Rewriting a book's pages into art

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 16, 2012 - 5:51 PM

A four-week workshop will explore the altered book art form.

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An example of an altered book.

Don't throw those forlorn, dust-collecting hardcover novels in the trash or ship them off to the thrift store, says Charlotte Schuld. Instead transform them into a page turner with a new story to tell.

Schuld, an artist and retired teacher, will lead a four-week Altered Book Workshop at ArtReach St. Croix in Stillwater in which she will teach participants how to take an existing book and sculpt it into a two- or three-dimensional personal work of art. The workshop begins Monday and runs through April 9.

"The beauty is that you don't have to be an artist. You don't have to be able to draw to do this," said Schuld, of Stillwater. "If you can glue, cut and assemble things, you can put together something really remarkable."

With the snip of a page here, a collage there and any number of alterations in between, altered book artists fill a book's inside pages with designs, images and words using common everyday items such as postcards, maps, photographs and wrapping paper. Sometimes they cut out portions of pages from the book, fold others into pockets to hold objects such as rocks, favorite trinkets and knickknacks, or glue them together and use utility knives to create hollowed out spaces. Invariably, some pages are removed so the book maintains the integrity of its binding.

"We don't ruin the binding," Schuld said. "It still looks like a book when it is closed."

For many, the new creations become visual journals or diaries or personal sketchbooks, she said.

In one exercise, Schuld has students circle a random word on every third line of a page and paint over the rest of them. Then she has them use the circled words to create a poem.

"It brings the creative writer out in a person," she said. "These books that would have ended up in the landfill become a vehicle for powerful self-expression."

The idea of altered books dates to the medieval era, when it was common to recycle manuscripts written on vellum by scraping off the ink and adding new text and illustrations on top of the old. The art form is staging a mild comeback, in part because it combines elements of popular activities such as scrapbooking, journaling, rubber-stamping, stitching and bookmaking, Schuld said.

In 2009, the Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle hosted an exhibit called "The Book Borrowers." The show featured the whimsical works of 31 artists who used dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, art books, medical guides, history books, atlases, comic books and wallpaper sample books to create masterpieces. One artist used the Manhattan White Pages to create the head of Buddha.

Schuld taught altered book art to her students at Crosswinds Arts and Science School in Woodbury. She retired in August but wanted to continue teaching in some capacity while still having time to work on her own projects for a show she plans to open in September at the Stillwater Guild Art Gallery.

"People are looking for ways to express themselves in a meaningful way and a different way," she said. "It's just so much fun to do."

Altered book art is relatively inexpensive, too. And high-quality paper and craft material are readily available.

"You can do this as inexpensively as you want," Schuld said. "Or you can really take it high quality."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039, Twitter: @timstrib

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  • Another example of an altered book.

  • ALTERED BOOK WORKSHOP

    When: 6-8 p.m. Mondays through April 9

    Where: ArtReach St. Croix, 224 N. 4th St.

    Cost: $90; includes instruction and most materials

    Registration: 651-439-1465

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