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These popup books were made for gawking at Florida Craftsmen Gallery

ST. PETERSBURG

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Do you remember your first book? It was probably few in pages and big on eye-catching graphics. Opening it was like opening the world.

Maybe I'm a sucker for books like those in "Scissors: Pop-up" at Florida Craftsmen Gallery because they take me back to that long-ago time in childhood when books were a constantly new source of wonder and discovery. The 50 participating artists recapture the wonder in their inventive interpretations of books.

They're all made by hand, and almost all are one of a kind so they sometimes lack the technical polish of books made in collaboration with a master printer.

A book show can invite frustration; they're meant to be handled and explored, and you're not allowed to (unless you buy one). The sense that we're missing out on a lot of fun is mitigated a bit by curator Elizabeth Kozlowski's arrangement with key pages open to provide a sense of what the artist is doing.

Still, I wanted badly to lift the protective glass from many of the stands and riffle through the works. Martin Casuso's books are a major example. Drive is handsomely presented in a wood box, and the two pages we see consist of this text printed with a Dymo label writer: "Those unmarked routes worn over time where directions mean things like take a right at the dutch elm . . ." and opposite it an image of a tree-lined street. The materials listed for the book include vintage postcards, a map and vinyl wallpaper.

I want to see them.

Another of Casuso's books, Old Fear/New Fear, is made from more Dymo (you know — those little gizmos that stamp raised letters on plastic strips for organizing our garages), with all the strips coiled and fitted into plastic cases. What's on them?

The installation of Rosemarie Chiarlone's Secrets helped to mollify me. Her "book" is bound with a piece of cloth folded with a big diaper pin; dozens of women's panties act as pages. Each pair is emblazoned with a few snippets of a poem by Susan Weiner. We know this because about a dozen of them hang on the wall, beginning with the line: "The trouble with panties starts early. . . ." It's a really creative meld of concept and implementation.

Other artists were also inspired by writers. Alice Simpson illustrated the Gospel According to Miss Roj, a scene from George C. Wolfe's play The Colored Museum, using cutouts and a few vivid colors, especially red, for a dramatic reading of the vignette. Susan Lowdermilk created a woodcut print, then cut it as a three-dimensional tunnel to accompany William Stafford's lyrical poem A Ritual to Read to Each Other.

Patrick Lindhardt teaches a course on making books at the Ringling School of Art and Design so it's no surprise his works in this show are exquisite and cerebral. He crafts narrative journeys using few words and gauzy images invoking travel journals of the 19th century. He uses wood in another group for visual puns such as Writer's Block.

Some books use the format, especially the popup, in service to whimsy. Fanciful creatures jump from Shawn Sheehy's Beyond the 6th Extinction: A Fifth Millennium Bestiary, hybrid animals with clever names. But even this charming conceit has an edge to it, a environmental mild commentary.

With few exceptions, these are not children's books and some are overtly adult. I'm thinking of Neil Bender and Chad Abel's graphic illustrations in Two Who Stalk and Maike Biederstadt's Come Play: A Sexy Pop-up Adventure. Both have a mitigating share of irony and tongue-in-cheekiness. More irony comes in Neverne Covington's collection of old computer report cards, chad and all, from the 1960s. She mounts them on an accordion binding, adds a small portrait of herself as a child and the title My Mother Told Me to Pick the Very Best One (and It's Not You).

Covington also created one of the largest books in the show, The Alchemist's Test. The good news is you can see the whole thing even though it's large. Between the rusted metal ceiling tile covers is a single drawing.

Bookending it is the smallest example, so tiny it's viewed with a large magnifier. The Legend of Zela is Kyle Olmon's homage to Julius Caesar's victory over an Eastern king that solidified his power and gave us his immortal message to Rome: veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). Except for contorting my neck and squinting my eyes enough to see the word "veni" (I think), I have no idea what's in the book. But it could be mine for $82.47. The artist put that price on it because it's the date of the battle, Aug. 2, 47 B.C.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

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Scissors: Pop-up

More than 100 handmade books by 50 artists are at Florida Craftsmen Gallery, 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through Oct. 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Free admission. floridacraftsmen.net or (727) 821-7391.

These popup books were made for gawking at Florida Craftsmen Gallery 10/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2009 5:31am]
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