Books On Books Collection – Harriet Bart

Dialogue: Alchemy of the Word (1993)

Dialogue: Alchemy of the Word (1993)
Harriet Bart and Helmut Löhr
French-fold card-covered, double-bound book: H260 x W243 mm, 56 pages. Includes altered book and collage print. Edition of 30, of which this is #12. Acquired from Harriet Bart, 3 June 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

From the Foreword:

Art is a universal language – drawing together people of all regions, races, ages, and socioeconomic levels. Dolly Fiterman Fine Arts is pleased to premier the work of Harriet Bart and Helmut Lohr. Harriet Bart lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Helmut Lohr is based in Dusseldorf, Germany but lives for several months of the year in the United States… The French poet Stephane Mallarmé said that everything was made to end up in a book. Sculpture, collage, and photography by artists Harriet Bart and Helmut Lohr explore the alchemy of the word, the iconography of the text, the labyrinth of the book, the book as poetic object. Bart and Lohr met in New York in 1990 when they were presenting their work at the same exhibition. Drawn to each other’s work they began a dialogue about their concepts and philosophies of art and life. The conversations continued as they exchanged visits and ideas in Minneapolis, New York, and Dusseldorf. Dialogue: Alchemy of the Word is a visual presentation of their dialogue.

Befitting this book’s title, the binding is not dos-à-dos but rather vis-à-vis or face to face. When the French fold cover parts left and right, the black binding tape on the left and white on the right appear with the photo of the two artists in discussion over coffee and pastry. The interleaving design enacts a dialogue of pictured artworks and, in doing so, becomes a work of book art itself. How appropriate for Harriet Bart and the late Helmut Löhr, both of whom count artists’ books among their multimedia output.


After the foreword, Harriet Bart has the opening gambit on the verso in white type on a black background. That column in the foreground of Fading Memories/Timeless Truths (1990) almost suggests a chess move …


to which Löhr responds with his Visual Text (1989), black on white. The back and forth continues


An altered-book sculpture from Bart and one of Löhr’s collage prints accompany the deluxe edition.


The sculpture echoes Bart’s Bound History (1992), whose photo appears in the dialogue and is answered by the photo of Löhr’s Book Object (1981).

Detail views of the altered book.

Artifact (2022)

Artifact (2022)
Harriet Bart
Matchbox enclosing black-capped bottle of fragments of gold leaf, paper disks hole-punched from a reference work, resting on shreds from a dictionary and black tissue paper. Box: H40 x W63 x D24 mm. Bottle: H35 x D9 mm. Acquired from the artist, 12 April 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Artifact is best understood in the context of the following booklet published for an exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, 15 December 2010 – 15 February 2011.

Winter Projects (2010)

Winter Projects: 1990 object poems 2010 (2010)
Harriet Bart
Open spine glue binding. H178 x W128, 36 pages. Published by the Walker Art Center Library, Minneapolis, MN. Acquired from the artist, 3 June 2022.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

From the Foreword:

Every December for the past twenty years, the artist Harriet Bart, creator of the winter projects, has been making and sending multiples. These multiples echo her larger unfinished works. There are similarities, particularly in her use of repurposed materials, felt, shells, gold leaf, texts on paper, cords, and small boxes. These multiples serve as a holiday greeting for sixty or more friends and colleagues … The artist calls these multiples Visual Objects/Poems.

Harriet Bart (2003)

Harriet Bart (n.d.)
Harriet Bart
Rik Sferra, photos
Trifold, spiral bound. H152 x W162 mm, 54 pages. Acquired from the artist, 3 June 2022.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Published in conjunction with Bart’s book exhibition at the Driscoll Babcock Gallery in New York, this booklet, printed full color on high gloss paper, divides into three parts: commissions, installations and objects/books. It presents detailed views and spreads of each, but as they are not captioned or dated, this is more a photobook than catalogue. It demonstrates the artist’s breadth from the large-scale to the delicate from Double Ode (1995), a work commissioned by Doubleday Book & Music Clubs, Inc., to Tear Vials (2012), which look like containers for the tears of Elizabeth Bishop’s “Man-Moth“, who, if carefully watched, will hand over his only possession, a tear “cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink”.

Double Ode (1995) and Tear Vials (2012?).

The Yellow Wall Paper (2018)

The Yellow Wallpaper (2018)
Harriet Bart
Print, collage. H245 x W190 mm, single sheet. Acquired from the artist, 4 July 2018.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The Yellow Wallpaper captures two other aspects of Bart’s work. The title refers to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s canonic short-story/novella. Like many artists of the book, Bart often springboards from a literary figure’s work. Here, it is an excerpt from Gilman’s story printed on translucent paper and wax-stamped to one side of a page taken from Charlotte Abrahams’ Wallpaper: A Collection of Modern Prints. The reverse side of the print is painted in cadmium yellow. At the exhibition where the work was displayed, Bart gave it away.

