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Don't judge a book by its cover, even if it doesn't have one.
The Guild of Book Workers bookbinding exhibition at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on the University of Utah campus showcases bookmakers' original creations. One "book" uses an antique wig stand to hold a crown of thorns covered with small cotton squares printed and reprinted with the lyrics of indie rock band Modest Mouse until the words are indecipherable.
Is it a book? Some would say no - it has no spine or cover, no pages. But to the jurors of the Guild of Book Workers, it is more than a book: It is art.
Founded in 1906 in New York City, the guild is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization with members all over the country.
Of 171 entries, 62 were chosen to participate in the guild's anniversary exhibition, including Utah artists Madelyn Garrett, head of the Rare Books Division and Book Arts Program at the University of Utah; Marnie Powers-Torrey, instructor and installation supervisor for the exhibit; and Antonia "Toni" Nelson, a longtime volunteer for the Book Arts Program.
The book exhibit ranges from traditional book designs - cover, spine, multiple movable pages made of paper with readable text or pictures inside - to broader designs with aluminum pages, a built-in camera and so on.
"Bookbinding and book art really began in the '60s, primarily on the coasts in New York and San Francisco," Powers-Torrey said. "A lot of times what you'll see in books like these is the artist responding to the content."
Her piece, titled "The Warm-Blooded Book," is covered in deer fur with a corded leather spine that emphasizes the parallel nature of a book and the human skeletal system, she said. Inside the book are photographs of hands holding and handling books, meant to communicate the intimate experience of reading and absorbing a book.
Madelyn Garrett's work, "The Art of the Book, 1914," is "a modern adaptation of traditional panel binding sewn with beads into floss-embroidered velveteen." Garrett said the binding took six months to complete, averaging two hours per square inch.
Toni Nelson's "I Wish I'd Been a Slutty Girl Among Other High School Regrets" is wrapped in hot pink prom-dress fabric. In a descripton of the book included in the exhibit, Nelson wrote that her work "recalls with admiration the slutty girls from my high school." One of the lines in the book reads, "Slutty girls always had dates."
Books like Powers-Torrey's and Nelson's are examples of the marriage between content and cover design; the exhibit also includes books whose focus is almost exclusively on the cover, while in others it's on the innards.
"It is mostly about the binding-the quality, style, design - but some books' content are so incredible I had to show the insides," Powers-Torrey said.
Exhibits like these are meant to push the boundaries of what is recognized and defined as a "book."
"Whether or not one can physically interact with it like a traditional book . . . these pieces were created to be books and are pieces of art," Powers-Torrey said.
Book it to the exhibit
The UMFA hosts the Guild of Book Workers' exhibition through March 18.
Gallery Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information call the museum at 801-581-7332 or visit http://www.umfa.utah.edu