All Sorts (No Licorice!)

Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, Bainbridge Island, WA

By Matthew Kangas
Unique among American art museums, Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s most precious holding is the Artist’s Book Collection established by Cynthia Sears. It is stored and displayed in the Sherry Grover Gallery upstairs, where periodic exhibitions allow visitors to see and, most importantly, to handle certain books and examine this unusual art form. Sometimes using original texts and occasionally drawing upon other writers – famous and unknown – artists’ books take many forms, all of which are demonstrated in All Sorts (No Licorice!), the latest iteration of examples from this rich, unparalleled hoard of treasures.
Although artists’ books are held in libraries and art galleries, few are open to the public for inspection, analysis and participation. These are books that are only ignited or “read” when opened and examined, like a real book, but instead of a conventional narrative, they often take the reader on an imaginative journey with sculptural, literary and photographic dimensions.
Specially trained docents are often present in the Grover Gallery to assist viewers; they can explain bookmaking materials and processes, some of which are quite complicated, including hand-sewing, binding, handmade papers and elaborate container boxes. This is a hands-on counterpart (with protective gloves when necessary) to the “Please do not touch” signs in most rare-book libraries or art museums. BIMA founder and trustee Cynthia Sears spent decades assembling her collection, which makes BIMA di erent as an art museum. Her openness to an overlooked art form has led to greater acceptance of artists’ books among art collectors. It has also spurred artists who might not otherwise make their own books to undertake this rewarding artistic endeavor.

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