There are art lovers. There are bibliophiles. And then there are those whose passion lies in the intersection between art and books. This Saturday, Oct. 18, book art enthusiasts from around the Bay Area and beyond will gather at Palo Alto's Lucie Stern Community Center for Book Arts Jam 2014: a celebration of paper, bindings, images and text -- and the magic that happens when we relax our idea of what a book might be.
The event marks the 13th Book Arts Jam put on by Bay Area Book Artists, a Palo Alto-based group of more than 200 independent artists who meet twice monthly to practice, share and discuss their craft. Founded 19 years ago and affectionately known as BABA (members are known as BABAlings), the group offers free membership to anyone who wants to join.
Those new to the Book Arts Jam will likely be surprised at the sheer variety encompassed by the term "book art." Accordion-bound books, miniature books and flip books, star-shaped books, "exploding" books and scrolls; the list of formats is seemingly endless. Works by regional and international artists will be on exhibit, some of them for sale. A continuous slide show will feature other examples of the form. Artists will be present to give talks and demonstrations on subjects including traditional book binding, pamphlet stitching and letterpress. Others will offer "make and take" workshops for curious participants of all ages, including a session on artists' trading cards and one on cut-and-fold maze books.
Meanwhile, more than 30 exhibitors will be selling books and book-related ephemera, and food trucks will be on hand for those who need sustenance after all the bibliomania. Up to 1,000 attendees are anticipated, some of whom will drive hours for the event.
So what exactly is book art? Simply put, it's any work of art that takes the form of a book (though that book may not look quite like the items lining your local library's shelves). A work of book art is distinct from an art book: For the latter, think coffee-table tomes dedicated to glossy photographs or reproductions of Picasso paintings. In contrast, a work of book art tends to be handmade, playful and in its own bookish way even counter-cultural -- neatly sidestepping mainstream modes of production in the quest to create something new.
Different book artists focus on different aspects of craft, from paper-making to printing, binding, text or illustration. And the topics for art books are unlimited: from the silly (llamas, meatloaf, menopause) to the more serious. As a result, groups like BABA tend to attract members with a wide range of personalities, backgrounds and interests.
Palo Alto artist Jamila Rufaro had been making primarily greeting cards when she joined BABA four years ago. This year, she's helping organize the Book Arts Jam. Rufaro spoke about her first BABA meeting as a kind of spiritual awakening.
"I went in not knowing exactly who they were," she recalled. "One member had taken a trip on Route 66 for her 66th birthday, and had made a book from her photos. It was really a fabulous book. I was so excited that I just busted out with, 'You are my people!' It was what I had been looking for all along."
A number of other BABA members attested to the group's spirit of openness. Among them was Becky Barber, a San Jose librarian and longtime BABAling.
"One of the things I really love is that because we are as inclusive as possible, we get the full gamut of members," she explained, rattling off the backgrounds of her fellow book artists: fine book binders, photographers, watercolorists, teachers and those who who knew nothing about book art before attending a Book Arts Jam and falling in love.
Book art may sound like a niche interest, yet there are groups across the nation and the world devoted to the practice. Book production and artistry have long been linked -- think of medieval illuminated manuscripts, or William Blake's detailed 18th-century illustrated books. Yet the popularity of book art has grown particularly since the mid-20th century, when schools such as abstract expressionism, assemblage and Pop Art exploded perceptions of fine art by introducing found objects and challenging traditional modes of presentation.
Unlike some groups that produce conceptual, post-modern "artists' books," BABA has reclaimed book art as a folk art: a form that's accessible to everyone: adults, children, experienced print-makers and book binders, and even -- maybe especially -- those who think they aren't artists at all.
It's been that way from the start, said Barber, who was involved in the founding years of the group, when a few women with an interest in the form began meeting in artist Jone Manoogian's living room in Palo Alto.
"I give all of this back to Jone," Barber said. "She established a wonderful community spirit for the group, and that spirit really does carry on."
Manoogian has since stepped back from her leadership role, but was eager to share her memories of BABA from 1995, when five members of the South Bay Area Women's Caucus for Art began to meet.
"We all had interest in handmade artists' books and wanted to share our efforts in this new medium," she remembered, recalling the popularity of their first public show at the Cubberley Art Center in 1997 and the steady growth of the group: By 2000, the original group of five had grown to 45.
Today, BABA meetings are held at Greendell School, adjacent to the Cubberley Community Center. Every third Thursday evening of the month, there's a meeting that includes show-and-tell, troubleshooting projects and an exchange of mini books or artists' trading cards. On the first Sunday of the month from noon to 4 p.m., BABA holds a hands-on workshop focusing on a particular aspect of the craft, from creating a pop-up book to cyanotype photos or gelatin printing. These workshops are generally taught by BABAlings, Barber explained.
"Our workshops are either free, or we charge only the cost of materials," she said. "We're all volunteers. We just teach each other."
What: Book Arts Jam 2014
Where: Lucie Stern Community Center, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: Saturday, Oct. 18, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Info: Go to bookartsjam.org or email email@example.com.