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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: February 25, 2019

Portland Public Library shows sculpture centered around the book

Written by: Bob Keyes

Lin Lisberger wanted to do a sculpture exhibition about books, so she arranged it for the obvious place: the library.

“On Books: Sculpture” opens at the Portland Public Library on Friday with dozens of pieces of three-dimensional art that reference books and literature, either in their use of words or language or their physical presence.

Lisberger curated the exhibition, which includes artists from Maine and around the country. One of the artists in the show, Lesley Dill of Brooklyn, New York, grew up in Falmouth, graduated from Waynflete and has become internationally known for incorporating letters, words and language in her art. She borrows from the poetry and writing of Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka and Rainer Maria Rilke to connect words with material.

The book is a popular object for artists. Some artists make altered books, taking an existing book and transforming it into something else. Others make artist’s books, whereby they create their own book and give it any number of forms, including fold-outs and scrolls.

For this show, Lisberger wanted an exhibition that celebrates the book form – the hard cover, the paper pages and the kinetic energy that happens when a book is opened – as opposed to an exhibition that celebrates the narrative of the book. “I wanted this not to be a book-art show. I wanted it to be a sculpture exhibit. I wanted to do a sculpture show about books,” said Lisberger, a sculptor herself and member of the Portland Public Art Committee. “I like books. I like the heft and the weight of books.”

Many artists in the exhibition are familiar to Maine audiences, including Lissa Hunter, Jamie Johnston, Duncan Hewitt and Barbara Sullivan. None of those artists would be considered book artists, but they use books or the idea of books in their art. “These are people whose work I love and who share the same feelings about objects as I do,” Lisberger said.

Hewitt, who has a book-inspired sculptural form in the show called “Swan,” will perform a poem of the same name by Alice Oswold from her collection of poetry, “Falling Awake,” at 5:30 p.m. March 14.

All of that said, there are book artists in this show, including Rebecca Goodale, coordinator of the Center for Book Arts at the University of Southern Maine. In addition to Lisberger, who has a few pieces in the show, other Maine artists include Cynthia Ahlstrin and Frank Turek.

Out-of-state artists include Jacqueline Rush Lee from Hawaii, Andrew Hayes from North Carolina, Dolph Smith from Tennessee, Stephanie Stigliano from Massachusetts, Erin Sweeney from New Hampshire and, in addition to Dill, Doug Beube, Béatrice Coron and Chris Duncan from New York.

Lisberger said Dill is the most recognized artist in the show. Her art is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney. In 2017, she received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. The pieces she is showing in Portland include a wall-hanging puppet and a free-standing gown, both adorned with calligraphic flourishes.

According to her biography, she was given a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson that sparked her curiosity about the intersection of letters, words and text into her work in a variety of media. In 2008, she created a full-scale opera called “Divide Light,” based on Dickinson’s poetry.

Coron made a dress from a high density of house wrap, adorned with letters, and Ahlstrin is offering a corset and bra made from book cutouts. Smith, who is in his mid-80s and is considered the “grandpapa” of book arts, according to Lisberger, is sending up wooden tower forms that include books and book references.

“On Books: Sculpture” will be a different kind of experience, she promised.

“It’s going to be, if nothing else, a hodgepodge – but an interesting hodgepodge,” Lisberger said. “This is the kind of show where you can go from a performance of a poem to the grandfather of book artists to how people deal with their bodies and books and space and form.”

“On Books: Sculpture”

WHEN: Opens Friday, on view through March 23; reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Lewis Gallery, Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
RELATED: Artist Duncan Hewitt will perform the poem “Swan” at 5:30 p.m. March 14.

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