Awake ~ Special Collections Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas Texas
Quiet Places is a collaborative project between visual artist Sue Gordon and ceramic artist Bev Ellis and bookbinder Debra Frances. Together we developed links between ceramic sculpture, encaustic painting, printmaking and bookbinding. We seek to discover a unified contemporary use of conventional materials in both an unconventional and traditional practice. Our cultural and personal narrative is concerned with the substance of things, the nature of each medium, its structure and feel. We each are exploring ideas of containment, wholeness and hope. With this exhibition we are celebrating the physical properties and mythical histories to remind viewers of the constant beauty and strength inherent in the world of trees.
Ellis, Frances and Gordon are three Western Canadian artists with many years of experience between them: Ellis, an award winning ceramic sculptor from BC, Frances, an experienced Manitoba bookbinding artist; and Gordon, a painter/printmaker using encaustic medium. The three artists have recently begun combining their talents and expertise to build unique book sculptures. They separately created ceramic sculptures, wood inserts and encaustic paintings and prints. These were then bound into functional books. All three artists use materials sourced from places meaningful to them. Land, trees, seas and skies become books which contain their combined efforts to remind the viewers of their own experiences within the Canadian Landscape.
My individual pieces for Quiet Places are a set of three Bibliothèque Cachée, which is French for ‘hidden library’. The covers are made from a discarded cedar log that I picked up from a community woodshop wood swap. I was immediately drawn to this piece of wood – it had so much character, but it also had major cracks that ran along the length of the piece. In order to make the wood useable I created a mixture of epoxy and ebony saw dust to get a rich dark grey colour with which I filled the cracks. This strengthened the wood but also now highlights the beautiful grain.
The shelves are hand carved into the inner heartwood, creating space for stacks of books to be discovered.
I love the idea of books within books.
Books are very tactile and most people I meet have strong emotional connections to the physical object of the book. None of us have a desire to cradle a Kindle or other piece of ‘technology’, but books are an object that we long to hold and engage with in a very tactile way.
Books are quiet objects. Trees are too. Libraries have that characteristic hush and so do forests. Reading is a quiet, reflective activity that requires an investment of stillness ~ Sarah Swan
Collaboration is at the heart of this exhibition and is what brings all of our work together around themes of Quiet Places.
Sue and I have been good friends for many years and have been collaborating creatively since 2015. When we work together on a book it can take more than a year for it to be finished. This ease of time and relationship allows for many conversations and lots of back and forth of prototypes and ideas to be shared. It has been a rich experience for both of us. When the finished artists’ book emerges, it truly feels like we speak with one voice.
Our collaborative work for this exhibition consists of three log books. The ‘pages’, both wooden and paper, contain encaustic paintings, etchings and mono prints. Two of the log books are made with wooden pages and sewn with a variation on the coptic method of binding.
In order to allow space for Sue’s encaustic work, I routered out recessed frames so that her artwork could sit flush with the wood.
Once the artwork was complete they were ready to be sewn together and then sent back to Sue for touch ups. As you can probably imagine, it is hard not to scratch up the painting while sewing with six needles.
A Quiet Place is our largest piece and consists of ten original encaustic paintings by Sue.
For each of her paintings I created a decorative guard or spine liner out of a strong, handmade flax paper which I sewed using a modified saddle stitch. This protects the spine part of the painting and also brings a unity to the sections.
The content of each of the three log books we created together are intended to evoke feelings and memories. Some describe trees and forests poetically. Others have spare text inviting readers to reflect on their own experiences.
For my work with Bev, my goal was to have the pages look as though they were a natural extension of the log covers she had created. To achieve this, I hand dyed each page in a dye bath of oak gall nut and tea tannins. Once aged, I tore each page individually to create a feathered edge along the top of the book and the sides.
The challenge with these ceramic pieces for me, as the binder, was the weight and size of the covers. We had discussed this aspect ahead of time and so ensured that we would have ample sewing stations so that there was strength built in all along the spine of the books.
Because of the intricate, textured design I needed to be very careful while handling the covers as I worked. I placed bubble wrap on my workbench to prevent any little bit from chipping and really took my time.
I love how Bev is able to bring to life the beauty and wonder of the trees and bark that we both gather our inspiration from.
Photo credit: Gabrielle Touchette
Process photos: Debra Frances
This exhibition was held at the CCBC Gallery on Granville Island from August 11 – September 29, 2022.
I would like to acknowledge the generous support of the Manitoba Arts Council and the Winnipeg Arts Council.