process using books as a medium of expression began as I contemplated a pile of different shaped books,” Dave explains. “The physical dimensions of the books interested me the most. I saw them more as 2-by-4 lumber ready to be cut up into shapes and put back together. As I begin the construction process, I am very aware of positive and negative space, repetition, color, and texture. By also introducing other found objects and recycled materials, I started to see them as more architectural forms.”

Dave’s work was also selected for the 2018 show. Not only are Dave’s sculptures on display, but his sculpture class project for the spring semester is as well. His students filled identical black boxes with black forms, highlighting the spacing and structure. In each of these shadow boxes a book, in some form, is included. The boxes are at the entrance of the exhibition. Other students have created their own altered books as a separate student showing.

Books Undone 2: The Art of Altered Books will be at the Gallery, 1 College Avenue, Pennsylvania College of Technology (third floor of the Madigan Library), from May 30 to July 21 (closed July 3-7). The reception for the exhibition is June 2 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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