A new exhibition of art books by a local group of female artists, Art4Artists, joyously fills the galleries at Kennedy Heights Arts Center. The exhibit, titled WomenWorkBooks, is meant to serve as a springboard for discussion on a wide range of women’s issues.
Art4Artists, a group meeting regularly at Clifton Recreation Center, is made up of artists of varying professional levels. Its purpose is to support women’s creative efforts, and it has partnered with local organizations like ArtsWave, Xavier University’s Women’s Study Center and Harmony Garden: The Healthy Girl Initiative. The show at KHAC includes a book-making project by local teen girls, supported by a grant from the Ohio Arts Council.
This exhibition attempts to demonstrate women’s concerns through “visual representations of hopes, dreams, questions, ideas and more,” according to its introduction. WomenWorkBooks has something of a scrapbook look — in the best way. A certain extravagant messiness marks the works, as though a surplus of ideas is spilling out.
The idea for WomenWorkBooks came from a member of Art4Artists, Jan Thomas, who had seen a show of collaborative books in Florida.
“It was by a women’s group known as 13 Chicks,” Thomas says. “Their books only involved design elements, no themes.”
Thomas proposed and coordinated the original Art4Artists project, expanding the idea to include themes. Three groups of eight to 10 artists created nearly 30 books, with each picking her own theme for her book and making a double-page spread.
Others in each group contributed their own responses to the theme.
“The project seemed ripe for this group,” Thomas continues. “Containing the themes under the umbrella of women’s issues gave the group a focused purpose, while allowing for a wide range of subject matter to visually reflect on. The project was organized and carried out over three years.”
Among the subjects are humorous takes, such as Fran Watson’s response to wrinkles, and deep-felt women’s experiences like Vivian Kline’s consideration of motherhood, which includes a photograph of herself and twin daughters on the cover. Another theme is Sally Murray’s exploration of “Friendship Among Women” with comfort, companionship and support among the perceptions coming from her co-artists.
I particularly enjoyed Jamie Fine’s “Journey,” a fold-out stretching from one end of a mantelpiece to the other, which begins with a map-like double spread proclaiming, “Life’s a Trip!” by Nancy Driesbach and ends with Judy Decker’s evocative layout of postmarked and canceled stamp envelopes. Another, with a cover carrying the word “Secrets,” displays a pastiche of hotel room keys, a Hyatt matchbook and other suggestive items.
Another book picks up the idea of “Six Word Stories,” indicated by Scrabble tiles on the cover. This one stems from a six-word story Ernest Hemingway apparently produced on a dare and was proud of: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” One of the most thought-provoking responses in this book is “What Do You Mean By Choose?”
Art4Artists books fill the first two galleries at the Arts Center, with the teen artists’ works in the third gallery. While all the adults worked collaboratively, the teens’ contributions were created individually. One result: at first glance the teens’ are altogether neater. And they are more likely to incorporate some form of photography. Like the adults’ books, these frequently include text relating pithy sayings such as “Make a mistake? Make it into something else” by Gloria Kammer. Mixed media rules here, as it does in the adults’ works, including drawing, sewing, photomontage and more.
Thomas says working with dozens of artists on such a collection of work takes effort but that the end result is meaningful. “The difference between group work and solo artist work is that the group dynamic provides almost constant positive motivation, while when working alone the artist must self-motivate,” she says. “The shared experience is very powerful and becomes a much larger shared voice.”
Arnelle Dow, art director at Clifton Recreation Center, says, “WomenWorkBooks has been a rewarding project that developed wings of its own, producing discussions in the participants respective communities.”
WOMENWORKBOOKS is on view through April 19 at Kennedy Heights Arts Center, 6546 Montgomery Road. A panel discussion with adult and teen artists takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday. More info: kennedyarts.org.