Which brings us to the second aspect of Bart’s work: her curatorial, collaborative activity. With Jon Neuse, she organized the exhibition, entitled “Wallpaper: an altered book experiment” at the Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art Mission, 50 Third Avenue North, Minneapolis, 2 July through 10 August 2018. Each artist exhibiting had been given a copy of Abrahams’ compendium and challenged to generate a work of art. Included were Scott Helmes, Vesna Kittelson, Joyce Lyon, Chip SchillingJody WilliamsKaren WirthSarita Zaleha and, last and out of alphabetical order but not least, Doug Beube, who also photographed Bart’s Double Ode installation in 1995.

Further Reading

Joseph, Laura Wertheim. 2020. Harriet Bart: Abracadabra and Other Forms of Protection. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. Distributed by University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Books On Books Collection – Maria Welch

the lists (2020)

the lists (2020)

Maria Welch

Chapbook, handmade paper covers, risograph printed on French Paper. H180 x W78 mm, 16 unnumbered pages. Edition of 200, of which this is #8. Acquired from the artist, 20 August 2020.

Created as a handout for an exhibition, this small chapbook delivers a powerful haptic effect with its pulp-painted handmade paper cover and risograph printing on French paper. The cover feels like bark, the paper like dry leaves. The tree-branch layout of lines echoes the sensation, and the content recalls “Silent Poem” by Robert Francis, which itself begs for a book artist’s interpretation.

This work of pulp painting that sits so well with that of Pat Gentenaar-Torley and Claire Van Vliet deploying the same technique came into the collection because of Welch’s contribution below to the tenth Artists’ Book Cornucopia, organized by Alicia Bailey.

Erratic Obsession (2019)

Erratic Obsession (2019)

Maria Welch

Single sheet cut and accordion folded. H116 x W 71 mm (closed), H420 x W561 (open). Wrapped in sleeve with slot-and-tab closure, housed in four-flap linen box with ribbon tie. Edition of 10, of which this is #8. Acquired from the artist, 20 August 2020.

Erratic Obsession speaks to several obsessions in the Books On Books Collection. The first is one with the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Stetson), an obsession provoked by book art from Harriet Bart and Caroline Penn (and teaching a class in Philadelphia on American fiction). The text in Erratic Obsession comes in part from the Gilman short story about a woman driven mad by social and marital pressures, and in part from Annie Payson Call’s Nerves and Commonsense (1909). The latter is a collection of Call’s self-help articles in the Ladies’ Home Journal and runs contrary to the subversive early feminism of Gilman’s story.

What Maria Welch has done with a single piece of paper speaks to a second obsession: the fusion of structure and content.

Unfolding this mirrored spiral-cut, single-sheet booklet feels like pulling strips of wallpaper from the wall, as the main character does in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. By printing on both sides of the single sheet, Welch has doubled down on the mirrored structure. By going dark on one side and light on the other, she has tripled down on the structure. All of these structural choices echo the oxymoronic face-off of the title — the erratic vs the obsession — which in turn echoes the themes of Gilman’s story: a wife’s freedom vs a husband’s control, the individual’s mind and self vs society’s expected behavior. Welch’s structural tensions are also responding to the tension between Gilman’s and Call’s perspectives.

Interesting that the artist provides instructions on how the work should be displayed. Preferably in the round. Preferably that folds 1 and 31 (the first and last) stand upright, that folds 2-6 and 26-30 lay flat, that folds 7-9 and 23-25 stand upright, that folds 10-12 and 20-22 create mountain peaks, and that folds 13-19 form the central upright accordion. But the work displays equally well in an erratic spill. Again, a fusion of structure and content.

In its techniques of pulp painting, blow-out papermaking, kirigami (paper cutting) and origami (paper folding), Erratic Obsession rings a third obsession in the collection: the fusion of technique with content. With pulp painting and blow-out papermaking, the image or patterns are intrinsic to the paper, just as a character might think its personality and will are intrinsic to its self. With paper folding and cutting, the techniques are external to the paper, just as societal and marital pressures bend and sever the character’s self. Of course, Call would likely have it the other way round: socialization and commonsense provide the wholesome; willful personality cuts and bends it. No wonder: another of Call’s books was How to Live Quietly (1918).

