Ten years ago, 13 Fairbanksans braved record cold temperatures of 32 degrees below zero to get together and talk about whether there was enough interest to form a group focused on creating art books.
They created the Northwoods Book Arts Guild and today, more than 100 members continue accomplishing goals set at that very first meeting. That success is celebrated at this month’s “Books As Art 3” show running Nov. 5-27 at the Bear Gallery. The gallery is open Monday-Saturday, 12-6 p.m.
Members of this vibrant group are talented, collaborative and dedicated to an art form that has grown to include education, collaboration with other agencies, and community service. They create individual and personal pieces of art that take the form of books.
“These books create spaces where things meaningful in life find a home,” said Susan Campbell, the group’s current president.
The books are a place where artists can share their own writing, whether poetry or prose. Pieces of their life can become part of the books — sometimes its a swatch of a grandfather’s flannel shirt, or a favorite sea shell that brings back special memories.
“It becomes a passion,” Campbell said. “We come together in this creative, shared space with our love of books and book art.”
Discard any notion that these are regular books. They are thoughtful, personal pieces of art.
At the show that opens on Nov. 5, members provided 164 handmade books for display.
“It’s just amazing,” Campbell said.
The show includes a few main categories and some special exhibits.
“These are all books that have been made in the last four years,” she said. “But most of them were made within the last two years.”
Guild members collaborated with the University of Alaska Press for the “Set Book Project.” The guild got permission to use four poetry books, published by the Press. Sixteen guild members took those poetry books and turned them into their own artist books. Each book is different, unique to the individual artist.
The guild now owns three letter presses. Four members made chapbooks, which are small booklets. Each artist handset their original writing with lead type, then printed on the press. Or their writing was turned into a polymer plate with raised letters, that was then placed on the press. The public will actually be able to touch and read these chapbooks.
The show includes an educational display of the letterpress, along with all the tools and equipment bookmakers use to put the press to use.
When Covid-19 hit in 2020, the guild began meeting online, instead of in person. They opened online workshops for beginners and began teaching foldable books.
“Every meeting taught a new foldable structure and we made a model at the Zoom meeting,” she said. “We encouraged people to use that model and use real materials, artist book materials, fine paper, and their own contest to create artist books.”
A series of classes for beginners resulted in another special display at this show. Some of those books are displayed and intended to inspire other beginners.
“You can come into this knowing nothing and learn some very basic skills,” she said. “Sewing, gluing, construction.”
A general entry category will certainly challenge the viewer, Campbell said. These books vary from traditional bound books to books that make the viewer say “Whoa,” she said.
Campbell credits Margo Klass as the visionary of the group. She actually introduced the creation of art books to the area and nurtured interest in the craft. A portion of the show is dedicated to her master book binder library and books she has created over time.
“We could never have come to this point without her vision and leadership,” Campbell said. “She is really a compass for us.”
Everyone who attends the show will receive a specially crafted bookmark, created on the guild’s own letterpress.
That list of goals from the first meeting in 2011 has largely been completed, but that doesn’t mean the guild is slowing down. As their skills grow and new members discover a passion for this art form, the guild will only grow — probably in directions it hasn’t even thought about yet.
The exhibition opening will be live-streamed on Facebook Live, 6:00-7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 5. The link is available on the Fairbanks Arts Facebook Page or nwbookarts.org.
The guild holds its annual meeting on Nov. 19, which will include a look back at the guild’s first 10 years. This will also be live-streamed on the Fairbanks Arts Facebook Page.
Editor's note: This article was updated Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, at 12:30 p.m., Alaska time, with the correct event time.