Victoria exhibition sees literature turned into an art form

What: Art of the Book

When: Tour and reception Monday, 2 p.m. Continues through March 14.

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Where: Legacy Maltwood Gallery (at UVic’s McPherson Library)

Judging a book by its cover is finally OK, according to an exhibit dedicated to book design opening Monday.

Art of the Book is a juried exhibition that begins a cross-country tour at the Legacy Maltwood Gallery, in the University of Victoria’s McPherson Library, before moving east.

“These artists are kind of challenging what our expectations of a book are,” said curator of collections Caroline Riedel.

“Typically we think of a book as stories that are printed on a page, but in this exhibition, the book becomes a 3-D art object.”

In one case, the pages unfold to show the cross-country landscape of Highway 16A. In another, a 3-D double-helix of DNA supports six little eggs that open into accordion books, Riedel said.

Art of the Book is organized and curated by the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild. This is the 30th-anniversary show.

Saanich graphic designer Frances Hunter has two books in the exhibition, alongside about 40 others from across Canada and a handful from the United States.

She said she was inspired when she saw the exhibition last time it toured, five years ago.

“I really hesitated even entering, because the standard of work is very high and the people who look at the books are professionally trained with a very exacting eye,” Hunter said.

“So I never quite thought I was ready to do it, but this time I took the plunge.”

Hunter has designed trade books through her work, but she made her first books by hand in recent years as a hobby. She won a grant through Saskatoon’s Jack Pine Press to create a book titled Field Hospital: The Last Writings of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in partnership with a poet, which required handmaking 75 books to be sold online.

Her other book in the exhibition is called Poems for an Oil-Free Coast, which she designed for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Nine poems are bound in yellow cedar covers in each of the 100 copies.

“It’s a little obsessive perhaps,” Hunter said of buckling down to make so many books by hand. “But at heart, I really prefer to do things with my hands.”

When you work with a publisher, there are prescriptions for book size, font size, the size and shape of the illustrations, she said. But when you make a book from start to finish, you have complete control.

“A book is a very tactile thing. When you hold it and you turn the pages, even a paperback you might buy in the bookstore, there’s a sensation from handling it and looking at it,” she said. “When you do it yourself you usually can go as far as you want.”

The artists in the exhibition competed in five categories of design: artists’ books, binding, printing, calligraphy and boxmaking.

This is the sixth juried exhibit in 30 years and the third time it has been hosted at UVic.

“To me it’s just a really celebratory exhibit,” Riedel said.

“It’s colourful and beautiful and skilful. And I think just seeing the incredible range of imaginative and skilful work, I hope people take away that inspiration.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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