Further Reading

Wallpaper: An Altered Book Experiment“, Bookmarking Book Art, 10 June 2018.

Claire Van Vliet”, Books On Books Collection, 8 August 2019.

First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial (1996 – 2008)”, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019.

Alicia Bailey and the Artists’ Book Cornucopia”, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2019.

Caroline Penn”, Books On Books Collection, 11 June 2020.

Call, Annie Payson. Nerves and Commonsense (Boston: Little, Brown, 1909).

Books On Books Collection – Caroline Penn

Standen (2014)

Standen (2014)
Caroline Penn
Altered book, overprinted digitally, cut with a scalpel and rebound with thread. H210 x W140. Acquired from the artist, 9 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The William Morris wallpapers in Standen House, an Arts & Crafts home in Sussex, and the memory of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” inspired the creation of this altered book. The work altered is a 1979 National Trust publication on Standen House. In Gilman’s story, the main character, who has a mental breakdown from being forced into domestic seclusion, gradually claws away the yellow wallpaper in the room where she is locked away. In correspondence, Penn writes that she unbound the original booklet, ran the pages through a digital printer, performed the cutting and then rebound it. In a clever reversal, by the end, the wallpaper print and its excision have taken over the walls of the book of Standen House.

Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

By coincidence, American book artist Harriet Bart co-curated an intriguing exhibition called “Wallpaper“. Bart’s entry, too, was inspired by the Gilman story.

fieldwork (2017)

fieldwork (2017)
Caroline Penn
Digitally printed concertina.
Cover: H126 x W90 mm; pages, H125 x W88 mm.
Edition of 20, of which this is #8.
Acquired from the artist, 6 February 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

A book within a book, fieldwork offers an entrancing visual narrative. A small white book unfolds from nothing to small pebbles, larger pebbles, more pebbles to fewer, and finally to one pebble in the center. Is it the reverse of the process of erosion? Is it categorization by the human eye and hand striving with nature’s agglomeration?

The artist has embedded the visual narrative here in an innovation on the framing device to be found in Helen Douglas’s Wild Wood and A Venetian Brocade. As with the latter works, fieldwork encourages us to touch with our eyes. It is a stunning piece of trompe l’oeil. On glimpsing any double-page spread, the reader/viewer is tempted to pick up one of the pebbles apparently resting on that white piece of paper open on a photo of a shingle beach. Visitors to Kettle’s Yard will recognise the temptation.

Project C: Destination Unknown (2020)

Organised by Pauline Lamont-Fisher, Project C is the result of a collaborative effort among 14 artists:

This project is about intersemiotic translation between images to words and from words to images and the paths that form between them. Roman Jakobson in Linguistic Aspects of Translation suggests the idea of intersemiotic translation as the translation from one sign system to another: i.e. interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of non-verbal sign systems. So every novel adaptation into film, constitutes a translation. The illustrations in a book act as translations of text into images. Every time you watch Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, you watch an intersemiotic translation from narrated story into ballet.

The artists were given a set of anonymised covers of Italy Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler and asked to choose one and, keeping in mind Jakobson’s notions of intersemiotic translation, produce a folio or pamphlet in response. Caroline Penn’s contribution uses text, typography, structure, choice of paper, density of ink and a pattern of hole punches to translate or evoke not only the image below but the substance of Calvino’s novella — or at least a key element of the substance susceptible to translation to an artist’s book of translucent Bible paper and pergamenata.

Project C: Destination Unknown (2019)
Caroline Penn
Digitally printed on Offenbach bible paper stitched to pergamenata. Concertina, H186 x W130 mm. Edition of 30. Acquired from whnicPRESS, 7 March 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The contrasting whites of the Bible paper and the translucent paper that comes uncannily close to animal parchment mirror the different colors of snow in the cover.

The dispersed positioning of the letters of the word “vapour” mimic the falling snow. The series of darker inked phrases set below, separated from each other by hyphens and staggered downwards across the panels echoes the rail track and cars in the cover.

The body of light gray likewise sloping down from left to right recalls the declining mountain gap crossed by those train tracks.

Across the foot of the page, the holes punched in a lowercase letter “o” and separated by two unpunched uppercase “O’s” also evoke the rail tracks and cars. In a nod to the Oulipo pattern-driven nature of Calvino’s work, the noughts of the “O’s” are answered in the crosses of the “X’s” supporting the text that crawls across the panels, finally turns the corner of the last panel and fades into the gray word “invisibility” on the reverse of the last panel.

A tour de force of book art — making text, image, ink, papers, layout, structure and impression work, mean and become a thing independent of the inspiring constraint.