Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Independent Projects Report: Building by the Book at the Philadelphia Athenaeum

This report comes from Adrienne Jenkins, Managing Director of Philagrafika

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Center for the Book, is currently exhibiting a wonderful presentation of artist books that were produced in response to the Athenaeum’s research collections. The collections library was founded in 1814 and is a resource for the study of architecture and design. Six artists from around the country were selected through a juried process, with works ranging from traditional to sculptural, expressing many possibilities for artists producing one-of-a-kind books.

Artist Aimee Denault next to her book Windows

Each book is a jewel - visually stunning, conceptually engaging and well-crafted. My favorites on view include Aimee Denault’s Windows, a pristine book of clean, white pages that radiates a spirituality derived from its cross or mandala design carved into the pages creating an elaborate pattern. Upon further study one sees that the four arms of the cross are in fact window shapes derived from colorplates of large houses in Wetherill’s Portfolio of Artistic Designs. Each page is painstakingly created by hand using an exacto knife to create intricate patterns. This is a gorgeous book!

Claire Owen and The Cultivation of Zoophytes

Local artist Claire Owen took inspiration from Jacob Weidenmann’s Beautifying Country Homes: A Handbook of Landscape Gardening to create a whimsical series of pamphlets with drawings and tongue-in-cheek instructions for cultivating six imaginary creatures from plant materials, with accompanying landscape designs. Inspired by her own recent interest in the term zoophyte, the illustrated creatures include a hare springing forth from fern fronds. This book titled The Cultivation of Zoophytes is a testament to the infinite possibilities inherent in nature, paying subtle homage to the transformative process of bookmaking as an art similarly derived from plant materials.

John Magnan poses beside his work Diorama

Diorama, a book of pure sculptural beauty is a wood-carved work by John Mangnan of Massachusetts. I had the opportunity to speak with the artist at the opening reception and learned that the maple and oak structure of the book was intended to follow the tree’s rings and thus has a slightly curved structure. This is not a book where one can turn pages; instead, it is a three-dimensional journey into the life of buildings from a time when attention to architectural detail was paramount. Beginning with the cover’s carved, open archway, one can see through to each page featuring a distinct carving such as an intricate fireplace mantle. Based on the how-to-book The Young Carpenter’s Assistant which shows several examples of furniture, architectural elements and other building features, this book is like the Anthenaeum itself, reminding us of a bygone era where art and craft were woven into the structures of daily life. When you go, make sure to see the original research library, an elegant and stately room in this impressive building.

The exhibition runs through May 1, 2010. See the Anthenaeum web site for more information.

-Adrienne Jenkins

Photos from the Building by the Book opening reception courtesy of the Philadelphia Aethenaeum.

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